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Emma | Chapters 53–55 (Volume 3, Chapters 17–19) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 53

Emma keeps track of Harriet through Isabella (Harriet is still in London) and grieves because she cannot speak to Mr. Knightley about what has actually transpired between them. Mrs. Weston gives birth to her child, and so the couple reveal their engagement to the Westons and Mr. Woodhouse. Soon all of Highbury hears of the engagement. Most everyone is pleased with the match between Emma and Mr. Knightley, although Mr. Elton says, "She had always meant to catch Knightley if she could," and Mrs. Elton feels sorry for Mr. Knightley and thinks it's "a sad business for him" that he got stuck with Emma.

Chapter 54

Mr. Knightley tells Emma that he sent Robert Martin up to London on business with his brother, John Knightley, which gave Mr. Martin an opportunity to socialize with Harriet. As a result, the couple reconciled, and Harriet accepted Mr. Martin's proposal of marriage. Mr. Knightley fears that Emma will object, but she is overjoyed to hear of her friend's happiness. Emma and Mr. Knightley meet Jane and Frank at the Westons' home, and Emma reconciles with Frank. He tells her again that he thought she suspected his liaison with Jane, although he now knows that Emma had no knowledge of it. Frank says he should have told her. Emma teases him about enjoying his deception, which he denies, but she says that if she were in his place, she would have gotten some enjoyment out if it. She says they are alike: "If not in our dispositions ... there is a likeness in our destiny; the destiny which bids fair to connect us with two characters so much superior to our own."

Chapter 55

Harriet learns she is the daughter of a wealthy tradesman, and Emma becomes acquainted with Mr. Martin. Emma and Mr. Knightley attend their wedding. Jane and Frank will marry after the mourning period has passed for Mrs. Churchill. Mr. Woodhouse finally gives his consent to Emma's marriage when a poultry thief begins stealing fowl from the neighbors. Mr. Woodhouse is willing to trade a change in his routine for the protection of a son-in-law, and so Emma and Mr. Knightley are united. Mrs. Elton is not impressed with the nuptials and says, "Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business."

Analysis

In these last chapters, the couples are finally united in matrimony, which is the happy ending to any Austen novel. Even Harriet, seemingly tossed aside in favor of Emma's own happiness, gets a happy ending of her own. Harriet's fortunate reconnection with Robert Martin (no doubt facilitated by the Knightley men) allows her to pick up where she left off with him. The marriage is suitable on both sides, and it takes Mr. Knightley a little time to understand that Emma, his bride, has truly changed her opinions on the subject of the yeoman farmer. Regardless of Mr. Martin's social standing, Emma is truly grateful for her friend's happiness. Clearly, Emma has been humbled by both adversity and gratitude.

Emma is doubtful at first about Harriet's commitment to Mr. Martin, but Harriet is, after all, only eighteen by the time the story ends. She probably doesn't love Mr. Martin, but with him there is the potential for fondness to grow into genuine love, and Harriet, who is essentially an orphan, will gain not only a husband, but also a mother and two sisters.

Frank Churchill, who is narcissistic like Emma's father, is in love with the beautiful Jane, and it would seem that he may be improved over the years by living in close association with someone of a superior character.

Mr. Knightley is in little need of improvement. Emma will improve in her life with him, not because he will correct her flaws but because he will love her unconditionally, and such a love is a great encouragement for a woman to evolve into her best self.

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