Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 7 8 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 7–8 (Volume 1, Chapters 7–8) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Harriet receives a letter from Mr. Martin proposing marriage. When Harriet asks if it is a good letter, Emma replies that it is but directly tells her to turn him down. Harriet then asks again, for a second time, if she should refuse Mr. Martin. At this point, Emma says that when a woman is in doubt, she should always refuse. Harriet asks a third time, and Emma doesn't answer directly, saying she wouldn't dream of interfering. Harriet takes Emma's cue, and Emma is relieved, saying that they can now remain friends. Harriet responds in horror, not having realized that the friendship was in jeopardy. Then Emma practically writes Harriet's letter of refusal while holding out the prize of Mr. Elton. In the end, Harriet expresses sadness, imagining Mr. Martin reading her letter. Emma has the last word, responding with a fantasy about Mr. Elton showing Harriet's picture to his mother and sisters before he takes it to London for framing.

Chapter 8

While Harriet is at Mrs. Goddard's, Mr. Knightley pays a call at Hartfield and opens up a conversation with Emma about her young friend, praising her disposition and complimenting Emma for being a good influence. He also mentions that Mr. Martin is "desperately in love" with Harriet and intends to propose marriage. Mr. Martin came to Mr. Knightley as a friend and asked for advice, and he gave his approval. Emma then informs Mr. Knightley that Harriet has already refused. Mr. Knightley gets very angry, saying Harriet is a fool to refuse a gentleman farmer, given her illegitimate birth. Emma says that Harriet, as a beautiful girl, has a claim to "marry well." Mr. Knightley defends his friend's gentility when Emma implies that he is not fine enough for her friend. He has guessed that she has Mr. Elton in mind for Harriet and warns her that she is mistaken, because the vicar "does not mean to throw himself away" and is looking for a match that will bring him financial security. Mr. Knightley leaves abruptly and feels mortified that he encouraged his young friend. Meanwhile, Emma is a little frightened about Mr. Knightley's appraisal of Mr. Elton, but she dismisses her fear and reassures herself that she is a better judge of human nature in matters of love.

Analysis

Mr. Martin's proposal and Harriet's refusal are the basis for a serious disagreement between Emma and Mr. Knightley. The first chapter has already established that their relationship has an adversarial quality to it. In that chapter, Emma says to her father, "Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me," and "We always say what we like to one another," which is proven in their first disagreement about whether Emma influenced the match between her governess and Mr. Weston. But this is a much more serious quarrel, as a lot rides on the outcome of the decisions made by Harriet and Mr. Martin. While both Mr. Knightley and Emma consciously respect and maintain class boundaries (although Emma is a snob and Mr. Knightley is not), both have gone outside of their class to befriend the person they are lobbying for. In Emma's case, her motives are self-centered, and she expects to get personal satisfaction from elevating Harriet. In Mr. Knightley's case, he responds to Mr. Martin's gesture of friendship and wishes to help him make an important decision that will affect the rest of his life.

Emma shows shocking irresponsibility in her treatment of Harriet. It is clear that Harriet is excited about Mr. Martin's proposal, that she has feelings for him, and that she wishes to accept. Harriet has a realistic notion of her position in the class hierarchy. But Emma has such a fixed idea about the fantasy she has constructed that she ruthlessly disregards Harriet's wishes and bullies her into turning Mr. Martin's proposal down. Emma even uses emotional blackmail, threatening Harriet with the loss of her friendship by claiming she couldn't possibly associate herself with the likes of the Martins. Harriet, for her part, is so dazzled by Emma's attention that she accepts her friend's version of reality, which is that Mr. Elton is somewhere showing Harriet's picture to his relatives, an idea that borders on the absurd. Emma's fantasy blinds her to the true character of the Martins' position in society—as prosperous, respectable, and educated farmers—and to all the indications that Mr. Martin loves Harriet and that his family would treat her well.

Mr. Knightley, on the other hand, has spent time with Mr. Martin and knows that he will be a responsible provider. In truth, Mr. Knightley considers Harriet beneath Mr. Martin in class, but unlike Emma, he takes his friend's feelings into consideration when he gives his advice.

Emma believes herself to be a better judge of people's feelings than Mr. Knightley is, but she couldn't be more wrong; her judgments are completely obscured by her own projections. Mr. Knightley, for his part, sees clearly, and with regard to Mr. Elton, he knows that Emma's plan will backfire. He tells Emma that the vicar, in his unreserved moments, speaks avidly of wealthy young ladies who are his sisters' friends. When Mr. Knightley storms out, Emma briefly reconsiders her position, but she is too unwilling to give up her fantasy and objectively look at the implications involved in Harriet's refusal.

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