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Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 9 10 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 9–10

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 9–10 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 9–10 (Volume 1, Chapters 9–10) | Summary



Chapter 9

As predicted by Mr. Knightley, Emma and Harriet have not gotten around to serious study, but Harriet is compiling a book of riddles, to which Emma and others have contributed. Emma suggests that Mr. Elton write something original for the collection, and the next day he presents Emma with a "charade" he claims was written by a friend and not meant for Harriet's collection. After he leaves, Emma deciphers the riddle and passes it to her friend, who can't make sense of it. The riddle mentions "ready wit," which Emma has to admit does not apply to Harriet. Still, after she explains that the riddle is asking for permission to enter into courtship, Emma says to Harriet, "There can be no doubt of its being written for you and to you." When Mr. Elton returns, Emma tells him they both read and admired his riddle and that it was too good not to put in the book. Mr. Elton is initially chagrined but then says his friend "would consider it as the proudest moment of his life" to have a place in the riddle book.

Chapter 10

Emma and Harriet are walking back from charitably visiting a poor family when the conversation turns to marriage. Emma reiterates her intention not to marry, and Harriet expresses surprise and regret, saying, "You will be an old maid! and that's so dreadful!" Emma responds that a single woman with no income is thought of as somewhat disagreeable, while a single woman of good income is considered quite pleasant. The women then run into Mr. Elton, and Emma contrives to give Harriet and the vicar a chance to speak alone by trailing behind them. Then she sneakily breaks off the string of her boot lace so that they have to stop at the vicarage and get some string from the housekeeper to lace up her boot. This allows the "couple" more minutes of privacy. When nothing happens, Emma thinks the vicar is merely cautious in courtship.


The narrator makes fun of Emma's attitude toward intellectual pursuits by saying, "Her view of improving her little friend's mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than few first chapters, and the intention of going on tomorrow. It was easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet's fortune, than to be laboring to enlarge her comprehension." Emma puts her imagination to work, saying that Mr. Elton wrote the riddle for Harriet, despite all evidence against that assertion. Mr. Elton specifically tells her his poem is not for Harriet's book, but Emma simply doesn't care.

For her part, Harriet is completely under Emma's spell. Even though she knows better, she takes Emma's theories for fact. In her next encounter with Mr. Elton, Emma arranges for her friend to speak privately to him, but he has nothing of import to say. Emma simply reads this by saying, "Cautious, very cautious ... he advances inch by inch." These machinations on Emma's part are humorous, except when the reader considers how important it is for women to marry and how Harriet has turned down her best prospect.

The importance of marriage is also highlighted in the conversation in which Harriet expresses a horror of spinsterhood, and with good reason. The theme of class and gender oppression is evident in Emma's comments about old maids. An unmarried woman is the rightful object of derision, says Emma, if she is also poor. This would not be the case for a single man. While marriage is important for everyone in Austen's world, a woman's livelihood depends on it.

Both Harriet and Mr. Elton are in the midst of the marriage game. Both of them are trying to raise their social capital and prosperity. Harriet, however, has begun to develop genuine feelings for the clergyman. Yet he is simply playing the part of an infatuated man. Neither woman can see who the real object of his fake affections is.

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