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Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why does Emma accept the attentions of Frank Churchill and then think she is a little in love with him?

Emma accepts Frank's attention because he is young and handsome and she finds him diverting and exciting. He is also connected to Mrs. Weston, so she is well disposed toward him. Emma thinks she is a little in love with him because she misses him after he goes back to Enscombe. Later, when she explains her feelings to Mr. Knightley, she says, "My vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions." Frank meets many of her expectations and seems more interesting than her Highbury neighbors, if only because of his long absences.

In Emma, why is Jane Fairfax's presumed future as a governess perceived by the Highbury circle in such negative terms?

The best outcome for Jane, who has no inherited money, is to marry well. The only other option for an educated, middle-class woman is to make her own way as a governess. Everyone feels very sorry for Jane because she is beautiful and talented and they think she deserves better. She will also suffer a loss in status if she works. The narrator says that Jane resolves to "retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society" when she "complete(s) the sacrifice."

How is Mrs. Weston deluded about matchmaking?

Mrs. Weston believes that Mr. Knightley is romantically interested in Jane Fairfax. In fairness, she has reason to think so. Mr. Knightley speaks highly of Jane. He knows she has been sick, so he takes his carriage to the Coles' party so that she doesn't have to walk. Mrs. Weston has also heard Mr. Knightley highly praise Jane's piano playing, as well as her voice, and according to Mrs. Weston, he has said he could listen to her forever. She also thinks he is the one who has secretly gifted her with a piano, although Frank Churchill is the one who bought the gift.

In Emma, what does Mr. Elton's refusal to dance with Harriet at the ball at Crown Inn reveal about his character?

Mr. Elton is angry because Emma turned down his marriage proposal and actually expected him to marry Harriet. His wife is angry at Emma for not accepting her friendship. Thus, both of them are angry at Emma, but they take it out on Harriet. When Harriet has no partner for one of the dances and Mrs. Weston asks Mr. Elton to dance with her, he refuses, which serves to humiliate Harriet but is mostly intended to hurt Emma. Readers already know Mr. Elton to be conceited; he is now also revealed to be unkind and ill-mannered.

How does Mr. Knightley's reprimand of Emma at the Box Hill picnic serve as a turning point in the novel?

At the Box Hill picnic, Emma deliberately insults Miss Bates by making a joke implying that she is exceedingly dull and tedious. Miss Bates's feelings are badly hurt, and at the end of the picnic, Mr. Knightley rebukes Emma in strong terms. This drubbing by Mr. Knightley cuts Emma deeply. Ashamed of her bad behavior, she begins to treat people with more care. She visits Miss Bates the next day to show her contrition, and when she finds out that Jane is ill, she makes more than one attempt to be helpful. For example, she sends Jane arrowroot and offers her an airing in her carriage (the first time she has tried to use that symbol of privilege to help another). When she learns of Frank's engagement, her thoughts immediately go to Harriet and how the news might affect her. Mr. Knightley's chastisement awakens a higher level of maturity in Emma's conscience.

In the novel Emma, how does Mr. Knightley embody the meaning of his name?

Mr. Knightley embodies the meaning of his name by exhibiting the virtues of chivalry. He is generous—the first to help a neighbor in need. He unobtrusively sends gifts of food to Miss Bates and Jane and brings his carriage to the Coles' party so that Jane, who has been ill, doesn't have to walk home. He is courteous regardless of people's station in life and scolds Emma for bad behavior toward Miss Bates. He is loyal and kind; for example, he attempts to protect Emma from what he sees as Frank's double dealing in flirting with two women, and he rushes to her side when he thinks she must feel jilted, even though it must be painful for him to think she loves another man.

How is Frank's behavior at the Box Hill picnic similar to Emma's?

Emma's behavior is inappropriate because she flirts somewhat shamelessly with Frank to take the edge off her bad mood, but she knows she doesn't really care for him. Further, she baldly insults Miss Bates by calling her dull, and her behavior is disrespectful and hurtful. Frank's behavior is inappropriate because he flirts shamelessly with Emma but is engaged to Jane. He also speaks cuttingly to Jane about how a man might commit himself to a woman "on a short acquaintance, and [rue] it all the rest of his life," exactly their own history. Both Emma and Frank are guilty of hurting members of the Bates family, whose circumstances command respect, not cruelty.

How does Emma's belief about Frank Churchill and Harriet Smith show that her path to self-knowledge is not yet complete?

Frank Churchill rescues Harriet from the gypsies. She faints when he brings her back to Emma. Emma's lively imagination immediately goes into overdrive. She imagines such a dashing rescue as the basis for a romance, thinking Frank is getting over her and Harriet is getting over Mr. Elton. A few days later, when Harriet plans to burn mementos of Mr. Elton, she confesses to Emma that she now has feelings for another man, this one even higher above her station. Emma assumes Harriet is talking about Frank when she is actually talking about Mr. Knightley, who rescued Harriet at the ball. Emma is still letting her romantic nature color what she hears and sees.

How does Mrs. Churchill's death advance the plot of Emma?

Mrs. Churchill's death allows Frank to marry Jane. Mrs. Churchill, not Mr. Churchill, was the adoptive parent who was full of class pride and would have objected to Frank's marrying a penniless young woman. That is why Frank hides his engagement. Once Mrs. Churchill dies, Mr. Churchill freely gives his consent to the marriage. There is no other way for the secret engagement between Frank and Jane to end happily, because Frank is too reliant on the fortune he is to inherit to risk losing the money. The death also advances the plot because, once the engagement is known, Mr. Knightley returns to Highbury to console Emma.

Consider the marriages of the Westons, the Eltons, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, Emma and Mr. Knightley, and Harriet Smith and Robert Martin. How are they alike and unlike?

The marriages of the Eltons, Emma and Mr. Knightley, and Harriet Smith and Robert Martin are similar because they are between people of similar social class. The marriages of the Westons and Jane and Frank are similar because, although the partners have similar social standing, the women "marry up" financially. In fact, Mrs. Weston had been a governess, and Jane is doomed to become one if she does not marry. The Westons, Jane and Frank, and Emma and Mr. Knightley have the luxury of marrying for love. The Eltons have married on short acquaintance, although they seem to enjoy each other's company. Harriet and Robert's marriage seems more one of practicality, although readers can imagine that, like the Eltons, they will be happy enough.

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