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Emma: Chapters 46-48
Emma Volume III, Chapters X-XII
November 29, 2016
3:51 AM
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We have three eventful chapters to discuss, leading up to the climax of the book next week. Chapter 46 reveals the great mystery at the heart of the novel, chapter 47 features an assault on Emma’s sensibilities, and chapter 48 preps us for all the excitement to come, while tidily tying up a few lose strings. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The first segment I wish to highlight is Emma’s reaction to the great revelation of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax’s secret engagement:

“Well,” said Emma, “I suppose we shall gradually grow reconciled to the idea, and I wish them very happy. But I shall always think it a very abominable sort of proceeding. What has it been but a system of hypocrisy and deceit,–espionage, and treachery?–To come among us with professions of openness and simplicity; and such a league in secret to judge us all!–Here have we been, the whole winter and spring, completely duped, fancying ourselves all on an equal footing of truth and honour, with two people in the midst of us who may have been carrying round, comparing and sitting in judgment on sentiments and words that were never meant for both to hear.–They must take the consequence, if they have heard each other spoken of in a way not perfectly agreeable!”

As usual, Emma is thinking more of herself than others. She is accurate on the score of hypocrisy and deceit, that is indisputable, but her next words – espionage and treachery – that can only apply to their conduct towards herself. Mrs. Weston makes this clear in her retort:

“I am quite easy on that head,” replied Mrs. Weston. “I am very sure that I never said any thing of either to the other, which both might not have heard.”

Do you agree that it is Emma’s own behavior that leads her to be so uncomfortable with Frank and Jane’s engagement? This is only the first revelation in these chapters that forces her to reflect on her past conduct, and the next, as my five year old would say, is a doozy. Emma’s main concern besides her own foolishness in the Frank and Jane business is how Harriet will respond. But it turns out Harriet is not in love with Frank, as Emma has always supposed, but with Mr. Knightley! I feel so bad for the way Harriet appears in Emma’s thoughts during chapter 47, as she finally acknowledges that the day-boarder has always been but a pawn in her own quest for amusement. But it is not Harriet’s presumptuous romance that so unsettles Emma, but the even great revelation she then has of her heart: 

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched–she admitted–she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

So we’re back to Emma again, as usual, and she now engages in some very interesting self-reflection. I could delve into this in depth, but instead I’m going to do something a bit different than usual and ask you to compare a passage of Emma’s self-admonishments with that of a different and far better liked Austen heroine: Elizabeth Bennet. This is from chapter 36 of Pride and Prejudice, just after Elizabeth has read (and reread) Darcy’s letter:

She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. — Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.

”How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Now compare the language that Emma uses when she is lamenting her promotion of Harriet. I have highlighted the most glaring similarities, in order to make them even more glaring:

To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which her father’s claims on her allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind.

How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun?–When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied?–She looked back; she compared the two–compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter’s becoming known to her–and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it–oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison.–She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart–and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!

This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry, which she reached; and without being long in reaching it.–She was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her–her affection for Mr. Knightley.–Every other part of her mind was disgusting.

With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body’s destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing–for she had done mischief. She had brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr. Knightley.–Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place, on her must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for his attachment, she must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of Harriet’s;–and even were this not the case, he would never have known Harriet at all but for her folly.

So do you think that Emma and Lizzy’s situations are similar? If so, how, and if not, explain yourself.

Here’s a bonus question, if you’re interested: I feel like I could easily have also thrown in passages from chapter 46 of Mansfield Park, when Edmund shares with Fanny how he and Mary Crawford parted. The language again is that of self-conscious rebuke. The difference is that it is all on Edmund’s side, while Mary feels nothing outside of the loss of him. Who does Emma most resemble: Elizabeth or Mary? 

I’m going to close with a passage from chapter 48 and change the momentary focus of this conversation to economics. We have discussed previously how Emma is a very socially conscious novel. We see the upward mobility of some, like the Westons and the Coles (and Harriet Smith?), and the fall into poverty of others, like the Bates. Now as we approach the end of the novel, I urge you to think about the marriages that occur and whether they undermine or bolster the traditional social order. The below quote is taken from Emma’s reflections after Mrs. Weston relates the details of her tête-à-tête with Jane Fairfax, during Emma’s unease at the notion of a match between Harriet and Mr. Knghtley focuses not on her own loss, for a change, but on Harriet’s social (and mental) inferiority.

Mrs. Weston’s communications furnished Emma with more food for unpleasant reflection, by increasing her esteem and compassion, and her sense of past injustice towards Miss Fairfax. She bitterly regretted not having sought a closer acquaintance with her, and blushed for the envious feelings which had certainly been, in some measure, the cause. Had she followed Mr. Knightley’s known wishes, in paying that attention to Miss Fairfax, which was every way her due; had she tried to know her better; had she done her part towards intimacy; had she endeavoured to find a friend there instead of in Harriet Smith; she must, in all probability, have been spared from every pain which pressed on her now.–Birth, abilities, and education, had been equally marking one as an associate for her, to be received with gratitude; and the other–what was she? 

How do you feel about Emma’s attitude towards Harriet? I’m not sure it sits well with modern notions of equality.

November 29, 2016
8:27 PM
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Well, here comes my defense of Emma. Elizabeth is certainly a more likeable character. Jane Austen didn’t mean for us to like Emma, especially not at first, but that doesn’t mean that Emma doesn’t sincerely regret her follies and end up better because she recognizes them. I want to point out a few key differences between the two passages Alexa quoted from Emma and Pride and Prejudice. First is the matter of who’s really at fault.

In the passage with Emma, she is the one who’s been hurt by the actions of Frank and Jane. Not only did they lie to her, Frank led her on, making her think he might want to marry her. For her, it’s a matter of forgiving their faults as well as recognizing her own. Elizabeth did not have as much to forgive. Darcy had acted out of compassion. She had simply misunderstood him.

I also want the reader to consider our feminist bias in Emma’s conversation. Earlier in the book, she asserted that a rich, single woman really had no use for marriage. If you’re like me, you love that passage. But I think in Regency times, it might have sounded insensitive and arrogant. Here she had a good man who doted on her, and she ignored him as a marriage prospect. So when Emma finally recognizes her feelings for Mr. Knightley, as in the passage Alexa quoted, the Regency reader might consider that a sincere act of repentance. She’s recognizing that she’s ignored a good man.

I have always disliked the way Emma treated Harriet in these chapters, but you have to admit, after all the damage Emma’s done, Harriet is probably better off without her. She does, however, come back to being friends with Harriet in the end, which I think shows that she’s not a total snob. She also makes an effort to stay friends with Jane and Frank, which, in my mind, is pretty generous of her.

The following person says thank you to Rebecca H Jamison for this post.:

Alexa Adams
November 30, 2016
11:13 AM
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Well, I actually liked Emma in these chapters 🙂  I know…amazing, right?  I felt sorry for her as she finally feels the full weight of all her actions and for her humiliation at the hands of Frank Churchill (the cad!).  Something I found interesting in these chapters was that Harriet and Emma’s journeys seem to be opposites.  Emma had thought too highly of herself and is now brought low while Harriet, who began with a lowly opinion of herself, has now developed an inflated opinion of herself.  I think that Emma is now where she needs to be in her esteem of herself and Harriet began in a proper place…so now one is where she should be and the other is not. I find it also interesting that Emma is now sort of in the place of Jane Fairfax in having to see another woman liking the object of her affections.  The chapters did not pass without a moment of wanting to shake Emma, however.  When Harriet reveals her attachment to Mr. Knightley, Emma (understandably) conceals her true thoughts — but this whole story has been about concealment and how damaging it is — I want for a brief moment for Emma to just be open and honest. I don’t think she has been really able to do that at all during her life (except perhaps with Mr. Knightley) — think of how she is looked up to and has an image to maintain in the community and then there is her father from whom she must conceal things.  As much as I want to shake her and make her be open, I understand that that is not something she would feel comfortable with at all.  

As far as a connection between Elizabeth and Emma — I do think they both have thought too highly of their own powers of deduction and have both been proven wrong  (both ignored the opinions and advice of one who loved them…Knightley for Emma, Jane for Elizabeth) and are facing losing the man that they have come to realize too late is perfect for them.  But there is such a disparity in the gentlemen that are involved.  Frank is more of a Wickham (a player) than Darcy could ever hope to be (even with coaching haha).  Darcy is more of a Mr. Knightley…the hero that we are supposed to compare the player’s actions against to see just how rotten the player is when held up to a noble, honourable character.  I am going to say something similar of Mary Crawford — she and her brother were both players.  Her character, when compared by Edmund to a woman of noble character (Fanny), is found as wanting as Frank Churchill’s is. In my mind, there is no comparison between Mary and Emma.  Mary feels no remorse or repentance for her actions or any of her brothers. She tries to scheme her way out of everything. Emma is far superior!  She feels her guilt (as she should) and does not try to excuse it away or scheme it away. This is where we see the true value of Emma, in my opinion. She is not truly spoiled, or she would not see her guilt. She does have a good heart…she just lacks the proper training (which Knightley has attempted to give her) [Yes, mark it down…that was Leenie defending Emma 🙂 ]

Ok, one more thing that I found interesting if not sad….the comment Rebecca mentioned about Emma not needing to marry.  She had money and did not have to marry which I think was a comfort to her since she could not leave her father.  When she considers if she loved Frank when she suspects his proposal of marriage, this fact shows up in her reasoning that she was not really attached to him.  Now, as she finally realizes that she does, in fact, want to marry and finally realizes what it is to be in love, there is this fact again but now it must be part of her misery. 

How does that lyric go?  You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?  Poor Emma can relate, I believe. 

The following person says thank you to Leenie Brown for this post.:

Alexa Adams
December 1, 2016
12:05 AM
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I think she certainly can, Leenie! I’m compelled to recall what Mr. Knightley said of her way back in chapter five: 

“She always declares she will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that she has yet ever seen a man she cared for. It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good.”

And thanks for taking on Mary! I actually think Edmund it is the one who undergoes the type of self-revelation that Emma and Elizabeth share. Regardless of any similarities that may or may not exist between these characters, all three scenes are important in that they are momentous moments of self-examination and realization which have profound and lasting effects. Catherine Moreland also goes through something similar, as does Marianna Dashwood, though in more dramatic fashion. Captain Wentworth also seems to be undergoing the same thing at the end of Persuasion, when he realizes Anne would have married him years before, had he only asked again. I feel quite certain that Austen herself must have been prone to moments like this: when she was forced to look hard at herself and found herself wanting. There is a story in that, somewhere.

As Rebecca made me aware in very first line of her response, I guess I came off kind of hard on Emma in this post. I think it is because, as I said on day one of this read along, I am a lot like Emma, and I feel her sins here almost as poignantly as she must. There is some need, on such occasions, to be quite strict with oneself. As a result, I probably feel a whole lot more comfortable attacking Emma here, when she is becoming increasing aware of her own missteps, than I did at the beginning, when her behavior was far more unconscious. Just a theory. I have definitely been in this same place as Emma is here on far too many occasions in my life. Fortunately, they seem to be less frequent as I age (or I feel them less), which is a great thing because it means like an Austen heroine I learn from my mistakes, and because that feeling of self-incrimination is awful and sickly. I feel a bit nauseated just thinking of it.