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Emma, Chapters 16, 17, & 18
Emma, Volume I, Chapters XVI, XVII, and XVIII, Quotes, Questions, and Discussion
August 22, 2016
2:43 PM
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Here are a few selections of the text for us to consider and to help us remember the progression of the story.  Remember if you need the text, it can be found online here: mollands.net

Chapter 16


To Mr. John Knightley was she indebted for her first idea on the subject, for the first start of its possibility. There was no denying that those brothers had penetration. She remembered what Mr. Knightley had once said to her about Mr. Elton, the caution he had given, the conviction he had professed that Mr. Elton would never marry indiscreetly; and blushed to think how much truer a knowledge of his character had been there shewn than any she had reached herself. It was dreadfully mortifying; but Mr. Elton was proving himself, in many respects, the very reverse of what she had meant and believed him; proud, assuming, conceited; very full of his own claims, and little concerned about the feelings of others.

So, Emma admits that the Knightley brothers are perceptive and discerning. Yet, in just two more chapters, she will once again be questioning Mr. Knightley’s view on a gentleman.

We also see a sense of Emma’s misery here. She felt foolish having been warned about Mr. Elton and then misinterpreting everything. But that is not her only source of misery in this situation.  What other things have caused her misery? 

The first error and the worst lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more

Here, I think she sees the harm she has caused Harriet.  It was Emma, after all, that advised Harriet against Mr. Martin and to consider Mr. Elton instead. She is still certain that her advice in refusing Mr. Martin is correct, but I wonder if there is a bit of her that worries that Harriet might end up alone, and it will be her fault? 

It was weather which might fairly confine every body at home; and though she hoped and believed him to be really taking comfort in some society or other, it was very pleasant to have her father so well satisfied with his being all alone in his own house, too wise to stir out; and to hear him say to Mr. Knightley, whom no weather could keep entirely from them,—

”Ah! Mr. Knightley, why do not you stay at home like poor Mr. Elton?”

Now, why do you suppose Mr. Knightley would not stay home when everyone else does? Does he venture out just to call on Mr. Woodhouse? Is it so that he can see his brother and the children? Or is there more at play here that even know-it-all Knightley does not suspect?  


Chapter 17


Her (Harriet’s) tears fell abundantly–but her grief was so truly artless, that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma’s eyes–and she listened to her and tried to console her with all her heart and understanding–really for the time convinced that Harriet was the superior creature of the two–and that to resemble her would be more for her own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence could do.

Harriet did think him all perfection, and maintained the non-existence of any body equal to him in person or goodness–and did, in truth, prove herself more resolutely in love than Emma had foreseen; but yet it appeared to her so natural, so inevitable to strive against an inclination of that sort unrequited, that she could not comprehend its continuing very long in equal force.

More for Emma to ponder — Harriet had felt more than Emma had expected in regards to Mr. Elton, and although, she is fairly easily reconciled to events and comforted, she has felt true sorrow in the situation.  I find the comment about Harriet being the more superior creature and the comment about resembling Harriet to be quite interesting. Emma’s superior intelligence has failed her at this point — she did not know what she thought she knew.  What do you think it is about Harriet here that Emma thinks she (Emma) is lacking? 


Chapter 18


She was the first to announce it to Mr. Knightley; and exclaimed quite as much as was necessary, (or, being acting a part, perhaps rather more,) at the conduct of the Churchills, in keeping him away. She then proceeded to say a good deal more than she felt, of the advantage of such an addition to their confined society in Surry; the pleasure of looking at somebody new; the gala-day to Highbury entire, which the sight of him would have made; and ending with reflections on the Churchills again, found herself directly involved in a disagreement with Mr. Knightley; and, to her great amusement, perceived that she was taking the other side of the question from her real opinion, and making use of Mrs. Weston’s arguments against herself.

Ok, this is just rich! She has argued that Frank Churchill could come if he chose to come, and yet, when Mr. Knightley says the same thing (below), Emma argues against it! Why do you suppose she does not just say, “Yes, I agree”?  I’d like to imagine it is a desire to see Mr. Knightley proven wrong, but that’s just me and probably not Emma’s intent at all. ? 


”I am not supposing him at all an unnatural creature, in suspecting that he may have learnt to be above his connexions, and to care very little for any thing but his own pleasure, from living with those who have always set him the example of it. It is a great deal more natural than one could wish, that a young man, brought up by those who are proud, luxurious, and selfish, should be proud, luxurious, and selfish too. If Frank Churchill had wanted to see his father, he would have contrived it between September and January. A man at his age–what is he?–three or four-and-twenty–cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible.”


It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. 

Ah! I like this! Understanding a person takes looking at things from their perspective and not just your own. A very perceptive thought, Emma! However, she is herself making judgements about Frank Churchill without an intimate knowledge. Now, to be a bit critical here, I could point out that Emma was able to see Mr. Elton’s pride and is able to see Mr. Knightley’s error in judging without knowledge, but in both situations, she seems to lack the ability (or desire) to see her own actions in the same light.  She is beginning to learn but just beginning…there are more lessons needed. 

”I rather doubt that. You are very fond of bending little minds; but where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones. I can imagine, that if you, as you are, Mr. Knightley, were to be transported and placed all at once in Mr. Frank Churchill’s situation, you would be able to say and do just what you have been recommending for him; and it might have a very good effect. The Churchills might not have a word to say in return; but then, you would have no habits of early obedience and long observance to break through. To him who has, it might not be so easy to burst forth at once into perfect independence, and set all their claims on his gratitude and regard at nought. He may have as strong a sense of what would be right, as you can have, without being so equal, under particular circumstances, to act up to it.”

Here Emma speaks of dependence and independence, and I did read an article that said she is referring to the plight of women being dependent and comparing that to the ease of movement of a man. I disagree. I think she is speaking of Frank Churchill, who, unlike Mr. Knightley, is dependent on the Churchills’ for his situation. He was not born into a position to inherit a large estate.  He has been taken in by the Churchills and owes them something more for that.  And, perhaps we are seeing a bit of what Emma feels in regards to duty to her father in her statements as well.  But, we must remember that Emma as a woman in that day was rather independent. She could choose where she married and if she married.  Harriet was not so fortunate in comparison.  So again, we see Emma able to see a situation clearly for others (Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightley) but not for herself.  

”I will say no more about him,” cried Emma, “you turn every thing to evil. We are both prejudiced; you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here.”

”Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced.”

”But I am very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for Mr. and Mrs. Weston gives me a decided prejudice in his favour.”

”He is a person I never think of from one month’s end to another,” said Mr. Knightley, with a degree of vexation, which made Emma immediately talk of something else, though she could not comprehend why he should be angry.

To take a dislike to a young man, only because he appeared to be of a different disposition from himself, was unworthy the real liberality of mind which she was always used to acknowledge in him; for with all the high opinion of himself, which she had often laid to his charge, she had never before for a moment supposed it could make him unjust to the merit of another.

Are we seeing the beginnings of what Mr. Knightley truly feels toward Emma? Is it his jealousy that makes him so severe? 

August 24, 2016
1:04 AM
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That was a big chunk of book, Leenie. Thanks for taking it on so comprehensively!

On chapter sixteen:

I think much of Emma’s mortification has to do with her disappointment in herself, in her own judgement. Her wits have failed her, and she was used to relying on them unquestioningly. So much of her focus is on how the Knightley brothers proved more perceptive than she. That bites bad. As to Mr. Knightley venturing out in the snow, his family visiting Hartfield is the perfect excuse, and I am sure he takes comfort in it. The first volume of the book showed Emma’s lack of perception, now we get to see “know-it-all-Knightley” flounder a bit. 

On chapter seventeen:

I love that first quote you highlight. Emma is so condescending in it, even as she is sincerely remorseful and anxiously attempting to assuage her friend’s feelings. The entire situation is, after all, her fault. She should be penitent. And yes, Harriet is a lesser creature than she. There is no denying that Austen gave her fewer endowments than she bestowed upon Emma, but that doesn’t make it becoming of Emma to acknowledge the fact so blatantly.

The aspect Emma admires here in Harriet is the same that Henry Tilney loves in Catherine Morland: artlessness. Sincerity. There are attributes in which Emma is lacking, and she knows it. However, note that she was only “for a time convinced” of Harriet’s superiority. It gives her pause to reflect on how intelligence, or genius, can make life more difficult. More complex. It’s the ignorance is bliss argument. Austen often equates education or worldliness (more than intelligence, I think) with some sort of corruption of spirit. Look at Austen’s artless characters, Catherine, Jane Bennet, Mr. Rushworth, Harriet: each stands in contrast to a more sophisticated mind that either is morally deficient (Isabella Thorpe, Maria Bertram) or philosophically troubled (Elizabeth Bennet, Emma). But no matter how artless and unspoiled a character might be, none of the more thoughtful characters would honestly give up their nuanced brains for blissful ignorance. Emma toys with the motion for a moment, and then just as quickly abandons it. 

It also could be argued that Emma is just engaged in more rationalizations, and that finding additional qualities to laud in Harriet only emphasizes the stupidity of Mr. Elton, but I like to think our heroine has grown a little beyond that already. 

On chapter eighteen:

Oh yes! This is a new side to Mr. Knightley! He is unsure of his motives and questioning his own reactions. Emma is clearly thrilled to find him on such shaky ground (it gives her a chance to get some of her own back), so much so that she is willing to argue against him (even when she agrees!) just to assail his weakened defenses. I think she is totally delighting in his uncertainty here and has the argument for that sake alone. She’s not willing to push it so far as to alienate him again, but I feel like she has seriously shifted the ground beneath his feet. It is Mr. Knightley’s turn to be self-reflective. 

I agree that the conversation on dependence/independence should not be seen in purely feminist terms. Clearly, they are discussing everyone in a society that largely relied on patronage for advancement. I do wish more Janeites would apply Emma’s empathetic view of Frank to Fanny Price. I always think how brave she is to resist Sir Thomas’ pressure to marry Mr. Rushworth. Imagine being so totally dependent on someone and then refusing their wishes in such a manner, and on a matter in which guardians were expected to advise and direct, especially for a personality as timid as Fanny’s!

Sorry for the tangent. 

The following person says thank you to Alexa Adams for this post.:

Leenie Brown
August 24, 2016
10:58 AM
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Such great points, Leenie and Alexa! I think Emma does feel bad for the pain she caused Harriet, even before she realizes how deeply Harriet feels the rejection from Mr. Elton. Though she does not feel much for Mr. Elton’s pain, she’s mortified that she’ll have to meet him constantly in the future also. Perhaps, she’s also embarrassed that she might have to admit that Mr. Knightley was correct in his appraisal of Mr. Elton.

I think it’s chapter 18 where they receive the letter from Mr. Elton. Emma notes that he does not send her compliments, and this reminded me of Diana Oaks’ excellent blog post on what that means: https://austenauthors.net/my-co…..liments/ 

I think the lack of compliments to Emma reinforces that Mr. Elton lacks grace and perhaps even forgiveness, a necessary quality for a clergyman.

I love the conversation between Emma and Knightley about Frank. It’s becoming obvious to me that Knightley’s jealous, though later on he claims he hasn’t realized it yet at this point. Emma reminds me of some college roommates I had who developed crushes on a few basketball players. They liked the guys mostly because they didn’t know them, and in their minds, they invented a perfect personality for each one. Meanwhile, they overlooked all the men they knew well. Emma is doing the exact same thing here–idealizing Frank and overlooking Knightley. Maybe some of our Darcy addicted readers can relate? LOL.

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

Alexa Adams, Leenie Brown
August 24, 2016
12:15 PM
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*nods head as she reads all the comments* *Thinks great minds think alike*  ? 

Alexa — I love your tangent! MP is one of my favourite books, and Fanny is also a favourite. ? So we can wander down that trail anytime, IMO. haha

One thing I thought as I was reading your comments — and it is something that has come to mind a few times lately, although I probably do not as of yet have it composed in my mind into the best/most logical way of expressing it.  But, here I go anyway — 

Mr. Rushworth, Fanny Price, and Jane Bennet are often thought of as “stupid” creatures.  They are timid. They talk too much. They smile too much. They are far too kind. & etc  In short, they do not fit the mould of what a proper character should be. However, they are all more perceptive about “evil” characters than the person who should be perceptive — i.e. the witty, well-educated characters like Elizabeth Bennet, Edmund Bertram, and Sir Thomas.  And there is Bingley, who everyone thinks a bit dull of wit, who perceives Jane’s admiration, but his superior friend does not.  

Oh, new thought– Harriet it perhaps a bit like this.  She see Mr. Martin, and I think sees him as a good option and sees his care for her, but the superior friend does not see it in the same light and so, knowing she is less than Emma (just as Bingley knows he is less than Darcy) she follows Emma’s guidance.  And we feel sorry for her — but Bingley, who is really needing that superior friend to aid him on his way just as Harriet is, we condemn. (Oh, that could lead into a whole other rant that I have been known to share with friends about how characters with the same tendencies are viewed so differently due to circumstance (ie position) by readers…but that will have to wait for another day ? )

Back to what I was saying before — I love how Jane Austen seems to do this.  She gives us a character and fairly clearly shows them to us one way (ie dull, superior, lacking, having plenty, etc) and then with little comments and actions cleverly shows us along the way who is actually the superior character in various situations. None of them, however, is superior in all things. So, we have Knightley who is presented very much as a person who knows all and is blind-sided by nothing — this should be our clue immediately that he will be fooled by something! ? 

Oh, and Rebecca– yes! Emma reads as very young/immature to me. I have to remind myself as I am reading that this is not a teenager.