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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Emma deceives herself into believing that she has succeeded in refining Harriet to the point that Elton has a serious interest in her. Although he does compliment Emma for the change she has brought in Harriet's manners, he is really praising Emma, the girl who interests him. Emma is blind to his attraction to her.
In an effort to bring Harriet and Elton together, Emma invites him to stay while she paints Harriet's portrait. Elton gladly stays to be near Emma; he grows restless when he is made to stand behind Emma and watch Harriet, who is smiling and blushing as she poses. When he praises Emma's artistic skill, she thinks he is really praising Harriet's beauty; when he keeps coming to see Emma's progress on the portrait to admire Emma's talent, she feels convinced that Elton is the true lover for Harriet. Since the portrait painting is to be continued on the next day also, Elton is invited to stay.
Everyone who sees the completed portrait praises Emma's skill but feels that Harriet is made to look more beautiful and taller than she is, a refection of Emma's romantic leanings. Elton defends Emma from the criticism. When Emma suggests that the portrait should be framed, Elton gallantly volunteers to take the portrait to London.
This chapter shows Emma's self-deception at its best. She paints Harriet to be much taller and more beautiful than she really is, for that is how she wants Elton to see her. Ironically, Elton actively courts Emma throughout the portrait sessions, but she is convinced that he compliments her artistic ability in order to praise Harriet. She is more convinced than ever that Elton is the perfect lover for her friend. The irony in the situation is that the more Emma tries to bring the two of them together, the more infatuated Elton grows with her. Emma's passion for matchmaking backfires and makes her misinterpret the entire situation, creating dramatic irony and humor.
Emma does notice that Elton is extremely courteous and flattering to her, even volunteering to have the portrait of Harriet framed for her in London. Emma excuses his behavior as an effort on his part to attract Harriet's attention. She herself never gives any thought to a romantic interest in this young man, for she considers Elton much below her in social rank.
On the day Elton leaves for London to have Harriet's portrait suitably framed, Harriet receives a letter of proposal of marriage from Robert Martin. Martin had come to Mrs. Goddard's School to deliver the letter personally to Harriet, but she was not there. Although Harriet is very much pleased with the proposal, she wants Emma's permission to accept. She, therefore, asks Emma to read the letter, which shows good sense, warmth, and delicacy of feeling. Emma realizes that Martin's well written letter indicates he thinks strongly and clearly. Emma, however, advises Harriet to decline the offer, expressing gratitude for the proposal and sorrow for his disappointment. She impresses upon Harriet that a marriage to Martin would deprive her of the upper society in Highbury.
Harriet assures Emma that she will refuse Martin's proposal, even though it is obvious that she does not want to. She does not want to hurt the feelings of Martin or his family. Emma, however, is delighted that Harriet promises to follow her advice and tells her that she would not sacrifice their friendship for anything in the world. When Emma criticizes Martin for being arrogant in making the proposal, Harriet defends him and claims he is very good- natured and free from conceit. She tells Emma that she will always be grateful to Martin and regard him highly. She also says that after her visits to Hartfield, she has come to have great regards for Knightley. Emma is disappointed it is not for Elton.
Harriet then asks Emma to help her in writing her rejection of Martin's proposal. Though Emma pretends not to help, she really dictates the entire letter to Harriet. Fearing that Harriet may change her mind, Emma insists that the letter be quickly sealed and mailed. Then she tries to cheer up Harriet by talking about Elton's interest in her. While Harriet thinks of the feelings of the Martins on receiving her letter, Emma talks to her about Elton busy in London having her portrait framed.
The episode of Martin's proposal and Harriet's rejection of it shows the degree of Emma's influence on Harriet. It also re-emphasizes Emma delusions, for Martin is a perfectly suitable match for Harriet. It is pathetic that Emma does not think of Harriet's true happiness and feelings; she only wants to make sure that her suggested match, between Harriet and Elton, comes to pass. Such an interference in Harriet's personal life on Emma's part deserves to be condemned and proves that she can be an unfeeling young lady filled with willfulness and self-importance.
Emma does understand that Martin has a strong character and expresses his sentiments with propriety and good taste. She erroneously fears, however, that Martin seeks to rise vertically in the society through marriage with Harriet; Emma seems to forget that her friend is the illegitimate daughter of an unknown man, whom Emma romantically pictures as a wealthy, landed gentleman.
The contrast between Emma and Harriet is clearly drawn in this chapter. Harriet is a woman with a conscience; she worries her rejection of the marriage proposal hurting Martin and his family. Emma, on the other hand, shows no concerns for the feelings of others; instead, she uses and manipulates people to suit her own fancies. Harriet also is a better judge of people than Emma. She senses that Elton has no real interest in her, while Emma blindly believes he loves Harriet. She knows there is no conceit in Robert Martin and no interest on his part in climbing the social ladder; Emma is sure he wants to marry Harriet to better his social standing. There is ironic humor in her judgement, for Harriet is an illegitimate child, a real social slur in the eighteenth century.
In this chapter, Austen again criticizes the social snobbery of Emma and her upper class. She tells Harriet that Martin is beneath her socially, and if she marries him, she will be snubbed by high society. To Emma, that would be a horrible fate.