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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTERS 17 & 18
Isabella and her family leave for London. On the same day, Elton sends a note to Mr. Woodhouse informing him that he is leaving Highbury the next morning to spend a few weeks with his friends in Bath. He apologizes for his inability to come personally to take leave of Mr. Woodhouse. The next day Emma goes to meet Harriet in Mrs. Goddard's Boarding school and makes a frank confession of her mistakes about Elton. Harriet cannot help weeping, but she does not blame Emma for her misjudgment. Emma tries hard to console Harriet and feels that Harriet, though less intelligent, is morally superior to her.
Emma informs Harriet that Elton has gone to Bath for a few weeks. She warns Harriet to gain control over her emotions before Elton's return to Highbury so that she can attend parties without feeling embarrassed in his presence. Emma sincerely feels that she can have no peace of mind until Harriet overcomes her disappointment in love and thinks the girl should come and stay at Hartfield until she recovers.
Frank Churchill, who was to visit his father at Randalls in the second week of January, postpones his visit again. Emma and Knightley discuss Frank's character, and Knightley accuses him of being selfish, indecisive, and lacking in manners. He cannot understand how this twenty-three year old man can ignore his duties to his own father. He also criticizes him for being too influenced by the Churchills. Emma defends Frank.
Emma again reveals the nobility of her nature. She goes to Harriet and frankly admits that she has misjudged Elton and explains he has no interest in her. Although she weeps over her situation, the kind Harriet does not blame Emma. As a result, Emma acknowledges that Harriet is morally superior to her, a significant confession for such an arrogant girl. Emma is also genuinely concerned about her friend's disappointment and feels she should come to Hartfield to recover. She also spares Harriet of the fact that Elton has proposed to her.
It is important to note that Emma's thoughts quickly turn to social considerations, a true product of the upper class. She tells Harriet that she must gain control of her emotions so she can attend parties without being embarrassed in Elton's presence.
Within the chapter, Emma again shows that she is plagued by romantic fantasies and poor judgement. When Knightley correctly criticizes Frank Churchill for ignoring his duties as a son, Emma comes to his defense, even though she has never met the young man. Ironically, Frank's insensitive nature has many parallels to Emma's. Although Emma is very kind and attentive to her father, both she and Churchill think primarily of themselves and their personal desires. They do not care when they hurt others along the way.
It is important to notice that Elton courteously, according to upper class standards, writes a note to Mr. Woodhouse, explaining he is going to Bath for a few weeks. He does not deliver the note in person, for he obviously does not want to face Emma; neither does he mention her in the note, trying to snub her in retaliation.
CHAPTERS 19 & 20
During a morning walk, Emma and Harriet visit Mrs. and Miss Bates. The talkative Miss Bates tells them about her visit from Mrs. Coles, who has received a letter from Elton in Bath. Miss Bates then reveals she has received a letter from her niece, Jane Fairfax, who is scheduled to arrive the next week for a three-month visit. Jane has not been well since November 7, when was saved from drowning in Weymouth by Mr. Dixon, the son-in-law of the Campbells.
Jane, the daughter of Miss Bates' younger sister, had become an orphan at the age of three; since she was a young girl, she has stayed at the home of Colonel Campbell, who promised to educate her. Emma's dislike of Miss Bates also makes her dislike Jane. In truth, Emma is jealous of the young lady. Even Knightley had once told Emma that she dislikes Jane because she is such an accomplished young woman.
When Jane arrives in Highbury, Emma is much impressed by her beauty and elegant manners. She pities that the girl has no means of support and will have to work as a governess; but she does not personally like Jane, whom Emma judges to be very reserved.
Jane Fairfax, like Frank Churchill, has been much talked about before her visit to Highbury. Even before she meets her, Emma is jealous of Jane, an accomplished young woman who is known for her beauty and pleasant manners. When Miss Bates tells Emma that Jane had gone to Weymouth in the company of the Dixons and had been saved from drowning during a boat ride, Emma imagines Jane's romantic involvement with Mr. Dixon, who is married to a woman who is not pretty like Jane. It is quite clear that Emma has not given up her passion for imagining matters and involving other persons romantically.
Jane Fairfax is definitely a foil to Emma. Even Emma, in moments of introspection, is honest enough to acknowledge that Jane is much prettier than she and is very elegant and refined. Being polite and well-mannered herself, Emma tries to put Jane at ease when she comes for a visit. She plays on the piano and sings and encourages Jane also to join in. But Emma finds out that Jane is very cautious, particularly when Emma talks about Frank Churchill or her visit to Weymouth in the company of the Dixons. This reserve makes Emma imagine that Jane is trying to hide something. She is sure than Jane has a guilty conscience about Mr. Dixon.
Miss Bates is also contrasted and compared to Emma. Miss Bates is a poor middle-aged, unmarried woman devoted to her old mother, while Emma is a rich young unmarried woman devoted to her old father. Miss Bates is very much attached to her niece Jane Fairfax, while Emma is very much attached to her nephews and nieces. While Miss Bates is talkative, busily engaging her mind in the gossip about the people in the Highbury community, Emma engages her mind in romantic fancies, which threaten to ruin the happiness of others. Emma's romantic fancy about Jane foreshadows trouble.
Jane Austen depicts Miss Bates with psychological realism. Her conversation is never organized, for her thoughts flow too rapidly on a wide variety of topics. Her incoherent chatter, always filled with gossip, becomes a comic character in the novel.