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Free Study Guide-Emma by Jane Austen-Free Online Chapter Summary Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CHAPTER 38

Summary

The ball at the Crown Inn is about to take place. The Westons ask Emma to come to the inn before the ball starts in order to give her opinion about the arrangements. When she arrives, she is surprised to find that Mr. Weston's cousins have also been asked to come early and give their opinions about the arrangements; Emma does not approve of Mr. Weston consulting so many people. Emma also learns that the Westons had stopped to bring Miss Bates and Jane with them in their carriage, but the women had made plans to come with the Eltons.

While supervising the arrangements, Emma finds Frank restless. He goes out every time he hears the sound of a carriage, claiming he is anxious and curious to meet Mrs. Elton. When the Eltons arrive without Miss Bates and Jane, the Eltons immediately send their carriage to the Bates house. When they finally arrive, Miss Bates and Jane are escorted by Frank and Mr. Weston. Miss Bates begins to speak in her usual rambling manner, and Mrs. Elton chatters in vulgar familiarity, refusing to properly refer to Jane as Miss Jane. Frank notices Augusta's lack of class and tells Emma that he does not like her. When Emma accuses Frank of being ungrateful, he appears to be annoyed. Emma cannot understand the cause of Frank's bad humor.

Mrs. Elton and Mr. Weston are the first to dance, followed by Emma and Frank. Although she is dancing with Frank, Emma realizes that he is not very interested in her, and she thinks of him only as a friend. She is, however, jealous of the special consideration shown to Mrs. Elton and thinks that maybe she should also marry. She thinks of Knightley, who Emma notices is not dancing. As she looks at him, Emma is impressed by his tall, upright figure and his youthful looks. She wishes, however, that Knightley would enjoy balls more and like Frank better. She is pleased to see Knightley looking at her.

Emma is disturbed that Harriet has no partner. Finally, Mrs. Weston asks Mr. Elton to dance with Harriet, but he refuses, saying that he is a married; instead, he asks to dance with Mrs. Weston herself. Emma feels insulted by Mr. Elton's callous behavior, but is pleased when she sees Knightley leading Harriet to the dance floor. Emma notices that he is dancing well.


At dinner, Miss Bates monopolizes the conversation, filled with praise for the Westons for having the party. After supper, Knightley approaches Emma, who thanks him for his dance with Harriet. Knightley boldly asks Emma why the Eltons are her enemies. It is obvious to him that Mr. Elton's refusal to dance with Harriet was meant to insult Emma more than Harriet. Emma admits that she had tried to bring Harriet and Elton together and claims it was a vain thing to do, especially since she had misjudged Elton's character. To make Emma feel better, Knightley tells her that Mrs. Elton lacks the good qualities that Harriet possesses, and any man of sense and taste would surely prefer Harriet to Mrs. Elton. Emma feels flattered that Knightley appreciates her choice of a wife for Elton better than the one Elton has chosen for himself. When the second round of dancing is to begin, Knightley asks Emma who she is going to dance with. She tells Knightley that she would be delighted to dance with him if he asks.

Notes

Emma feels relieved that Frank is not as much in love with her as he was during his first stay in Highbury. She also notices that he is not in a very good humor and wonders why. She fails to notice, however, the attention Frank pays to Jane, riding in the carriage to pick her up and escorting Jane in to the ball. It has still not dawned on Emma that Frank is in love with Emma's rival.

The Eltons again display their gauche behavior. They forget to call on Miss Bates and Jane and bring them to the ball, although the women are waiting for them. Their forgetfulness is the height of uncivil behavior and egotism. At the ball, Mr. Elton acts particularly rude. To insult Emma, he refuses to dance with Harriet when Mrs. Weston suggests it; yet he shows a readiness to dance with Mrs. Weston or anyone else. Later he hints to Knightley that he bears ill-will towards Emma.

Knightley is the hero of the evening. Although he has not danced the first part of the party, he asks Harriet to dance immediately after she is snubbed by Elton. She is delighted to dance with Knightley, whom she has always regarded as the best gentleman she knows. Emma admires Knightley for his gallantry and hopes to dance with him. She also notices that Knightley watches her, especially when she dances with Frank.

Knightley again proves he is a good judge of character. He tells Emma that Harriet would have been a much better choice for a wife than Augusta. It is obvious that Knightley, like Emma, cannot stand Mrs. Elton's vain and pretentious ways.

CHAPTER 39

Summary

The next morning Emma reviews the events of the ball held on the previous evening. She is happy for three reasons: Knightley agreed with her that the Eltons are totally lacking in proprieties, Knightley had complimented her for selecting a better wife for Elton than he himself had done; and Frank is not as much in love with her as before.

Emma does not expect Frank to come and bid her good-bye before he departs for Richmond; therefore, she is surprised to see Frank entering Hartfield, with a pale Harriet leaning on his arm. When the three of them enter Hartfield hall, Harriet sinks into a chair and faints. After recovering, she tells Emma that she had gone out for a morning walk in the company of another boarder at Ms. Goddard's school. As they traveled on the road leading to Richmond, a gypsy child came begging to them. Harriet's companion was frightened by the child and asked Harriet to leave with her. While her companion ran through a hedge and escaped to Highbury, Harriet could not escape, for she developed cramps in her legs. Soon Harriet was surrounded by half a dozen gypsy children, led by a stout gypsy woman and a boy. To placate them, she gave them a shilling and began to return to school, but they kept following her, asking for more money. By sheer chance, Frank saw Harriet being harassed by the gypsies and brought her to Hartfield.

Frank confirms Harriet's story as truthful, and Emma thanks him profusely for helping the girl. When Frank leaves for Richmond, Emma's imagination again involves Harriet and Frank in a romantic entanglement; but she promises herself not to interfere in Harriet's love life again.

Notes

In this chapter, Jane Austen, who is interested in the psychological analysis of her characters, makes the plot sensational through Harriet's adventure with the gypsies and her rescue by Frank Churchill. Harriet, a young and protected young lady, is very shaken up by the gypsies, as evidenced by the fact that she faints as soon as she is safely installed at Hartfield. By making Harriet report her misadventure and by making Frank confirm Harriet's report as true, Jane Austen shows herself to be a novelist who is realistic, rather than romantic. Though her novels often have melodramatic moments like Harriet's misadventure, she treats them realistically, by having her characters report them factually, without embellishment. The report naturally reduces the sensationalism inherent in the incident.

Another important feature in the chapter is the development of the relations between Emma and Knightley. Since Emma is no longer romantically interested in Frank, she turns her thoughts more towards Knightley, though she is not yet able to understand fully her true feelings about him. She also continues to imagine a romantic relationship developing between Harriet and Frank, which is even more unlikely than the one between Harriet and Elton. But Emma simply cannot resist the temptation of being a matchmaker. She constantly thinks of the marriage of others, though she cannot visualize the possibility of her own marriage.

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