Summary and Analysis
When the gentlemen join the ladies in the drawing room, Mr. Elton immediately seats himself on the sofa between Emma and Mrs. Weston and becomes so vocally anxious about Emma's escaping the throat infection that, in her vexation, she admits that his entreaties appear "exactly like the pretence of being in love with her, instead of Harriet."
John comes in with the information that snow now covers the ground and more is coming fast. This naturally upsets poor Mr. Woodhouse, and everyone wonders what must be done. Always sensible and practical, George, who has slipped out to investigate, returns to say that nowhere is the snow more than half an inch deep and that travel will be easy for at least another hour. He and Emma quickly settle the question and order the carriages brought around. To her further vexation Emma finds herself alone in the second carriage with Mr. Elton.
The three-quarter-mile trip is hardly begun when the vicar seizes her hand and declares his adoring love and need of her, "ready to die" if she refuses him. When she deliberately but delicately brings up the name of Harriet, he is amazed but resumes his own passion, "urgent for a favourable answer." Struck by his inconstancy and presumption, she accuses him of misbehavior toward Harriet, whereupon he says, "I never thought of Miss Smith in the whole course of my existence — never paid her any attentions, but as your friend." Pressing his point, he makes clear that he thinks Harriet is beneath him and declares that he has received encouragement from Emma herself. Emma denies this, upbraids him for his attitude toward Harriet, and flatly states, "I have no thoughts of matrimony at present." The rest of the trip is spent in angry silence. After leaving him at the vicarage, the carriage takes her to Hartfield, where she finds everyone in peace and comfort — everyone except herself.
The action of this chapter is the external climax of Volume One, and the action speaks pretty much for itself. The fiasco of a proposal is in contrast to the comfortable domesticity all around it; and as a real emotional mishap on the return trip home, it stands out in ironic relief against the earlier apprehensions of physical misadventure on the snow-covered road.
The concluding incident of the chapter marks the beginning of revelation and self-revelation for Emma. The situation constitutes a point of extreme testing of an imaginative young lady, and in spite of a hesitant moment or two, she meets the event with superb outward control. It is also worth noting that her conviction of his "presumption" comes, if we are to judge from her total reactions to him up to this point in the story, as much from a sense of incompatibility as from a sense of social levels, though she would probably feel that the two are inseparable.