Summary and Analysis
One morning ten days after Mrs. Churchill's death, Mr. Weston comes with an urgent request for Emma to come see Mrs. Weston for news about a "most unaccountable business." Emma becomes more and more inquisitive and upset on the way, but for once Mr. Weston will not divulge anything prematurely.
Left alone with an ill-looking Mrs. Weston, Emma learns that Frank has come over to see them that very morning and to break the news that he and Jane Fairfax have been long and secretly engaged — since they were together at Weymouth in October, in fact. Emma is first agitated about her former conversations with Frank about Jane and then in regard to "poor Harriet." She now has to reassure Mrs. Weston that, though briefly it was otherwise, she is not in love with Frank. While Mrs. Weston shows her relief "with tears of joy," Emma states that Frank is greatly to blame for deceiving everyone. After her friend defends him, she speaks out for "upright integrity" and cries out at the indelicacy of letting Jane be "on the point of going as governess." But Frank has known nothing of this until yesterday, after which time he immediately headed for Highbury to see Jane. Mr. Churchill has given his consent to the engagement, and Emma thinks regretfully that he would have done the same for Harriet. When she thinks of Mr. Dixon, she blushes; but in spite of all the upsetting news, she musters her reserves to set Mr. Weston at ease when he re-enters. She does so well, in fact, that on the way home with her Mr. Weston begins to think that the engagement is the best step that Frank could have taken.
The major portion of this chapter serves to clarify plot elements, but through the surprise and the regrets, Emma is coming to terms more and more with herself and the world she inhabits. She copes admirably with the situation, particularly in regard to Mr. and Mrs. Weston; and the revelation about Frank and Jane is bound to go beyond her criticism of Frank and the secret engagement to some consideration of deception and scheming in general. She seems hardly aware, however, of one major development on her part. Miss Austen has very subtly been enlarging Emma's relationship to George, and at this point in the story Emma criticizes Frank by describing what she sees as perfection in a man — and does it apparently without realizing that she is describing George Knightley, who has earlier indicated what he considers as perfection in a wife. Basically Emma fits his description too.
Satire is still at work in this chapter. One should note, for instance, what Miss Austen presents about Highbury's reaction to the death of Mrs. Churchill. Individual satire resides in Emma's still unresolved relationship with Harriet, a relationship that is very soon to offer its revelations and comeuppance.