Summary and Analysis
The morning's bad weather clears in the afternoon, and Emma goes outdoors for the serenity of the shrubbery. George appears, joins her for the walk, and is silent. Emma finally starts the conversation and learns that he already knows the news about Jane and Frank, was apprised of it only that morning, in fact. When she says that she should have listened to his advice and then sighs, he takes her arm and commiserates with her. Understanding him, she assures him that she was never attached to Frank. He is silent, and she continues by saying that her vanity was flattered by Frank but that she was "somehow or other safe from him." Still George is silent and deep in thought, but finally he says of Frank that "With such a woman he has a chance." Declaring that Frank is a very fortunate man to find such a woman for his wife and at such an early age, George admits that he is envious.
Emma fears that they are within half a sentence of Harriet. She does not encourage him to explain the point of envy, and George takes this in apparent mortification. As they reach the house, she reconsiders his depressed manner and offers to listen as a friend. Shaken, he addresses her as his "dearest Emma" and asks if he has no chance of ever succeeding. She is so utterly agitated by what his words imply that he has to do the talking, and he does quite a convincing job of declaring, in no uncertain terms, his love for her and his wish to hear her speak. "What did she say? — Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. She said enough to show there need not be despair — and to invite him to say more himself."
George had certainly not come with the intention of asking her to marry him, but within half an hour he has "passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name." Emma's change is equal. Thus it is that "She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house."
The two preceding chapters have presented and explored an inward change within Emma. The revelations, while leading to the positiveness of self-recognition and self-knowledge, lead also to the negative position involving gloom, despair, estrangement, and isolation. This chapter constitutes an outward change for Emma and thereby effects a reversal of fortune. Starting out with misunderstandings, it concludes with understanding and positive, happy commitment. Containing a highly interesting rearrangement of human relationships, the three chapters together also constitute the major climax of the novel. This rearrangement of relationships is the process of the social order righting itself, but it is also the natural working of equals finding each other. Though some more rearrangement is to come in order to resolve all the forces set in motion in the novel, the ideal correspondence between natural and social order is well on its way to being realized.