Summary and Analysis
Volume 1: Chapter V
George Knightley and Mrs. Weston have a discussion — a near argument, in fact — about Emma's relation with Harriet. George is convinced that nothing good can come of it for either party. When Mrs. Weston says it will lead to Emma's reading more, his short reply is that "Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old" and that she will never subject "the fancy to the understanding." After he refers ironically to "Emma's genius for foretelling and guessing," Mrs. Weston shifts the talk to Emma's beauty, eliciting from him the statement that "I love to look at her" and that Emma's vanity lies another way than personal appearance. Mrs. Weston can see no wrong in Emma and requests and advises
George not to make an issue of the friendship between Emma and Harriet. George agrees and, in wondering what will become of Emma, recalls, "She always declares she will never marry." Mrs.
Weston's reply is a vague one that hides some wishes that the Westons have respecting Emma's destiny.
The picture of George Knightley here is that of a realist. He is a man of understanding or reason, and he is quite right about Emma but too amiable really to interpose. His statement about Emma's not reading books is ironical when we recall Emma's recent criticism of Robert Martin for the very same neglect. In stating his view of what a wife should be, George refers to Mrs. Weston's talent for submission of her will; and yet by the end of the chapter it is George himself who has submitted to her. (Note: in the novel he is always called Mr. Knightley; his first name is presently used to distinguish him from his brother John.)
The delineation of Mrs. Weston in this chapter helps to explain why Emma is as she is, for, as always, Mrs. Weston has absolute innocent faith in her former ward. Her hinted wishes that they at Randalls have for Emma constitute the author's preparation for further plot complications.