Summary and Analysis
Volume 1: Chapter VI
Emma is pleased with her development of Harriet, especially in the latter's progressing sensibility toward Mr. Elton. She feels likewise that there is some success in regard to Mr. Elton, who has perceived "the striking improvement of Harriet's manner." With his eager agreement, Emma proposes to do a drawing of Harriet. Emma plays and sings well and has done various portraits without ever finishing any of them, for "steadiness had always been wanting." Nonetheless, her style is spirited, and the sitting begins with Mr.
Elton fidgeting behind Emma until she has him read to them. With the picture completed, others find some small faults in it; but Mr. Elton is determined to find everything in it exactly right almost to the point of perfection. When it is decided that all the portrait lacks is being framed and that that must be done in London, Mr. Elton gladly takes on the project. Emma thinks that he is being almost too gallant to be in love but decides that it is only his way. She realizes that, while doing the picture, she has been the object of many of his compliments; but she assures herself that it is merely "his gratitude on Harriet's account."
Mr. Elton is portrayed as determined to be almost simperingly pleasing — a character ripe for satire. But the emphasis in this section is on Emma's self-deception. More than ever convinced that she is rightly succeeding with Harriet, she is too intent to see that all of Mr. Elton's compliments could have been aimed at her and that, for a rector or just an honest man, he comes very close to being sycophantic. Her intensity is further demonstrated in that for the first time in her life she is able to complete a portrait. In a moment of willfulness she finds the steadiness which she has formerly lacked, but this steadiness is founded upon a misdirected imagination.