Summary and Analysis
Volume 1: Chapter VII
On the very day of Mr. Elton's going to London, Harriet receives a letter with a direct proposal of marriage from Robert Martin. When shown it, Emma admits that it is a well-written letter but plants doubt in Harriet's mind. When Harriet asks her point-blank what she should do, Emma backs off a bit but not enough but what she is really directing Harriet every minute. After Harriet commits herself to rejecting Robert, Emma congratulates her and suggests that Harriet write her refusal to him. And while "Emma continued to protest against any assistance being wanted, it was in fact given in the formation of every sentence." Afterward Emma manages to distract her by talking about Mr. Elton and the portrait he is taking to London.
This scene demonstrates the degree of control Emma has gained over pretty, unreasoning Harriet as well as her finesse in making Harriet believe that the decision is her own. For Harriet quite naturally is drawn toward Robert. After Harriet has made up her mind to reject him, Emma is heartless enough to say, "It would have grieved me to lose your acquaintance, which must have been the consequence of your marrying Mr. Martin." In light of her strong wishes, Emma may feel herself justified in saying this, but it is nonetheless a genuine dagger thrust of cruelty, hardly to be excused by anyone except a Harriet Smith. Emma, it appears, will go far to have her way.