Summary and Analysis
Volume 1: Chapter VIII
Since Harriet now has a bedroom at the Woodhouses, she sleeps at Hartfield this night. The next morning, while she is away at Mrs. Goddard's, George Knightley calls and talks with Emma. He voluntarily discusses Harriet, thinking that he sees improvement in her; then he indicates that Harriet can expect a proposal from Robert Martin, who has consulted George and whom George praises strongly for his good qualities. When Emma reveals that Robert has already written and been refused, George is indignant and accuses Emma of misleading Harriet into pretension and false hope. He guesses that Mr. Elton is the object of Emma's intrigue and assures her that it will not work. Emma thanks him for his advice and he leaves abruptly. When Harriet returns, she talks of nothing but Mr. Elton, who, she has learned, is "actually on his road to London" with the portrait.
George is further characterized as a strong and sensible man of reason. He grants that Emma too has reason but he cautions her plainly about it: "Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do." His recommendation of Robert for Harriet comes from his recognition and acceptance of social classification, despite the fact that, in direct opposition to Emma's guesses and hopes, he suggests that Harriet's parentage may well be very inferior to Robert's. On the other hand, Emma is saved from a one-sided, willful characterization by the indication that, in reference to George, she has "habitual respect for his judgment in general"; she nonetheless will not agree with him on this particular subject of Harriet.