Summary and Analysis
Upon their arrival at the Westons' home, Emma's tendency toward enjoyment asserts itself and she determines to think "as little as possible of Mr. Elton's oddities." But he compounds her vexation by placing himself close to her at the first opportunity, and for the first time Emma wonders if John could have been right, if Mr. Elton could be "beginning to transfer his affections from Harriet" to her — an "absurd" idea.
Because of his attentions, she cannot overhear another interesting group conversation; but at dinner, happily released to sit beside Mr. Weston, she learns that Frank Churchill is expected for a visit about the second week in January. Emma is still resolved never to marry, but she has frequently thought "that if she were to marry, he was the very person to suit her in age, character and condition." It is only a thought, however, for she would not give up her present situation for anything. After dinner, with the ladies
retired to the drawing room, Mrs. Weston confirms the news about Frank and voices her doubts about it.
She does not want to be unduly critical but she has heard of Mrs. Churchill's variable and demanding temper, and even Isabella agrees about the character of that lady. Emma is critical of Frank and his delayed visit, but Mrs. Weston tries to defend him. Knowing of his repeated excuses, Emma coolly replies, "I shall not be satisfied, unless he comes."
In terms of plot movement, this chapter does two primary things. It advances the strand involving Mr. Elton, showing more and more to the reader, if not to Emma, what the vicar is up to. In addition it focuses attention more fully than ever upon Frank Churchill, who will enter the story in person in Volume Two and be a main character in the rest of the novel. For the reader, as for the people of Highbury, his character is in doubt; and doubt is calculated to arouse anticipation and expectant interest.
A curious honesty in Emma's self-deception also is given in this chapter. Beginning to wonder about John's statements and Mr. Elton's actions, she can conceive only that Mr. Elton may be starting to transfer his affections from Harriet to herself — not that she has been the object all along. This is, of course, the honesty of obduracy. Interestingly and tantalizingly enough, Emma, ever connected with the theme of marriage, can conceive of Frank as possibly a suitable partner for her even as, in the same mental breath, she reaffirms her resolution of never marrying. These thoughts of hers are also part of the plot movement calculated to foster the reader's expectant interest.