Summary and Analysis
Volume 1: Chapters IX-X
The framed portrait arrives, and Emma turns to improving Harriet further. It is, however, easier to chat than read, and so they turn to the only "literary" pursuit interesting to Harriet: riddles, which she starts collecting in a book. Mr. Elton is persuaded to compose a charade, which he brings over the next morning, saying that it is a friend's. After he leaves, Harriet cannot fathom its meaning, but Emma immediately sees that the solution is the word courtship. Emma is so delighted at her apparent success that, in spite of Mr. Elton's earlier wishes to the contrary, she copies the poem in Harriet's book, an act that disconcerts Mr. Elton when he returns and learns of it, though he takes it gallantly.
Walking the next morning on a charitable visit to a poor sick family, Emma answers a question from Harriet by declaring the improbabilities of her ever marrying. Harriet is struck with feminine horror at the possibility of her friend's being an old maid, like Miss Bates. Emma assures her that she will always have nieces around her but that she will never harp about them as Miss Bates does about Jane Fairfax, a subject that tires Emma because Miss Bates is so tiresome a talker.
After rendering their genuinely kind services to the sick family, the two young ladies are returning home when they meet Mr. Elton on a visit to the same family. Eager to give the two "lovers" a chance, Emma deliberately separates herself from them after Mr. Elton postpones his visit to escort them. She further delays with a supposedly broken shoelace, then breaks it in order to gain entrance to the nearby vicarage, the interior of which Harriet has never seen. Contriving to leave the other two alone, Emma goes into a back room with the housekeeper. Ten minutes later she returns to the gratifying sight of them talking near the window. Still, Mr. Elton has not come to the point with Harriet, and Emma disappointedly credits him with being cautious, "very cautious." Determined to be optimistic, she flatters herself that the incident is a step forward "to the great event."
These pages intensify Emma's self-deception. She is more than ever determined to read every act by Mr. Elton as a growing interest in Harriet — so determined that she misinterprets and is disappointed, even irritated, at the lack of ultimate results, though she can still draw optimistic conclusions. Her willfulness and stratagems stand in contrast to her genuine and realistic kindness in other matters such as the poor sick family.
In addition, Harriet's utter simplicity is exemplified; Mr. Elton's increasing gallantry and interest are made at least ambiguous to the reader if not to Emma; and Jane Fairfax is mentioned to prepare for her later appearance in the novel as a foil for Emma.