Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapter VIII
Frank returns from London and evidences no discomposure about the purpose of the trip; but Emma is ready not only to overlook that but also to wonder how soon, in light of his possible feeling for her, she should "throw coldness into her air" toward him.
When she reaches the Coles' for the party, she praises George Knightley — who for once has brought out his carriage — for being a proper gentleman for the occasion; he only laughs good-humoredly. As those who are to come early for dinner arrive, Frank seats himself agreeably beside her. During the meal Mrs. Cole reports the news that a new, large pianoforte arrived that day for Jane, who has been puzzled about it, though of course it must be from Colonel Campbell. Emma thinks that Mr. Dixon has sent it surreptitiously, and Frank agrees in such a polite way with her words that he seems to be agreeing about Mr. Dixon, who had preferred Jane's playing to Miss Campbell's. Ambiguously he concludes his remarks about the instrument by saying, "And now I can see it in no other light than as an offering of love."
The ladies are in the drawing room after dinner when the other ladies — including Miss Bates and
Jane — arrive for the remainder of the party. As soon as the men join them, Frank makes his way directly to Emma. After an interruption by Mr. Cole, Emma sees Frank looking intently across the room at Jane, but he says that it is only on account of the way her hair is done and goes over purportedly to ask her about it. Mrs. Weston joins Emma to say that George's carriage has brought Jane and Miss Bates and that she thinks a match is making "between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax." Emma will not believe this, declaring that "Mr. Knightley must not marry!" and thereby cut little Henry off from inheriting the Donwell Abbey estates. She even mimics Miss Bates to indicate the absurdity of George's ever marrying Jane, but Mrs. Weston hints that the pianoforte may have come from George.
Emma is asked to play and is joined in singing by Frank. Then while Jane plays and Frank joins her also in singing, George talks with Emma in such a way that she is convinced that he would never send a gift secretly to anybody. When the first of two dances is proposed, Frank secures Emma's hand for it and George, instead of asking Jane or anybody else to dance, goes and talks with Mr. Cole. Emma feels "no longer an alarm for Henry" and lets herself enjoy the dancing.
Emma continues to let herself be impressed by Frank, while he adroitly replies to her suspicions about Jane with words that seem to agree with her and sometimes do. The reader may be beginning to wonder some about his words and actions, but Emma is not. She is, in fact, so optimistically sure of things and of herself that unconsciously she puts George in the same category of "not marrying" with herself. She does this in a context which involves another instance of reversal, though a milder one than the climactic one in the first volume: Mrs. Weston is now the matchmaker. For a moment, at least, her and Emma's roles are reversed; and through this Miss Austen may be making a wry comment on the influences of human relationships.
The reader who finishes the novel and then re-reads this chapter will find, as he often will in other chapters, a great deal of irony — for instance, in the manner in which Emma (and perhaps the reader also on a first perusal) is shrewdly misled by Frank's conversation and observations, likewise in Emma's reason given as to why George must never marry. But there is also immediate irony which the reader can find, for example, in George's reply to Emma's congratulating him for bringing his carriage to the party. Though irony always contains some kind of special truth, in this case it is both obvious and realistic.