Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapter XVI
Everybody seems to be inviting the Eltons for dinners and evening parties. Emma too feels that she must satisfy the situation by giving them a dinner, to which she also invites the Westons, George, and Harriet. To her happiness Harriet begs off, and Jane is invited in her place. Emma is apprehensive when she learns that John Knightley is to come on that very day to leave his two oldest boys for a visit, for
Mr. Woodhouse does not believe in more than eight at the dinner table and John is likely to be disagreeable. Things turn out well, though, when Mr. Weston has to go out of town on unexpected business that day and when John proves agreeable after all. In fact, John is quite affable with Jane, whom he has seen that day on her way to the post office. When he talks about how marriage and a family change one's eagerness about getting letters, her reaction is "a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in the eye."
Talk of Jane's walk to the post office in the rain reaches Mrs. Elton, who "will not allow her to do such a thing again." She is extremely officious about it, declaring that her servant will pick up the Bateses' mail too, although Jane insists otherwise and changes the subject. Talk of handwriting leads George to say that "Emma's hand" is stronger than the style of her sister and to add a bit later that Frank's writing "is too small — wants strength." As the group starts for the dinner table, Emma wonders about Jane's constant morning walks for the mail and suspects that she does it "in full expectation of hearing from some one very dear." She determines not to utter a word to hurt Jane's feelings.
In addition to illustrating further Mr. Woodhouse's fussiness and Emma's sense of social obligation, this chapter deepens the mystery of Jane. Though Emma still thinks that the problem is Mr. Dixon, she nonetheless seems to be developing a degree of sympathy for, if not understanding of, Jane. Excepting perhaps the reader, no one seems really to notice the compliment that George utters about "Emma's hand."