Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapters I-II
Emma and Harriet are walking one morning when they approach the house of Mrs. and Miss Bates. Though the latter is an inveterate and compulsive talker who in all kindness gives indiscriminate attention to the trivial and the important and who therefore is disliked by Emma, Emma decides that her calling upon them is overdue and that their talk will divert Harriet's thoughts from Mr. Elton. Talk of a letter from Mr. Elton is succeeded by Miss Bates' minute details of a letter from her niece Jane Fairfax, who after a two-year interval is to begin a three-month visit with the Bateses the very next week because the Campbells, with whom she lives, are leaving to visit their recently married daughter, Mrs. Dixon, in Ireland. From the details Emma conceives a lively, though unfounded, suspicion that Jane has aroused the affections of young Mr. Dixon, who not long ago saved her from falling off the boat into the water at Weymouth. However, still promising to read the letter, Miss Bates says that Jane's reason for coming is health: Coming to Highbury will be good for the bad cold which she caught at Weymouth and which has lingered disagreeably ever since. Before the letter can be read, Emma and Harriet happily escape back to the street.
After being orphaned, Jane was taken into the family of Colonel Campbell, a friend of her military father. There she was "brought up for educating others" and became a close friend of the daughter her own age. In this elegant society her beauty and acquirements stand in contrast to those of the daughter, who has won Mr. Dixon. With the boring character of Miss Bates coloring her feelings, Emma does not like Jane and is sorry for her coming. But when Jane arrives, Emma is forced to admire her elegance to the point that she acquits her of having "seduced Mr. Dixon's affections" and even laments that Highbury affords "no young man worthy of giving her independence." When Jane visits Hartfield with her grandmother and aunt, however, Emma's feelings relapse, for Jane is very reserved, wrapping her real opinions "in a cloak of politeness." She is particularly reserved about Weymouth and the Dixons and about Frank Churchill, who was at Weymouth at the same time. On the latter all she will do is repeat the very general lip-service of others, and Emma cannot forgive her.
The beginning of Volume Two not only introduces an entirely new character, Jane Fairfax (prepared for earlier, of course), but also indicates that Emma's flair for intrigue is far from being extinguished. Still trying to console Harriet for her "loss" of Mr. Elton, she can nonetheless imagine an emotional entanglement for Jane and also wish to manipulate her toward a suitable partner. Emma's fluctuating tendency is exemplified in her initial dislike and jealousy of Jane, her subsequent admiration for Jane's qualities and sorrow for her penniless condition, and her final return to disliking the orphan. Concomitant with, and perhaps causative of, Emma's attitude is the fact that Jane is her first real competition in both acquirements and beauty.
A measure of Miss Austen's realism and satire is found in the characterization of Miss Bates. Miss Bates is such a compulsive talker that she jumps hurriedly from subject to subject, as if time is too short for her necessity to vocalize everything that comes into her life (she says practically nothing of herself except as being the object of everyone's goodness), and treats everything as of equal importance. The satire, however, lies not only in the delineation of Miss Bates but also in the kind of society that will put up with her; it is of course ambiguous satire, each element containing that which is not admirable and that which is (Miss Bates, for instance, is good intention personified).