Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapters III-IV
Coming the next morning on business with Mr. Woodhouse, George Knightley gives his approbation to Emma for being so pleasant toward Jane, though the two disagree about the reason for Jane's reserve. He is about to give Emma a piece of news when he is interrupted by the arrival of Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax with thanks for a hindquarter of pork sent them by the Woodhouses. Miss Bates is also bursting with the news that Mr. Elton, who has been away only four weeks, is going to be married to a Miss Hawkins whom he has met at Bath. Jane still will not commit herself on anything, even on Mr. Elton, whom she has of course not yet met. George leaves with the other two visitors, and Emma is left with her father, who laments "that young people would be in such a hurry to marry — and to marry strangers too," and with her concern about how Harriet will feel when she learns the news.
After a heavy but short rain, Harriet arrives in a state of perturbation, but it is not because she has heard of Mr. Elton. Instead, she has been detained by the rain at Ford's, the principal fashionable shop in Highbury, where she encountered Robert Martin and his sister, who first ignored her and then came by to speak quite amiably and kindly with her. Emma has to admit to herself that they have acted worthily, but she is disturbed at Harriet's excitement over meeting Robert again, and to assuage it she is obliged to hurry on with the news about Mr. Elton. As Mr. Elton's rights to Harriet's attention gradually revive, Emma is rather glad of the meeting at Ford's for "deadening the first shock, without retaining any influence to alarm."
The Highbury rumors about Miss Hawkins are such good and numerous ones that Mr. Elton needs to tell very little of her when he returns. Her first name is Augusta and she possesses about ten thousand pounds in fortune; since she and he have no one to please except themselves, the wedding will be soon. Emma does not like the pique and pretension that she now sees in Mr. Elton, and she determines what she can of Miss Hawkins: that she is the younger daughter of a Bristol merchant, that her parents are dead, and that her older sister is married to a gentleman near Bristol. Emma does not think very highly of these circumstances, but her thoughts and hands are filled with Harriet, who sees and hears, or hears of, Mr. Elton and his concerns at every turn before he leaves again for Bath.
When a few days later Elizabeth Martin calls at Mrs. Goddard's and, finding Harriet not at home, leaves a note, Emma advises a return visit as best. It will be a social call to establish what Emma feels is the proper relationship among them, for she herself will take Harriet in the carriage, leave her at the farm, and return for her after only fifteen minutes. Her heart does not fully approve of the scheme, but she can think of nothing better.
These chapters continue the settling of the situation for Mr. Elton and Harriet, at the same time extending the subordinate plot thread of the Martins. Emma's sense of social distinction is further affirmed both in respect to the Martins and in her attitude toward what she learns of Augusta Hawkins. Jane is still something of an enigma, but one problem that Emma has set in motion becomes clear when she realizes that "Harriet was one of those, who, having once begun, would be always in love." She now sees her management of Harriet as a bit of a chore but also as a matter of course.