Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapters XIII-XIV
Emma continues "to entertain no doubt of her being in love" with Frank, but "the conclusion of every imaginary declaration on his side was that she refused him." Though she is certain that he is in love, she begins to suspect that he is not really necessary to her happiness. When she reads a letter that Mrs. Weston receives from Frank, she still finds that she can "do without the writer"; but struck by a reference in the letter to her "beautiful little friend" Harriet, she begins to think of scheming.
Now that Frank is gone, the center of attention becomes the expected arrival of the Eltons. Harriet is in such a flutter about this that Emma, to divert her friend for her good, reproaches her for not thinking of Emma and the pain that the constant reference to the Eltons causes her. Harriet reacts with such concern that Emma later muses on her tenderness of heart and wifely possibilities, concluding thus: "I mention no names; but happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet!"
Mrs. Elton is first seen at church, but not long afterward Emma, taking Harriet to get the confrontation over with, pays the newlyweds a short visit. Emma feels that she sees in Augusta Elton not much elegance but too much ease for a young woman who is both a bride and a stranger. When the visit is returned, she becomes convinced that Augusta is "a vain woman," for she talks too much about her "brother Mr. Suckling's seat" of Maple Grove and about his barouche-landau, which they use for "exploring." She is overly familiar with her recommendation of the "advantages of Bath" for Mr. Woodhouse; then after denying any real ability with music, she insists that she and Emma, as town leaders, must form a musical society. Revealing that they have been calling at Randalls, she offers hasty, brief praise of the Westons and refers to another visitor there as Knightley, whom she has then met for the first time.
After the Eltons are gone, Emma inwardly expresses her outrage at this "insufferable woman" who, having never seen George before, glibly calls him Knightley. The woman is worse than she has imagined. When Mr. Woodhouse states that he should have paid his respects to Augusta because "Not to wait upon a bride is very remiss," Emma chides him as no friend to matrimony and states that what he says he should have done is "encouragement to marry." He wants to argue the point, but Emma drops it, her mind returning "to Mrs. Elton's offences, and long, very long, did they occupy her."
Something close to reversal begins to occur in these two chapters. Emma obviously has not ended her propensity to manage others and can even shift her own feelings for Frank into another possible "management" for Harriet. Marriage, of course, is still the focal point for her scheming. Now a new character, Augusta Elton, is introduced as one who also likes to manage things. In a sense Augusta combines the worst characteristics of both Emma and Miss Bates. Like Miss Bates, she is an inveterate and domineering talker; but unlike the spinster, she seems lacking in genuine goodwill and in any compensating self-effacement. Like Emma, she has an overriding urge to manage; but unlike her new acquaintance, she obviously is wanting in good breeding and taste and apparently is ready to pass judgment on and manage any and everything that comes into view. We are never told directly that Emma sees something of herself in Augusta; but the rector's new wife will be another major factor in Emma's gradual maturing into self-knowledge, for Augusta is a flagrant example of how far one can go in self-importance and in "management."At the moment, concentrating upon the vulgar reference to George as Knightley, Emma can analyze the newcomer only to the point of calling her an insufferable woman because she is crude and brash.
At this point in the story Emma is beginning to get over another crisis: her feeling that she is in love with Frank Churchill. The practical and reasoning side of her nature is starting to reassert itself. Interestingly enough Augusta, in addition to being a revelatory foil for Emma, serves her in another psychological way. Since something or someone is needed to replace the diminishing personal significance of Frank, Augusta will allow her vent for both emotion and reaction. The "insufferable woman" helps her get over the involvement — such as it is — with Frank.