Summary and Analysis
Volume 2: Chapters XVII-XVIII
When the ladies return to the drawing room after dinner, they make two distinct parties, for Augusta slights Emma and takes Jane aside to discuss finding a situation as governess for her. Jane insists that she does not want to look for a position yet, but Augusta is determined to be of help and rattles on until the men join the ladies. At that moment Mr. Weston, returned from his business trip, joins the party, to the astonishment of John, who cannot understand a man who, after a long day of business, will leave his warm home to come out on a cold, sleety April evening just for socializing. Mr. Weston was expected, of course, but he also has news of Frank, whose letter to Mrs. Weston the husband has opened. That Frank will soon be coming again pleases Mrs. Weston, displeases George and Mr. Woodhouse, and makes Emma weigh her feelings and "the degree of her agitation, which she rather thought was considerable."
Moving on to give the news to Augusta, who has not yet met Frank, Mr. Weston states the details.
Because of Mrs. Churchill's illness, about which he has his doubts, all the Churchills will be coming for a stay in London the very next month and Frank will be able to make the sixteen-mile trip to Highbury quite often. John, who must leave for home early the next morning, turns to Emma to say that she must not spoil his two boys and must send them home if they prove troublesome. When she says that cannot possibly happen, he knowingly mentions her being so "much more engaged with company than you used to be . . . The difference which Randalls, Randalls alone makes in your goings-on, is very great." George cries that the boys can be sent to Donwell, that he has leisure. In reply Emma offers a spirited self-defense against the charge of frequent new social engagements and insists that she is at home much more than George. This is apparently the reaction that George wants, for "Mr. Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs. Elton's beginning to talk to him."
Volume Two now ends, but without an external climax as in Volume One. There is, however, a definite rising, climaxing, and sloughing plot action in Emma's feelings for Frank Churchill, but this is internal and it is not yet entirely resolved. Some mystery has been hinted in regard to Jane and to Frank, but it is not really yet developed — much less resolved — and it serves primarily to underscore the further probability of Emma's self-deception. Augusta is introduced as a new conflictive element for Emma, one from which she may subconsciously learn something of herself; in fact, the brash and willful Augusta is one of Miss Austen's most subtle plot elements, for the author never has Emma directly confront herself with the Augusta in herself — Augusta is a negative force helping almost unperceived toward a positive end.
More specifically, in these concluding chapters Augusta is the butt of immediate satire. She is blithely unaware that she strikes herself when she says that "modern ease often disgusts me," and she creates a reader's delight when, in talking with Mr. Weston about her sister, she realizes that she has caught herself in her own cross fire of coy modesty and proud pretensions.
Since John's two sons enter these final chapters of Volume Two, it is perhaps worth noting that children and servants are merely in the background throughout the novel. The reader is never made to see them or feel their presence, though when the reader looks very closely, servants in particular are in abundance. One reason is that in this society servants (even one for the poor Bateses) and perhaps children are taken for granted. Another is that the satire of the novel is based, not upon general realism, but upon social realism as found in a provincial community where servants and children do not figure socially. Servants and children will conform to their predictable natures, but only the adult socialites have the freedom and wherewithal to create or inherit a code of manners and to let their conformities and aberrations be measured by that code.
Once again in rounding out a volume, Miss Austen points toward Frank Churchill and his imminent presence in Highbury. Also once again her concluding scene involves a kind of cross-purpose relationship between Emma and George.