Summary and Analysis
Volume 3: Chapter XI
Still highly concerned about Harriet, Emma decides that "it was not so much his behavior as her own" that makes her angry with Frank. She should have discouraged Harriet's growing attachment and would have, she concludes, if she had had more common sense. In regard to Jane, she feels relief and wishes her only happiness.
Harriet arrives and, to Emma's surprise, has learned the news from Mr. Weston and is quite calm about it. Nonetheless, trying to cushion what she thinks is a blow, Emma consoles her only to learn that Harriet's attachment has been, not for Frank, but for George Knightley. Emma is utterly astounded — so much so that she finally realizes that "Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!" Harriet recounts her reasons for thinking that her feelings are reciprocated, and Emma, though she agrees that there may be truth in this, feels bitter, especially after Harriet says, "But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him . . ." Mr. Woodhouse enters and thus stops the discussion.
After Harriet is gone, Emma is beside herself: "Oh God! that I had never seen her!" She tries to comprehend the situation by first examining her heart, wondering how long George has been so dear to her. She faces up to her own delusions and to ignorance of her own heart. This knowledge of herself reveals her vanity and how "with unpardonable arrogance [she has] proposed to arrange everybody's destiny." Why had she not let Harriet marry Robert Martin? But her pretty friend's "presumption to raise her thoughts to Mr. Knightley" lies at Emma's own door: "Who had been at pains to give Harriet notions of self-consequence but herself?"
This is the crucial turning point for Emma. She has to acknowledge and try to come to terms with what she has done to Harriet and with the fact that she herself loves George. The situational irony is very strong indeed: Harriet, taught by Emma to look above herself, has looked to the very man who is exactly right for Emma. One could hardly be more fully caught in her own web of scheming. It is never easy to admit that one is wrong, but Emma does it admirably under the circumstances, for her emotions are very strong and are pulled in different directions.
The situation forces Emma to admit that her own imagination was wrong to go against the order of social stratification. Like the other characters, she has believed in it in general; but now the inequality of just one aberration from that order is forcefully impressed upon her. She sees that aberration — her own doing — as wrong and disruptive. She must deal with two misplaced prides — her own and Harriet's newly developed one. Basically what faces her is the necessity of helping or letting the social order reassert itself — if that can be.