Summary and Analysis Volume 3: Chapter XII



Emma has never known before how much her happiness depends on being first with George. She rationalizes a great deal, deciding that, if she could be sure of his never marrying at all, she would be perfectly satisfied. For Emma feels that she cannot marry because of her father. George is expected back any day, and she can then observe him, but in the meanwhile she resolves against seeing Harriet, an arrangement to which Harriet submits approvingly.

Mrs. Weston calls and recounts her visit that day with Jane, for whom she has nothing but high regard except for the secret engagement. Emma is all sympathy and understanding, very conscious of her past injustice toward Jane. That evening is all gloom for Emma; even the weather adds its share. Hartfield is comparatively deserted and seems likely to become even more so. The child that is to be born will keep the Westons away; Jane and Frank will naturally be leaving; and if George marries Harriet, there will no longer be those friendly and comfortable visits from Donwell Abbey. What increases her wretchedness is the reflection, "never far distant from her mind," that it is all her own work. When she reaches this pitch of thought, she starts, sighs heavily, and walks about the room.


Emma is experiencing an ultimate degree of comeuppance. Almost everything, including Mrs. Weston's report of Jane, stands in direct contrast to her unhappiness. Emma's reaction to the situation — her feelings and thoughts — epitomize Miss Austen's concern with the results, rather than the high and dramatic moment, of strong emotions. The delineation of Emma's reflections represents the low point of her career, and the question is will she submit to the circumstances or will she find inner resource enough to cope with them, either in the old way or a new one? Is Emma as strong as she has seemed?