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Emma, Volume I, Chapter 17



Precious little happens in this short chapter. And really, the reader is due a break, after all the action and upheaval of Chapters 14-16, much of which encompasses a 36-hour period beginning on Christmas Eve morning and running through Christmas Day.

Once the roads are clear, John and Isabella Knightley and their children head back to London - and it turns out they aren't the only ones leaving town: Mr Elton has gone away as well. He's off to Bath, and he's sent a pompous sort of note to Mr Woodhouse about it, deliberately omitting any mention of Emma. (I'm sure she's just shattered by that, Mr Elton. Not.)

Gone also is any excuse for Emma not to visit Harriet. The crux of this chapter is contained in these few paragraphs, where Emma tells Harriet what has happened:

She went to Mrs Goddard's accordingly the very next day, to undergo the necessary penance of communication; and a severe one it was.--She had to destroy all the hopes which she had been so industriously feeding--to appear in the ungracious character of the one preferred--and acknowledge herself grossly mistaken and mis-judging in all her ideas on one subject, all her observations, all her convictions, all her prophecies for the last six weeks.

The confession completely renewed her first shame--and the sight of Harriet's tears made her think that she should never be in charity with herself again.

Harriet bore the intelligence very well--blaming nobody--and in every thing testifying such an ingenuousness of disposition and lowly opinion of herself, as must appear with particular advantage at that moment to her friend.

Emma was in the humour to value simplicity and modesty to the utmost; and all that was amiable, all that ought to be attaching, seemed on Harriet's side, not her own. Harriet did not consider herself as having any thing to complain of. The affection of such a man as Mr Elton would have been too great a distinction.--She never could have deserved him--and nobody but so partial and kind a friend as Miss Woodhouse would have thought it possible.

Her tears fell abundantly--but her grief was so truly artless, that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma's eyes--and she listened to her and tried to console her with all her heart and understanding--really for the time convinced that Harriet was the superior creature of the two--and that to resemble her would be more for her own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence could do.

Emma resolves to stop matchmaking, and also resolves to try to be more humble and discreet. We shall soon have the chance to watch her try to put these resolutions into practice. Meanwhile, we're told that Harriet's grief and affection for Mr Elton are much deeper than Emma had anticipated, and are made worse by Harriet's having to hear Mr Elton spoken of in glowing terms when at Mrs Goddard's school. Emma is also dreading the day that Mr Elton returns, since it will undoubtedly be awkward for all three of them. (Despite the wording of this chapter, Mr Elton is not yet back. I had to read ahead to make sure I was correct about that, so I'll save you the trouble of doing so if, like me, you experienced a moment's confusion on that point.)

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
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kellyrfineman
May. 21st, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
I believe it was the idea that he was a "superior" young gentleman, and he was always polite to her. It seems little enough, and yet (as we shall see) she falls for another gentleman for basically the same reason.
helgatwb
May. 21st, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC)
It's the fact that he was so out of her league, but paid attention to her anyway. And the fact that she's only seventeen.
kellyrfineman
May. 22nd, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
The fact that she's only seventeen is indeed quite a large part of it!
helgatwb
Jun. 4th, 2011 12:20 am (UTC)
I just love this other tidbit about Harriet's character: how she expresses her grief. It is another sign of how sweet and sincere she really is, and how immature. She cries. A lot. So much, in fact, that it would be disgusting in a different girl. But Harriet isn't crying crocodile tears to get her own way or sympathy. She's genuinly heart-broken, and doesn't know how to hide her feelings. That, to Emma(and the readers), makes it okay.
kellyrfineman
Jun. 4th, 2011 02:38 am (UTC)
At least it's okay with Emma in this chapter. LOL!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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