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A friendship blossoms
Woodhouse lives with her widowed father at Hartfield in the village of
Highbury in Hampshire. When the novel opens they have just returned
from the wedding of Miss Taylor, Emma's governess, to Mr Weston, one of
their neighbours. Emma considers herself personally responsible for the
match, for the simple reason that she thought of it first.
elderly hypchondriac; Emma is his younger daughter. His elder daughter,
Isabella, is already married and living in London with her husband and
children. Mr Woodhouse enjoys evening card parties and their social
circle is made up of the Westons and other similarly genteel
neighbours. These include Mr Knightley, who is the brother of
Isabella's husband John, Mr Elton (the vicar), and Mrs
who runs a small
boarding school in the village. One evening, Mrs Goddard brings with
her one of her elder pupils, Harriet Smith.
A proposal is refused
and there is a quarrel
- Emma befriends Harriet, who is the illegitimate
someone or other, but is otherwise respectable. Emma assumes that
Harriet's father at least is a gentleman, and decides to use her
matchmaking skills in her favour. She feels Mr Elton would be a
suitable husband for her, but Harriet, at the moment at least, prefers
young Mr Martin, a local farmer. Emma doesn't think Mr Martin would be
suitable at all, and says so. Harriet looks up to Emma and thinks her
completely wonderful, so tends to believe every word she says.
- Mr Elton appears to think favourably of Harriet, and
delighted when Emma announces that she is to paint Harriet's portrait
in watercolours. He agrees to take the portrait to London to get it
Churchill does not arrive...Mr Frank Churchill arrives
- Mr Martin writes to Harriet and asks her to marry
Harriet is inclined to accept, but Emma talks her out of it and
persuades her to refuse him, telling her that he is not good enough for
her. Mr Knightley discovers what Emma has done and quarrels with her
about it, saying she is encouraging Harriet to have ideas above her
station in life. Emma remains convinced of Mr Elton's intentions, but
Mr Knightley disagrees with her on that point, too.
- Emma's sister, Isabella, arrives from London with her
husband and family to stay for Christmas. Emma and her family attend a
dinner party at the Westons'. Harriet is invited but cannot attend due
to a bad cold. Mr Elton is present, and on the way home, horrifies Emma
by proposing to her. She discovers he has never had any interest in
Harriet as a prospective wife. She refuses him and resolves to give up
matchmaking, since her attempt to get Harriet and Mr Elton together has
been so disastrous.
- Emma is forced to tell Harriet what has happened.
thinks Emma is so wonderful that she doesn't blame Emma at all for what
happened. They both have to face the future embarrassment of meeting Mr
Elton in the village, but fortunately he has gone away to Bath for a
Is Emma in love? And if she
isn't, who is?
- The Westons are expecting Frank Churchill, Mr
from his first marriage, to arrive for a visit. He has lived most of
his life with rich relations, rather than with his father, and they are
believed to disapprove of his intention to visit his father. The visit
is delayed; Emma blames his rich and overbearing aunt, on whom he is
dependent, but Mr Knightley thinks that Mr
Churchill is just being feeble. They agree to differ. Emma remains
interested in Mr Churchill - after all, he might just be a potential
match for herself.
- It is announced that Mr Elton is to marry a Miss
an unknown but rich young lady from Bristol. Both Emma and Harriet are
embarrassed to meet him on his return to the village, but get over it.
- Miss Jane Fairfax, the granddaughter of Mrs Bates,
widow of the former vicar, arrives for a visit. She and Emma have known
each other all their lives, but Emma for some reason just doesn't like
her. They discover on her arrival that Miss Fairfax has met Frank
Churchill recently in Weymouth. Emma has a feeling that Mr Knightley
may be considering her as a potential wife, but she really hopes she is
- Frank Churchill finally arrives for a visit to his
and is found to be both handsome and charming. He gets on well with
everyone - although dents his reputation slightly by returning briefly
to London, merely to get his hair cut!
engagement is revealed
Frank Churchill's visit, but can't quite make up her mind whether or
not he is in love with her. And even if he is, is she in love with him?
She thinks probably not, but it is fun while it lasts. Perhaps Harriet
would be better for him.
new Mrs Elton
arrives in Highbury. Emma finds her vulgar and pretentious, but most of
the rest of the village think her charming, and Jane Fairfax seems to
be her new best friend, which Emma cannot understand. But Mr Knightley
confirms that he is not interested in Jane Fairfax, and Emma is
relieved on that point, at least. She doesn't realise that Mr Knightley
suspects her of being in love with Frank Churchill.
Elton proves to be
just as much a pain in the neck as Emma thought she would be. Jane
Fairfax is due to leave Highbury, but she must first find a post as a
governess. Mrs Elton tries to be helpful; Jane resists.
is a dance; most
of our various characters attend. Mrs Elton is vulgar; Mr Elton refuses
to dance with Harriet; everyone else is
charming; Frank returns in time to come to the dance. Emma decides she
isn't in love with him - at least, not enough to marry him, and wonders
again if Harriet might be the woman for him. Even Mr Knightley agrees
that Mr Elton has not chosen well for his wife and would have done
better to marry Harriet. Emma is happy to be on good terms with Mr
Knightley again, and gladly dances with him. Mr Knightley also dances
with Harriet, after Mr Elton snubs her
Knightley thinks Frank Churchill is attached to Jane Fairfax, but Emma
does not agree. Frank saves Harriet from being molested by some gipsies
and Emma is quite sure that Harriet must fall in love with him after
that. At least it ought to help her get over Mr Elton.
is rather rude to
Miss Bates at a picnic, and Mr Knightley scolds her for it, so she
calls on Miss Bates the following day to make it clear that she did not
mean what she said. She learns that Jane Fairfax has accepted a post as
a governess, which was found for her by Mrs Elton.
Churchill, Frank's rich and awkward aunt, dies suddenly, and Frank is
free to make a surprising announcement. Mr Knightley is proved
right - Frank and Jane has been secretly engaged for months. Emma isn't
worried on her own behalf, although she is rather cross with both Frank
and Jane for being so sly, but she is worried that Harriet will once
again have her heart broken.
emerges that Harriet
isn't in love with Frank Churchill at all, but with Mr Knightley. Emma
is horrified, and it dawns on her that she is in love with Mr Knightley
herself. But it's all her own fault - if she hadn't encouraged Harriet
to think herself better than she was, she would have married Robert
Martin in the first place, and this would never have happened.
Knightley proposes to Emma and she accepts. But there are a few
problems to solve before they can be married....
the text of Emma for yourself
- Harriet takes the news about Emma and Mr Knightley
well. Robert Martin proposes once again to her and this time she
accepts him. Emma is delighted. It emerges that Harriet's father was in
fact a rich tradesman, so there is no shame in her marrying a farmer
after all. Now there are three couples engaged to be married - who will
tie the knot first?
- Harriet and Robert Martin marry first. Emma and Mr
Knightley still have to reconcile Mr Woodhouse to the idea of their
marrying. Emma cannot leave her father, so they plan to live at
Hartfield rather than Donwell Abbey, Mr Knightley's home. But Mr
Woodhouse sees no rush - why can they not wait a few years? Fortunately
the frustration ends when some local robberies convince Mr Woodhouse
that he would be safer if Mr Knightley lived at Hartfield. So Emma and
Mr Knightley marry quickly, before Mr Woodhouse has a chance to change
- Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, in spite of having
been engaged for many months, must wait a few months longer to be
married, out of respect for Frank's deceased aunt.
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