The chapter in which we learn of the social life of the Woodhouses: even though Mr. Woodhouse is about as persnickety as it gets, he still throws regular dinner and card parties – which Emma, of course, arranges.
For a small town, Highbury has a pretty elaborate set of social hierarchies, and we learn all about it here.
Emma and her father are A-listers, of course, and so are the Westons and Mr. Elton, the local clergyman (he’s also young and handsome, which doesn’t hurt his social status at all).
Of course, no town is complete without its B-listers (read: spinsters and working women). Highbury has the Bateses (Mrs. Bates and her daughter). Don’t worry about getting them mixed up: they’re supposed to be pretty interchangeable at first.
The Bateses always come to the Woodhouses’ parties, if only because Miss Bates loves to gossip, which makes her a perfect companion for Mr. Woodhouse.
At this particular party, Mrs. Goddard, the head of a local girl’s school, asks to present her star pupil to Emma.
Harriet Smith is seventeen. She’s pretty and almost-smart – which makes her a perfect sidekick.
No one knows who Harriet’s parents are, although the narrator throws in an ironic observation that she must be somebody’s daughter.
Emma promptly decides that Harriet will be her new "project."
After all, a girl’s got to have someone to help – and after Emma’s through, she’s sure that Harriet will be fit for "good society"!