Study Guide

Emma Chapter Thirty-Eight

By Jane Austen

Chapter Thirty-Eight

  • In which the Westons have a ball:
  • Mr. Weston particularly asks Emma to arrive at the ball early.
  • As a close, close friend, he wants her to look over the arrangements before the ball starts.
  • Once Emma arrives, however, she realizes that Mr. Weston seems to have many close, close friends. Just about everybody she knows shows up a few hours early to "inspect" the ballroom.
  • Despite the early start, everyone has a wonderful time at the ball.
  • Mrs. Elton had arranged to bring Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax in her carriage, but she apparently forgot.
  • There’s a bit of a hubbub as Mr. Weston and Mrs. Elton try to figure out whose carriage should be sent to collect them.
  • As the host, Mr. Weston argues that his carriage should be sent; as Jane’s "special" friend, Mrs. Elton thinks that she has the right to take care of the Bateses.
  • Mrs. Elton wins.
  • Typically, a hostess greets all the guests as they arrive. Of course, Mrs. Elton seems to think that it’s as much her party as the Westons’. She stands on the other side of Mrs. Weston to greet the guests.
  • Emma and Frank make fun of Mrs. Elton from a distance.
  • Miss Bates and Jane enter.
  • Miss Bates has lots and lots of news about everything that happened to everybody in Highbury that day. She proceeds to tell all of it.
  • Mrs. Elton loudly remarks that she "approves" of Frank Churchill. Frank pretends to ignore her, continuing to spend time with Emma.
  • Emma sarcastically remarks that Frank should be grateful for Mrs. Elton’s close friendship with Jane. Frank seems startled and gasps for a bit.
  • Emma can’t understand his response, but she finally decides that he was just laughing with her.
  • Dancing is the main attraction of any ball. Frank asks Emma to be his partner for the first dances (which Mrs. Elton takes as a slight).
  • Luckily, Mr. Weston asks Mrs. Elton to dance.
  • As the music begins, Emma catches sight of Mr. Elton prowling on the boundaries of the room.
  • She watches as he walks up to Mrs. Weston and asks her to dance.
  • Mrs. Weston declines, but suggests that he should ask any one of the single young ladies to dance – she points out Harriet as one such lady.
  • Mr. Elton immediately backs away, muttering something about being an old married man.
  • Emma and Harriet overhear all of this conversation. Emma watches in dismay as Mrs. Elton exchanges smug looks with her husband.
  • Immediately after this, Mr. Knightley (who overhead the exchange, as well) asks Harriet to dance.
  • Harriet goes from tearful to blissful in a few seconds.
  • Emma, watching the whole encounter, casts Mr. Knightley many grateful looks.
  • She also notices that he’s a pretty fine dancer.
  • Later, during dinner, Mr. Knightley catches up with Emma and asks her why the Eltons seemed so willing to consciously hurt Harriet.
  • As he observes, it seems to have something to do with Emma.
  • Emma ignores this point.
  • Mr. Knightley also tells Emma that he was astonished to find out how lovely and simple Harriet actually is.
  • OK, he knew she wasn’t all that bright – but after dancing with her, he doesn’t think that she’s all that bad, either. She’s infinitely better than that cat, Mrs. Elton!
  • The music begins again. Looking around, Mr. Knightley asks Emma who she plans to dance with.
  • She declares that she intends to dance with him.
  • As they begin to dance, Emma observes that she and Mr. Knightley aren’t really like a brother and sister. It won’t be like Flowers in the Attic if they decide to dance.
  • Mr. Knightley agrees. (Perhaps a bit too emphatically…)