For thoughts on Volume Two, click HERE.
The hustle and bustle of Christmas is over, and I had almost a whole day to sit and read Emma. So I did, and finished it. So what happens in this final volume of the story?
Mr. Frank Churchill heads back to Enscombe for a bit, allowing Emma a chance to really think about her feelings for him. She comes to the conclusion that she was mistaken, and she doesn't really love him but believes that he might be in love with her. She is worried about letting him down easy. He is able to come back for a visit, and the ball that they had planned is set to happen now... and all are excited for it. It becomes clear that Frank and Emma are friendly with each other, maybe a little flirty, but they aren't really attached to each other. Of course to everyone else, it seems like maybe they are. At the ball, the Eltons become even more rude and ridiculous... but Emma and Mr. Knightley get to dance with each other. This is a big moment, because it is just a small glimpse at what appears to be a change in how they regard each other.
In the rest of the volume, Mrs. Elton is clueless as to how she is regarded by everyone except Miss Bates (who can't really afford to piss off anyone). Mrs. Elton pushes Jane Fairfax into a governess job with some acquaintance of hers, even though Jane emphatically asks her not to. The woman just will not listen. Well, this kind of leads to a big secret being revealed.... that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax have been secretly engaged since before either of them came to Highbury! Shocking! Everyone is worried about Emma's reaction, but she's really fine with it. What is troubling her is that Harriet has confided her affection for Mr. Knightley! Emma is so distraught by this because it finally makes her realize that she is in love with Mr. Knightley. Mr. Knightley is worried about Emma's reaction to the Churchill/Fairfax fiasco, and when he realizes that she totally bummed by it, he declares his love for her! She's thrilled, except for Harriet's possible reaction. So she schemes to send Harriet to London for a few weeks so she may enjoy some time with Mr. Knightley. They get engaged, everyone is happy for them (except Mr. Woodhouse who needs time to warm up to the idea of Emma marrying anyone, and the Eltons because they are spiteful, terrible people). Harriet returns from London with an engagement of her own - Mr. Martin has popped back into her life just like that, and they are now engaged as well. It is a lovely, happy ending for everyone.
That really is the short version of it... the ball itself is really a big deal it the whole thing. But they also have a group outing to Donwell and see where Mr. Knightley lives, and a day trip to Box Hill which is kind of a disaster for Emma. But this whole time, I have loved the way that Mr. Knightley and Emma communicate and think of each other. They really push each other's buttons when they need to, but also really talk to each other even with all the formality of social discourse. It's a great relationship and one that I'm glad to see prevail. They are well matched!
This edition, the 200th Anniversary edition also includes some Contextual Essays at the end to help the reader understand some of the social customs of the period. These include short pieces on food, familial relations, social classes, etc. These I glanced through, stopping to read passages of interest to me. They are full of spoilers though, so don't read these first!
While it took me far longer than I expected to read this wonderful classic, I am so glad I finally did. I have now read three of Austen's novels, and if I were to rank them, I'd put this just under Pride & Prejudice, but above Sense & Sensibility.
Emma: 200th Anniversary Annotated Edition
by Jane Austen
Penguin, 2015. First published 1815.