Emma Plot Summary
After her beloved governess, Miss Taylor, leaves Hartfield to become Mrs. Weston, Emma Woodhouse finds herself in need of a friend. The answer is Harriet Smith, a girl of questionable origins whom Emma decides to improve. First she convinces Harriet to refuse a marriage proposal from Mr. Martin, a farmer. Imagining Harriet to be too respectable and genteel for such a man, Emma chooses for her Mr. Elton, the town preacher. Mr. Knightley, an old family friend, dislikes Emma's matchmaking and worries she will harm Harriet. Emma convinces herself that Harriet and Mr. Elton are lovers, and is very surprised when Mr. Elton reveals that he loves her, not Harriet. Emma, offended at the idea, refuses him.
Now having lost her both Mr. Martin and Mr. Elton, Emma determines to stop matchmaking. Then the son of Mr. Weston, Frank Churchill, arrives in town. The Westons secretly hope he and Emma will become attached. Emma is at first attracted to the handsome young man, but she loses interest after his first visit. The Eltons return to town, and Emma and Harriet must suffer under the vain and self-important Mrs. Elton. Mrs. Weston thinks Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax like each other, even though he denies the charge. Miss Fairfax is to be a governess, and her new friend Mrs. Elton diligently looks for a job for the unwilling girl.
When Frank Churchill returns Emma imagines that Harriet would be a much better match for the young man, and she hopes this new entry will distract her friend from the newly married Mr. Elton. But at the ball at Crown Inn, Emma dances with Mr. Churchill, and Harriet finds herself alone for two of the dances. Mr. Knightley, who dances with her, saves her from Mr. Elton's refusals. The next day it is Frank Churchill who comes to Harriet's aid, saving her from a band of gypsies. Several days later Harriet seems determined to be over Mr. Elton, and she burns her few remembrances of him.
Mr. Knightley suspects that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are secretly attached. The young man had some town gossip which only the Bates' (including Jane) knew, and during a puzzle game he drops some more clues. This makes Mr. Knightley dislike the young man even more, and fears Mr. Churchill is leading Emma on.
The group spends a pleasant day at Mr. Knightley's home, the only uneasiness caused by Miss Fairfax's leaving early, then by Mr. Churchill's ill temper. The next day the group takes a day trip to Box Hill. It is a tense day, only increasing when Mr. Churchill behaves oddly, and Emma insults Miss Bates. Mr. Knightley reprimands her for this behavior, and she feels terrible.
Emma visits the Bates the next day and makes amends. Mr. Knightley leaves unexpectedly for London. While he is gone, Mrs. Weston reveals to Emma that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax had been secretly attached and are now engaged! Emma reassures them that she does not love Frank Churchill, but she fears for Harriet. She is sure Harriet cares for Mr. Churchill, her encouragement helped her friend to feel so. But Harriet is not distressed by the news. She does not love Mr. Churchill, she is in love with Mr. Knightley! Hearing this makes Emma realize that she loves Mr. Knightley too! Uncertain what to do, Emma sends Harriet away, to give herself time to think. During her absence, Mr. Knightley returns from London, fearing how Emma will handle the news of Frank Churchill's engagement. Finding her undisturbed and not in love, Mr. Knightley tells Emma he loves her, and she returns his love. They learn that Frank Churchill kept the engagement secret because his aunt would disapprove. He and Jane had a fight after the party at Mr. Knightley's, and Miss Fairfax broke the engagement and took a governess job. Lucky for Mr. Churchill, his aunt died and his uncle proved more easygoing, and he was able to put things right with Miss Fairfax and ask to marry her properly.
Emma's only worries now are her father and Harriet Smith, and these worries are short-lived. Harriet met Mr. Martin in London, and he proposed to her and she accepted. As for Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Knightley agrees to move to Hartfield, but that is not enough for Mr. Woodhouse. He finally agrees when a poultry robber is loose in the neighborhood, and the presence of Mr. Knightley is suggested to ease his fears. In September Harriet and Mr. Martin marry, in October Emma and Mr. Knightley, and in November Mr. Churchill and Miss Fairfax.