Emma Topic Tracking: Gossip
Gossip 1: The people of Highbury have little to amuse themselves with except the people of Highbury. Mr. Elton is a particular favorite, especially among the ladies. When Mr. Elton leaves town in a secretive way (he is going to London where he will get Harriet's portrait framed), the town is abuzz with the cause. Mr. Perry suspects a woman, and Miss Nash, one of the teachers at Mrs. Goddard's, thinks any woman Mr. Elton attended to would be very lucky.
Gossip 2: Emma tells Harriet she never plans to marry. She has the economic means to remain single, unlike Miss Bates. Harriet wonders if everyone who ends up an old maid ends up like Miss Bates. Emma sincerely hopes not; she considers Miss Bates a tiresome, annoying woman. She is a gossip, and Emma expresses her distaste at this behavior. She hates the idea of Miss Bates telling people about Miss Woodhouse, though she herself enjoys talking about others.
Gossip 3: Miss Bates has received a letter from her niece Jane Fairfax, whom Emma does not like. Miss Bates relates everything from Jane's letter, and does everything except read it, because Emma does not give her the opportunity. Miss Bates reveals information about the family Jane is staying with, the Campbells, and the family their daughter has married into, the Dixons. Emma usually does not care about Jane Fairfax, but this gossip from Miss Bates plants a seed in Emma's head. She begins to conjure up her idea about an affair between Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon, the husband of Miss Campbell, who is Miss Fairfax's best friend.
Gossip 4: Emma is hungry for news of Frank Churchill, and she cannot understand why Jane Fairfax, who knew him at Weymouth, will not tell her all about the young man. Emma asks Jane many personal questions about Mr. Churchill, which she is reluctant to answer. She only volunteers that her public meetings with Frank Churchill did not acquaint them enough for such an appraisal. She will give the opinion of others, but not her own. Emma, who enjoys gossip, is annoyed that Jane will not share her unique opinion. She is the only person in town besides Mr. Weston who has seen him recently, and Emma thinks that suppressing such precious information is not fair.
Gossip 5: Mr. Knightley reaches Emma first with the news of Mr. Elton's engagement. Then Miss Bates runs in, nearly falling all over herself, so anxious is she to share the news. Highbury is a small town where information travels fast, and some people want the privilege of first knowledge. Miss Bates is no exception.
Miss Bates and the others discuss the suddenness of the engagement. Miss Bates suggests that many thought Mr. Elton would settle with a young woman in town, a woman above his social rank (Emma). There is a double bit of gossip in this speech of Miss Bates'. She mentions that Mrs. Cole whispered to her the possibility of Mr. Elton settling in town. She breaks off before mentioning Miss Woodhouse, but Emma knows to whom she is referring. Apparently Highbury had been buzzing with the idea of a potential match between Mr. Elton and Miss Woodhouse.
Gossip 6: People in Highbury do not shy away from talking about other people. Therefore Emma becomes suspicious when Frank Churchill seems as unwilling as Jane Fairfax to talk about their time at Weymouth. When he finally opens up, he keeps his comments very discreet, claiming that he should let Miss Fairfax judge how well they were acquainted.
Emma, with the grand idea of an affair between Miss Fairfax and Mr. Dixon spinning in her mind, tries to get some information from Frank Churchill. She asks him about the Campbells, and when she hears that Mr. Dixon preferred Miss Fairfax's piano playing to that of his fiancée, Miss Campbell, Emma thinks she has more proof for her theory. These idle bits of gossip inflame Emma's imagination, and the likelihood of the affair grows in her mind.
Gossip 7: At the Cole's party, the news is spread that Jane Fairfax has received a pianoforte from an anonymous patron. Mrs. Cole, who was at the Bates', tells Emma about the surprise. The likely giver was Colonel Campbell, Jane's benefactor. Mrs. Cole and the others can think of no one else who could have sent such a gift. Jane does not want to discuss the gift, choosing rather to wait for a letter than to jump to conclusions. But the pianoforte is a hot topic of conversation, and everyone enters into it.
Emma's imagination can supply another suspect besides Colonel Campbell. Running wild with her idea of an affair between Miss Fairfax and Mr. Dixon, Emma has it in her head that Mr. Dixon sent the pianoforte. And to make matters worse, she shares this totally invented rumor with Frank Churchill. Emma does not know how much damage she is inflicting with her gossip. Only later does she learns about the secret engagement between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, and realize her mistake.
Gossip 8: Mrs. Weston believes that Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley like each other, and she shares this rumor with Emma. She even imagines that Mr. Knightley sent the pianoforte! Emma is not convinced by Mrs. Weston's evidence, and warns her friend not take on one of her own faults--letting her imagination run away with her. Emma does not seem to realize that she is doing just that in the case of Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon.
Gossip 9: Emma is convinced by Mrs. Weston and Miss Bates to go and see Jane's new pianoforte. She arrives, and conversation soon turns to the subject of who sent the gift. Colonel Campbell is still high in the running, but Jane will not entertain the idea. She is unwilling to speak of anything like that until she has some proof. Gossip is not something based on fact and evidence, and this further unwillingness to engage in it shows the disparity between Jane Fairfax and most of Highbury, including Emma.
Gossip 10: Despite his dislike of Mrs. Churchill, and the likelihood of her manipulating Frank with her illness, Mr. Weston does not want to speak poorly of her to Mrs. Elton. He mentions family difficulties, but those are to be kept private. He later worries that what little he said might have been too much, and he tries his best to speak well of Mrs. Churchill to Mrs. Elton.
Mrs. Elton, after hearing that Mrs. Churchill was a social climber, uses this opening to gossip about a neighbor of hers at Maple Grove. She describes a family who equated wealth with good breeding, and she criticizes them harshly.
Gossip 11: When the subject is herself, Emma is less talkative. Mr. Knightley wants to know why Mr. Elton slighted Miss Smith. Since Miss Smith is known mainly as Emma's friend, he expects the slight has more to do with her. Emma only reveals her attempt at matchmaking with Mr. Elton and Harriet. She keeps Mr. Elton's profession of love secret, because it would embarrass her.
Gossip 12: The story of the gypsy attack quickly circulates around town. Harriet was in danger from a band of gypsies, but Frank Churchill saved her. Such a dangerous situation, occurring in Highbury, is certain to become gossip.
Gossip 13: Miss Bates has such a big mouth that she unknowingly lets slip a piece of information which connects her niece and Frank Churchill. Frank Churchill knows about the Perry's plan to purchase a carriage, but Mrs. Weston denies sending him the news, because she did not know it herself. But Miss Bates knew it, and so did Jane--evidence to Mr. Knightley of a secret connection between the two young people.
Gossip 14: Feeling he had enough proof, Mr. Knightley asked Emma if she knows anything about a secret affair between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. He was not trying to start a rumor, only trying to find out the truth. He cares for Emma, and is afraid Frank is deceiving her.
Gossip 15: Emma is anxious at the news of a connection between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, because she remembers the rumor she shared with him. Not knowing to whom his heart was attached, Emma acted callously, telling him something she created out of bits of gossip and her own imagination.
Gossip 16: When Emma visits Jane Fairfax, she already knows about the engagement with Frank Churchill. But the others do not know this, and they take great pains to hide the information. Miss Bates nearly lets it slip, but it is Mrs. Elton who behaves the worst. She speaks in a way obvious in meaning to Emma, and she seems to greatly enjoy having knowledge that Miss Woodhouse does not have. Information can make a person feel important and special, and Mrs. Elton is relishing this feeling.
Gossip 17: The news of Emma and Mr. Knightley's engagement travels quickly through the small village. It is a topic of discussion, as people debate whether the bride or groom received the most promotion from the match. Only Mrs. Elton, who cannot help disparaging Miss Woodhouse, does not approve. She does not expect the couple to last long.
Gossip 18: When Emma meets Frank Churchill for the first time since having learned of his engagement, the subject of Mr. Dixon inevitably comes up. Emma is now ashamed of her idle gossip, and Frank Churchill admits his own shame for deceiving Emma. They have both undergone a change, Emma most of all. The incident involving this rumor is best evidence of it.