On a walk with Harriet, Emma decides to call on the Bateses. Though she dislikes visiting them because they are tedious and keep “second and third rate” company, Mr. Knightley and her own conscience have often suggested that she call on them more often, as such visits are the greatest of their limited pleasures.
Though Emma has the sense and heart to know what is good, she is loath to sacrifice her own enjoyment for the sake of others. She does, however, possess a developing impulse of self-correction, aided by Mr. Knightley.
The garrulous Miss Bates pours forth solicitous inquiries and gossip about the town, mentioning the Coles, flattering Mr. Elton, and finally bringing up a letter from her niece Jane Fairfax. Orphaned at a young age, Jane lives with her guardians Colonel and Mrs. Campbell and is a great favorite within the community. Emma is determinedly polite as Miss Bates dotingly rambles on about Jane, despite finding Miss Bates silly and disliking Jane.
Miss Bates is considered by critics to be a masterpiece of comedy, as a foolish and gossipy spinster. Yet there is something also pitiable and sympathetic in the confinement of her life, which revolves around living with her mother and chatting about her small social set. Her ability to be easily cheered within her limitations is even admirable.
Miss Bates reports that Jane will be visiting Highbury next week, as the Campbells are leaving for Ireland to visit their newly married daughter and her husband, Mr. Dixon. Emma, fancifully weaving together innocent details from the narrative, suspects a previous romance between Jane and Mr. Dixon that prevents her from visiting Ireland with the Campbells.
Though Emma has sworn off matchmaking, her imagination is still active in spinning together intriguing romances and perceiving the world through her fancy. In the innocent chatter of Miss Bates, she manages to hear—to manufacture—a story of hidden love.