Jane Austen

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Emma: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Mr. Weston delightedly engages Mrs. Elton in conversation, chatting about his son Frank and the difficult Mrs. Churchill. Mrs. Elton proclaims herself a defender of her sex, and she introduces the subject of her own female relations and justifies the fussiness of fine ladies. Mrs. Elton actively fishes for compliments, while Mr. Weston indulges in talking about Frank. When Mr. Weston complains that Mrs. Churchill, for all her pride, was nobody until she married well, Mrs. Elton shudders with horror at such “upstarts”—she is disgusted with people of low connections who give themselves airs.
Mr. Weston and Mrs. Elton’s dialogue is comical, as the two continue talking past each other about themselves. Austen here pokes fun at the self-absorption of human nature, as the two characters use each other to indulge in their various prides: Mrs. Elton’s social connection and Mr. Weston’s son. Ironically, Mrs. Elton’s disgust at social upstarts precisely mirrors Emma’s own sentiment towards her; Emma views Mrs. Elton as having an irritatingly inflated view of her own social connections.
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The two are interrupted by tea. Mr. John Knightley instructs Emma regarding his sons, who are staying at Hartfield for a little while. He observes that Emma has become much more social, and Mr. Knightley proposes that he will take care of his brother's children instead. Emma objects that she has far more leisure than Mr. Knightley, who is constantly managing his estate.
Emma’s busy-ness stems from her active social life, the result of a privileged life and sociable nature that keeps her from boredom. However, as Emma herself argues, she has much more leisure as a gentlewoman than Mr. Knightley, who, in addition to meeting social obligations, additionally has to take care of business. Such as the difference between the roles of men and women in Austen's time.
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