Mrs. Weston gives birth to a daughter, which Emma has been hoping for. She and Mr. Knightley discuss Emma’s own childhood and Mrs. Weston’s and Mr. Knightley’s roles in raising Emma. Emma reflects that Mr. Knightley’s correction countered Mrs. Weston’s spoiling, though Mr. Knightley insists she would have done as well without him. However, he considers his devotion to her improvement an early sign of his love for her.
Emma and Mr. Knightley’s discussion about her childhood allow the novel to conclude with a reflection on Emma’s development. She has come a long way from the spoiled, snobbish mistress of Hartfield. Her marriage to Knightley, a paternal figure, represents her newly developed humility—though whether this enhances her strength as a female heroine is controversial.
Mr. John Knightley congratulates the couple by letter; he anticipated Mr. Knightley’s engagement from his behavior in London. Emma anxiously breaks the news of their engagement to her father. Though initially distressed, Mr. Woodhouse eventually accepts it as a settled and even good affair with the help of Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston’s persuasion.
Mr. Woodhouse’s considerable influence over Emma’s life is somewhat disturbing at the close. Though her consideration of his feelings reveals her compassion as a daughter, the restrictions imposed by her father’s nerves seem excessively limiting.
Mrs. Weston is delighted by the news, as she regards it to be an equal and mutually meritorious “union of the highest promise of felicity in itself.” Word quickly spreads through Highbury, and the engagement is greeted with surprise and general approval by all but the Eltons, who sneer over the fate of “poor Mr. Knightley.”
Emma and Mr. Knightley’s engagement is applauded as a good match, because they are equals. The importance of their mutual fortune, good lineage and connections in addition to their love for each other results in an ultimately conservative conclusion—an affirmation of class- and character-based affinity as the foundation of a good marriage.