Emma continues to speak highly of Mr. Elton to Harriet, even as she compliments Harriet’s natural graces in conversation with Mr. Elton. Mr. Elton warmly praises the qualities that Harriet has cultivated through her friendship with Emma, and when Emma expresses a desire to paint Harriet’s portrait, Mr. Elton quickly supports the idea.
The dialogue between Emma and Mr. Elton is loaded with compliments that Emma interprets to be directed towards Harriet, but the reader can alternatively interpret them to be aimed towards Emma herself.
Emma undertakes Harriet’s portrait, and Mr. Elton avidly marks its process—as would be fitting, Emma notes, for Harriet’s admirer. When Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley suggest that Emma has made Harriet more beautiful in her portrait, Mr. Elton heatedly defends the portrait’s likeness.
Emma continues to smugly interpret Mr. Elton’s flattery as evidence that he is falling in love with Harriet. She sees what she wants to, oblivious to any interpretations that contradict her desires.
Mr. Elton gallantly offers to take the portrait, which he declares a “precious deposit,” for framing in London. Emma contentedly reflects that he will suit Harriet perfectly, though his languishing air and flattery would be too much for she herself to endure.
Emma’s confidence in her good judgment and match-making skills steers her perception—and misperception—of the world.