Emma’s efforts to improve Harriet’s mind with reading make little headway, but the two enjoy collecting riddles in a book. Emma asks Mr. Elton to compose one for them, and Mr. Elton returns with a riddle whose answer is “COURTSHIP.” Emma decodes this romantic hint for the less quick-witted Harriet, who is happily flustered.
Despite Emma’s proclaimed improvement of Harriet, she contributes little to Harriet’s intellectual education. Emma prefers the excitement of “helping her friend” by matchmaking.
Mr. Woodhouse and Emma discuss the visit of Isabella’s family at Christmas. During the course of the conversation, Mr. Woodhouse again sighs over “poor Isabella” who is so often forced away from Hartfield and frets over her children’s rough-housing with their uncle. Emma gently reminds her father that Isabella happily prefers her husband’s company, and that her children delight in being tossed about.
Mr. Woodhouse again comically reveals his tendency to impose his own sensitivity and preferences upon others, which skew his perceptions. Ironically, although Emma corrects her father’s misperceptions, she remains blind to her own tendency to see the world as she desires.
When Mr. Elton visits later in the evening, Emma discerns his consciousness at having put himself forward. She shows him that they have decoded his admirable riddle and accepted it into Harriet’s book, to which he responds with great emotion that he is deeply honored.
Despite Emma's nuanced reading of Mr. Elton and ability to solve his “riddle,” she remains blind to the true interpretation underlying his actions and unwittingly encourages his attentions towards herself.