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|Harriet and Emma (Sorry, long)
Written by BarbaraB
(2/2/2011 12:00 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Is Harriet Blameless?, penned by Jane Marie
I believe that essentially everyone is responsible for their actions. There are some mitigating circumstances. For instance, a 2 year old toddler who took a brightly wrapped candy bar from the shelf as his mother paid her bill and put in his pocket would be viewed differently from most older persons who did the same. People lacking in full mental or intellectual capacity might be excused depending on the degree. Another example would be if someone introduced some foreign/unknown substance into a person’s food or drink causing them to act other than they would under normal circumstances. Basically speaking though, we all have to own up to our decisions. So how do I see the Harriet-Emma situation?
In ch. 1 Mr. Woodhouse expresses his wish that Emma not make anymore matches but Emma insists on one more: “It is the greatest amusement in the world!” she says and announces that she will look for a wife for Mr. Elton. The first night that Harriet visits Hartfield, she decides that Harriet is the one; she is pretty, likable, and more importantly she is sweet, docile and not clever or unduly intelligent, the perfect mix for making her an easy mark for Emma's schemes. Despite Harriet’s questionable birth, based on no facts, she elevates Harriet to a gentleman’s daughter to make her eligible for the match. Emma is also aware of Harriet’s relationship with the Martin family and knows she must sever it to fit in with her plans. “The acquaintance she had already formed were unworthy of her. The friends from whom she had just parted, though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm...she would detach her from her bad acquaintance.”
There are two conversations (ch. 4) which Emma uses to bring Harriet in line with her designs. If you look closely, Harriet is attempting to politely disagree with Emma while she is in fact actually disagreeing with her. While Emma uses what I have termed the unfortunate ‘but’, Harriet uses the I-really-don’t-want-to-think-badly-of-the-Martins ‘but’:
E: “Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business. He does not read?"
After this conversation, Emma thinks Harriet is fairly safe until they meet Mr. Martin on the road (still in ch. 4):
Harriet then came running to her with a smiling face, and in a flutter of spirits, which Miss Woodhouse hoped very soon to compose.
At this point Emma brings up the book that Mr. Martin forgot to purchase because he was so busy with things concerning his farming business. This prompts Harriet to wonder about his forgetting it and while she is mulling this Emma starts in on how wonderful Mr. Elton is and asks: '“Did not I tell you what he said of you the other day?" She then repeated some warm personal praise which she had drawn from Mr. Elton, and now did full justice to; and Harriet blushed and smiled, and said she had always thought Mr. Elton very agreeable.'
Harriet never actually changes her mind about the Martins, but as a result of Emma’s ploy, rather allows herself to go along with the fact that as a gentry girl she must follow gentry decorum and associate with men of the gentry only (and even then apparently not completely convinced as evidenced by her pleasure in Mr. Martin’s proposal). On a second perusal of this second conversation as Emma resorts to comparison to make her point, it was just as awful for me to watch, comparison or not. It's kind of like trying to convince someone that a person is ugly by comparing him to someone better looking--- "now can you see the difference, how ugly he is?" To me, Emma is still putting down Mr. Martin as opposed to the gentry gentlemen of Highbury to get Harriet to see the value of Mr. Elton instead.
Harriet is not blameless but Emma is definitely in the position of power and not by a small amount. She has the advantage of knowing her own plan for Harriet which Harriet herself is not privy too. She is far more clever and intelligent. She is older and more experienced. She is an expert in getting her way and she is the teacher in a mentor/protegee relationship. Harriet looks up to Emma and told Emma, she was always right. Once Emma makes her mind up on something she will have her way. Even Mr. Knightley can not deter her. What chance did Harriet have really?
Eventually societies began to have laws on the books about adults influencing a minor. I am in no way saying that Emma is leading Harriet down some evil path but that people began to see how someone older can influence a mind that is less developed and experienced. Harriet is still a giggly ‘schoolgirl‘ when Emma meets her who has led a sheltered life within her own class level. As I said this does not absolve Harriet of her share in the responsibility of what happens but she is no where near being on a level playing field with Emma.
I know Emma is not perfect (thank goodness) but Emma does not know she is not perfect and therein lies the problem. She has been allowed to think herself faultless and thus she feels she has the privilege to always have her way, wrong or right. Just my opinion.
Sorry for the length. If you stuck with me through this post, my thanks. :)
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