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|Harriet's Lovers (long)
Written by Robbin
(2/5/2011 8:53 p.m.)
Emma claims Harriet’s beauty gives her “the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice” (8) and taking Emma’s view it does seem Harriet had two suitors. Robert Martin, who Emma determined Harriet should be separated and Mr. Elton, who Emma determines Harriet will accept. Let’s have a look at them. I noticed some similarities between their situations. It appears Mr. Elton’s father may be deceased the same as Mr. Martin leaving them each independent with a mother and sisters. Harriet learned first hand that Mr. Martin’s “mother and sisters were very fond of him” (4). Emma regales Harriet with a vision of Mr. Elton and company:
"At this moment, perhaps, Mr. Elton is shewing your picture to his mother and sisters, telling how much more beautiful is the original, and after being asked for it five or six times, allowing them to hear your name, your own dear name." (7)
Emma envisions Mr. Elton’s mother and sisters quite happy to learn of Harriet Smith but this or anything like it has not been confirmed. However Mrs. Martin kindly told Harriet the “very pretty little Welch cow… should be called her cow” (4) and it seems evidence of regard, certainly of kindness and tells Harriet her son “would make a good husband” (4). It seems probable the sisters invited Harriet to visit them with their brother in mind, as Emma noted Harriet “was now just returned from a long visit in the country to some young ladies” (3) from school. On the other hand Mr. Elton has helpful sisters as well:
I have heard him [Elton] speak with great animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand apiece." (8)
Of course there are differences as well. The greatest difference is their status—Mr. Elton, gentleman and Mr. Martin, gentleman farmer. Emma sees a great difference in manner favoring Mr. Elton. With a few minutes observation she judges Mr. Martin’s manners to show an “entire want of gentility… so very clownish, so totally without air” (4) and she compares him to Mr. Elton’s good humoured, cheerful, obliging, and gentle (4) manners. Yet Mr. Knightley says Mr. Martin’s manners have “sense, sincerity, and good-humour… his mind has more true gentility” (8) than Harriet could comprehend (which she doesn’t) but she does say Mr. Martin is “so very good-humoured and obliging” (4). It seems Mr. Elton’s manners display gentility but while Mr. Martin is not so courtly he is genteel in his sensibilities. Mr. Martin is not described as cheerful or gentle like Mr. Elton but I wonder if this difference is because Mr. Martin “always speaks to the purpose; open, straight forward” (8) while Mr. Elton talks of marriage “sentimentally” (8) in front of ladies but from his talk among men Mr. Knightley is convinced he will “act rationally” (8) in his choice. This suggests there is a disparity between what he says and what he thinks. Mr. Elton’s cheerful gentleness may be no more than excessive delicacy to impress ladies. Mr. Woodhouse describes Mr. Elton as “a very pretty young man” (1) and his “continual raptures” (6) over the portrait and his propensity to “sigh and languish, and study for compliments” (6) seems to me evidence of it.
Emma believes Mr. Elton is “in the fairest way of falling in love, if not in love already” (6) with Harriet. Her evidence is his warm praise of Harriet (6), even if she had to draw it from him, softer and particularly gentle manners (4), and volunteering to take the portrait to London for framing. The portrait business is very obliging and could be for Harriet’s sake but per Emma, she, herself had “come in for a pretty good share [of compliments] as a second” (6). Contrast this to Mr. Martin’s more direct method of finding out Harriet’s likes and going out of his way to oblige her (and only her) by fetching walnuts and having the shepherd’s son sing to her and perhaps serenading her as well since he can “sing a little himself” (4). Mr. Elton’s love is evidenced by a great deal of gallant compliments and very little action and Mr. Martin’s love is evidenced by many deeds and later his proposal letter.
Emma and Harriet meet both men while out walking. They meet Mr. Martin on the Donwell road in Ch. 4. His manners were not fancy but they were correct, attentive to the needs of others and genuine. In keeping with my previous criticism of Emma’s failure to notice him, I consider his manners were superior to hers in humility, kindness and generosity. Mr. Martin acknowledges Emma with a respectful look while she merely stares in return. He speaks quietly to Harriet for a few moments and does not keep Emma waiting but had she chosen to notice him Mr. Martin might have had a few more minutes with Harriet. They meet Mr. Elton on Vicarage-lane after paying a visit to a poor sick family. He says his mission is the same but he defers in favor of a “parley about what could be done and should be done” (10) for the cottagers. He turns back to accompany the ladies. Emma joked about “a very sudden trial of our stability in good thoughts” upon seeing Mr. Elton but it seems to me his were far less stable than theirs—at least they had already accomplished their good deed. I can’t think well of a vicar who discards his duty for pleasure but it turns out he had no charitable intentions after all. He admits to Harriet that he “had seen them go by, and had purposely followed them” (10). So much for charity and honesty!
It seems both Mr. Elton and Mr. Martin write to Harriet. Mr. Elton sends a charade to Hartfield about courtship and “Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown” (9) for which he disclaims authorship spurring Emma to believe the opposite. I think Mr. Elton was truthful because when Emma tells him they added it to Harriet’s book he seems uncomfortable. Mr. Martin writes “a very good letter” (7) as even Emma admits with “good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling” (7) and a proposal of marriage. It seems to me we have Mr. Elton doing a rather flimsy thing, submitting words not his own (at least he admits it) while Mr. Martin does a truly wonderful thing. Unfortunately Harriet is overwhelmed with the cleverness and the implied love and courtship towards her (thanks to Emma) in the charade:
"It is one thing," said she, presently -- her cheeks in a glow, "to have very good sense in a common way, like every body else, and if there is any thing to say, to sit down and write a letter, and say just what you must, in a short way; and another, to write verses and charades like this."
Emma could not have desired a more spirited rejection of Mr. Martin's prose. (9)
Ah me! An unsolicited rejection of Mr. Martin’s prose by Harriet—so pleasing to Emma despite the fact the criticism is wrong-headedly based on the length of each document, the letter being “too short” (7) and the charade being “as long again as almost all we have had before” (9). I hope to give some happiness to others in saying I do find this criticism exceptionally shabby on Harriet’s part. (:D) I think it suggests Harriet still has Robert Martin on the brain and is glad to find additional evidence that she was right to refuse his offer. Perhaps it is evidence of continued regret and a guilty conscious? Mr. Knightley may have been prescience in his view of how Emma’s patronage will affect Harriet:
“And as for Harriet, I will venture to say that she cannot gain by the acquaintance. Hartfield will only put her out of conceit with all the other places she belongs to. She will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstances have placed her home. I am much mistaken if Emma's doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of her situation in life. They only give a little polish.” (5)
Returning to Misters Elton and Martin—Emma focuses greatly on the differences in rank and in what I see as a strictly superficial view of their manners. A highly unfair comparison due to the fact Mr. Elton is always assured top billing due to his advantages in situation and education but when considering their deeds and character he is ill favored. All we see of Mr. Martin suggests a good character—Harriet’s initial description of his behavior in Ch. 4, his plain but correct manners on the Donwell road, Mr. Knightley’s thorough recommendation and in his very good letter of proposal. Mr. Elton's character does not fare so well in my opinion. His manners while pretty seem to be deceptive and he lied about visiting the cottagers (10). Also while others visit Mr. Woodhouse from “Real, long-standing regard” (3) Mr. Elton’s reasons are material and selfish: “the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse's drawing-room and the smiles of his lovely daughter” (3). In comparing the merit of each man’s writings to Harriet and in their behavior on Vicarage-lane and the Donwell road it seems to me Mr. Martin outshines his rival. Lastly and I feel this important, Mr. Martin wished to marry Harriet for herself forgoing any benefit of fortune or connection. Mr. Elton’s “great animation” (8) in speaking of his sisters’ friends, who are ladies of fortune, suggests mercenary ambition and he “does not mean to throw himself away” on an illegitimate girl without fortune or connections to recommend her. I greatly fear Mrs. Weston may have depended on Emma’s good sense too much:
"With all dear Emma's little faults, she is an excellent creature. …No, no; she has qualities which may be trusted; she will never lead any one really wrong; she will make no lasting blunder; where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times." (5)
Thanks for reading! (:D)
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