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|Robbin has pointed out something that I missed
Written by Kathleen Glancy
(2/25/2011 11:36 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, We'll have to wait ..., penned by Reeba
that Isabella was indeed the usual doer of Hartfield commissions. And as for who made up Emma's clothes - she has a maid, and it would be possible for someone to be brought in to Hartfield to help with fitting and finishing, rather than send it out someone in the village where any riff-raff might get to finger the stuff of Miss Woodhouse's new gown. (Harriet of course has neither a maid nor suitable premises for such privacy). We found out in Chapter 1 that James the coachman's daughter Hannah, before going to work for the Westons, did what Mr Woodhouse describes as needlework for Emma. The use of that term suggests it was something more elaborate than plain sewing. In fact, unless you are going to try to argue that Emma made her own clothes (I do not think she would) they would have to be made up in some such way whether the patterns and materials came from Fords or London. Ready-made clothes would not be available in Highbury, or even widely in London. London couturiers sold custom-made clothes, but would require personal fittings
I think Mr Knightley is referring to Emma's not being vain about her face and figure and bloom of good health in Chapter 5 - all his previous conversation with Mrs Weston related to these factors rather than her wider appearance, which might include the way she dresses. Mrs Weston says "Can you imagine any thing nearer perfect beauty than Emma altogether -- face and figure?"
Mr Knightley admits "I confess that I have seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me than hers."
Mrs Weston goes on "Such an eye! the true hazel eye -- and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure", goes on for some time about Emma's healthful looks and concludes "She is loveliness itself. Mr. Knightley, is not she?"
And Mr Knightley agrees and adds that he does not think her personally vain. Frankly I don't think Mr Knightley is the sort of man who would keep up with the latest women's fashions or would venture to judge on a lady's dress being fashionable or otherwise, but he is quite able to tell whether a lady has a prettty face and a good figure and complexion and is vain about them or not, and that IMO is what he is doing in Chapter 5. And rightly so, for we have been privy to a lot of Emma's thoughts and they have never yet included anything like "I am undoubtedly the most beautiful girl in Highbury, if not the whole of England".
Finally, I say again that if Emma's clothes were visibly out of date Mrs Elton - who certainly would keep up with the latest fashions - would have had some unwanted advice to offer her, but if there is no criticism to make except their being (as Mrs Elton would see it) under-trimmed she might simply pity Emma's taste but only talk about it to other people.
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