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|Miss Bates, Emma and Mr Woodhouse
Written by Kathleen Glancy
(3/7/2011 10:31 a.m.)
I find the opening part of Chapter 44 interesting on several levels. I have long wondered, indeed I posted about it earlier, whether Emma is subconsciously using Miss Bates as a sort of whipping girl for Mr Woodhouse. Much as she loves her father, and much as she would undoubtedly cut out her own tongue before she said a thoughtless word to him, she must be perfectly well aware that he is, if anything, more ridiculous than Miss Bates and she would hardly be human if she did not sometimes, at the back of her mind because she would never let it to the front, wish that he would stop starving his guests because a particular dish does not agree with him, or that it was not necessary to tell him about some plan a dozen times before he would accept it, or that he didn't refer to happily married women as if they were dead. She can't allow herself to become irritated by his foibles, but she does not owe the same duty to Miss Bates. And behold, here is Emma making a direct connection "As a daughter, she hoped she was not without a heart. She hoped no one could have said to her, "How could you be so unfeeling to your father? I must, I will tell you truths while I can."
Her remorse is now passionate "Miss Bates should never again -- no, never! If attention, in future, could do away the past, she might hope to be forgiven. She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious. But it should be so no more. In the warmth of true contrition, she would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse". And she rather hopes that Mr Knightley will see her doing it.
Then comes ""The ladies were all at home." She had never rejoiced at the sound before, nor ever before entered the passage, nor walked up the stairs, with any wish of giving pleasure, but in conferring obligation, or of deriving it, except in subsequent ridicule." A proof here of Robbin's view that ridiculing Miss Bates is indeed a long standing habit. And also of the fact that Miss Bates is a much better person than Emma, since some women might have been tempted to send down a "The ladies are not at home" and leave the great Miss Woodhouse standing on the doorstep with the inhabitants of Highbury, who have probably heard all about the Box Hill incident by now, sniggering at her.
In fact Miss Bates manages to heap the proverbial coals of fire on Emma's head by saying in reply to her (at last genuine) concern for Jane "So very kind! But you are always kind."
There was no bearing such an "always;"
Only one thing puzzles me. Why didn't Emma actually apologise? There is no possible doubt of her contrition - why could she not say something like "Miss Bates, please let me say that I spoke thoughtlessly and unkindly to you yesterday, and I am truly sorry. It will never happen again". I can only assume she felt this would be even more embarrassing for Miss Bates than her, and the fact that she is there at such an early hour (shades of Lady Catherine, though with a much better motive) speaks for itself.
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