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|Chapters 50 and 52 - exactly what did Emma say to Harriet?
Written by Kathleen Glancy
(3/16/2011 1:46 p.m.)
We learn in Chapter 50 that Emma, in the sleepless night that follows Mr Knightley's declaration, is very distressed over Harriet "How to spare her from any unnecessary pain; how to make her any possible atonement; how to appear least her enemy? On these subjects, her perplexity and distress were very great -- and her mind had to pass again and again through every bitter reproach and sorrowful regret that had ever surrounded it. She could only resolve at last, that she would still avoid a meeting with her, and communicate all that need be told by letter..." and she writes that letter as soon as it is light.
But what was "all that need be told"? Clearly Emma must let Harriet know that she (Harriet) had no hope of Mr Knightley returning her affection. If she told Harriet that she knew this because Mr Knightley had declared his love for Emma herself, she would be revealing something which her father, her sister and his brother, and her dearest friend Mrs Weston did not yet know, and she would be taking a huge risk. Harriet might have been really angry that, for the second time, Emma has led her into cherishing hopes of a man who is only interested in Emma herself (allowing that Emma is a bit less culpable in the case of Mr Knightley than in the case of Mr Elton) and might have taken her revenge by spreading the story all round Highbury so that it would reach Mr Woodhouse's ears before Emma has had time to prepare him. Harriet does not seek retribution, sweet if silly creature that she is, but Chapter 52 tells us that Harriet's reply "expressed herself very much as might be supposed, without reproaches, or apparent sense of ill usage; and yet Emma fancied there was a something of resentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased the desirableness of their being separate. It might be only her own consciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quite without resentment under such a stroke". Yes, quite, especially since on top of everything else Harriet has persistent toothache - fortuitous though that was in allowing Emma to arrange her visit to the John Knightley residence - which I am sure we all know does not improve anyone's temper. There was a real risk there.
Has Emma taken this risk, or gone for some middle way such as assuring Harriet that she has become aware since they spoke on the matter that Mr Knightley is not in love with Harriet, that in fact he cares for another woman, without naming that woman? Any theories?
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