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|Different definitions I think
Written by Tracy W
(4/10/2008 6:50 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Romantic expectations & extraordinary virtues, penned by Robbin
Indeed Emma is wrong in her understanding of some people. That does not mean she is therefore wrong about everyone. I have made many mistakes in my arithmetic in my lifetime, that does not mean that every single time I do a maths problem I get the wrong answer. In the case of the poor, I think it is far more probable that the Regency poor in reality included not merely poor people who displayed extraordinary virtue, but also poor people who displayed ordinary levels of virtue, falling occasionally to temptation, poor people who meant well but often gave into their weaker half, poor people who were lazy and really really often gave into their weaker half, and poor people who were fiends in human form. Rather like the rich and the middle-class.
I do not think that Emma was blind to the possibility that a poor person might have extraordinary virtue, I think she just did not expect it as a general rule. It is possible to expect something while still being open to the idea of variation. I am quite capable of expecting it to be fine tomorrow, but still packing an umbrella in case it rains. This may be a difference in our readings of the word "expect".
I don't understand what you mean by calling Robert Martin a man of extraordinary virtue. He's nice, he pays good attention to his business, he reads, he does favours for the girl he's in love with, all very nice, and perhaps above the common way, but hardly qualification for sainthood. Emma's devoted attention to her father actually strikes me as more extraordinary. I do not mean to denigrate Robert Martin, I know I have far more faults myself than anything I have seen in Robert Martin and I think he would make a fine husband for Harriet, but I am not *that* impressed with him as to say that he's extraordinary.
I also am not sure why you call being a gentleman's daughter an extraordinary virtue. There are plenty of cases in JA's novels of women who most definitely were gentleman's daughters, or at least born to a woman who was married to a gentleman, which I understand meet the legal requirements, but did not display extraordinary virtue. Miss Churchill appears to have been a gentleman's daughter, but JA describes her as ...though she had one sort of spirit, she had not the best. (chpt 2) Personally I think whether someone is born to a rich gentleman or not is a matter of luck, not virtue. We don't know yet whether Emma expects gentleman's daughters to be particularly virtuous or not, as far as I can tell she expects them to be better-educated and of higher social status. And indeed, in Regency times, gentleman's daughters did on average have a better education (because their parents were more likely to be able to afford to pay for it) and were of higher social status, because they socialised with the people with money and power (eg the Woodhouses and Mr Knightley).
To me, the idea that one should expect the Regency poor to have extraordinary virtues strikes me as so entirely out of phase with human nature that I really would be very surprised if Emma was shown to be wrong. What I think is going on here is that we are using different definitions of the words "expect", "expectations" and perhaps "extraordinary". Of course, if you do think that most of the Regency poor did display extraordinary virtue :) then that would also explain our differences.
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