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|Let others dwell on guilt and misery…
Written by Robbin
(4/11/2008 4:02 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Emma's benevolence (ouch--long!), penned by Ivonne
Emma has a lot of wonderful qualities and IMO is truly benevolent but she is hampered by small experience, too much self-confidence and authority and a tendency to give in to her desires. Emma’s goal of improving Harriet’s mind by useful reading and study easily falls to pleasanter activities such as chat and day-dreaming—Chapter 9. I think when Emma has understanding of a subject, as she does of her father and the distresses of the poor, she has a great depth of feeling but when she only thinks she understands a subject, such as understanding the hearts of men and women then her opinions seem much colder and selfish. For example, when she disposed of Mr. Martin without any thought of his feelings while ignoring Harriet’s also—I have no doubt Emma thought she was doing good by her friend but in some things Emma just does not have a firm grasp of the big picture.
Emma felt deeply about the cottagers and it was amusing to see her declaring they would be in her thoughts all the day just to have them supplemented a few moments later but it was also gratifying to see that she knew, strong as her sentiments were at the time, that they might leave her at any moment. I think this is self-awareness on a promising scale but it is also much in contrast to times when she really is a long way from understanding herself such as not seeing the selfishness of her manipulations of Harriet. Another situation where Emma feels profoundly, knows what she should do but keeps drifting towards doing what she would rather do instead is after Mr. Elton’s proposal:
The first error and the worst lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more.
"Here have I," said she, "actually talked poor Harriet into being very much attached to this man. She might never have thought of him but for me; and certainly never would have thought of him with hope, if I had not assured her of his attachment, for she is as modest and humble as I used to think him. Oh! that I had been satisfied with persuading her not to accept young Martin. There I was quite right. That was well done of me; but there I should have stopped, and left the rest to time and chance. I was introducing her into good company, and giving her the opportunity of pleasing some one worth having; I ought not to have attempted more. But now, poor girl, her peace is cut up for some time. I have been but half a friend to her; and if she were not to feel this disappointment so very much, I am sure I have not an idea of any body else who would be at all desirable for her; -- William Coxe -- Oh! no, I could not endure William Coxe -- a pert young lawyer."
She stopt to blush and laugh at her own relapse, and then resumed a more serious, more dispiriting cogitation upon what had been, and might be, and must be. The distressing explanation she had to make to Harriet, and all that poor Harriet would be suffering, with the awkwardness of future meetings, the difficulties of continuing or discontinuing the acquaintance, of subduing feelings, concealing resentment, and avoiding eclat, were enough to occupy her in most unmirthful reflections some time longer, and she went to bed at last with nothing settled but the conviction of her having blundered most dreadfully. (Chapter 16)
However, Emma’s conscious is working overtime and she begins to feel she must find a cure for poor Harriet herself, the cure of another suitor I expect—not William Coxe however:
Harriet was further unfortunate in the tone of her companions at Mrs. Goddard's; Mr. Elton being the adoration of all the teachers and great girls in the school; and it must be at Hartfield only that she could have any chance of hearing him spoken of with cooling moderation or repellant truth. Where the wound had been given, there must the cure be found if anywhere; and Emma felt that, till she saw her in the way of cure, there could be no true peace for herself. (Chapter 17)
Ivonne, I enjoyed your post a great deal and I look forward to reading more on this subject from you and seeing other incidents in the story. It will be interesting to see if and when Emma will adhere more to her nobler motivations than being distracted by what is more pleasant or what eases her conscience. I absolutely adore the idea of Handmaidens to Emma’s vanity—it is so completely true of Mr. Woodhouse, Poor Miss Taylor (as was) and Harriet. It was an LOL moment! Thanks! (;D)
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