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Written by Robbin
(4/25/2008 11:42 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Emma's Dilemma, penned by BarbaraB
I think you bring up a good point. There is a great deal of visiting being done in Emma and the emphasis seems to be on whether it is done properly, with good will, respect, and appropriate attention. The idea that what should be done, should be done right away has been raised several times. Mr. Knightley, Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Weston and Mr. Woodhouse have all spoken on the subject. Frank’s hesitation to visit his father and new bride is seen as slighting especially to Mrs. Weston by Emma and Mr. Knightley and after he finally shows himself in Highbury Mr. Weston urges Frank to give the proper attention to Jane Fairfax lest she feel slighted. I think Frank has been called back home twice by Mrs. Churchill by Chapter 36 and although no one likes it no one suggests he should not do his duty. Emma, the first lady of Highbury, is an interesting object on the subject of duty visits.
In Chapter 22 and 23 Emma intends to put the Martins in their place by purposely snubbing them and she sees it through regardless of the predicable fallout to Harriet and the Martins. Emma forces Harriet to do less than she knows she ought just as Emma knowingly does less for the Bates than she ought. Harriet is a creature of Emma’s making and if she ever had any backbone it is completely submerged by devotion to Emma and loyalty to her edits. IMO Harriet behaves rudely and without gratitude towards the Martins but she is a puppet on Emma’s string and her handler must bear her share of responsibility.
In Chapter 22 Emma had difficulty deciding what should be done about the Martin invitation and finally decides it must be returned. Her thought is to drop Harriet at the farm and drive a little further then turnaround and come back. In Chapter 23 Emma decides to give the time between drop-off and pick-up to “an old servant who was married, and settled in Donwell”. I don’t know how much further Emma traveled or how much time is to be given over to old servants but her visit must be a short one. If Emma left Harriet, traveled to the servant’s abode, visited, and then returned to the gate in fourteen minutes how long could she have actually spent with the old servant? Did she have time to go inside? Did Emma do a “Anne De Bourgh” and merely call the old servant out to her carriage? I guess we cannot know but time wise it is a minuscule visit.
Emma was sorry to have to pay civilities to a person [Jane Fairfax] she did not like through three long months! to be always doing more than she wished, and less than she ought! (Chapter 20)
I feel there is something lacking in this visit to the old servant; the visit seems like an after thought and how can we know Emma would have ever made it if not for the Martin’s invitation. On the surface it appears a proper gesture of respect and gratitude but if it is merely done because the opportunity arose in the commission of another activity (Harriet’s visit to the Martins) then it has no more glory than her visit to the Bates in Chapter 19 where her intent was to use the Bates to distract Harriet from Mr. Elton and to use Harriet to have safety in numbers while visiting the Bates. I think this because the visits are not planned in advance; in both situations it seems Emma visits because of opportunity rather than good will. In Chapter 20 Emma visits Jane Fairfax upon her arrival and tries to do as she ought but gives in to ugly suspicions and her dislike of her and mostly neglects her afterwards.
Another visit made for the wrong reasons is the Coles party. Emma wants to teach them their place by refusing the invitation and only wished it could be more felt but I think the thought it might end in a dance and the desire to party with “those whose society was dearest to her” merely entices Emma to do what would gratify her most. She chose to give her condescension to the Coles not for their sake but for the sake of being with her favorites so basically she used them. In Chapter 27 Emma is pleased with herself about how she must have delighted the Coles and although thinks they are worthy one moment the next she is ungenerously telling Harriet that they appeared vulgar as they always do and all this so soon after she enjoyed their hospitality.
Emma and Harriet visit a poor sick family in Chapter 10 and Emma with good-will does all she can for them because she understands their ways and allows for their ignorance and temptations. On the way they are tempted into distraction and slowed by the sight of the vicarage. It is clear that Emma does not come this way often for charity or otherwise because she tells Harriet she does not often walk this way; this is despite the fact no weather yet (it is December) had prevented them from regular exercise. Emma indicates when Harriet moves into the vicarage then she will gradually get intimately acquainted with the area; she is not inspired to walk this way more often for the sake of the poor. I don’t see how Emma would know these poor cottagers particularly well if she does not come this way often.
Emma contemplates the cottagers’ wretchedness and does not think the impression will soon be over but Mr. Elton appears and the cottagers are dismissed altogether because to think of them after doing all you can is only empty sympathy and distressing to ourselves—another rationalization? Yet the subject is promptly renewed and an interesting parley about what could be done and should be done for the poor cottagers ensues. Emma uses arts to lag behind the other two and a child from the cottage appears on her way to fetch broth from Hartfield. Emma attempts to question the child to extend her lagging but the child walks too fast and the others too slow.
I think there is a funny contrast between the child’s determination to fetch the broth for her family quickly and Emma trying to distract and delay her for the sake of her matchmaking efforts. It seems to me Emma should not be attempting to delay the child getting healthful broth for her family and the fact she does is further proof that her matchmaking has completely superseded not only her contemplation of the poor but her efforts at the cottage because on who’s orders but hers is the child sent to Hartfield for broth? I grant that Emma was as kind and attentive as she could be to the cottagers in their presence but just as she predicted when they are out of sight, they are also out of mind. I don’t agree with Emma that to think of the poor after doing all you can is only empty sympathy but it seems Emma does as the interesting parley seems to have come to naught. By Chapter 36 I don’t think Emma has thought of the cottagers since Chapter 10—if I have missed it I apologize.
In one respect Mrs. Elton grew even worse than she had appeared at first. Her feelings altered towards Emma. Offended, probably, by the little encouragement which her proposals of intimacy met with, she drew back in her turn and gradually became much more cold and distant; and though the effect was agreeable, the ill-will which produced it was necessarily increasing Emma's dislike. (Chapter 33)
In Chapter 32 Emma tries to talk her father out of feeling remiss for not visiting Mrs. Elton, a lady and a new bride first by saying his apologies were accepted as Mr. Elton knows him and when that does not work she suggests it is fine and he should not be so anxious to pay his respects as he should not want to encourage people to marry. He tells Emma she does not understand—it is a mere matter of common politeness and good-breeding and meanwhile Emma thinks the same of him. I can see that Emma would not want her father to be anxious but since he is I think the real way to help him is to get the visit paid with as little fuss as possible rather than trying to encourage him to forget what he owes a new bride because she does not like her. In Chapter 33 Mrs. Elton is offended by how little Emma accepts her overtures at friendship and an ill will appears in their place. Then it becomes obvious Mr. Elton has shared his Emma—Harriet past and they dislike her but the brunt of their feelings are taken out Harriet. Another dilemma created by Emma. I don’t think Emma should have become bosom buddies with Mrs. Elton but with a little foresight and if she had handled her with more care and a little more attention it seems Emma might have spared Harriet their sneering and contemptuous treatment.
I think dislike is the main reason Emma is neglectful of people—the Bates, Jane Fairfax, and Mrs. Elton are all neglected by Emma and she is aware of it but does it anyway. A second reason Emma has neglected people is to punish them. She carried out her intended slights of the Martins knowing perfectly well it was ungrateful and would hurt them and Harriet. A third reason for neglecting people is because she forgets about them. Nothing has come of that interesting parley about what should be done for the cottagers and most likely the old servant in Donwell was visited only because Emma was going that way. What does all this mean? To me it means Emma’s visiting habits highlight some of her faults—a tendency to let her personal feelings influence her choices, a disposition to avoid duty if it is disagreeable and a willingness to misuse etiquette for her own ends with little regard for the feelings of others. Emma is young and in some ways immature but she is also clever and could do better by some of the people she dislikes and she could certainly stop using etiquette as a weapon. However, there is one person in Highbury completely pleased to pay a duty call and that is Miss Bates—she is all happiness when she visits Hartfield in Chapter 21 to thank them for the hindquarter of pork. (;D)
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