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|Harriet Smith's character (Vol. 2, Ch.5)
Written by Caroline SO
(10/24/2008 10:05 p.m.)
I am intrigued by the introduction of a new character, Harriet Smith, about 3/4 of the way through the novel. What was JA's purpose in introducing this character? What does she represent? I know she plays an important role in advancing the plot (we can discuss that next week), but is that her only or main function? I read that JA often "paired" up her characters as foils to contrast their differences (i.e., Marianne and Elinor in S&S) or to compare their similarities. Is there something of that going on here?
Harriet in contrast to Anne: Twelve years had changed Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of 15, to the elegant little woman of seven and twenty, with every beauty excepting bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle; and twelve years had transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow, receiving the visit of her former protegee as a favour . . . "
Harriet compared to Mrs. Clay: Anne left it to her father to recollect "that Mrs. Smith was not the only widow in Bath between thirty and forty, with little to live on, and no sirname of dignity."
Harriet compared to Mr. Elliott (I know, this is a bit of a stretch, for Anne judges Mr. Elliott harshly but pities Harriet): "She had been used to affluence,-- it was gone." As for Mr. Elliott: "The names which occasionally dropt of former associates, the allusions to former practices and pursuits, suggested suspicions not favourable of what he had been. She saw that there had been bad habits; that Sunday travelling had been a common thing . . . "
And what of the ON's musings on the disposition of Harriet the invalid? Is this JA's way of saying, this is how invalids SHOULD behave, but don't expect it of me, or, indeed, was she a model patient, like Harriet? "A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature alone."
And finally, what of Harriet's long, complex ode to nurse Rooke, a "shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman," and Anne's response that "Women of that CLASS have great opportunities, and if they are intelligent may be well worth listening to"? I feel JA is trying to get at something here on the role of women in society, but I'm just not getting it.
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