Posted by greg on May 31, 1997 at 22:52:30:
In reply to The importance of Harriet Smith: simpleton, mechanism, or enlightened fool. posted by Cassandra on May 31, 1997 at 12:10:47
] We've been over this before, but why not tackle it again. I love the character of Harriet Smith, one of JA's most complete,well-rounded characters. I have never seen her as just the mechanism through which Emma wakes up and realizes who is most dear to her. Although, that is certainly her most important role in the novel. Harriet always reminds me of the fool in King Lear. Her words to Emma during the "ignorant of her own heart" scene are particularly revealing and insightful:
] "I should not have thought it possible that you could have misunderstood me!...I know who could ever look at him in the company of the other. I hope I have better taste than to think of Frank Churchill, who is like nobody by his side. And that you should have been so mistaken is amazing!"
] Alone, though, Harriet is a great, rich, well-developed(especially comic) character-in love with three men in one year. There is a quirky charm about her, notably in the Harriet Smith's most precious treasures scene.(that little pencil end) Personally, McGrath fully exploited the comic quirkiness if the Harriet character-she's not just a simpleton. I loved the way McGrath captured the scene at Ford's: "I think I should have fainted. "Oh Miss Woodhouse-do talk to me and make me comfortable again."
cassandra-don't think i have any revolutionary insights into harriet, but i'd like to have a try at such a lovely and interesting character.
she offers quite a contrast to emma's character, such "an unpretending, single-minded, artless girl..." shows emma's discontented scheming in sharp relief. under the guise of helping others, i believe emma's matchmaking is actually an unconcious attempt to be the center of social attention. she is daddy's little princess, but you can never have too much attention(ref. her reply to harriet in ch.10 when harriet is astonished that she doesn't plan to marry). harriet is able to respond to mr. martin's advances in a very natural way - her own humility allows an openess to recognize others. this prerequisite for love emma does not yet possess(hence mr k "...would like to see her in love with some doubt of a return"). after all, harriet doesn't have a father; emma's got one on a leash.
ja's splendid irony appears at many levels: emma would teach harriet what she needs to learn herself; she had plans of "improving her little friend's mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation", but unfortunately they never got past "riddles...ornamented with cyphers and trophies"(let alone the "real solemn history" catherine morland is loathe to study); and this confusion is eventually symbolized most graphically in mr. e's confusing(or more correctly, emma's confusing) one girl for the other. surely another picture of the difference in feeling between h and e is harriet's "more precious circumstance" of mr. k's simple act of caring to ask her to dance vs. emma's fanciful image of the rescue by fc from the gipsies.
of course jane fairfax also offers her own contrast to emma: a little of her circumspection might profitably be adopted by emma, as is so painfully clear when emma makes her own blunder at box hill. perhaps, after some reflection upon the events at box hill, emma might see that she's in greater danger of becoming like miss bates than she'd thought!