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Emma, Volume I, Chapter 4

Quick and decided in her ways

The narrator tells us right off the bat that Emma is much taken with Harriet Smith, and with the idea of making Harriet a sort of protegée. Emma is "quick and decided in her ways", and I think even first-time readers get a sense of the danger involved in those personality traits as you see Emma inventing a heritage for Harriet that cannot be proved (deciding she must be a gentleman's daughter) and then deciding further to separate Harriet from Robert Martin, despite there being every indication of attachment on both sides.

Emma's logic runs something like this:

I do not associate with farmers.
I want Harriet to be my permanent companion/friend.
If Harriet marries Mr Martin (a farmer), I would have to drop her. (Let's not look closer at that just now.)
Therefore, I must ensure that Harriet does not marry Mr Martin.

Emma goes a step further, however, and begins to talk as if there is no possibility of Harriet marrying Mr Robert Martin, despite every indication that Mr Martin has been courting Harriet - why else would he go so far out of his way just to collect walnuts for her, or drag a shepherd boy into the parlor to entertain her with some songs? And she makes Harriet promise not to associate with Mr Martin's future wife, speaking disparagingly of whomever that would be.

It is the Emma of this chapter that perhaps explains Austen's remarks to her family (according to family legend, anyhow) that Emma is "a heroine whom perhaps no one but myself will like". She is acting in an interfering sort of manner, and in a way that is undoubtedly going to cause her friend Harriet pain - and it's entirely deliberate.

Is she really any better than her father, who tries to boss people around about what they eat and other health matters, as if he knows what's best for everyone? Is she, in fact, worse, since she is deliberately separating Harriet from a young man she obviously has some level of feelings for?

Harriet certainly was not clever

Harriet isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, that's for sure. She is pretty and good-natured and not completely lacking taste or manners, but she's not exactly what you'd call bright - in today's world, we might call her an airhead (or is that term now passé?) She's affectionate, however, and quite attached to Emma, who she both likes and admires. And being a bit dim, she's willing to believe that Emma's judgment is superior to her own.

This can only end in tears.

Kiva - loans that change lives
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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 5th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
Indeed. Lady Catherine's comments about an "obstinate, headstrong girl!" come to mind as potentially appropriate for Miss Woodhouse.
May. 5th, 2011 04:40 am (UTC)
Unlike her father, however, Emma has the excuses of youth, inexperience, and a desperate lack of anything more worthwhile to occupy her mind. So I'm generally inclined to forgive her meddling, misdirected though it is.
May. 5th, 2011 06:17 am (UTC)
Well, yes. And (since I'm assuming you've read this before or won't mind my saying so) she does learn her lesson and improve. Eventually.
(Deleted comment)
May. 7th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Ah, so you completely understand why Austen called Emma "a character whom no one but myself will much like"! Emma and Mr Woodhouse are acting more in accordance with their own characters than they are in accordance with the customs of the time. Still, I can think of lots of reasons not to want to live in the Regency era. The scarcity of indoor plumbing comes to mind, for one.
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
I hear you. I think part of the charm of Emma, the character, is how good-hearted she actually is, even if she's strong-willed and sometimes almost deliberately misguided (having done my post for Chapter 10, where she pays a visit to a poor, sick family, I was reminded that she just needs proper channeling, really, in order to improve). And she does change over the course of the novel, which is an awfully good thing.

Glad to have you reading along!
Jun. 2nd, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
I think it is the fact that she is so manipulative and wrong in the start of the book, and we slowly see her character improve that makes the novel so enjoyable. The title couldn't be more appropriate. It's about Emma, her growth as a woman, and as a character. Character development taken to its logical extreme. She does have some good points, she is good-hearted, friendly, and so on, she just needs the rough edges knocked off. It isn't until Miss Taylor becomes Mrs. Weston that she can truly grow and become all she can be. Not only does Miss Taylor hamper Emma's growth, losing her is the first significant pain/hardship that Emma ever went through, which is often a catalyst for character growth.
Jun. 2nd, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC)
That point about loss is a fine one, and not one I'd thought of myself (LOL!) - I'm sure you're right about it being the catalyst. Now it's really time for Emma to become a grown-up!
Feb. 17th, 2013 03:55 am (UTC)
I'm bored, I'll totally ruin someone's life. Plot point.
Feb. 18th, 2013 03:20 am (UTC)
Indeed. Although ruination wasn't her initial goal.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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