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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Harriet Smith, the (not so) “simple maid” who COULD, unassisted, “paint to her mind the bridal’s state”

In response to my immediately preceding post [ ] about the veiled allusion by Jane Austen in Emma to her January 1813 letter (in which JA famously wrote to her sister about not writing Pride & Prejudice for “dull elves” lacking “ingenuity”), my good friend Diane Reynolds expressed tactful skepticism about my confident claim that JA consciously intended, in having Emma say ““We are not to be addressing our conduct to fools”,  to echo her earlier letter, which in turn was a clever paraphrase from Scott’s Marmion. I initially replied to Diane in Janeites/Austen-L as follows:

“I think JA was an extremely conscious writer who echoed words a thousand times, far too often to be solely unconscious. The way I see it, JA followed a two step process ---first, write rough drafts with not too much internal censorship, and springing largely from the unconscious, without an attempt to get it right-- then she’d go back to the drafts and consciously shape and reshape what originally came into being unconsciously-- that's when JA would tweak verbiage for best echoing, alluding etc. So, I believe the echoes of "address" and “fool” within Emma, and also bouncing off Midsummer Night's Dream, are just like all the other examples I've found over 12 years - they're always thematic, and they always add some layers of depth and complexity to scenes that at first don't seem to have much of it.”

However, it occurred to me today to go back to the actual text of the first stanza of the final Canto of Scott’s Marmion, where we find the full context for the quotation which JA tweaked in her 1813 letter, in search of more evidence to support my claim that Marmion was consciously on JA’s mind as she wrote Emma. I am very glad I did, as you will see now:

I do not rhyme to that dull elf,
Who cannot image to himself,
That all through Flodden's dismal night,
Wilton was foremost in the fight;
That, when brave Surrey's steed was slain,
'Twas Wilton mounted him again;
'Twas Wilton's brand that deepest hew'd,
Amid the spearmen's stubborn wood:
Unnamed by Hollinshed or Hall,
He was the living soul of all;
That, after fight, his faith made plain,
He won his rank and lands again;
And charged his old paternal shield
With bearings won on Flodden Field.
So, at the start of that stanza, Scott makes it clear that what makes an elf (i.e., reader) dull is a lack of the imagination required to fill in the blanks Scott has deliberately left in the description of the hero’s bravery in the famous bloody battle of Flodden Field. But what has not been noted by other scholars is that in the second half of that same stanza, Scott repeats that same theme of readerly lack of imagination, but this time he turns his attention to the kind of female reader (whom Scott assumes are not concerned with war, but with love) he does not “sing” (i.e., write poetry) to:

Nor sing I to that simple maid,
To whom it must in terms be said,
That King and kinsmen did agree,
To bless fair Clara's constancy;
Who cannot, unless I relate,
Paint to her mind the bridal's state;
That Wolsey's voice the blessing spoke,
More, Sands, and Denny, pass'd the joke:
That bluff King Hal the curtain drew,
And Catherine's hand the stocking threw;
And afterwards, for many a day,
That it was held enough to say,
In blessing to a wedded pair,
"Love they like Wilton and like Clare!"

Now, recall that I claimed in my previous post that Jane Austen situated her veiled allusion to Marmion in the very scene in which Emma lectures Harriet about what Emma (mistaken) believes is an accurate perception and assessment of Elton as a desirable match for Harriet, and recall also Diane’s friendly challenge to me to prove that was an intentional allusion. So, if I’m correct, then JA really ought also to have picked up on Scott’s ideal female reader, because it is the “simple maid” whom Scott asserted would not be a connoisseur of subtle romantic cues in literature; and since in my earlier post I showed that Harriet was a lightning rod for this theme in Emma, might JA have winked at Scott’s “simple maid” as well?

To answer that question, please read the following passages from Emma, and then you tell me whether you think JA winked in the way I claim she did:

Emma encouraged [Harriet’s] talkativeness—amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful SIMPLICITY which could speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Martin’s ….

This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprize and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said, “Then [Harriet] is a greater SIMPLETON than I ever believed her. What is the FOOLISH girl about?”

“…[Harriet] is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too SIMPLE to have acquired any thing herself…

Emma was in the humour to value SIMPLICITY and modesty to the utmost; and all that was amiable, all that ought to be attaching, seemed on Harriet’s side, not her own. Harriet did not consider herself as having any thing to complain of. The affection of such a man as Mr. Elton would have been too great a distinction.—She never could have deserved him—and nobody but so partial and kind a friend as Miss Woodhouse would have thought it possible. Her tears fell abundantly—but her grief was so truly artless, that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma’s eyes—and she listened to her and tried to console her with all her heart and understanding—really for the time convinced that Harriet was the superior creature of the two—and that to resemble her would be more for her own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence could do. It was rather too late in the day to set about being SIMPLE-minded and ignorant; but she left her with every previous resolution confirmed of being humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of her life. 

Her resolution of refusal only grew more interesting by the addition of a scheme for his subsequent consolation and happiness. [Frank’s] recollection of Harriet, and the words which clothed it, the “beautiful little friend,” suggested to her the idea of Harriet’s succeeding her in his affections. Was it impossible?—No.—Harriet undoubtedly was greatly his inferior in understanding; but he had been very much struck with the loveliness of her face and the warm SIMPLICITY of her manner; and all the probabilities of circumstance and connexion were in her favour.—For Harriet, it would be advantageous and delightful indeed.

“My poor dear Harriet! and have you actually found happiness in treasuring up these things?”
“Yes, SIMPLETON as I was!—but I am quite ashamed of it now, and wish I could forget as easily as I can burn them.

Harriet repeated expressions of approbation and praise from [Knightley]--and Emma felt them to be in the closest agreement with what she had known of his opinion of Harriet. He praised her for being without art or affectation, for having SIMPLE, honest, generous, feelings.

“…Well, now tell me every thing [re Robert Martin’s successful proposal to Harriet in London]; make this intelligible to me. How, where, when?—Let me know it all. I never was more surprized—but it does not make me unhappy, I assure you.—How—how has it been possible?”
“It is a very SIMPLE story...”        END QUOTES FROM EMMA

By the above quotations, I believe I’ve shown beyond a reasonable doubt that, by connecting Harriet Smith with the word “simple” regarding Harriet’s mental abilities a noteworthy nine times, Austen did indeed intend to point to Scott’s “simple maid” who also could not penetrate the mysteries of love.

But there’s another twist. In that very same regard, my friend Diane also responded to me by adding the following gem of a catch, in which Diane also quoted the end of that same passage in Chapter 9 of Emma:

"The line that jumped out at me this time was Harriet's: "You and Mr. Elton are one as clever as the other. " If we take them both to be fools, as I would, Harriet has made a very cutting remark, be it cluelessly in the ‘naif’ reading of her or deliberately in the ‘playing Emma’ reading of her. Bravo Jane Austen."

I initially responded: “And BRAVO to you, Diane, that is a brilliant catch!  That is nearly the same joke in P&P that Kishor Kale first pointed out in Janeites about 15 years ago, in Mrs. Bennet's saying: " My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother". And there are a few other passages in JA's novels which are not about sense and foolishness, but are analogous in being unwitting double entendres.”

Diane’ detection of Austen’s sly textual wink at Harriet’s artfully concealed intelligence fits perfectly with my longstanding claim that Harriet is neither Scott’s Marmionic “simple maid”, nor Emma’s “simple nobody”. She adds to the already exquisite irony of the scheming, savvy, manipulative Harriet of the shadow story of Emma that I’ve long argued for. I.e., in the shadow story, Harriet is a “young maid” who knows exactly how to exploit her own considerable knowledge of human nature in order to level the playing field presented to her by her patriarchal world. In this way, the shadow Harriet is very much like the shadow Charlotte Lucas in P&P, and the not-so-shadow Lucy Steele in S&S. And Harriet’s manipulations may be aptly described in terms which Jane Austen repeated with approval in both her fiction and her letters (as I’ll be explaining in my presentation at the next JASNA AGM in 10/17), by Harriet’s exerting the power of her own strong mind over the weak mind of the truly naïve young woman (i.e., Emma) Harriet has so cleverly attached herself to.

And…as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, one last possible wrinkle popped into my head – Sir Walter Scott wrote an anonymous (but long since attributed to him) famous review of Austen’s fiction in 1816, which included an excellent synopsis of Emma. On a hunch, I searched “Harriet” in the text of Scott’s review, and found that Harriet is mentioned four times by Scott. I will now quote those snippets, and challenge you to spot the two words in those quotations which bolster my claim that JA, in writing Emma’s line ““We are not to be addressing our conduct to fools”, had Scott’s Marmion in mind—and that Scott, returning the favor, showed, only months after the publication of Emma, that he recognized this very specific allusion to his own poem.  I’ll reveal the answers, below, for those who don’t figure it out:

“We are informed that [Emma] had been eminently successful [matchmaking] in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Weston; and when the novel commences she is exerting her influence in favour of Miss Harriet Smith, a boarding-school girl without family or fortune, very good humoured, very pretty, very silly, and, what suited Miss Woodhouse’s purpose best of all, very much disposed to be married.”

“...Emma, when Mr. Churchill first appears on the stage, has some thoughts of being in love with him herself; speedily, however, recovering from that dangerous propensity, she is disposed to confer him
upon her deserted friend Harriet Smith. Harriet has in the interim, fallen desperately in love with Mr. Knightley, the sturdy, advice-giving bachelor…”

“Emma lays a plan of marrying Harriet Smith to the vicar; and [--] she succeeds perfectly in diverting her simple friend’s thoughts from an honest farmer who had made her a very suitable offer, and in flattering her into a passion for Mr. Elton…”

“…the facile affections of Harriet Smith are transferred, like a bank bill by indorsation, to her former suitor, the honest farmer, who had obtained a favourable opportunity of renewing his addresses….”

I hope that many of you recognized that the clues by which I believe Scott winked back to Austen were Emma’s “SIMPLE friend’s thoughts” and Robert Martin “renewing his ADDRESSES…”

And there I conclude this not-so-simple address to my imaginative and open-minded readers.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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