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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harriet Smith as a Papagena turned Heiress when she attained the age of 18 years…and 2 minutes!

Diane wrote:
"Harriet, in talking about Mr. Martin to Emma, says the following: "He was four-and-twenty the 8th of last June, and my birthday is the 23rd just a fortnight and a day's difference—which is very odd." If we accept the overt reading of Harriet as a fool (despite action in the text that contradicts this, which, after all, is Emma's pov of Harriet) this statement reinforces Harriet's empty headedness. But if we accept Harriet as smarter than Emma knows, this statement might mean something. I don't know myself, but wonder if such specifics would be thrown into the text without a reason. Any thoughts? What clue is this in the mystery of Emma? Has anyone looked at numbers in Emma?”

Yes, I have Diane! You asked exactly the right question in exactly the right way, so I will tell you my answer, which I arrived at a while ago.  It’s a beautiful elegant secret hiding in very plain sight in the novel, and its solution requires the reader to pay attention to the calendar for Emma, and to look past JA’s deliberately created misdirecting context. It’s a solution that opens up a giant portal into the shadow story of Emma.

Specifically, the key to solving the mystery is to look past the 15 days difference in birthdays that Harriet focuses on—that’s a red herring set there by JA---but instead to attend to the fair notice of Harriet’s precise birthday given by JA to the reader 38 chapters before it will suddenly become extremely relevant to the climactic action of the novel! Let me walk you through the few steps.

Speaking of the calendar for Emma, you start with the following entry, which Ellen wrote some years ago in her very helpful calendar, picking up on the very passage you quoted, above, in Chapter 4:

“1796, June 23: Harriet is 17 when novel opens so Harriet Smith born in the same year that Mrs Jane Fairfax died. Edith Lank has suggested Miss Henrietta Bates could have left Highbury during this time to help her poor sister, thus giving an alibi for a pregnancy (!). See Edith Lank's intriguing essay in Persuasions 7, pp. 14-15.”

Ellen cites Edith Lank’s famous Persuasions article which hinges on the idea of “Harriet” as a diminutive of “Henrietta”, in addition to “Hetty”, which of course is the name Miss Bates is called. I believe Edith Lank was unquestionably on the right track in guessing Miss Bates to have been Jane’s  biological mother- but….I believe that it was also no coincidence that Jane Fairfax’s putative mother just happened to die the same year Harriet was born! Why?

Because I believe Miss Bates’s younger sister Jane died in childbirth, while delivering Jane Fairfax’s half-sister……Harriet Smith! I say half-sister, because Jane and Harriet had different mothers (i.e., the two Bates sisters), but had the same father……Mr. Woodhouse!

And those are not the only biological relationships among major characters in the novel, of which Emma (and therefore the reader) is blissfully unaware. But those are for another post.

Back to Harriet’s birthday. What Ellen never realized was that she had already done all the legwork for discerning the significance of Harriet’s birthday, when she wrote the following entry later in her calendar:

 “Thurs, June 23rd: Midsummer Eve and Harriet's birthday; Donwell Abbey expedition; Mrs Elton's nagging at Jane over taking position as governess; Frank comes late in day after Jane has left, they quarrelled on the road; Emma sees him at 3 o'clock 42:352; 43:362 “

As you can see, the dots needed to be connected between Harriet’s seemingly ditzy fixation on birthdays in Chapter 4, and the pagan calendar hidden in plain sight in Chapter 42, under which the outing to Donwell Abbey takes place on Midsummer Eve!

I.e., the observant reader was meant to realize, almost certainly upon a REreading, that the outing to Donwell Abbey actually takes place ON HARRIET’S BIRTHDAY!!!!

So you see, as Emma learns to her horror of Harriet’s interest in Knightley in Chapter 47, Emma recalls these details of that outing:

“The first, was [Knightley’s] walking with [Harriet] apart from the others, in the lime-walk at Donwell, where they had been walking some time before Emma came, and he had taken pains (as she was convinced) to draw her from the rest to himself—and at first, he had talked to her in a more particular way than he had ever done before, in a very particular way indeed!

NOW you know that Knightley was showing all this interest to Harriet because HE knew better than anyone that Harriet had just turned 18 and therefore had inherited her fortune from “the tradesman” (Mr. Woodhouse? Mr. Knightley?) on her coming of legal age –recall now another crucial “dot” to connect--- the legal paperwork that John Knightley prepared and which George Knightley brings for Mr. Woodhouse to sign. Clearly, it was all about Mr. Woodhouse “the tradesman” making some settlement for Harriet now that she had turned 18!

There’s much more that could be extrapolated from the above, but I will also leave all of that for another post.

What I wanted to mention in this post is the connection of the above to something I even longer ago also realized, which is that Harriet is based on Papagena from Mozart’s and Schikaneder’s The Magic Flute, and Robert Martin is Papageno.
I recognized this in 2005, because I love The Magic Flute, it might just be my favorite music ever. So I knew from having listened to that amazing opera, Mozart’s swan song written not long before his death, countless time since I first heard it 43 years ago.
You see, Mozart makes a very big deal about Papagena’s age being eighteen, which we find out about during the first stage of the magical arranged courtship between her and Papageno.
During the time that Papageno and Tamino have both just begun their joint trial to determine their worthy character by Sarastro and his priests, Papageno can’t stop yapping and violating the order of silence, and then an old woman suddenly appears who comes in to serve him water. Papageno starts chatting her up, too:
PAPAGENO  …Tell me how old are you?
WOMAN  How old?
WEIB   Eighteen years…and two minutes
PAPAGENO  Eighteen years…and two minutes?
PAPAGENO  Ha ha ha! You are a young angel! Do you have a beloved?
WOMAN Of course!
PAPAGENO Is he as young as you?
WEIB  No, he is ten years older.
PAPAGENO  He’s ten years older than you? That must be quite a love. What’s your lover’s name?
WOMAN Papageno!
PAPAGENO  Papageno? Who is this Papageno?
WOMAN  You, my angel!
PAPAGENO  I’m your beloved?
WOMAN Yes, my angel!
PAPAGENO (spits out his water) Tell me, what is your name?
WOMAN I am…..(thunder and flash and she disappears)
PAPAGENO  Woe is me!

This is typical of the silly humor that surrounds Papageno in the opera, but beneath it is a mystery that is later solved. We find out at the end of the opera that the “old woman” is actually PapagenA, who has been created only two minutes earlier by Sarastro’s magic, especially for Papageno (hence the “two minutes”), in disguise as a very old woman, as part of Papageno’s test.

I believe what first alerted me to JA’s allusion to this scene was the playful addition of those two minutes— which JA subliminally echoed by having Harriet recall that Robert Martin’s birthday was a fortnight and a day different from her. That, I believe, is why JA has Harriet speak about Robert Martin’s birthday at all, it’s a misdirection, that allows her to “ping” Papagena’s age and those two minutes.

And, as icing on the cake, JA also subliminally “pings” Papagena’s “two minutes” four times in Emma as well, each of them in a passage that hints at mysteries:

“Anxious to separate herself from [Harriet and Elton] as far as she could, [Emma] soon afterwards took possession of a narrow footpath, a little raised on one side of the lane, leaving them together in the main road. But SHE HAD NOT BEEN THERE TWO MINUTES when she found that Harriet's habits of dependence and imitation were bringing her up too, and that, in short, they would both be soon after her.”

[Knightley up to Miss Bates] “"No, not now, I thank you. I COULD NOT STAY TWO MINUTES. I must get on to Kingston as fast as I can."

“Emma was OUT OF HEARING. She had hurried on before her guests to prepare her father for their appearance, and was BEYOND THE REACH OF Mr. Weston's HINT.
"Why, to own the truth," cried Miss Bates, who had been TRYING IN VAIN TO BE HEARD THE LAST TWO MINUTES, "if I must speak on this subject, there is no denying that Mr. Frank Churchill might have—I do not mean to say that he did not dream it—I am sure I have sometimes the oddest dreams in the world—but if I am questioned about it, I must acknowledge that there was such an idea last spring…”

[Frank at Donwell Abbey, like Papageno discomposed during his trial!]: "No—he should not eat. He was not hungry; it would only make him hotter." IN TWO MINUTES, however, he relented in his own favour; and muttering something about spruce-beer, walked off. Emma returned all her attention to her father, saying in secret—  "I am glad I have done being in love with him. I should not like a man who is so soon discomposed by a hot morning. Harriet's sweet easy temper will not mind it."

And think about it, aren’t Harriet and Robert Martin seen by Emma as if they were Papagena and Papageno?---i.e., stick figures from a magical fantasy world, emblematic of the permanently stupid country bumpkin lovers? Emma’s psychological perceptiveness is so low that she really does see them that way, even though Harriet is actually running rings around Emma the entire novel.
And by the way, the scene when Papageno is deterred by the Three Boys from hanging himself in despair, and then he and Papagena come together, may just be my favorite scene/aria from Bergman’s  astonishingly good film adaptation of same (The Magic Flute having long been Bergman’s favorite musical piece, which he directed many times on the stage):

The glorious spirit of The Magic Flute hovers over Emma in particular among JA’s novels, including all the darkness that we find in the dangerous Monostatos and the deep conflict between the Queen of the Night (which is why Mrs. Elton is referred to by the ever-alert Miss Bates as Queen of the Evening at the Crown Inn ball!) and Sarastro.

And that the climax of Emma revolves around Harriet’s turning eighteen and inheriting her fortune has one more layer of irony-it was recognized by Margaret Kirkham way back in 1982 that Kotzebue’s play adapted by Dibdin into The Birthday was another allusive source for Emma, and its climax revolves around the birthday of two brothers long estranged from each other—which, I have long believed, is part of the backstory of Emma, the terrible never disclosed event that occurred two years earlier, which ended all visits by Mr. Woodhouse and Emma to Donwell Abbey—I believe the Knightley brothers are closely related to Mr. Woodhouse, perhaps one or both of them being his illegitimate son(s)?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I meant to add earlier, Robert Martin’s and Harriet’s birthdays are not mentioned together for no reason—Anielka brilliantly explained why, two years ago:

“Henry Thomas Austen was born on the same day as Robert Martin and Charles John Austen was born on the 23rd of June.”

But I don't see how that hidden calendar is relevant to the shadow story of Emma.

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