Sunday, June 05, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 13 (Chapter 31)



On the one hand/on the other hand

Emma is having what I think of as a Tevyeh moment:

On the one hand, she's convinced she must be in love with Frank Churchill.
On the other hand, she's not sure how much, really.

On the one hand, she thinks about him, would like to hear news of him, and wonders if and when he's coming back.
On the other hand, she isn't really unhappy that he's gone.

On the one hand, she thinks well of him.
On the other hand, she plainly sees that he has faults.

On the one hand, she likes imagining various scenarios leading up to him proposing to her.
On the other hand, she always, always turns his imaginary proposals down.

On the one hand, she really sees him as a friend.
On the other hand . . . well, there is no other hand. "I do suspect that he is not really necessary to my happiness. So much the better."

She ends by deciding that if he returns to Highbury, she will not encourage him and will hope that he moves on without ever declaring himself to her. Still, she considers him inconstant and changeable, so perhaps he might not propose after all. I suppose time will tell.

Frank sends a letter to Mrs Weston

And Emma is of course allowed to read it. He says nice things about her, and asks to be remembered to her "little friend" - meaning Harriet.

Gratifying, however, and stimulative as was the letter in the material part, its sentiments, she yet found, when it was folded up and returned to Mrs Weston, that it had not added any lasting warmth, that she could still do without the writer, and that he must learn to do without her. Her intentions were unchanged. Her resolution of refusal only grew more interesting by the addition of a scheme for his subsequent consolation and happiness. His 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.

"I must not dwell upon it," said she.--"I must not think of it. I know the danger of indulging such speculations. But stranger things have happened; and when we cease to care for each other as we do now, it will be the means of confirming us in that sort of true disinterested friendship which I can already look forward to with pleasure."
Emma can't stop wishing to be a matchmaker, even though she has given up on pursuing it in real life. Still, she has formed the idea that perhaps Harriet would make an excellent consolation prize prospect for Frank - once he's finished mourning the loss of Emma, naturally.

Mr Elton's marriage

Harriet is far from thinking of Frank Churchill - or possibly any other young man - at this time, as word of Mr Elton's pending nuptials is all that's being spoken of in town. Emma tries to comfort and distract Harriet to little avail - in the end, she resorts to a good old-fashioned scolding to try to budge Harriet off the topic. It goes a little something like this:

Every time you brood over Mr Elton, Harriet, you hurt my feelings by reminding me how I led you to fall for him in the first place.

When I tell you not to think or talk about him, Harriet, it's for your own good, not for my sake, no matter what I just said. And here are six excellent reasons for you to move on:

1. to develop your own self-control
2. because it is your duty (possibly to move on, possibly to be happy for the choice he's made?)
3. because propriety demands it
4. because you don't want to arouse suspicion in other people
5. to save your own health and social standing
6. to restore your own peace of mind

The fact that I will rest easier and suffer less pain if you stop fretting about Mr Elton is really secondary to all these excellent reasons, Harriet - the point is for you to stop feeling pain.
Of course, Harriet seizes on that much-less important reason and runs with it.

Emma's assessment of Harriet

I'm quoting the entire final paragraph of this chapter, in which Emma decides that Harriet may not be particularly intelligent, but she's got such a loving personality that she's sure to attract a guy. Emma (rightly) notes that she doesn't have that sort of warmth and tenderness, and closes with a nice bit of careful-what-you-wish-for foreshadowing:

"There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart," said she afterwards to herself. "There is nothing to be compared to it. Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction, I am sure it will. It is tenderness of heart which makes my dear father so generally beloved--which gives Isabella all her popularity.--I have it not--but I know how to prize and respect it.--Harriet is my superior in all the charm and all the felicity it gives. Dear Harriet!--I would not change you for the clearest-headed, longest-sighted, best-judging female breathing. Oh! the coldness of a Jane Fairfax!--Harriet is worth a hundred such--And for a wife--a sensible man's wife--it is invaluable. I mention no names; but happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet!"


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