Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 4

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Chapter IV

Harriet Smith's intimacy at Hartfield was soon a settled thing. Quick and decided in her ways, Emma lost no time in inviting, encouraging, and telling her to come very often; and as their acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction in each other. As a walking companion, Emma had very early foreseen how useful she might find her. In that respect Mrs. Weston's loss had been important. Her father never went beyond the shrubbery, where two divisions of the ground sufficed him for his long walk, or his short, as the year varied; and since Mrs. Weston's marriage her exercise had been too much confined. She had ventured once alone to Randalls, but it was not pleasant; and a Harriet Smith, therefore, one whom she could summon at any time to a walk, would be a valuable addition to her privileges. But in every respect, as she saw more of her, she approved her, and was confirmed in all her kind designs.

Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition, was totally free from conceit, and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to. Her early attachment to herself was very amiable; and her inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, shewed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected. Altogether she was quite convinced of Harriet Smith's being exactly the young friend she wanted—exactly the something which her home required. Such a friend as Mrs. Weston was out of the question. Two such could never be granted. Two such she did not want. It was quite a different sort of thing, a sentiment distinct and independent. Mrs. Weston was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Harriet would be loved as one to whom she could be useful. For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harriet every thing.

Her first attempts at usefulness were in an endeavour to find out who were the parents, but Harriet could not tell. She was ready to tell every thing in her power, but on this subject questions were vain. Emma was obliged to fancy what she liked—but she could never believe that in the same situation she should not have discovered the truth. Harriet had no penetration.w She had been satisfied to hear and believe just what Mrs. Goddard chose to tell her; and looked no farther.

Mrs. Goddard, and the teachers, and the girls and the affairs of the school in general, formed naturally a great part of the conversation—and but for her acquaintance with the Martins of Abbey-Mill Farmh, it must have been the whole. But the Martins occupied her thoughts a good deal; she had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit,d and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. Emma encouraged her talkativeness—amused by such a picture of another set of beings,h and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Martin's having "two parlours, two very good parlours, indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard's drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mrs. Martin's saying as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow; and of their having a very handsome summer-house in their garden, where some day next year they were all to drink tea:—a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold a dozen people."

For some time she was amused, without thinking beyond the immediate cause; but as she came to understand the family better, other feelings arose. She had taken up a wrong idea, fancying it was a mother and daughter, a son and son's wife, who all lived together; but when it appeared that the Mr. Martin, who bore a part in the narrative, and was always mentioned with approbation for his great good-nature in doing something or other, was a single man; that there was no young Mrs. Martin, no wife in the case; she did suspect danger to her poor little friend from all this hospitality and kindness, and that, if she were not taken care of, she might be required to sink herself forever.

X [w] penetration.

Insight. Penetration has moral weight in Austen, as does its synonym, discernment.

Harriet is so clueless that she does not register Emma's manipulations of her. A matter of light suspense is whether Harriet can outgrow or escape Emma's control before it harms her innocence and simplicity.

 

X [h] Abbey-Mill Farm

Class

Leased or owned by Robert Martin, whose family may also date back generations and have occupied Abbey-Mill Farm as reliable and now prosperous farmers.

The Martins are part of what is called the yeomanry and represent a proud, strong class of independent farmers that descends from feudal England and was then as now loyal to the barons and their successors, the gentry. Knightley knows Martin and esteems him as a man and "friend," though class separates them.

X [d] pleasures of her visit,

Amusements

Harriet spent the summer months with the Martins when Mrs. Goddards' school was closed.

Long visits were a part of the rhythm of middle-class and gentry female life, especially life in the country. Because of the expense and difficulty of travel, visits lasted as long as two or three months. There being in a country house a corps of domestics, guests could be accommodated with little stress upon the hosts.…

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X [h] another set of beings,

Class

We should gasp at this phrase. Emma's arrogance is perfectly tuned to Harriet's "simplicity," as she counts off two parlors and eight cows, an upper housemaid and tea in the summer house. In fact, the Martins are prosperous and live well, and if they represent another species, we deduce what Emma thinks of the one-third of the nation who are the laboring poor?