Emma had very early foreseen how useful she might -find her… ; a Harriet Smith… one, whom she can summon at any time for a walk, would be a valuable addition to her privileges. ‘ How does this evocation fit with your reading of the relationship between Emma and Harriet? From what the quotation title tells us, we learn straight away that Emma Woodhouse is a rich and very privileged girl and Harriet Smith is nai??ve an orphan and poor, of a lower social class than her and has become her friend.
She seems to be the perfect person for Emma to make use of like she did with Miss Taylor but doesn’t realise that she is only being used by Emma who ‘lost no time in inviting, encouraging and telling her to come very often; and as their acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction of each other’. Emma was glad when she heard that Harriet Smith was to accompany Mrs Goddard on a trip because she ‘had long felt an interest in, on account of her beauty… and the evening no longer dreaded by the fair mistress of the mansion’
Emma sees Harriet as a weak and vulnerable woman, which the modern reader is most likely to agree with, and she decides to take charge of her life for her. ‘Harriet was certainly not clever, but she had a sweet docile, grateful disposition; was totally free from conceit; and only desiring to be guided by anyone she looked up to’ Emma wants to better Harriet ‘those soft blue eyes and all those natural graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury’ Jane Austen is suggesting that she can’t really make Harriet into a better person than she already is because that isn’t possible.
Harriet has already reached her full potential. Hartfield, where Emma lives is a quiet place especially since she has grown up and her sister has moved away and early on in chapter four there seems to be another reason as to why Emma wants to be friends with Harriet, ‘the young friend she wanted – exactly the something which her home required’ but in reality it is not what her home requires due to the lack of noise, but what Emma wants. Jane Austen cleverly takes the reader into Emma’s thoughts. ‘Emma was obliged to fancy what she liked’ she is a selfish person who has never really had any discipline from her governess.
From Emma and Harriet’s first meeting, Emma has exercised her control and power over Harriet and persuading her to do things that she would not normally do. She becomes an enemy to the reader in these parts because she is being very manipulative. Emma’s ability to match make also tends to affect the relationship between her and Harriet (although this doesn’t become apparent until later in the book) she is trying to control every aspect of Harriet’s life especially when she comes round to Hartfield with a letter from Mr Martin proposing marriage.
Emma is not pleased because she is forming in her mind that she will match make Harriet with Mr Elton the vicar of Highbury. ‘You and Mr Elton are one as clever as the other’ Jane Austen tends to play a trick on the reader throughout the book in that she is drawing us into Emma’s confidence, yet at the same time making the reader judge her actions. What Emma doesn’t seem to realise through her selfish ways is that Harriet likes Mr Martin and does actually want to marry him but she is so desperate to seek Emma’s approval and is willing to do anything she say.
Emma doesn’t approve of Mr Martin because she automatically assumes that because he is a farmer, then he will be illiterate and also socially inferior to Harriet. That is not the case at all because he writes a decent letter to Harriet with few if any, grammatical errors. This is social snobbery on Emma’s part because she is assuming a lot of things, which aren’t true and also brings out a bit of naivety in her. She doesn’t believe that Mr Martin wrote the letter but it was not written in a woman’s style.
She is really afraid that Harriet will marry Mr Martin and ridiculously concludes that writing letters is his only gift. She makes up lies to put Harriet off him. Emma has only met Mr Martin once and through that meeting she let’s her ideas about class form her opinion of him. She puts Harriet in a difficult position that she would rather not be in saying that if she married Mr Martin then they would never be able to be friends again. She is not a true friend to Harriet because if she was then she would accept Harriet for who she was and not try and make her a better person through her selfish ways.
Emma is also emotionally blackmailing her given that she is telling Harriet that the society that Mr Martin belongs to is vulgar and illiterate. ‘A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter’. Emma is not only manipulating Harriet, but she seems to be more concerned with appearances than true friendship and loyalty. Jane Austen tends to tease ideas about the way that society is formed. From the opening line of the first chapter, this is apparent. Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich… seemed to unite some of the best blessing of existence; and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her’ If the reader compares the opening line with some of Harriet’s descriptions they will find that Emma who is rich, has lots of freedom and privileges whereas Harriet, who is ‘the natural daughter of somebody’ has been brought up in a boarding school all her life and has had to endure hardship.
The idea of social hierarchy in the relationship between Emma and Harriet is apparent as well as in the novel as it enables Jane Austen to convey her view of society. She criticises and mocks people who abuse their position in society, which is what is happening within the relationship between Emma and Harriet. The reader is drawn into Emma’s perception of social position and it also provides a basis for Emma’s judgements like when she persuades Harriet not to marry Mr Martin because of his social status.
Emma tends to be made an object of Jane Austen’s irony when she points out that Emma’s social snobbery and romantic fancies prevent her from analysing her own feelings for Knightley because she is trying to match make everyone else and has stated that she will never marry so doesn’t really concentrate on her romantic feelings. Emma and Harriet’s relationship is discussed between Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston who have different opinions about it. Mr Knightley believes that the friendship they have is not good because if Harriet acquires the social graces that Emma has, then Harriet may have problems within her own social circle.
Mrs Weston believes that since Emma and Harriet have become friends. Mr Knightley is critical of Emma trying to manage others’ lives and is extremely unhappy about Emma’s companionship with Harriet; he understands that she is trying to make Harriet aim for a man above her social position, which, because of her social position may be impossible. It is obvious that Knightley cares deeply for Emma and he wants her to rise above elegant manners and self-delusion to love and be loved. His concern seems to suggest that he may have a romantic interest in Emma himself.
Emma doesn’t help the fact that she also tries to match make Harriet with Mr Knightley. In conclusion, social hierarchy and class are two of the major themes portrayed throughout ‘Emma’ and within the relationship that Harriet and Emma have. From their very first meeting Emma has been very controlling of her and exercising her control telling Harriet whom she can see and meet up with. In reality, Emma actually treats Harriet quite badly and using her naivety to her advantage as she gradually gains complete control over her. She would detach her from society… becoming … her leisure and her powers’ she is cruel to Harriet and slowly breaks off her involvement with the Martins so that when she does eventually see them only for fifteen minutes on Emma’s instruction ‘they had received her doubtingly, if not coolly’ The evocation that we, as a reader see, seems to fit perfectly with Emma and Harriet’s relationship because Emma is so malicious and scheming although she probably doesn’t mean to be malicious.
Because Harriet is vulnerable and is not wise to the world, Emma is able to use Harriet for her own benefit and not because she really likes her. She sees her as someone to control now that Miss Taylor has married and instead of finding herself a teacher like her governess was to her, she finds a student, which happens to be Harriet. There are a lot of differences between Harriet and Emma but the actual relationship between them is very unequal as apparent within the novel.