Thursday, March 25, 2010

DP 3/25 - Miss Woodhouse Regrets

Gee, now that I think of it, there's the title for the page. Oh, well. It has occurred to me to wonder whether I explain too much on occasion. Perhaps I should assume familiarity with the subject more often than I do. But, with all due apologies, we move on to *Emma*, and the heroine whom Miss Austen expected nobody but herself to like much.

L1: I feel at a terrible disadvantage here, as this is really quite an unAustenian situation. There are but two natural children, and neither is thought to be other than she is. But I shall take up Emma's protegee, Harriet Smith - pretty, naive, charming - and the natural daughter of somebody. The decision to go with *Emma* was also based on LW1's rather dotty grandmother, who at least in being a bit unique has at least a little in common with Mr Woodhouse, that vicarious hypochondriac extraordinaire.

LW1 is interestingly placed. We have a wild hint out of the blue that Daddy is Grandpappa's son, which, if anything, might be mildly good news from a medical standpoint. However, barring extreme changes in chances of something severely life-altering, I incline to disregard medical concerns. At least anything that might be pertinent can easily be established in cross-examination. Now it might be most interesting to see if Grandmamma makes a credible witness at all, but it seems a side issue.

I am much inclined to tell LW1 to take a page from Emma's handling of Harriet's situation. Emma soon learns that Harriet may not know her own parentage. This proves promising to Emma rather than anything else, as she is soon able to conjure for her own delight a picture of gentility and wealth behind Harriet's beginnings, if not respectability. Even a lord is not entirely out of the picture. Certainly such a history is suitable for Miss Woodhouse's own choice of a particular friend, and Emma feels entirely justified in liberating Harriet from the yeoman farmer she likes, Robert Martin, in order to attempt to match her with Mr Elton, the vicar.

Emma's friendship with Harriet raises disagreement from Mr Knightley. He regards Harriet as the worst sort of flatterer because unintentional, and thinks that if anything a sensible and intelligent gentleman farmer a good catch for a girl of illegitimacy and ignorance. Emma puts up a spirited defence of the extent and breadth of Harriet's good-nature, and later, when she intends Frank Churchill to transfer his supposed affection from herself to Harriet, has one of her finest moments as she appreciates Harriet's tenderness of heart. "I have it not, but I know how to prize and respect it." Yet for all that, it is Mr Knightley who overcomes his prejudices against Harriet (at the ball calling her unpretending, single-minded and artless, vastly superiour to Mrs Elton and more conversable than he'd expected) while Emma never does. She may befriend Harriet and try to marry her off to superiour men, but she always remains Miss Woodhouse and her first reaction to Harriet's revelation that she hopes to marry Mr Knightley rather than Mr Churchill is, even before Emma realizes at last that she has been in love with Mr Knightley herself, full of all the snobbery she has expected others to shed while retaining it herself.

But I advise LW1 to take Emma as an example, for here it can do no harm. Your father now has Mysterious Origins. His father could be practically anyone of 70-odd years of age or older. Consider the possibilities! What a Grand Romance you can make of this. If it were my own grandfather in question in this situation, I should perhaps select Ken Rosewall or someone else who is bound to make a much more glamourous story than whatever happens to be the prosaic truth. Surely you can do better than the facts.

The moral is perhaps that Truth is only Stranger than Fiction if one has insufficient imagination.

L2: Quite a promising situation here. I envision a most happy time cross-examining both spouses about the events and progress of the marriage, and anticipate the ex-wife breaking down and ranting incoherently on the stand after a particularly good attack. The girlfriend would be rather less fun.

But here we have a social menace blackening a reputation after an attempted relationship falls flat. The Highbury parallel is clear enough - Mrs Elton. She breezes in from Bristol on the strength of a brother-in-law with his own barouche-landau, intending to be quite the queen of Highbury. Unfortnately, there is Miss Woodhouse already occupying such a position, with her family's long standing in the neighbourhood and her thirty thousand pounds, while Mrs E herself has only "as near ten thousand pounds as makes no difference". What to do? At first, Mrs Elton is all in favour of allying herself with Emma in such matters as suggesting the formation of a musical club to meet at Hartfield or the vicarage on a weekly basis. When Emma does not respond as one kindred superiour spirit to another, Mrs Elton gets huffy, takes up Jane Fairfax as a protegee (though one rather superiour to her patroness in all but fortune), and treats Miss Woodhouse with as much marked coolness as she dares, mixed occasionally with her own style of gracious condescension when they are forced into each other's company, often through the indiscriminate friendliness of Mr Weston. Emma is occasionally angered, but never lets herself be pushed farther than her shocking rudeness to Miss Bates on Box Hill, an occurrence only partially due to the disagreeable presence of the Eltons.

I should advise LW2 that his ex-wife has done him rather a favour. He could always leave the area with his girlfriend and start afresh elsewhere, but my instinct would be to run. The girlfriend lacks the internal fortitude of Emma to cope with such a situation, or perhaps thinks that she is entitled to compensatory capitulations in exchange for her having to put up with the disgraceful conduct of the ex-wife. We do know that LW2's Spouse Chooser was not in the highest working order the first time he used it, and here is evidence that it has not done a great deal better the second time out. Buy her a nice consolation prize and start afresh. As the moral is that, as in the case of "Rumpole and the Boat People," one keeps marrying the same person (literally in Jackie Bateman's case), he should perhaps try an arranged marriage next. It's not as if he'd do much worse.

L3: Now what is going on with these three sisters? They are as confusing as the Bradbury Scotts in *Nemesis*. This is the sort of case that one might cheerfully predict to last two weeks, with refreshers of five hundred a day - provision for one's old age!

As we are dealing with a visit from relations including a baby, a little look at Hartfield is entirely in order here. Emma actually is at her best as an aunt. She and Mr Knightley make up their quarrel over Robert Martin's declined proposal when he watches her telling baby Emma to grow up to be a better woman than her aunt. And she copes with the differing parental styles of her sister and brother-in-law well, even if she is teased about her increasing social engagements.

It is actually Mr Woodhouse who is perhaps more interesting to examine in these situations. A house full of active and noisy children ought to be anathema to him, yet he insists that it would be dreadful for Isabella and her family ever to stay with Mr Knightley instead. The noise and activity does not bother him at all. If he suffers during the visit, it is only from seeing how healthy his grandchildren are, but he and his daughter Isabella can happily compare their imaginary complaints and those of the children, and debate their versions of the opinions of their two doctors, Mr Perry and Mr Wingfield, even if this does lead to such danger as John Knightley's losing his temper over Mr Woodhouse ascribing to Perry a preference for Cromer over Southend as a desirable holiday locale for sea-bathing (even if it did do the weakness in little Bella's throat the world of good).

I really don't know what to tell LW3 as we have insufficient evidence to decide whether the putuative Visiting Sister is just trying to use the baby in an attempt to cadge free lodging or not. I should not ordinarily think so, except that the host sister seems (barring facts not in evidence) so extreme with little other plausible explanation. Personally, though I get on extremely well with children (far better than with adults), perhaps due to having done my stint and then some of baby-sitting for real babies, though I would never object to meeting a newborn, five minutes or ten in company with one is quite sufficient, but certainly I'd put sister, spouse and child up for the night in such a situation. I feel about babies a sort of sideways way as Emma does about tenderness of heart, almost. Babies are not my thing, though I know people whose thing they are, and can respect what they get out of it.

I suppose the moral might be something Biblical about however one treats the least of these, etc. But this is making me sad. Time to move on.

L4: Oh, dear - this is a problem? I suppose it's disagreeable to LW4, but it's very much on a level with having to put up with the conversation of Miss Bates, that inveterate talker, who always says anything and everything, and often inadvertently lets something slip out that might be irritating to Emma, such as her accidentally wandering a little too near Mr Elton's previous hopes when she announces that Mrs Cole has had a letter from him announcing his engagement. I shall advise LW4 to appreciate all the genuinely good qualities of the co-workers in question. Think of how much they may, like Miss Bates, have come down in the world. Once upon a time their notice of you might have been an honour, and now it is you who are charitable to them.

If something along the line is not achieved, we may have Box Hill all over again, when Frank Churchill requires everyone in the company first to tell Emma what they are all thinking, which goes over poorly, and then either one thing extremely clever, two things only moderately clever or three things very dull indeed. Miss Bates is delighted. She need not be uneasy. Three things very dull indeed. "That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as I open my mouth. Do not you all think I shall?" Emma then loses it. "Ah, ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number - only three at once."

The moral is not to let resentment build, lest it explode in such a manner.


  1. "Surely you can do better than the facts.

    The moral is perhaps that Truth is only Stranger than Fiction if one has insufficient imagination."

    Goosebumps, I tell you, goosebumps! :-) Incredible, hrumpole. I'm not sure if that makes me easy or a gleaner of brilliant prose, but, either way, I don't care. I love it!

    I also enjoy and agree with your take on LW#2. A new start, away from the past (and certainly without letting the ex know where he is) is in order. Is that possible in this day and age, what with Facebook and MySpace and people tracking one another with GPS dots on their cell phones? Regardless, worth the effort, I say.

    And, of course, as always, you're right on with LW's 3 and 4. I enjoy infants and tweens most. the other years are too full of energy and noise for my tastes, but, like you, I would certainly put up the family for the night, regardless of the children's age, unless, as you allude to, there are other far more significant concerns to be dealt with. Cross-examination is, indeed, called for her.

    Have a great week, hrumpole! And much good cheer. :-)

  2. Thank you, SB1 - I am glad I was able to be reasonably amusing despite having to rush.

    I was never satisfied with L2 - I fear it shows that my proper place is in a world in which one can still be relatively unknown or even travel under an assumed name. It's horrible to think how technology would ruin probably almost all of Agatha Christie out of hand. I don't think I was sufficiently alert to the possibility of danger to the New Woman, but that's just all the more reason to part. There are so many ways in which bad choices in the past can spoil the present. The objectionable part is that it looks as if the Bad Guy Wins, and perhaps might be emboldened by it, but the new relationship seems spoiled at least in a large part.

    Of course, what I'd be really tempted to do would be to make a public posture of breaking up just to see which of the two the ex would opt to pursue. It's quite likely that Ms Messy is right.