The Woman, the Gypsies, and England: Harriet Smith’s National Role
“But when Emma presumes to look down on the young farmer, Robert Martin, and undertakes to keep little Harriet Smith from marrying him, she makes a truly serious mistake. It is a mistake of nothing less than national import.” (Trilling, “Emma”)
“The principle topic in Emma . . . is England, England’s weaknesses, the dangers inherent in those weaknesses, and the choices that might still be made to secure the nation’s future.” (Smith, “Politics and Religion in Jane Austen’s Emma”)
“In post-French revolution Europe, women were incorporated . . . into the nation-state not directly as citizens, but only indirectly, through men. . . . For women, citizenship in the nation was mediated by the marriage relation within the family.” (McClintock, Becoming National: A Reader)
“She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her to good society; she would form her opinions and manners.” (Austen, Emma)
Critics of Emma (1816) have long treated Harriet Smith as a prominent feature of the heroine’s educational development; such traditional readings maintain that Emma must realize the error of her egotistical attempt to improve the young woman in order to understand herself and her world properly.1 In addition, few have denied Lionel Trilling’s claim that Austen’s text is a work “touched-lightly but quite certainly-by national feeling;” yet with the exception of Trilling, scholarly discussions of Emma have dismissed the significant national function of the youthful Harriet (1957, 53).2 Trilling points out that Emma’s care for her protegee nearly engenders dangerous consequences for the state, but I will argue that the novelist emphasizes Harriet’s national importance as a potential biological and cultural reproducer of England’s “race” in the scenes following the gypsy episode.3 Austen’s use of the alien dark-skinned gypsies in juxtaposition to the native White woman allows the novelist to accentuate the Englishness of the latter by stressing the foreignness of the former. As an illegitimate and orphaned member of the “large and populous village” of Highbury, Harriet initially appears similar to the nomadic outsiders, but as a young, White, and anonymous female resident of this neighborhood, she also represents the future promise of her local and national community (1971a, 5). Austen often depicts Highbury as a microcosm of England, highlighting the disruption of its present, the nostalgia for its past, and the anxiety over its impending industrial future. Emma eventually dramatizes Harriet’s role in resolving each of these civic dilemmas.
The novel’s concern with Harriet’s national participation is in part dictated by changes in the social structure of the early nineteenth century. Mary Evans places Austen’s work in the context of England’s post-French Revolution modernization and indicates that its “transformation . . . into an industrial capitalist society involved the thorough integration of all aspects of social and material life into a form of order compatible with the demands of a society geared to the maximization of profit” (1987, 3). In this newly developing world, states must organize and employ any and all social resources, including their populations, effectively and strategically. Although the community of Highbury is not yet industrialized, Emma prefigures significant modifications in England’s ancestral economic system, such as the rise of the trade class and the optimism of the yeomanry. The tale also documents the counter-efforts of the gentry to retain a nostalgic conception of English culture-including pastoral power and a manorial economy. Miroslov Hroch theorizes that “the basic precondition of all national movements . . . is a deep crisis of the old order, with the breakdown of its legitimacy, and of the values and sentiments that sustained it” (1993, 20). Austen’s text reveals both nationalistic tendencies that suggest the instability of the traditional structure of society succeeding the French Revolution as well as overt efforts to resecure this previous system of organization. Harriet becomes a key player in this early nineteenth-century project to organize the industrial future while preserving the culture of the past. As a woman approaching the age of marriage, she will soon be called upon to reproduce her nation and its race, but because of her illegitimate status and unknown origins, she must be improved, tutored in English culture, and assigned a specific social position. Emma’s schemes to improve Harriet are in part a self-indulgent fantasy that leads to comic and perilous consequences, but the efforts of both the heroine and eventually the hero toward Harriet assume great national import after the young woman’s brush with the gypsies.4 The remaining portion of the tale carefully delineates a national duty for Harriet; Emma and Knightley join forces in crafting her as a dutiful female citizen, instructing her in proper culture, and placing her in a romanticized marriage.
The construction of Harriet as a useful English citizen is only one of the many national preoccupations of Emma.5 As a piece of fiction, it seems to capture an “Englishness” that critics admire in the abstract but rarely consider in relation to the rising tide of European nationalism that Ernest Renan and subsequent social scientists have identified in the post-French-Revolution years.6 For example, the novel exposes this conscious concern about the nation and its identity through the characters’ perpetual use of nationally-superlative titles. Mr. Knightley claims “Mrs. Weston is the very best country-dance player, without exception, in England” (Austen 1971a, 221); upon learning of Frank and Jane’s engagement, Emma offers Mr. Weston congratulations “on the prospect of having one of the most lovely and accomplished young women in England for [his] daughter” (368); and Mrs. Elton cannot prevent herself from declaring the strawberries of Donwell Abbey as “the best fruit in England” (324).7 Highbury’s inhabitants consistently return to Englishness as a tool for describing their everyday experiences and encounters; they employ national adjectivals to name and evaluate their community and its residents, demonstrating the novel’s investment in the traditions of England’s past, marking the village as English, and designating its population as members of a recognizably uniform race. The people of Highbury also continually broach national issues such as citizenship and the Empire. When Frank tours Highbury with the heroine, he shows himself “to be a true citizen of Highbury” and displays his “amor patri” by buying gloves at Ford’s (179); in order to dismiss the annoying Mrs. Elton, Jane Fairfax enters into a strange but historically accurate glorification of the English postal service as “a wonderful establishment” (267); and even Miss Bates makes reference to the difficult Irish question of the early nineteenth century, as she almost distinguishes Ireland from the British Empire (141).8 The characters of Emma are aware of many of the nation’s concerns and accomplishments, and the narrative implicitly exposes an emerging cultural anxiety about a native national race by including explicitly non-English characters. The presence of the alien gypsies in the novel invites us to consider the role of Austen’s fiction in the construction of England’s post-French Revolutionary national identity and its racialized citizenry.
The gypsies occupy (temporarily) only a small section on the outskirts of Highbury, but their presence in the narrative suggests that by the dawn of the nineteenth century, England’s population is no longer publicly imagined as ethnically homogenous. The gypsies may not live within the parameters of the village, but they are also not far removed from this organized civilization, and the proximity of this foreign people will encourage England to isolate a distinct native race. Etienne Balibar, like Renan and others, places the rise of the modern European nation in this historical period and devotes specific attention to the construction of a national populace. He claims that “no nation possesses an ethnic base naturally” and explains that “as social formations are nationalized, the populations included within them . . . are ethnicized” (1991, 140). Like other modern states, England had to generate its “Englishness” and its “native” citizens by racializing populations. Prasenjit Duara points out that this process is essentially “relational” and involves “a historical configuration which is designed to include certain groups and exclude or marginalize others” (1996, 163). Harriet’s encounter with the Romani allows Austen to illustrate how this citizen-building process helps solidify an English national identity. The novelist distinguishes the “Black” migratory gypsies from the White residents of Highbury, establishing an English race by separating it from an outside element; this created national race then effectively represents the “Englishness” that presumably defines its members. Harriet’s involvement in this scene, as a young, anonymous, and native member of this local community, highlights her importance as a national resource: she has the power to reproduce English culture and the English race, but she must be safeguarded from the nomadic lifestyle of the gypsies and schooled in the legacy and lore of her nation.
Austen’s first account of Harriet emphasizes her unknown origins and her stereotypical racial features. She is introduced as “the natural daughter of somebody,” and the novelist describes her as “a very pretty girl . . . short, plump and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness” (1971a, 19). Harriet appears as the anonymous and archetypal Anglo-Saxon female, complete with the traditional physical qualities of the ostensibly ancient race of England.9 This initial sketch of the parlor boarder enables Austen to create a more stark opposition between the dark-skinned gypsies and the White Harriet, but it also exposes an important similarity between the young White woman and the gypsies. Both are “natural;” neither Harriet nor the Romani have a definitive origin or social position, but the former’s Whiteness visually differentiates her from the latter’s swarthiness. Emma documents the efforts of Knightley and the heroine to uphold Harriet as a source of “natural” Whiteness, while the Romani become vilified as mysterious Black outsiders. Austen ambiguously depicts the Romani outside Highbury as “all clamorous, and impertinent in look, though not absolutely in word” (300). She stresses their shocking effect rather than their visual appearance; they represent a jarring and clear difference that recalls earlier historical treatments of the gypsy race. Matthew Raper’s English translation of Heinrich Grellman’s Dissertation on the Gypsies (1783; 1787) and John Hoyland’s Historical Survey of the Customs, Habits, and Present State of the Gypsies (1816) both presented the alien Romani in opposition to the pale European.10 Grellman invited his readers to “reflect how different [the gypsies] are from Europeans; the one is white, the other black” (1787, xv). Hoyland’s Historical Survey, published in the same year as Emma, also records the migratory race’s dark visage, but concludes that they “would long ago have been divested of their swarthy complexions, had they discontinued their filthy mode of living” (1816, 39-40). In the early nineteenth-century, the gypsies are imagined as both biologically and culturally “Black,” existing as the inversion of the native English citizen. Paul Gilroy insists that “Blackness and Englishness are constructed as incompatible, mutually exclusive identities” (1990, 268).11 The “Blackness” of the gypsies serves to accentuate the “Whiteness” of Harriet, and as Gilroy concludes, “to speak of the British or English people is to speak of the White people” (268). Austen presents Harriet as a “natural” embodiment of England’s future national race who is threatened by the dark nomadic foreigner, and romantically preserved by her community-especially Knightley and Emma.
Emma’s care for Harriet is clearly in part an egotistical adventure, but the heroine’s plan to improve her newfound friend also suggests a national concern about the social positions and potential of young women.12 The novel identifies Harriet as an illegitimate female child, a troublesome figure whom Austen had earlier dismissed from a narrative. In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon simply informs Elinor that he “removed” the daughter of the second Eliza and her mother “into the country” (Austen 1970, 184). In Emma, however, the novelist is much more concerned about Harriet, and Highbury seems determined to prevent her participation in such a deplorable cyclic drama.13 Austen will no longer allow tarnished women to be exiled like the gypsies or punished like Eliza; she must be included in and made useful to her local and national community. Although English society could earlier banish unwanted individuals to the extremities of its civilization, Austen’s late works suggest that as the nation continues to modernize, even “natural” resources are valuable and indeed necessary to the continued prosperity of the state-as long as these anonymous resources are White. Julia Prewitt-Brown accurately identifies Highbury as “a well-oiled machine” (1979, 121); it is a contented settlement that runs efficiently because each of its residents fulfills his or her assigned role. Emma and Knightley administer the village’s participants and ensure that every one performs a function; even the apparently futile Miss Bates and the neighborhood poor have purposes in this town. Only the dark-skinned gypsies, who not coincidentally reside outside Highbury proper, are not necessary to its continued contentment. Harriet’s specific civic duty as a female citizen becomes much more clear after her encounter with this foreign race.
Emma does not immediately envision Harriet as a future progenitor of the English race, but the heroine does recognize the promise of her protegee. Austen reveals Emma’s conscious understanding of Harriet’s potential through the heroine’s artistic augmentation of her young friend’s height (1971a, 42). Harriet is a malleable figure who can be altered-on canvas and socially-to serve the needs of her local and national community. Cicely Falser Havely notes that “Harriet is as blank as the clean sheet of paper on which Emma draws her portrait” (1993, 224). She is the prototypical Lockean tabula rasa, but Havely’s comment also recall Harriet’s Whiteness. Like a blank piece of paper, Harriet exists as an invisible “natural” entity without any blemishes or discolorations. Richard Dyer argues that “whiteness as race resides in invisible properties and whiteness as power is maintained by being unseen” (1997, 45). Harriet retains her important potential as a White woman as long as she remains free from noticeable markings like the dark skin of the gypsies; as long as she is “unseen,” she benefits from what Dyer terms the “explicit symbolic sense of moral and also aesthetic superiority” associated with Whiteness (70). Despite her mysterious origins and questionable standing, Harriet profits from her race that connotes “purity, spirituality, transcendence, cleanliness, virtue, simplicity, chastity” (72). Harriet’s identity as a native female qualifies her to reproduce a national race and an ideology of purity that directly opposes the uncultured dirty lifestyle of the dark-skinned gypsies, and as Nira Yuval-Davis explains in her influential study Gender & Nation, “it is women-and not (just?) the bureaucracy and the intelligentsia-who reproduce nations, biologically, ulturally, and symbolically” (1997, 2). Harriet will become a critical participant in early-nineteenth-century England as a bearer and rearer of the next generation of laborers needed to maximize the productivity of an industrial economy, but she will also act as a curator of the cultural legacy required to perpetuate a national identity.
Emma believes Harriet’s national role and potential are severely threatened by Robert Martin’s romantic pursuit of the parlor-boarder. Harriet’s tender memory of “moonlight walks and merry evening games” with the yeoman farmer gives Emma pause, and while the young naive woman fondly recalls how he traveled “three miles round one day, in order to bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them,” our heroine “[suspects] 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 for ever” (Austen 1971a, 23-24). Austen’s narration may be melodramatic, but it does suggest the risks at stake in Harriet’s marital choice. Emma responds to her fears about the irreparable fall of her project by manipulating a response of refusal to Robert Martin’s proposal. The heroine, moreover, provides a frequently ignored rationale for the necessity of this rejection. She initially proffers egotistical reasons, announcing that she “could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm,” and declaring that “it would have been a severe pang to lose you,” but she later explains to her young friend that she is “a great deal too necessary at Hartfield, to be spared to Abbey-Mill” (47-49). Emma’s explanation emphasizes Harriet’s crucial importance to traditional English residences and reminds us that historically the “control of marriage, procreation and therefore sexuality . . . tend to be high on the nationalist agenda” (Yuval-Davis 1997, 22). While the heroine’s scheme to match Harriet may not appear overly nationalistic, her plan involves exposing the young, anonymous woman to the proper English culture celebrated around “the large modern circular table which Emma had introduced” at the landed estate of the “younger branch of a very ancient family” (Austen 1971a, 313, 123). Emma understands Harriet’s charms, but she also realizes that for her protegee to reach her highest national potential, she must learn the traditions and customs of England practiced at ancestral residences such as Hartfield and Donwell Abbey.
Knightley also has a romantic design for Harriet, and he too wants to involve her in the nation and its culture. He is very excited about the news of Robert Martin’s offer of marriage to the young anonymous woman, and like a manorial lord, he praises his steward as “an excellent young man to marry” (Austen 1971a, 53). Prewitt-Brown adeptly identifies Knightley as “a pastoral figure,” and his comments on this proposed union certainly suggests his concern for the flock of Highbury (1979, 111). He employs his pastoral power throughout the novel, and as Michel Foucault points out, this requires him “to assume responsibility for the destiny of the whole flock and of each and every sheep” (1994, 308). Knightley attempts to maintain the order of his community, and this forces him to care for its individual members and regulate their activities. He understands, perhaps even more than Emma, the value of young unmarried women to the nation, and he is particularly concerned about the illegitimate and relatively neglected Harriet. He knows she will struggle to acquire permanent standing in culture, and he recognizes that “Harriet Smith is a girl who will marry somebody or other” (Austen 1971a, 57). As a good pastoral leader, he wants to ensure that Harriet becomes a useful and well-trained member of his assembly, and he knows that she must be safely and securely settled in a marital union to accomplish this end. Homi K. Bhabha argues that the domestic realm is “the space of the normalizing, pastoralizing, and individuating techniques of modern power and police” (1994, 11). Knightley recognizes the disciplinary potential of the domestic sphere; he tries to position Harriet in a marriage that will effectively manage her national function and allow him to maintain his pastoral care.
Knightley will not allow this young woman to become Highbury’s version of the exiled Eliza or assume a nomadic lifestyle akin to the gypsies. He chastises Emma for her role in the dismissal of his tenant; he refuses Emma’s claims for Harriet s high social standing and decrees: “Let her marry Robert Martin, and she is safe, respectable, and happy for ever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teach her to be satisfied with nothing less than a man of consequence and large fortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard’s all the rest of her life” (Austen 1971a, 58). Knightley cannot risk such a waste of civic resources; he knows the importance of ensuring that the young White women of his community consummate productive marriages. he realizes, as Dyer affirms, that “White women [carry] . . . the hopes, achievements and character of the race” (1997, 29). Knightley needs Harriet to be content, useful, and reproductive, and his pastoral concern for her reveals a concern for the national race. Although his openness with the Crofts and other members of the rising trade class suggests his acceptance of the impending modernization of the early nineteenth century, he also wants to preserve cultural traditions of earlier times, and Harriet becomes an essential component of his efforts. Knightley attempts to lure Harriet into accepting a marital status that will integrate her romantic interests with the early nineteenth-century national project to reproduce the English culture and its race.
Austen prefigures Harriet’s future role as a progenitor at the Crown Inn Ball. At this event, Knightley deploys his pastoral power and traditional strategies of romance to incorporate the young woman into the local community, and his actions permit us to envision her nationally-salutary marriage. The novelist reports that “the two last dances before supper were begun, and Harriet had no partner;-the only young lady sitting down;-and so equal had been hitherto the number of dancers, that how there could be any one disengaged was the wonder” (Austen 1971a, 294). Austen’s narration recalls Henry Tilney’s discussion of “a country-dance as an emblem of marriage,” and while privileges of choice and powers of refusal are not really at stake in Emma, the odd number of dancers underscores Harriet’s undetermined marital status (1971b, 56). Like the gypsies, she is disconnected from the organized civic activity of Highbury, and while we are unsure if it is Knightley’s absence from the dance that has engendered this imbalance, he rectifies the problem by “leading Harriet to the set” (1971a, 295). He fulfills his pastoral role by gathering his stray sheep and integrating her into the larger flock. Emma may be able to imagine romances between Harriet and ostensibly eligible bachelors, but Austen grants only Knightley authority to “lead” the young woman into the emblematic dance. His ancestral rank, moreover, authorizes him to welcome an illegitimate woman, and he does so willingly. Knightley’s kindness facilitates Harriet’s formal entry into Highbury, and in effect the nation, by involving her in the country dance that foreshadows her marital future. Knightley knows England must concern itself with native women like Harriet who represent the core of its race because of her ability to reproduce both the work force for the impending industrial economy’s work force and the traditional culture of England. Knightley will not allow any such fecund resource to lie fallow.
While Knightley’s chivalric action at the Crown Inn Ball may signal Harriet’s official assimilation into Highbury civilization, Austen reminds us of Harriet’s social vulnerability immediately after this event. The novelist places the “natural daughter” in close contact “with the gypsies, a definitive non-English segment of the population who maintain neither a fixed cultural position nor a productive social role. Austen’s narration of Harriet’s experience with the gypsies reflects both traditional and new English attitudes toward the Romani. She notes that Harriet and Miss Bickerton came upon the nomads on a road that was “apparently public enough for safety . . . . about half a mile beyond Highbury . . . on a broader patch of greensward” (1971a, 300).The gypsies may not reside within the village, but they are also not banished to the corners of the island. They are becoming more of a presence in England, and their participation in the novel suggests their greater involvement in the public society of the early 1800s. David Mayall notes that after centuries of futile efforts to punish and ban the gypsies, nineteenth-century society “realized that persecution alone would neither improve the Gypsies nor drive them out of the country. The best that could now be hoped for was their reformation, to be achieved by their being educated to the ways of settled society” (1988, 97). Writers and activists, such as James Crabb, William Howitt, and Samuel Roberts, would take up the migratory people’s cause in the 1830s, but this reformist sentiment is present even in the earlier works that inform Austen’s portrayal of the race.
Grellman recommended early strategies for incorporating the Romani into European culture, and Hoyland urges England to involve the gypsies in the same year that Austen’s text appears. Grellman advises states to teach the nomads to become useful members of society-and “if the root of . . . depravity lies so deep, in the first generation, that it cannot be removed immediately, a continuation of the same care will, in the second or third descent, be sure of meeting its reward” (1787, 80). Grellman sees great potential in rehabilitating at least the children of this race so that they may become civilized and serviceable. Hoyland employs evangelical and enlightenment rhetoric to advocate his project. He posits that “perhaps it is reserved for our age, in which so much has been attempted for the benefit of mankind, to humanize a people, who, for centuries, have wandered in error and neglect” (1816, 125). He points out “that a numerous population is advantageous” and explains that “care being taken to enlighten their understandings, and amend their hearts, they might become useful citizens” (197). Hoyland and Grellman make the same realization about the Romani that Emma and Knightley make about Harriet: if properly trained and assigned a specific cultural function, even orphaned young women and uncivilized aliens could become valuable social resources in the early years of the nineteenth century. Harriet’s interaction with these dark wanderers, however, actually accentuates the differences between the anonymous White parlor-boarder and the dark-skinned gypsies.
Highbury wants to reform Harriet and educate her in proper English lore, but the contented village seems to have no interest in integrating the gypsies. Early nineteenth-century England still imagines the Romani race as a crude and crass people who show little interest in the civilized refinement of the modern world.14 Despite the efforts of Grellman and Hoyland to rally public support for their presumably humanitarian project, the world of Austen’s text remains strongly influenced by earlier negative opinions of the nomadic people. The novelist reports that upon being approached by a small Romani child, Harriet’s companion, Miss Bickerton, became “excessively frightened,” “gave a great scream,” and flew the scene. Harriet unable to follow her friend because she “suffered very much from cramps after dancing” at the Crown Inn Ball, is left “absolutely powerless” and “exceedingly terrified.” The gypsies have done very little, but their presence has severely alarmed these young women, and left Harriet apparently disabled and endangered. Austen notes that due to Harriet’s vulnerable condition, she “was soon assailed by half a dozen children” (1971a, 300). Harriet gives these adolescents a token gift, but despite her offer of charity, the novelist indicates that her “terror and her purse were too tempting, and she was followed, or rather surrounded by the whole gang, demanding more” (301). This brief moment in the novel allows Austen to dramatize the threat posed by the “Black” nomads to the young, fair-skinned, blue-eyed female; Austen’s account suggests how the Romani almost envelop the “natural” daughter of Highbury in their transient community. And yet, the juxtaposition of Harriet to the gypsies helps expose a strong social desire to incorporate the former and the extant cultural fear of the latter.
Harriet is soon rescued by Frank Churchill, whose actions mimic the heroic rescue of a Medieval romance. He finds her “trembling and conditioning” and the gypsies “loud and insolent” (Austen 1971a, 301). Frank observes “the terror which the [Romani] woman and boy had been creating in Harriet,” and immediately removes the heroine’s protegee from this precarious setting to the ancestral domain of Hartfield. Austen notes that “he had thought of no other place.” The novelist’s comment recalls Emma’s earlier explanation of Harriet’s necessary position at Hartfield. Frank seems to know the importance of placing a youthful tabula rasa female within such traditionally ordered surroundings following her traumatic experience with the dark-skinned nomads; his actions illustrate his awareness that Harriet must be quickly reminded of proper English culture to conserve her national value. Like a well-trained writer of romance, Austen soon restores calm to the organized village. She points out that the news of Harriet’s adventure “within half an hour was known all over Highbury,” but she adds that “the gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice; they took themselves off in a hurry” (302-03). Highbury quickly recovers its calm, and the gypsies soon migrate to another location. Maaja A. Stewart argues that the Romani of Austen’s novel “signify a lack of settlement. They live without fixed abode or employment, and their apparent idleness could be equated with potential rebellion” (1993, 166). Rejecting the stationary lifestyle of Highbury, the gypsies maintain a wandering existence that allows them to avoid the disciplinary mechanisms of modern society. Their transitory movement is threatening because it disrupts the early nineteenth-century project to organize resources and maximize productivity. Although the world of Austen’s novel shows no interest in incorporating the “Black” foreigners, their confrontation with Harriet encourages the young woman’s community to more fully involve her with the nation-its past and its future.
Austen places the expedition to Donwell soon after the gypsy affair, providing the opportune locale for the prompt reintegration of Harriet into English civilization. The Abbey offers Harriet a window to the glory of England’s romanticized past, and allows Austen a chance to comment on the powerful nostalgia for this “idyllic” time. Emma is certainly very fond of Donwell and admires its “ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream.” She claims that this pastoral scene “was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was” (Austen 1971a, 323). The heroine is pleased by the genuineness of the Abbey, and as she enjoys its extensive grounds, she catches a view of “the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.” She muses: “It was a sweet view-sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort” (325). Emma maintains a sincere respect for Donwell, its adjoining lands, and the feudal and agrarian traditions they represent. Soon after these reflections, Austen directs our attention to Knightley’s unheard conversation with Harriet, as they too overlook the domain of the Martins. Emma observes them talking, and while she acknowledges that earlier she “would have been sorry to see Harriet in a spot so favourable for the Abbey-Mill Farm . . . now she feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending” (326). The heroine allows Knightley to tutor the parlor boarder in the ways of manorial agriculture, and they all seem to admire the panoramic vista of the Martin’s residence and both the agriculture and the culture it supports.
In her observations, Emma discovers that the hero “was giving Harriet information as to the modes of agriculture, &c.” Austen adds that the heroine “received a smile [from Knightley] which seemed to say, ‘These are my own concerns. I have a right to talk on such subjects, without being suspected of introducing Robert Martin.'” Emma “did not suspect him” and dismisses the romance between her protegee and the yeoman farmer as “too old a story” (Austen 1971a, 326). Austen’s narration highlights Emma’s and Knightley’s continued interest in Harriet, even if Robert Martin is apparently not included in their plans. Both the hero and heroine want her schooled in the ways of traditional English culture; Emma exposes her to the environment of Hartfield and Knightley teaches her the agrarian practices of his manorial estate. While they would each like to place Harriet in a biologically reproductive marital relationship, they also want her to serve as a cultural curator. Anne McClintock argues that the English nationalistic fervor that developed after the French Revolution assigned female citizens a specific duty. She explains that “Britain’s emerging national narrative gendered time by figuring women (like the colonized and the working class) as inherently atavistic-the conservative repository of the national archaic” (1996, 264). Highbury will still need Harriet to help bear and rear the next generation, but its leaders recognize that she must also serve as a cultural log, and to do this, she must know and appreciate the England of the past. Her prompt removal to Hartfield following her encounter with the gypsies and Knightley’s tutoring at Donwell ensure that Harriet will not forget her nation’s lore and traditions.
Emma’s and Knightley’s attempts to educate Harriet in the heritage of England have worked, and she now wants to be a part of this revered tradition, but her fancy, fueled by the romance strategies employed by the hero and heroine, has led to further confusion about her proper place in society.15 Harriet has developed the optimism and ambition for amelioration modeled by the trade class throughout the novel. She has learned not only from her tutors, but also from her fellow Highbury residents who have effectively raised themselves through marriage and industry. Barbara K. Seeber likens Harriet to Frankenstein’s monster and argues that she “actually starts to believe Hartfield’s equivalent of the American dream” (2000, 43-44). Harriet has witnessed the nomadic lifestyle of the gypsies, the social escalation enjoyed by others in her early nineteenth-century village, and the glory of England’s traditional culture preserved at Hartfield and Donwell. She is now determined to avoid the migratory existence modeled by the transient Romani and participate in the project to improve the nation and safeguard its heritage. Emma eventually realizes the implications of her creation and nearly damns her friendship with Harriet: “Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! Had she left her where she ought, and where [Mr. Knightley] had told her she ought!-Had she not . . . prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she ought to belong-all would have been safe” (Austen 1971a, 375). Emma acknowledges her “error,” and now considers “How to do her best by Harriet” (394).
The heroine is not comfortable socializing with her former protegee immediately after receiving Mr. Knightley’s “proposal,” but she is also not willing to sever all ties with her project. She arranges for Harriet to visit Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley in London. The heroine decides “that it would be inexpressibly desirable to have [Harriet] removed just now for a time from Highbury, and-indulging in one scheme more-nearly resolve, that it might be practicable to get an invitation for her to Brunswick Square” (Austen 1971a, 394-95). Critics have struggled to explain this “scheme” of the heroine. John Hagan, for example, proposes that “the plan of hurrying Harriet off to London recommends itself to Emma’s compassion as a way of giving the girl some relief . . . . and by the same token-it affords Emma herself relief” (1975, 551). Time and distance will certainly soothe the pain and awkwardness of Harriet and Emma’s relationship, but it seems odd that the heroine would send her young friend to the home of Mr. Knightley’s brother and her own sister for the purpose of easing tensions-especially after the hero had recently spoken of the prominent similarities between the Woodhouse sisters (Austen 1971a, 392). If her only motive were to create separation, Emma could have removed her protegee elsewhere, but our heroine is confident that “a few weeks spent in London must give [Harriet] some amusement.-She did not think it in Harriet’s nature to escape being benefited by novelty and variety, by the streets, the shops, and the children” (395). Austen’s narration brilliantly merges the tourist and mercantile attractions of London with the domestic “draw” of children. Harriet’s time in London will serve as a national pilgrimage to the capital of England and a reminder of her civic duty to bear and rear children.
Harriet’s journey to London provides her an opportunity to observe a domestic caregiver in action; this experience also allows her to discover the vital importance of domestic activity to the maintenance of the national community. Austen dramatizes how Harriet, while in the capital, learns how her future life is somehow involved in the legacy and culture of the nation and its race. Lauren Berlant, in her treatment of the national pilgrimage, theorizes that
the totality of the nation in its capital city is a jumble of historical modalities, a transitional space between local and national cultures, private and public property, archaic and living artifacts, processes of nation-making that bridge the national history that marks the monumental landscape and the everyday life temporalities of federal and metropolitan cultures . . . . [I]t is a place of national meditation, where a variety of nationally inflected media conies into visible and sometimes incommensurate contact. (Berlant 1993, 395)
Harriet’s time in London allows her to enjoy national sites that celebrate England’s past and illuminate her role in its present. She is finally able to see not only a major metropolis, but the heart of English culture, and as Berlant’s ideas suggest, this tour will help Harriet understand how to position herself in her own local community. While our knowledge of Harriet’s agenda in London is limited, we do learn that she joins the Knightley family and Robert Martin-sent to the capital as a courier by Mr. Knightley-on a trip to Astley’s, the Royal Amphitheatre opened in 1798 (Austen 1971a, 428).16 Astley’s may not have the “English” prominence of Westminster, but it is a public site that enables Harriet to participate in a “national” event. Harriet certainly enjoys the outing, and is later “most happy to give every particular of the evening,” but the excursion also facilitates the union of the young woman and Robert Martin in a nationally-sanctioned marriage (437). Mr. Knightley reports “that on quitting their box at Astley’s, [his] brother took charge of Mrs. John Knightley and little John, and [Robert Martin] followed with Miss Smith and Henry” (429). The “national” activity results in a socially-beneficial pairing of men, women, and children, prefiguring Harriet’s future biological and cultural reproduction. She is now prepared to serve her nation through her duties as a wife and future mother of a native laboring class.
The national pilgrimage successfully completes both the romance between Harriet and Robert Martin and the re-configuration of the young woman as a (re)productive citizen of England. Her experience in the capital transforms her, and she is now thrilled to become a yeoman’s wife. The novelist explains that after a brief visit with her former project, Emma “became perfectly satisfied-unaccountable as it was!-that Robert Martin had thoroughly supplanted Mr. Knightley . . . . Harriet had always liked Robert Martin; and that his continuing to love her had been irresistible” (Austen 1971a, 437-38). Austen depicts Harriet as an admirer, but she is more importantly a beloved. Like a woman of courtly love, she has fascinated and garnered the pursuit of many throughout the novel, but instead of becoming a lady, she is assigned the life of a farmer’s wife. The novelist presents her as a willing participant in this traditional agrarian existence, and Emma now joins Mr. Knightley in extending her support for Harriet’s marital future because it promises “security, stability, and improvement.” The heroine s language certainly refers to her project’s future life, but it also reminds us of Harriet’s importance to the prosperity of the nation; she will now become a useful and reproductive resource of the state. Emma believes that her friend will “be placed in the midst of those who loved her . . . retired enough for safety, and occupied enough for cheerfulness.” She concludes that Harriet “would be never led into temptation, nor left for it to find her out” (438). Austen’s echo of the Lord’s Prayer suggests a local and ultimately national desire for Harriet to remain content with her daily domestic bread rather than attempt to trespass in the world of the gentry. Harriet’s marriage to Robert Martin promotes the production of the next generation’s native labor force, but it also fulfills Emma and Knightley’s romance schemes, sustains Donwell’s nostalgic relationship with the English (agri) culture of the Abbey-Mill Farm, and helps preserve the ostensibly national identity of England’s race.
The union of Harriet and Robert Martin becomes a key element in Emma’s depiction of the post-Revolutionary project to solidify the state, safeguard its culture, and construct a “national” race. Seeber explains that at the novel’s conclusion, “the harmony of the social order depends upon Harriet’s ‘unmerited punishment’ of exclusion” (2000, 45).17 Harriet may be positioned outside of the contented village, but her marital placement actually facilitates her inclusion in both the local and national community. She is no longer simply a “natural” daughter of Highbury extending her stay at Mrs. Goddard’s school; she is now secure and involved as a reproductive citizen. The village is now certain that she will neither perpetuate the cycle of illegitimacy like an Eliza figure nor assume a “useless” nomadic lifestyle akin to that of the gypsies. Austen’s use of the migratory gypsies as the quintessential alien and presumably useless dark race against which to juxtapose Harriet ultimately helps solidify the young woman’s civic function as a bearer of England-its race and its culture. Dyer concludes that “the white woman [is] the locus of true whiteness” (1997, 36). The novelist demonstrates how Harriet is trained to assume a position at the nucleus of the English nation and its people. She will enjoy a stable existence in a changing world; her nation will depend upon her to help preserve the Anglo-Saxon stock of its population, assist in the reproduction of the work force needed to maximize profits in an industrial economy, and protect the lore of England’s history. Even as their manorial lord abandons his estate for Hartfield, Austen places her yeoman family in the traditional domain of Abbey-Mill. The England of Emma is in flux, and Harriet will assist in its transition process, help create its race, and sustain the traditions of its past.
Copyright West Chester University Winter 2004
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