View Full Version : Mrs Elton and interference

08-04-2015, 06:20 PM
I have been reading the York notes on Emma. Several things occurred to me:

The notes say that Mrs Elton is an exaggeration of Emma's own character. Mrs Elton is an interfering, self-absorbed, snobbish, boastful, insensitive woman who always has to be the centre of attention. Mrs Elton seems unaware of how people see her, but Emma is unaware of the real situation too. Are they really comparable? Mrs Elton seems far more objectionable to me.

The notes say that while some of the characters have faults, they must be tolerated or even indulged. For example, Mr Woodhouse deserves respect because of his age and social status. The notes say that while Mr Woodhouse is selfish and incapable of believing that other people may think differently to him, his selfishness is not of a damaging kind. Miss Bates talks too much, but she must be tolerated because she is a) kind, b) self-aware, and c) relatively poor. However, Mrs Elton is not to be tolerated gladly. Emma and Frank must learn to improve their behaviour before they can gain everyone's respect. So there are two characters capable of change (Emma and Frank), two characters who must be respected although incapable of change (Mr Woodhouse and Miss Bates), which leaves Mrs Elton. Is the reason Mrs Elton is so intolerable is that she could change but doesn't, or is it for some other reason.

Emma is criticized for interfering with the lives of others, in particular of Harriet Smith. Mrs Elton's interference in Jane Fairfax's life comes across as very objectionable. However, I strongly suspect Mr Knightly interfered to bring Mr Martin and Harriet together. iirc Emma wangles an invitation for Harriet to spend some time in London with her sister and brother-in-law. Harriet needs to see a dentist, Mr Knightly sends Mr Martin to London on an errand, so that he too spends time with Emma's sister and brother-in-law. Surely Mr Knightly did not need to send Mr Martin to London. Harriet and Mr Martin get back together. Couldn't this be considered manipulation too? Perhaps Mr Knightly is just a better judge at it than Emma.

Jackson Richardson
08-05-2015, 03:28 AM
I hasn't thought of the comparison between Emma and Mrs Elton, but that sounds likely. We are often particularly irritated by the someone who is like us but we don't like to admit it.

When Mrs Elton tries to help Jane Fairfax, she is making sure everyone knows about it. Mr Knightley is playing at matchmaker, but he is keeping his part hidden. And Emma with Harriet is not letting everyone know.

09-04-2015, 07:53 AM
Interesting take...

What I've often noticed in Austen is that characters help to understand each other, what happens to them or what they say, gives clues as to the motives of others that may be untold.
As far as I've understood, the key to being respectable, even if you were interfering, was not to shout it from the rooftops. Charity, for example, was honourable, but not if you yelled 'Hey, look at what I'm gonna give to that poor family!' first. The fact that Emma interferes is kind of OK, had she not been totally mistaken all along: first with Mr Elton and then with Mr Knightley of all people! After all, she does it for the 'right' reasons: she wants to see Harriet happily settled. At least what she considers 'happy', i.e. with a slightly more respectable and rich man than Mr Martin. Mrs Elton is a completely different character, though. Even in this day and age we would find her annoying. Why? Because she breezes in with her hubby, is pretty patronising to him (we can all see him being bossed around) and she doesn't even have the common decency and politeness to see how the land lies before she asserts her authority. I mean, if Emma assumes authority, she naturally has it., because she is the only daughter of one of the rich families in Highbury Miss Bates assumes no authority. Churchill has a kind of 'authority' in that everyone knows him, although he has been away, so he is part of the 'clique'. Mrs Elton no-one knows and she needs to be formally introduced (this was particularly important, see the disgust of the company when Mr Collins introduces himself to Darcy in P&P), but straight away starts bossing Jane around unasked. She is inappropriate because she upstages Emma in some way because 'she's married' and because she swans in, so to say. She is right that, indeed, married women had a kind of higher status than unmarried ones, but that does not qualify a clergyman's wife to claim authority over a rich man's daughter, even if Mrs Elton came with a hefty dowry (albeit from trade). On top of that her husband's living may even depend on either Mr Woodhouse or Mr Knightley's goodwill or maybe both, so why would she even think she's more important than Emma?
Mrs Elton in this case was supposed to be introduced as the new wife of the local clergyman, leave her calling card with the local ladies, then go morning calling one by one/upon invitation, then turn up at small gatherings so she can get acquainted with more people, then host a tea party or two, and only then assert herself somewhat, carefully.
She is not supposed to breeze in and assume a position she might be entitled to but does not have as yet.

So it's not the interfering that does it really, because that's featured by Austen several times: in NA, in S&S, etc. [SPOILER ALERT] Off the top of my head, the only interfere-ess who doesn't come out that nice is Anne Eliot's godmother who tries to convince her to rethink Captain Wentworth's proposal once again, despite Anne being clearly miserable and Wentworth's good fortune. Actually the only thing why Anne should say yes to her cheating and wasteful cousin is because then she can stay and live on the family estate... As if that's a good reason to reject the man you love.[SPOILER OVER]

It's Mrs Elton's misplaced social confidence and the fact that she shouts her interference from the rooftops that makes her vulgar and annoying. She is not supposed to patronise those she helps (if she can be deemed to do that), she is supposed to silently do it and not get any credit. She is not supposed to take charge of Jane without knowing her and certainly not tell all the local ladies of note and her object that she'll look for a husband for her. If she did think it her role to do so (which is already inappropriate, seeing that she doesn't have any formal connections in the circle of her husband), she can ask Jane whether she wants that and tell her close family. That's about all. Interfering without asking you only do like Knightley, if you know the lie of the land thoroughly well and in complete silence.