In an early class I attended with Mr. Siegel,
after another relationship I'd had with a man ended, he asked me:
"Do you believe your largest purpose is to be admired by a man you admire?"
What's the Big Thing Women Need
to Know about Power?, part 2
ES. Is that really your largest
purpose? Most girls feel if they meet the right man, everything will
be alright. [Did] you feel that?
ES. [Did you feel] you could
solve all your problems through sex[?] A woman can feel most of her
life is marking time until a man really pays homage to her.
LA. I felt that.
ES. ...You're finding out that
life is a larger word than sex. You feel you had a solution.
[And he asked,] You have a hard time liking anything don't you?"
"Yes" I replied. And he composed this
poem for me, which I love for its logic and tenderness.
Can you like anything that's real,
For instance a man,
Unless you like
Reality as such
Novel of the 19th Century Can Have
Emma, by the important English author
Jane Austen, published in 1815, is a novel that can teach us usefully about
our subject. Emma is a beautiful young English woman living in Hartfield,
who takes care of her aging and doting father, and spends much of her time
thinking about whom should be married to whom, and how she can bring the
match about. In an essay printed in The Right Of Mr.
See the Power We Truly Want
"Every person is troubled by the
drive towards good power and the simultaneous drive towards bad power.
The way that good power can be distinguished is through asking the question:
'If this desire of mine was to be successful, and if I were to have power
over this person, would the world look better and would the person himself
or herself be stronger?' Any power that a human being has over another
that doesn't make the per- son it is exerted on stronger, and the world
in which the power takes place look more beautiful, is bad power."
Early we see Emma going
after a bad kind of power. Her governess, Miss Taylor, has
just married Mr. Weston, and Emma brags to her father and Mr. Knightley,
a family friend, about her "great" success, "I made the match myself...and
to...be proved in the right,...may comfort me for anything." Emma
is acting as if she were all powerful, if not for her, they would never
have gotten married. "The real evils indeed of Emma's situation"
Miss Austen writes,
"were the power of having rather
too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself;
these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.
The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by
any means rank as misfortunes with her."
These sentences are critical, satiric even, but
kind, because Jane Austen sees the power of Emma having "too much her own
way," as being a disadvantage, even as Emma herself doesn't, I didn't
either, and most women don't. I learned this important fact: that
if you go after having your way through managing others, it is a great
disadvantage, because in making another person an adjunct to yourself,
you rob yourself of having any real feeling about that person, and you
end up feeling empty and cold.
Mr. Knightley does
not flatter Emma Woodhouse, he questions her, saying:
I do not understand what you mean
by "success".... 'Success supposes endeavour....Where is your merit?--
what are you proud of?--you made a lucky guess; and that is all....
Emma, though, instead of welcoming and thinking
about his questions, tries to make him unsure, and defends herself, saying:
"I thought you cleverer--...a lucky
guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it.
And as to my poor word 'success,' which you quarrel with,...If I had not
promoted Mr. Weston's visits here, and given many little encouragements,...it
might not have come to anything after all."
Undaunted by Emma's arrogance, Mr. Knightley
shows respect for the married couple, saying to her:
"A straightforward, open-hearted
man like Weston, and a rational unaffected woman, like Miss Taylor, may
be safely left to manage their own concerns. You are more likely
to have done harm to yourself, than good to them, by interference."
Mr. Knightley is a real friend to Emma--he wants
her to be exact. In a class, Mr. Siegel once said to me, "The whole
purpose of life is to be exact about value....Aesthetic Realism says if
you aren't exact, you're rooking yourself."
Emma--to use the
current phrase--has her own agenda. When she meets a pretty 17-year
old woman, Harriet Smith, whose parentage is unknown, and had just parted
from under the care of the Martin family, she thinks, Jane Austen writes:
"The [Martins]...must be coarse and
unpolished....She would...improve [Harriet];...and introduce her into good
society; she would form her opinions and her manners."
Emma's thoughts are snobbish--who Harriet really
is, she has no idea and really no interest in. As Harriet tells Emma
of her high regard and care for Robert Martin, Emma wants her own way and
encourages Harriet to scorn her "degrading" associations--she has a much
better match in mind for her, a "real gentleman," a Mr. Elton, "remarkably
handsome...with most agreeable manners."
At a time I was seeing
a certain man--like Emma as to Harriet--I was after having my way, my pleasure,
and I didn't think about whether I was weakening or strengthening him.
I felt driven, but I also felt ashamed. Mr. Siegel asked me in a
class: "You can participate in something while not believing in it--isn't
that a description of your life Miss Abel?" It was. And he
asked "Do you want to have a good effect on people or do you want to have
your way? That is the big question of people." These questions
began to have me see what kind of power I wanted most.
to page 3