We see some of the effects
of bad power working in Emma when she and Harriet briefly meet Mr. Martin
on a walk, and later Emma contemptuously remarks to Harriet:
What's the Big Thing Women Need
to Know about Power?, part 3
" 'He is...remarkably plain:--but
that is nothing, compared with his entire want of gentility....I did not
expect much; but I had no idea that he could be so very clownish, so totally
without air....'To be sure,' said Harriet, in a mortified voice, 'he is
not so genteel as real gentlemen.' "
And Emma tells Harriet of some warm personal
praise Mr. Elton said of her. We see, as Harriet blushes and smiles,
that Emma?s bad power over her is weakening Harriet, encouraging her to
make less of her true feeling for Robert Martin.
Later, Emma learns
that Mr. Martin has proposed marriage to Harriet, and when she tells Mr.
Knightly that he is certainly not her equal, Knightley objects:
"Not Harriet's equal!" [he] exclaimed..."Emma,
your infatuation about that girl blinds you."
The infatuation is really Emma's lust for an
ugly power based on ill will and this is what Mr. Knightley is objecting
to. "Aesthetic Realism sees good will as the aesthetic oneness of
encouragement and criticism," writes Mr. Siegel,
"If we are to be true to a friend,
or anyone, we must hope to be able to tell him what he may be doing against
himself.... In the same way as a wall may be washed because we care for
the wall, so a person may be told he has welcomed something harmful to
himself." [TRO 195]
Knightley has good will for Emma; he sees she
is bringing out something bad in Harriet and, in the process, hurting
herself; and he tells her of it so she will change. In contrast to
Emma's desire to manage and run other people's lives, Jane Austen shows
that Mr. Knightley has given careful, deep thought to Robert Martin, Harriet
Smith, and also to Emma. He says to Emma:
"[Harriet] was as happy as possible
with the Martins in the summer. She had no sense of superiority then.
If she has it now, you have given it. You have been no friend to
Harriet Smith, Emma. Robert Martin would never have proceeded so
far, if he had not felt persuaded of her not being disinclined to him.
I know him well. He has too much real feeling to address any woman
on the haphazard of selfish passion."
Emma is stirred by Knightley's criticism but
she is also, Miss Austen shows, in a fight between questioning herself
and justifying herself.
Will Is the Biggest Power in the World
In her commentary to The Right of Aesthetic
Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss writes that we are truly important,
"through seeing that we are related
to every person and thing in the world and that justice to them is the
way to take care of ourselves. [This is] good will, which Mr. Siegel
showed to be the biggest power there is." [TRO 757]
Because Emma has been going after another kind
of power, she has totally missed the boat as to Mr. Elton. She was
powerless to see that Mr. Elton was never interested in Harriet--it was
Emma, he'd had designs on, being well aware she would one day be a wealthy
heiress. She is shocked that she could have been so deceived, and
feels bad as to her influence over Harriet. But Jane Austen shows
the ego can put up quite a fight in its wanting to justify bad power or
ill will. Emma thinks, yes, she was wrong about Mr. Elton for Harriet,
but pretty quickly starts enumerating all the many ways she has been right
as to her.
A culminating point
in the novel is what occurs at a party in the home of Mr. Knightley.
One of the guests is an old family friend of Emma's, Miss Bates, who is
described by Jane Austen as
"devoted to the care of a failing
mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.
And yet she was a happy woman, and...quick-sighted to everybody's merits;...She
was a great talker upon little matters,...full of...communications..."
As part of a game to amuse and entertain others,
Emma makes fun of Miss Bates being so talkative. We see the power
of good will in Mr. Knightley, when he says:
"Emma,...I cannot see you acting
wrong, without a remon-strance. How could you be so unfeeling to
Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of
her character, age, and situation?--Emma, I had not thought it possible....Her
situation should secure your compassion.... You, whom she had known from
an infant,...and before others? This is not pleasant to you, Emma--and
it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,--I will tell you
truths while I can,..."
Emma is deeply affected by this. "The truth of
his representation," writes Jane Austen "there was no denying. She
felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal...to Miss
Bates!" The beauty of the end of this novel is that Emma changes.
She comes to have more feeling for Miss Bates, whom she hopes to know better.
Emma gets to a new power--she comes to be affected by the real selves of
other people. There is a true pride in her now as she questions her
"insufferable vanity," and "unpardonable arrogance [in] propos[ing] to
arrange everybody's destiny." She sees "she had brought evil on Harriet,"
and "on herself" and was "universally mistaken." And fortunately,
Harriet does marry Mr. Martin.
And now Emma wants to understand
her own heart. Jane Austen writes: "How long had Mr. Knightley been
so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be?" She is
deeply in love with the man who has most strengthened her life through
his criticism of her injustice. And he, swept by how Emma has changed,
asks her to marry him. She accepts.
Need Criticism to Be Strong
When Michael Palmer and I had our first date,
I felt I was in large, new territory; I was excited by the possibility
of trying to know a man and have a good effect on him. I had made
mistakes as to love, and now I saw a man sincerely interested in knowing
what I felt, who wanted to make me stronger. And as we talked, I
liked learning from Michael as he spoke about current things happening
in the world, the music he cared for, books that affected him, and baseball.
And I liked his humor and keen criticism of me. Michael didn't flatter
me. He asked me, for instance, "[Did I feel my life was held back,
because I didn't have a deep and continuous enough interest in other people?"
Yes, it was. I was affected by Michael's thoughtfulness, and also
by his saying he wanted to be deeper about people too! And I fell
in love with him. I'm grateful for our very happy marriage these
During the time we
began to know each other, I received, and it continues, such grand education
in what it means to have good will for a man and for the world he represents.
Some of the questions I was asked in classes given by Ellen Reiss--as fresh
today in enabling me to be a better wife and person, as when first asked--are:
Do you want to be a beginning point
of Michael Palmer's seeing all human beings more happily and deeply?
Yes! Aesthetic Realism shows--and
the great literature of the world backs it up--what the big power is in
a person's life: wanting to be just to other people and to the world, which
is the purpose of our lives.
to first page
Do you think you want enough for Mr. Palmer
to be fair to what's true in this world?
Do you think Michael Palmer's mind is worthy
material for you to get excited about--something you should be interested
in, concerned about, and educated by all the time?