Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jane Austen on love and relationships--Harriet Smith style!

Advice on love, relationships, and marriage? Jane Austen has it! And more interestingly, just about each of her characters have a different opinion about it. Early on in Jane Austen’s novel Emma, we are introduced to Emma Woodhouse’s new friend Harriet with a warning. We are warned that she has no clever connections and no societal name. She is pretty but not clever at all. Does this mean disaster for love? Doom and gloom? Let’s find out…

1) Harriet and Robert Martin

“He had gone three miles round one day, in order to bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them—and in every thing else he was so very obliging” (p. 28)

It is quickly learned that Harriet has attracted the attentions of a nearby farmer; a wonderful find for the stifling class hierarchy and conceits of the day. Will this work out?

2) Harriet and Mr. Elton

No! Why? Emma believes that her friend Harriet should be a gentleman’s wife and quickly maneuvers Harriet’s interest to the village vicar, Mr. Elton.

“Whatever you say is always right,” cried Harriet, “and therefore I suppose, and believe, and hope it must be so; but otherwise I could not have imagined it. It is so much beyond any thing I deserve. Mr. Elton, who might marry any body!” (p. 74)

This supremely conceited man seems to play along with Harriet and Emma, until it is discovered that it is not Harriet he intends to snag but the rich Emma herself. Yikes.

3) Harriet and Frank Churchill

While trying to help Harriet overcome her thwarted love, Emma then comes to believe that Harriet is in love with the frivolous and fun-loving Frank Churchill:

“Service! Oh! It was such an inexpressible obligation! –the very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time—when I saw him coming—his noble look—and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness.” (Harriet, p. 342)

However, Emma soon learns that she is mistaken about Harriet and Frank Churchill. Whoops.

4) Harriet and Mr. Knightley

Emma is mistaken because Harriet has instead attached herself to the older, mature Mr. Knightley (see quote above, doing double duty!). This turns out troublesome because Emma herself is in love with Mr. Knightley.

5) Harriet and Robert Martin

Which all brings us back to Harriet’s first love, Mr. Martin.

“Before the end of September, Emma attended Harriet to church, and saw her hand bestowed on Robert Martin with so complete a satisfaction, as no remembrances, even with Mr. Elton as he stood before them, could impair.” (p. 482)

The final word of advice on love and relationships according to Jane Austen’s Harriet? Be open, faithful and true; and if it doesn’t work out, get over it and get someone else.

(all quotes from the Oxford Illustrated edition of Emma by Jane Austen)


  1. Get over it and find someone else--oh much easier said than done. :) But it is SUCH GOOD ADVICE. And it works for Jane Austen's characters, so . . .:)

  2. No mincing of words there! There are other fish in the sea!

  3. Stay tuned! I'll have to check out some of her other characters' opinions about love and relationships. Maybe next up will be Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice...