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Emma, Chapters 37 & 38
Volume III, Chapters I and II
November 1, 2016
9:09 PM
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When I was listening to these chapters as I took a shower on Monday morning, I was struck once again by Miss Bate’s rambling speech.  She jumps from thing to thing, and I personally find her quite entertaining.  I also think to have to be in her company for any length of time would be extremely taxing and would send me to my room for several hours of solitude once she had departed!  That woman can talk!  

Let me begin by reminding us of exactly who Miss Bates is according to Jane Austen. 

Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was 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 a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness, quicksighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.

Wait! What was that? Miss Austen said Miss Bates was neither intelligent or clever?  See, see right there, Mrs. Brown.  You are wrong in declaring Miss Bates clever.   I knew you were.  

Ah, but just a moment.  Let me explain.  I may have been a bit misleading, and purposefully so, for I wished for you to consider Miss Bates as clever but not within herself as a character but rather as a device used by the author to impart information. There is something that is called info dumping when one is writing, and if you have read any blogs or books on writing, you will know that it is to be avoided.  It is boring, flat writing that imparts information (necessary information) but does nothing to move the plot along or develop character or the like. Every story has to have some bit of information explained to the reader — to set a stage, to help the reader understand the character, to let us know why some small occurrence is indeed not small at all.  

Miss Bates fulfills the role of imparter of information in Chapter 38.  Look at her passage again. Before she arrives we have a little bit of information about the ball and who is there, but after she arrives (within minutes) we have a more clear picture of the evening. We know that there is a little rain. We know that the evenings are chilly. We know that the inn has been transformed to an unrecognizable fairyland. We know several of the people who are in attendance.  We know that she and Jane were anxious to be in attendance for they were waiting for the carriage.  So many things can be learned through the babblings of this character of “uncommon popularity.”  

“So very obliging of you!—No rain at all. Nothing to signify. I do not care for myself. Quite thick shoes. And Jane declares—Well!—(as soon as she was within the door) Well! This is brilliant indeed!—This is admirable!—Excellently contrived, upon my word. Nothing wanting. Could not have imagined it.—So well lighted up!—Jane, Jane, look!—did you ever see any thing? Oh! Mr. Weston, you must really have had Aladdin’s lamp. Good Mrs. Stokes would not know her own room again. I saw her as I came in; she was standing in the entrance. ‘Oh! Mrs. Stokes,’ said I—but I had not time for more.” She was now met by Mrs. Weston.—“Very well, I thank you, ma’am. I hope you are quite well. Very happy to hear it. So afraid you might have a headache!—seeing you pass by so often, and knowing how much trouble you must have. Delighted to hear it indeed. Ah! dear Mrs. Elton, so obliged to you for the carriage!—excellent time. Jane and I quite ready. Did not keep the horses a moment. Most comfortable carriage.—Oh! and I am sure our thanks are due to you, Mrs. Weston, on that score. Mrs. Elton had most kindly sent Jane a note, or we should have been.—But two such offers in one day!—Never were such neighbours. I said to my mother, ‘Upon my word, ma’am—.’ Thank you, my mother is remarkably well. Gone to Mr. Woodhouse’s. I made her take her shawl—for the evenings are not warm—her large new shawl— Mrs. Dixon’s wedding-present.—So kind of her to think of my mother! Bought at Weymouth, you know—Mr. Dixon’s choice. There were three others, Jane says, which they hesitated about some time. Colonel Campbell rather preferred an olive. My dear Jane, are you sure you did not wet your feet?—It was but a drop or two, but I am so afraid:—but Mr. Frank Churchill was so extremely—and there was a mat to step upon—I shall never forget his extreme politeness.—Oh! Mr. Frank Churchill, I must tell you my mother’s spectacles have never been in fault since; the rivet never came out again. My mother often talks of your good-nature. Does not she, Jane?—Do not we often talk of Mr. Frank Churchill?—Ah! here’s Miss Woodhouse.—Dear Miss Woodhouse, how do you do?—Very well I thank you, quite well. This is meeting quite in fairy-land!—Such a transformation!—Must not compliment, I know (eyeing Emma most complacently)—that would be rude—but upon my word, Miss Woodhouse, you do look—how do you like Jane’s hair?—You are a judge.—She did it all herself. Quite wonderful how she does her hair!—No hairdresser from London I think could.—Ah! Dr. Hughes I declare—and Mrs. Hughes. Must go and speak to Dr. and Mrs. Hughes for a moment.—How do you do? How do you do?—Very well, I thank you. This is delightful, is not it?—Where’s dear Mr. Richard?—Oh! there he is. Don’t disturb him. Much better employed talking to the young ladies. How do you do, Mr. Richard?—I saw you the other day as you rode through the town—Mrs. Otway, I protest!—and good Mr. Otway, and Miss Otway and Miss Caroline.—Such a host of friends!—and Mr. George and Mr. Arthur!—How do you do? How do you all do?—Quite well, I am much obliged to you. Never better.—Don’t I hear another carriage?—Who can this be?—very likely the worthy Coles.—Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among such friends! And such a noble fire!—I am quite roasted. No coffee, I thank you, for me—never take coffee.—A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye,—no hurry—Oh! here it comes. Every thing so good!”

This is not the only time that Miss Bates has been used to pass on information to us (and if the characters in the story were  more attentive to her words they might pick up on a few clues as well.)  There are many passages where Miss Bates makes an appearance and tells us what has been happening — who did what and what was said here or there. It is given in such a scattered fashion and in such rapid speech that it is often easy to overlook what Miss Bates is saying.  Perhaps this is the intention of Miss Austen.  We are to feel about this character as the other characters do in the story. We like her and would be quite put out with anyone who would hurt her, but we begin to ignore at least part of what she says. An important minor character 🙂 who babbles about things we should know — how clever! 

What do you like or dislike about Miss Bates?  Do you skip passages of exposition? Do you skim over Miss Bates’ comments, listening to her with only half an ear? Personally, I tend to skim long passages of description/exposition when reading (gasp), but Miss Bates, I never skip — she is so enjoyable.  

The following person says thank you to Leenie Brown for this post.:

Alexa Adams
November 2, 2016
1:50 PM
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rebecca jamison
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This is an interesting point, Leenie. Miss Bates definitely gives little hints to the mystery of what’s really going on in the book. It is pretty hard for me to read an entire passage of her dialogue, though. Modern readers are definitely too spoiled for that sort of thing, so it’s not a technique we authors can employ in quite the same way as Austen did. I do know plenty of people like Miss Bates, however. Jane Austen’s dialogue is more true to nature than most of the dialogue modern authors write. We have to write what’s interesting and pertinent. Hers, while sometimes pertinent, seemed to mimic actual human speech.

I do like that Miss Bates is a cheerful, positive person. I love how she compliments people even though that’s considered rude, and I love how she expresses gratitude and delight so frequently. I have a friend who’s very much like her, and it always cheers me up to spend time with her. For me, it’s much easier to listen to someone ramble on if I’m speaking face to face with them. Reading their ramblings, however, is much more difficult for me.

November 2, 2016
2:02 PM
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rebecca jamison said
For me, it’s much easier to listen to someone ramble on if I’m speaking face to face with them. Reading their ramblings, however, is much more difficult for me.  

Perhaps this is why I enjoy her so much as I am listening to the story first on audible and then reading (or combining the two when not in the shower 😉 ) Although, I do enjoy going back and rereading her dialogue because it is so “real.” 

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Alexa Adams
November 2, 2016
3:35 PM
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I have never thought about Ms. Bates as a passer of information that would normally be a bit boring, that is a clever trick of Jane’s. I read all of her babble a do glean bits of imforation from it but never did I once feel that it was intentional, I just assumed she was just another character to add to the back of things or to introduce Jane Fairfax into the mix. I now see her speeches very differently indeed 🙂kiss

November 3, 2016
3:21 PM
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Ahhh! It’s Thursday! Not Wednesday! I’m only three days in and I already have NaNoWriMo brain. So, so sorry for this delayed reply. 

I think you nailed it, Leenie. Miss Bates is a fountain of information. I think she is much more interesting if you have read the book. First time readers have a tendency to skim over her monologues as irrelevant, only realizing on subsequent reads how much can be learned from her babblings.

If not the most brilliant woman, I think Miss Bates is thoroughly admirable. How remarkable to not be bitter but instead grateful and happy in such a financial predicament?

It’s easy for the modern reader to not perceive the severity of Miss Bates’ situation. Born into gentility, a rector’s daughter, she and her mother are forced into a more modest way of life upon Mr. Bates’ death. In all likelihood, Mrs. Bates is the recipient of some kind of annuity or widow’s pension. When she dies, Miss Bates will be further reduced in income. She has good friends as her safety net in life and little else. No wonder she gushes with gratitude for their favors! She lives in a world that must make sure she understands that she is undeserving of such attention.

I think Emma’s opinion from chapter 10 of old maids and Miss Bates, given while in conversation with Harriet is chilling. It is one of the moment in the book when I most dislike Emma.

“But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!”

“That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly—so satisfied— so smiling—so prosing—so undistinguishing and unfastidious— and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.”

“But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal and cross. This does not apply, however, to Miss Bates; she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but, in general, she is very much to the taste of every body, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind: I really believe, if she had only a shilling in the world, she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it; and nobody is afraid of her: that is a great charm.”

 Thrilled with the focus on a favorite character! Thanks, Leenie.