Essay on Mr.Woodhouse and Miss Bates in Jane Austen's Emma

1648 Words 7 Pages
The Characters of Mr.Woodhouse and Miss Bates in Emma

The immediate impression one gets of Miss Bates is that of a loquacious old biddy, one of Emma's more annoying personalities. But Miss Bates offers a refreshing contrast to the other characters in the novel, many of whom harbor hidden agendas and thinly veiled animosities toward perceived rivals. If "every major character in Emma [is] a snob", we might consider Miss Bates the anti-snob. Her very artlessness serves as a foil for those in the novel whom present contrived images of themselves or whom look down their noses at others. When she compliments others' concern and generosity, as she is constantly found doing, there can be no doubt that her sentiments are genuine, if
…show more content…
Never having learned to think before she speaks, Miss Bates is quite defenseless to Emma's verbal parry on Box Hill. Had anyone else been the target of Emma's wit, we would not be so stricken by the magnitude of Emma's thoughtlessness. It is Emma's shame that really marks the end of her career as a supercilious little snoot. She has been forced, through Knightley's admonition, to see Miss Bates not as a caricature but a real human being, one as capable of pain as Emma herself. (Austen means this as a revelation for her readers, too -- too bad Sir Walter Scott didn't pick up on it.)

Other characters' reactions to Miss Bates are telling, as well. Frank Churchill's rather flippant characterization of her as "the talking aunt" prefigures his future weaseliness. Having established Miss Bates' forthright nature, Austen mischievously places Jane Fairfax under the same roof. Jane's need for secrecy must make it a torment to share society with one as garrulous as Miss Bates.

The Bateses don't really seem to occupy any definite rung on Highbury's social ladder. At the top, of course, are Donwell and Hartfield; Randalls next; but the Bates household, nameless as it is, inhabits a nebulous middling position. There is no one Miss Bates is pitted against or allied with. She serves as a sort of social glue, filling any awkward gaps in conversation in her inimitable fashion. As she showers praise
Open Document