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 somewhat misplaced. She always speaks her mind -- but then, her mind is always occupied with the good, making her lack of cant pleasant rather than overbearing.
In the first part of the book, Miss Bates serves not only as the anti-snob, but also the anti-Emma. Whereas Emma is described at the outset as being "handsome, clever, and rich," Miss Bates "enjoy[s] a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married." Nor, obviously, clever. Life has denied her everything that Emma has been granted; and how does Emma treat her, and speak of her to others? Shabbily, of course. "If I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates," Emma tells Harriet, who has expressed concern about Emma's choice to remain unmarried, "so silly, so satisfied, so smiling, so prosing, so undistinguishing and unfastidious, and so apt to tell everything relative to everybody about me, I would marry to-morrow." She neglects to visit the Bateses often because of "all the horror of being in dange...
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Craik, W. A. The Development of Jane Austen's comic art: Emma: Jane Austen's mature comic art. London: Audio Learning, 1978. Sound recording; 1 cassette; 2-track. mono. Gard, Roger, [1936- ].
Jane Austen, Emma and Persuasion. Harmondsworth : Penguin, Penguin masterstudies [series], 1985.
Monaghan, David, ed. Emma, by Jane Austen. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. Parrish, Stephen M, ed. Emma: an authoritative text: backgrounds, reviews, and criticism. New York : W.W. Norton, A Norton critical edition [series], 1972,1993.
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