Jane Austen's Exploration of Social Destiny in the Presentation of Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith

Jane Austen's Exploration of Social Destiny in the Presentation of Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith

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Jane Austen's Exploration of Social Destiny in the Presentation of Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith

In all of Jane Austen's novels, she explores social destiny which
seems to be dependent on their status in society. In the 19th Century
or in Austen's age social destiny was something that everyone was very
interested in. It depended greatly on your rank or class in society.
One's family name and its roots as well as one's fortune are factors
that were considered when determining one's social destiny. For
example, someone of a higher class would be more fortunate in making a
good marriage; good in those days mainly meaning a comfortable
marriage due to the financial situation. In "Emma", social status
seems to be very important, especially to Emma herself who says, 'a
farmer can need none of my help, and therefore is in one sense as much
above my notice as in every other he is below it'. Therefore in Emma's
eyes the social destiny of a farmer would not be anything of a high
standard. In 'Pride and Prejudice it is also clear that the aspect of
social destiny is very important. Mrs. Bennet seems to be much
occupied with her daughters' destiny as she is in agreement with the
very first line of the novel, 'It is universally acknowledged that a
man with a fortune must be in want of a wife'. The social destiny of
Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith are both quite similar as they both
come from similar backgrounds. In order to explore the social destiny
of these characters that Austen presents their background is an
important aspect to consider as well as Austen's actual
characterisation of them, and their social destiny compared with their
actual destiny in the novel.

Jane Austen does not make Harriet's background known to us or for any
of the other characters in the novel for that matter. It is said that
her father is unknown and has no family or fortune. Only 'family' she
has is Mrs. Goddard, who was the mistress of her school.

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Her unknown
history is something that is frowned upon by the rest of society and
would not be considered as a suitable marriage partner, 'Harriet Smith
was the natural daughter of somebody', and that 'somebody' nobody knew
as well as Harriet herself. The only companions she had were those
that she had met in Highbury and so, her social circle was not very
impressive. From the moment Harriet meets Emma, she is influenced by
Emma's nature. Emma is a very influential character especially to
someone like Harriet who is very vulnerable and easy to influence.
Emma influences her that she can make a much better match than that of
the farmer Mr. Martin and tells her to refuse him and consider Mr.
Elton as a match. Tony Tanner states that Harriet is 'easily seduced
into believing that it is on the one hand 'beneath' her to love Robert
Martin, but on the other not 'above' her to think that Mr. Elton may
love her'. Emma even influences Harriet to believe that Mr. Knightley
is an option of marriage for her. This is absurd when referring to
Harriet's social destiny as Mr. Knightley is a great step above
Harriet in society.

Jane Fairfax's background is one quite similar to Harriet's as she
also does not have any parents; however her parents are not unknown by
the rest of society. She is 'the only child of Mrs. Bates' youngest
daughter. Her father was a Lieutenant of a regiment of infantry
however died in action abroad and she lost her widow of a mother when
she was just three years old. Her social destiny would have consisted
of growing up in Highbury with her Grandmother and Aunt, and without
any proper connections. However, it is Colonel Campbell who gives Jane
status. Through convenient relations between him and Jane's father,
when looking for a child he took notice of Jane. He took care of her
and eventually him and his family became so fond of her that he
offered to take responsibility for the whole of her education; Jane
was a member of the Campbell family. Jane's social connections were
greatly improved with the Campbell's, she received an excellent
education and therefore her social status and destiny was much above
what it would have been if Colonel Campbell had not taken her in as
part of their family.

Austen presents Harriet as being not very intelligent as Emma comments
that 'she was not struck by anything remarkably clever in Miss Smith's
conversation'. Although she is not presented as a very accomplished
girl she is seen as very beautiful by the other members of society.
Austen presents Harriet with the appearance of a stereo-typical
heroine, 'short plump and fair, with great fine bloom, blue eyes,
light hair, regular features, look of great sweetness'. However she
does lack the features intellectually of a stereo-typical heroine.
Christopher Gillie states that 'Harriet's only intrinsic merits are
her prettiness and her artless sweetness of nature'. She lacks the
witty nature that all heroines must have; this is something which Jane
portrays in Elizabeth Bennet's, which is a feature that attracts Mr.
Darcy towards her. Harriet's lack of intelligence and accomplishments,
which were very much required by a husband, meant that her options for
marriage when referring to her social destiny are limited.

On the other hand, Jane is a very accomplished woman due to Colonel
Campbell's generosity of providing for her education. She is extremely
intelligent, educated and has had the experience of travelling to
Ireland which many people in those days did not have the privilege of
travelling abroad. 'Therefore anyone with travelling experience
automatically seemed more appealing as it brought over a sense of
independence and culture. Due to these factors, Jane Fairfax's social
destiny is of a higher status when compared to Harriet Smith's.
Catherine Neale states that, 'she is elegant, refined and intelligent,
noted for her musicianship, and has been educated to become a
governess. If Jane does not marry, she must become a governess because
she lacks any money of her own. It is therefore very fortunate for her
that she is in a position where she is able to marry well.

After analysing Harriet's background and Austen's presentation of her,
it seems to be that her social destiny is to marry someone of a lower
status. Especially lower than that of Mr. Knightley or Mr. Elton which
Emma has led Harriet to believe that she is capable of marrying
someone of their status. Mr. Martin seems to be a character which is
suitable for Harriet's status in society. He is a farmer, and despite
what Emma says, he is perfectly suited for her. Despite Emma being
sure that Harriet's actual destiny was to marry Mr. Elton and at one
point even Frank Churchill, it is in fact to marry Mr. Martin. It is
clear right from the beginning of the novel that Harriet is extremely
fond of Mr. Martin., 'she loved to talk of the pleasures of her
visit', she even stands up for Mr. Martin during Miss Woodhouse's
'interrogation'. When Mr. Martin proposes for a second time she
ecstatic with happiness and even though she believes that Emma will
have a negative opinion on the marriage she is very certain in wanting
to marry him. It is indeed a love match.

After analysing Jane's background and Austen's presentation of her, it
seems that even though she is extremely intelligent and had great
accomplishments for women of that time, her social destiny would have
been a governess and she could end up as a spinster for she was an
orphan and had no fortune. However, we learn towards the end of the
novel that Jane is in fact secretly engaged to Frank Churchill.
Therefore her actual destiny is to marry Frank Churchill and again is
similar to Harriet's actual destiny as it is also a love match.
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