Emma by Jane Austen and Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The theme I’ve chosen to discuss is ‘the main characters influence over others’. I chose this theme because I believe it’s a very obvious and recurring theme in both novels ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen and ‘Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark. Both main characters are remarkably similar as of their influential and dominant personalities and this is what I’m going to be discussing. ‘Emma’ was set in 1815, during a period of war between England and the French and Napoleon.
None of this is reflected within the novel, leading to some criticism towards Jane Austen for the “narrowness of the subject matter” at such a time. I personally believe her choice to write on such minute incidents within a small English community at this time in history has established her as the novelist she is today. ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ was set much later, in the 1930’s. The difference in time is reflected in the language and dialect used by both authoresses. Emma is an unintentionally self centred, manipulative, extremely delusional character.
I use the word ‘unintentionally’ because in most cases Emma’s intentions are actually good, but the outcomes are quite different to what she anticipated due to her lack of ability to visualize what is quite simply right in front of her, and with having “too much her own way… The danger, however, was at present so unperceived… ” Emma is also intelligent, cunning yet severely inconsistent and impatient, as is often highlighted subtly by Jane Austen throughout the novel – contrasting with her intelligence and strong-headed manner. “She will never submit to any thing requiring industry… ubjection to the fancy of understanding”.
Some critics have stated Jane Austen’s use of the narrative voice “stimulates us to supply what is not there. ” And effectively establishes several underlying themes without directly asserting anything. The novel “Emma” is set in the 19th century, which makes Emma an ever more unique character, as her wealth and dominance is unlike that of most other unmarried woman of her time. On the whole one of Emma’s strongest attributes as of personality is her ability to influence others without any objection.
Throughout the novel Emma’s influence over other characters is repeatedly emphasized. Some examples of the characters she has the upper hand over are her father (Mr. Woodhouse), Harriet Smith, Miss Bates, Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Weston. What’s quite interesting about her control over these different characters is the fact that she has gained strength over them through a range of different ways, highlighting her skill and versatility in the art of influencing. For example Emma has a strong rule over Miss Bates because she is swayed by Emma’s status and beauty, whereas Emma Woodhouse has control over her father in another aspect.
Mr. Woodhouse is a particularly sensitive, loving individual described as “a most affectionate, indulgent father. ” Being a slightly weak, gullible character and she being the exact opposite, dominancy is passed over to Emma swiftly. But while referring to dominancy over different characters, Emma’s dominance over Miss Bates is quite blatant and blunt, for instance the scenario at ‘Box Hill’ – “Ah! Ma’am, but there may be a difficulty.
Pardon me-but you will be limited as to number-only three at once. And on the other hand her dominance over her father is minor and subtle, as portrayed by the narrative voice – “in consequence of her sisters’ marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. ” Emma influences friends and family in a range of ways. Beginning with her father, Emma is fully aware of his frail, adoring state of mind and likeliness to succumb to her wills, “Whatever you say always comes to pass. ” So she uses this to her advantage, and being mistress of the house “from a very early period” she only expects control over the household.
Another character Emma influences effectively is Harriet Smith. Emma instantly has power over Harriet due to the vast difference in status. Again Emma uses this to her advantage, as she’s fully aware Harriet looks up to her. With compliments like “Whatever you say is always right. ” Emma’s ego is inflated even more so making her ever more dominant and imposing to others. Emma uses Harriet at her disposal almost like a doll, deciding her future over her – who she should and shouldn’t marry and so on.
In my opinion Emma believe she has the right to do this as Harriet Smith is “a natural daughter of somebody”, therefore she can devise fantasies for Harriet’s life to her hearts content. A good example of Emma’s cunning power over Harriet was when she told Harriet in not-so-many-words to refuse Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal as she had another partner (Mr. Elton) in mind. “I shall not give you any advice Harriet… ” claiming it a “general rule” that “if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him.
Another aspect to consider of Emma’s use of influencing is why she does it. In my opinion Emma’s manipulative manner derives from her personal loneliness and a lifetime of receiving everything her own way. By attempting to affect or change the lives of others she feels as if she’s fulfilling something due to a lack of personal goals and, effectively boredom. She’s “… handsome, clever, and rich… with a comfortable home and happy disposition… ” with no challenges to overcome or tests to face in the future.
To support this point I’ve picked up on a few lines where Jane Austen brushes on Emma’s personal unhappiness and isolation – “… Seemed to unite some of the best blessing of existence;” “And with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering intellectual solitude. ” “Hartfield… afforded her no equals. ” Another question to ask of Emma’s manipulative manner is ‘what gives her the right? ‘ Jane Austen has set Emma in a very unusual position for a woman of her time – unmarried and rich, in power over her household and her town (socially), and dominant.
One could say those are some of the reasons for her strength of character and role model attitude. Jane Austen also quotes “In her mother she lost the only person able to cope with her. ” I believe with her being mistress of the household from an early age and having power over the governess and the father of the manor has contributed greatly towards Emma’s influential manner. When we compare Emma with Miss Jean Brodie, Jean Brodie has a similar influence over her followers. Very similarly to Emma, she attempts to mould these very willing characters to how she desires.
In “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” she has a very strong influence over her favourite pupils – nicknamed “The Brodie Set”. Jean Brodie is well meaning and seems to live her dreams and ideals though her girls. She consistently sets a strong example for the young girls – who religiously follow as she hopes the best for each and every one of them. However, her schemes for the girls all turn out quite unfortunate, for example Joyce Emily’s death after Jean Brodie convinces her to join the Spanish Civil War.
Emma and Miss Jean Brodie also portray a strong sense of ownership over their followers, effectively both demeaning and degrading the characters – “Everyone should have a Harriet Smith”, “My girls… ” Another example is Sandy-betraying Miss Jean Brodie, amplifying her lack of good judgment for the most trustworthy of the girls. Very similar to how Emma’s judgment is swayed by her strong headed, over-certain mentality. Both appear to share disillusionment and a final point of realization that this is not the right way to guide – Miss Jean Brodie’s betrayal and the ‘Boxhill’ incident on Emma’s behalf.
In a striking comparison to Emma, it could be said the prime reason for Miss Jean Brodie’s manipulative character is due to a personal solitude and lack of challenges. With no husband, children, and a very secluded work and social life, I believe Miss Jean Brodie finds pleasure in modifying the life of others. An example of the social effect of Emma’s influential manner is how it can lead to problems. A specific example of this is when she planned so precisely to match Harriet and Mr. Elton, and thought everything was going well up until Mr. Elton’s proposal to her.
This is a prime example of how Emma’s manipulative ways has led to delusions and big misunderstandings. Throughout the incidents leading up to Mr. Elton’s catastrophic proposal (Chapter 11 – 14) the narrative voice develops the dramatic irony, which builds the humorous tension of the entire entourage of events – “… Professed himself extremely anxious about her… fair, lovely, amiable friend… more afraid of its being a bad sore throat on her account than on Harriet’s. ” “… Like the pretence of him being in love with her, instead of Harriet. ”
Jane Austen’s language and structure is used effectively to convey Emma’s devious nature while influencing people. For instance on chapter 7, Emma convinces Harriet to decline the proposal of marriage from Mr. Martin. “”You think I ought to refuse him then,” said Harriet. ” “… But I beg your pardon… I certainly have been misunderstanding you… ” Although Emma doesn’t directly instruct Harriet to decline the proposal, she makes it appear that it is only correct for her to do so. The way Jane Austen words what Emma says emphasizes her strength in the field of persuasion.
For instance while Emma and Harriet discuss whether or not she should marry Mr. Martin, Jane Austen’s use of wording highlights Emma’s cunningness while slyly describing “the most agreeable man… does any body else occur to you at this moment? ” Jane Austen also subtly places a comical twist on what Emma says, without either characters actually finding the situation funny – “I shall not give you any advice, Harriet” and the next thing she says – “… ought to refuse him… do not imagine that I want to influence you. – The narrative voice establishes a strong sense of dramatic irony in this scene, contributing towards the ironic humour simultaneously – “… The bewitching flattery of that letter might be too powerful, she thought it best to say… ” “The symptoms were favourable – instead of answering… ” On the whole I believe Emma and Miss Jean Brodie are very similar whilst comparing their influential ways, and also the reasons behind their manipulative personalities. Both characters control others – with good intentions – however the outcomes are very different to what they had hoped for.
In my opinion the subject I chose to discuss is an obvious, strong theme throughout both novels, and I’ve analyzed this theme thoroughly by discussing every aspect of their techniques in influencing and the effects of their actions. In my opinion both Emma and Miss Jean Brodie’s acts of influencing have chain reactions. Their power over other characters lead to a delusional sense of self-importance, which leads to these misunderstandings and mistakes. Overall I believe Emma’s influential and dominant characteristics are her main flaw.