Dec 1, 2017

Mrs Elton & Ms Bates: Compulsive Talkers or Comedic Relief?


How does humor work in Emma? Consider the many speeches made by Miss Bates or Mrs. Elton. What techniques does Austen use to make these characters look foolish. What contradictions, hypocrisies, or absurdities are put in their mouths? To what extent do we judge these characters negatively when we see that they are laughable?

Janice Millford
Dec 1, 2017

I feel for Miss Bates. She is just on the cusp of gentility. She lives well only by the gracious good will of the community. She has no guile, no ill will, but she does prattle. I think she feels she must be entertaining or risk being forgotten. Austen writes her so well......the hems, the pauses, the change of subjects but always Miss Bates is kind. Which, of course, is why we all recoil when Emma is cruel to her in an offhand manner. But our dear Miss Bates only answers quietly and with much better decorum than Emma showed by stating: "I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend.” Very classy response by the mild Miss Bates.

Mrs. Elton descended upon Highbury with all the gloss of an ambitious, pushy and vulgar woman. She is determined to be THE person about whom all things revolve. She is quickly found out by Emma, Mr. Knightly and even Jane Fairfax. She does seem to love Mr Elton even if we, the readers, wonder why since it seems he married her for her 10,000 pounds, but other than that redeeming quality, she is all anyone would avoid in a social situation. Her speech is vulgar, she misquotes others including famous authors and she is convinced she alone can advise anyone on anything.

She is like Mr. Collins in P&P-----she is best read as ridiculous.

Virginia Ogura
Dec 2, 2017

I agree Miss Bates is kind, but I wouldn't want to be forced to spend an extended period in her company. She tries soo hard, but you're never going to have a stimulating or even very interesting conversation with her. Mrs Elton is boorish and overbearing and ridiculous. I'd rather spend my time with a good book.

Dec 5, 2017

As in all her novels, Jane Austen finds humor in character. As a character-driven writer, she provides three-dimensional portraits that truly pop off the page. Whether it's the arrogant Mrs. Elton or the slightly dippy Miss Bates (or the buffoonish Mr. Collins in P&P or the affable Sir John Middleton in S&S), she nails the character type, portraying a unique foolishness for each of them. But none of them are ever complete fools. She finds the kindness, and vulnerability, in Miss Bates, and the hint of desperation in Mrs. Elton's pushiness.

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