Posted on 2011-02-23
Hello, my name is Harriet Smith and I would like to begin by refuting the rumor that I am a complete and utter idiot. I understand I am not intelligent, I am only somebody's natural daughter, and I have little to recommend me. I am not often given to melancholy, but I do wish I had more to offer sometimes. Is it any wonder, then, that I should be so quick to accept the friendship and guidance of Miss Woodhouse? Miss Emma Woodhouse is everything I am not, and I am grateful for all she has done for me. However, there is someone else whose company I value.
Mr. Robert Martin is a gentleman farmer. He is not rich, but he is well-read and amiable. He loves his mother and sisters dearly, and he is always so kind. He does not laugh at my ignorance but is enthusiastic when he explains things. I know women are not supposed to be overly intellectual, but no man of sense could want a stupid wife, and I believe it pleases him to be able to share his knowledge with me.
And now, the most wonderful thing has happened. I received a letter from him this morning. At first, I could not read it, I was so flustered. I worried it may not contain good news, if he felt the need to write rather than speak to me. Then when I did read it, I could hardly believe it. He wants to marry me! Even now, I can hardly write.
Soon, I began to think of my response and who I would tell, and my thoughts went to Miss Woodhouse. For the first time, I became anxious. Do you know, when I first met Miss Woodhouse, I thought her all kindness and condescension to speak with me and call me her friend, though I am so far beneath her socially. I thought the same thing when we met Mr. Martin a few days ago. But afterward, when we spoke of him, she seemed to disapprove. She even reminded me that he had not gotten the book I suggested when he went to town, as if he had nothing better to do with his time than read silly novels! But I did not know what to say then. Yes, I am aware that, for all Miss Woodhouse's virtues, she is quite… Oh, I cannot think of the word. I will have to ask Mr. Martin when I next see him.
Here he is now. I quickly accept and express my enthusiasm to tell everyone, including Miss Woodhouse. He interrupts me.
"Does she not already know?"
There is something in his tone which suggests he knows of Miss Woodhouse's disapproval. How can I tell him…
"Did you think I would make my answer known to anyone before you?"
Yes, that is a good beginning. Now I must try to sound a little hurt.
"Or did you believe I would be compelled to ask advice about my heart from someone who does not know her own?"
Brilliant! This catches him by surprise, and I continue, partly to explain and partly to ask his opinion on something I have long wondered about.
"Would it be very foolish to think that a man who has known a woman for a very long time, who knows all her flaws yet still loves her as a friend could ever see her as something more?"
"You mean to say that Mr. Knightley…"
My name is Harriet Smith. I am not intelligent, but I am to marry an intelligent man. I am somebody's natural daughter, but soon I will have a family. I have little to recommend me, but I have been blessed with more than I could ever imagine. And now I only hope my friend will find so much happiness.
Posted on 2011-05-08
We walk toward the Martins' house in comfortable silence for a few minutes when Mr. Martin – Robert – speaks.
"Tell me, Harriet, what would your friend say if she knew of our engagement?"
"I suppose she will be unhappy that her plans have come to nothing, but you must know I do not care for her approval."
"Oh, yes. I would say Miss Woodhouse has read too many gothic novels, but I know that she reads very little."
"Does she really? That is a failing indeed. But what would lead you to this conclusion?"
"Shortly after we met, she questioned me about my parents, but I was unable to provide a satisfactory answer. I believe she imagined a fantastic tale in which they were royalty of some sort. Since then, she has been convinced that I am her equal and must therefore act the role. In her mind, Mr. Elton's attentions to her are all on my account."
"What does she think of me then?"
"I do not believe she thinks at all!"
The force of my words surprises me, but I continue.
"The more I think of it, the angrier I become. She may have deluded herself about my parentage, but she has no right to impose her fanciful ideas on me, as if I have a choice in the matter. She will not see my happiness, my good fortune, the comfort I receive from a family of my own, but will be greatly disappointed to hear of my acceptance as I no longer wish to play her game."
"And is she unaware of your feelings?"
He continues his questioning quite calmly, despite my rising ire.
"Oh, no. That, I believe, is most bothersome. She is well aware of my feelings, but discounts them completely, thinking I may be easily persuaded to love another."
"What would she do if you were to show her my letter?"
"She would not do it justice. She must recognize the good taste, but would say your sister must have helped you. She would presume I would say no, and if I showed the least bit of uncertainty, she would certainly write my refusal herself."
"Then what would you say to a private engagement?"
I look up in surprise, with questioning eyes, and see laughter in his. Even in my state of vexation with Miss Woodhouse, I cannot help noticing what a lovely shade of brown his eyes are.
"Let us not spoil Miss Woodhouse's fun just yet. Suppose we only tell my mother and sisters now, and you may tell Miss Goddard. Miss Woodhouse may dictate your refusal and attempt to turn your heart towards Elton, and she will feel most foolish when the truth comes out."
Posted on 2011-06-24
As I sit here in church, I feel I must confess. I have not been entirely truthful – no, that is too generous. I have lied shamelessly.
Despite our initial plans, Robert and I soon realize that as long as we continue in our deception of Miss Woodhouse, we must not tell anyone of our engagement. His mother and sister would not approve – they are far too good for that – and our avoidance of each other in public would certainly make them anxious, if they knew we were engaged. As for Mrs. Goddard, she would be very anxious to share to news with Miss Nash, and then everyone would be sure to know.
"I shall send my refusal in a letter," I tell him before we part. "Please, do make sure it is not seen, or intercepted, and burn it immediately."
"Perhaps I shall read it. I should like to know what Miss Woodhouse considers a proper rejection."
"I fear any amusement you may derive from Miss Woodhouse's style of writing will not be enough to compensate for the pain such a letter, genuine or contrived, may bring."
I do hope he burnt it.
After visiting the Martins, I go to Hartfield to inform Miss Woodhouse of the letter and force her to reveal her true opinion. As I thought, she acknowledges it has "good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling" but, though not attributing the whole to his sister, follows with such a discourse which fully negates any compliment she has paid to its writer. I quite beg for her advice on the matter, and then, too, she expresses herself just as I expected. She tells me I must be firm in my refusal, but when I hint that I had not thought of refusing him, she becomes quite demure, determined not to influence my opinion. I feel I must say something.
"I had no notion that he liked me so very much."
It is true. We have been close friends for some time now, and I certainly hoped it might be so, but I did not perceive by his manners that he meant for anything more. My silence as I contemplate his letter seems to make her nervous and finally draws from her a hint of her true feelings.
"I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him."
Sound advice, to be sure, but she knows my doubts, if I have any, are the result of her interference.
"I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you."
I do not know what is more laughable. She is being no friend to me, and though she is older, as I told Robert, she is just as inexperienced, perhaps more than I, in matters of the heart. Then she disclaims a desire to influence me? Certainly, throughout the whole of our acquaintance, she has desired nothing more.
She asks, then, if I know of another man who I might consider more agreeable. She means Mr. Elton, I am sure. At this, I blush deeply and have to turn away. I am sure she sees it as proof of my attachment and embarrassment at being so easily discovered, but in truth, I am mortified and angry. When I compose myself, I am compelled to continue.
"Miss Woodhouse, as you will not give me your opinion, I must do as well as I can by myself; and I have now quite determined, and really almost made up my mind--to refuse Mr. Martin."
Yes, refuse his request that I continue this charade of friendship, and leave with all due haste.
She is quite pleased at this and no longer insults my intelligence by thinly disguising her true feelings.
"Dear Harriet, I give myself joy of this. It would have grieved me to lose your acquaintance, which must have been the consequence of your marrying Mr. Martin."
Perhaps it is not too late to tell her I have changed my mind, or, more truthfully, that I have not and never will, if it means I will no longer be subjected to her officious meddling. But I look quite stunned at her statement, as if this would have been a great loss.
"Dear Miss Woodhouse, I would not give up the pleasure and honor of being intimate with you for anything in the world."
As long as I may play with your feelings as you have presumed to play with mine. Yes, Robert is right; this shall be far too amusing to give up easily.
"Indeed, Harriet, it would have been a severe pang to lose you; but it must have been. You would have thrown yourself out of all good society."
My dear Miss Woodhouse, are you truly so blind as to believe that my place in society has not already been determined by the circumstances of my birth and lack of proper education?
"Dear affectionate creature!--You banished to Abbey-Mill Farm!--You confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life!"
Illiterate! Vulgar! And with such recent evidence to the contrary –
"I wonder how the young man could have the assurance to ask it. He must have a pretty good opinion of himself."
I cannot let this pass. To hear my dear Robert being slandered so by the proudest, most self-important person of my acquaintance – I can hardly restrain myself from physically assaulting her.
"I must confess that since my visiting here I have seen people--and if one comes to compare them, person and manners, there is no comparison at all, one is so very handsome and agreeable."
Indeed. There can be no comparison. My Robert is the best of men.
Our conversation returns to the letter, and my refusal. Here, I once again beg her assistance and she once again declines, only to direct my every word.
Finally, it is finished, but I can get no reprieve. Miss Woodhouse is very kind and only mentions Mr. Elton a few times, but I wish to be far from Hartfield. But it is not to be; I stay the night, as I have often done before, and I am grateful for the privacy of my own room.
In the morning, I feel most relieved when I make my excuses, saying I must go to Mrs. Goddard's for an hour or two.
Posted on 2011-10-24
I do not believe I have ever seen Robert look so angry. Even last summer, when the boy who was to watch the pigs let them all out, he was very calm and controlled in his reaction. Now, however, his expression and tone are cold and hard as he walks quickly toward me, away from the house.
"Robert," I begin softly, but I do not know how to proceed.
"Were you - did you hear -?"
Yes, I did. I returned to Hartfield far sooner than expected and, while strolling through the garden, perceived that Miss Woodhouse was inside. As I approached, I realized she was engaged in a debate of some sort with Mr. Knightley, and I had best not interrupt. I was about to leave when I heard my name mentioned, and then I could not help staying to hear the rest.
"She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information… I felt that, as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse."
"Yes. I heard."
I feel quite foolish when, despite my awareness of my shortcomings and my indifference toward Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, tears begin to blur my vision.
"I went to Donwell to discuss some matters regarding the farm, but when I heard Mr. Knightley had come here, I decided to come to Highbury. Harriet, dearest, please do not cry. I cannot bear to think of you being hurt by their words. Certainly neither one gives you half as much credit as you deserve. And to think that Mr. Knightley - and I had thought him a gentleman!"
"He did not say anything that was not true."
He is about to protest when I change the subject.
"I had not realized before that our plan must include Mr. Knightley. They were speaking of my refusal. Say what you will, but Mr. Knightley's honest assessment of my prospects was not so difficult to face as Miss Woodhouse's denial of them."
We remain where we are until Mr. Knightley leaves. I take a few moments to compose myself, and upon my return, I force myself to speak cheerfully of Mr. Elton. Miss Nash told me that Mr. Perry met him on his way to London to get Miss Woodhouse's painting framed, though it means he will miss his whist-club night for the first time. She understands the situation quite well and only wished to share a bit of news, though in a way that she could not be accused of gossiping. Miss Woodhouse, however, fails to see that Mr. Elton considered his "very enviable commission" to be all for her.
Oh dear. Mr. Knightley has been away from Hartfield for so long I fear his disagreement with Miss Woodhouse is more serious than I first thought. She seems quite unaffected however, as she is wholly preoccupied by Mr. Elton. He has returned with her framed picture, which now hangs over the mantelpiece of the common sitting-room. I am quite tired of Mr. Elton. If I did not know better, I might surmise that she is as much in love with him as he is with her.
I am quite glad when I can slip away for an hour or two. Robert and I meet when and where we can, whether on the road or in town. I do wish I could come to the Martins' farm, but I fear it is too soon. Miss Woodhouse does not seem entirely confident that my feelings have passed. When we meet, we talk about the farm and his mother and sisters, as well as what we have seen and heard and read since our last meeting. He truly did get the book I suggested, and he says he is enjoying it immensely. Likewise, I am nearly through with a wonderful historical account he suggested I read.
When I must return to Hartfield, I feel far more relaxed and better able to indulge Miss Woodhouse in her attempts to improve my mind through extensive reading. It is unfortunate that she should lack the persistence to finish even one book.
Losing patience, I suggest we endeavor, instead, to write a little book of riddles. Miss Nash, who has a great many collections, is quite helpful, and Miss Woodhouse naturally asks Mr. Elton's assistance. Though he initially declines to participate, with many gallant and fine-sounding nothings, she is quite delighted when he does present her with a riddle. Blinded by her pride, she insists it is meant for me. What a fine joke that is!
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!
I read it twice before I catch his meaning. "My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings" - well of course, that is a royal court, quite popular in the novels I enjoy reading. The second part is more difficult, for at the mention of the seas, I think of another novel about a young lady whose courtship with a sailor came to a rather unfortunate end. Yes, that is it! The answer is courtship.
Miss Woodhouse looks on as I read it again and again. She must think I am quite ignorant as I wonder who its author is, and whether the answer could be a mermaid or a shark, all to keep from laughing at the last part. Certainly Mr. Elton would have to be very much in love if he described me as having "ready wit."
She deigns to explain, and I am free to smile and laugh. I am quite nearly overcome, but finally, I must speak. I feel like an actress as I speak of his superiority. Finally, I see an opportunity to convince Miss Woodhouse of my preference.
"It is one thing to have very good sense in a common way, like everybody else, and if there is anything to say, to sit down and write a letter, and say just what you must, in a short way; and another, to write verses and charades like this."
And still another, surpassing virtue to be able to write an honest, heartfelt letter to one's love, which does not speak in riddles but asks plainly for her hand.
After some time, Mr. Woodhouse enters and the conversation turns to the upcoming visit of his elder daughter, Mrs. Isabella Knightley, her husband, Mr. John Knightley, and their children. Still later, Mr. Elton arrives to make his excuses; it seems he is engaged tonight with Mr. Cole and therefore cannot come to dinner. The poor man looks quite confused when Miss Woodhouse tells him we have entered part of his riddle into my collection and leaves quickly. Still, I am sure he took her words as an acceptance, or at least an encouragement. Miss Woodhouse leaves soon after he does, so now I may laugh at the two of them.
Posted on 2012-01-17
Today we visit a poor family, and I cannot deny that Miss Woodhouse is very kind and genuinely interested in helping them. When we leave, we spend some time reflecting on the condition of the family and our desire to improve it. Suddenly, who should come up the road but Mr. Elton.
No, I am no longer angry with Miss Woodhouse for her well-meaning scheming. I find it quite impossible when I consider that her actions, though wrong, have been well meaning, and she must be truly, thoroughly convinced of her own fantasy. In truth, I am quite ashamed to think of how uncharitable I have been toward her, and as Christmas approaches, it seems more than usually desirable to be at peace with everyone.
Now I can only smile to myself when I see her contriving to leave us alone, first taking a narrow path and then breaking off her bootlace. I said earlier that I wished to see Mr. Elton's house, for, though it is not very large or handsome, there is something about it which interests me, and it seems as if I am the only person in town who has not seen its interior. I was quite aware that Miss Woodhouse would attribute more meaning to this than there was. Now, as we step inside, she smiles with satisfaction and promptly disappears.
As I listen, with polite interest, to Mr. Elton, I cannot help thinking of Miss Woodhouse's earlier declaration of indifference toward marriage. She said she had "very little intention of ever marrying at all." I can hardly believe it, as I told her. She spoke of love and admitted she is entirely inexperienced in that area. She quite sensibly explained that she wants nothing at present and would be a fool to change her situation for any inducement besides love.
I only wish she did not speak of Miss Bates as she did. "So silly - so satisfied - so smiling - so prosing - so undistinguishing and unfastidious" - are these such great crimes? She truly is very kind and well meaning, not at all disagreeable, as Miss Woodhouse would consider a poor old maid. Certainly, she is not too good natured and too silly to suit me.
The conversation turned to nieces and nephews, to Miss Bates's niece, Jane Fairfax, in particular. From Miss Woodhouse's speech regarding that lady, I detected not a little jealousy.
Oh, dear. Where is Miss Woodhouse? It has been a full ten minutes since she went with the housekeeper to procure something with which to fix her boot. The door between us remains open; she cannot think Mr. Elton would make a declaration like this. Certainly she is speaking with the housekeeper.
Now I must attend to what Mr. Elton is saying. We stand by the windows as he drops hints of his admiration for Miss Woodhouse. Miss Woodhouse finally appears, and we leave.
Ah, freedom! As the visit of Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley approaches, Miss Woodhouse has little time to force me into Mr. Elton's company, and I spend a few days with the Martins.
"You are to meet Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley?" asks Elizabeth after supper on the last day of my visit.
"Yes. Do you know much about them?"
"We have seen them in church and in town a few times. Mrs. Knightley seems much like her father, over-cautious about her health, but very kind and amiable, and Mr. John Knightley is very clever."
Our conversation soon turns to novels and music. Elizabeth coaxes me to play a simple piece with her on the pianoforte and tells me I am much improved since my last visit. I blush slightly, unwilling to admit I have practiced the piece a great deal since she first taught me and Robert said it was a favorite of his. He enters now, with a tired smile, and we speak some more before retiring for the night.
A lady must remain perfectly composed at all times, under any circumstance, for the sake of her reputation. But I am not Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, nor even a gentlewoman; I am Harriet Smith of Mrs. Goddard's School and I know not where, engaged to Mr. Robert Martin, a respectable man, and if he has no qualms about our present situation, neither do I. As we take a narrow path through the woods to town, I lean upon his arm and say what I have been feeling for some time now.
"Oh, Robert, I am so tired!"
I fear I sound nearly hysterical as I tell him how little I look forward to Miss Woodhouse's party.
"But of course I must go," I finish morosely.
Robert look at me intently before asking, "My dear, are you feeling well?"
"Yes, quite well."
"Hmm, I think not. You sound as if you have a bit of cold."
"Oh? Yes, perhaps I do."
"Are you often ill at this time of year?"
"As a child I was, but I believe my health is much improved now."
"It is growing cold, and you have no scarf. You coughed earlier. Did you not say you felt a tickle in your throat?"
"I did indeed. Well, I suppose I cannot go to the party now."
I let out a giggle but quickly stop myself. I have heard it said that Mr. Knightley told Miss Woodhouse he had noticed I had stopped giggling, as a credit to her influence, and I do wish to be a proper wife for Robert, rather than behaving like a silly schoolgirl. When he looks at me, however, it is not disapproval in his eyes.
"Ah, there it is! It has been some time since I heard that melodious sound, and I must say I have missed it indeed."
We continue down the path toward town and part ways before coming within sight of the first building. I pause to watch him go, and once he is gone, I try to sing some very difficult pieces, so after a few minutes, my throat truly hurts. Now that I think of it, I am cold, and I have a slight headache. Upon my return to school, I tell Mrs. Goddard I fear I am coming down with something. She is very kind and attentive and makes some tea.To Be Continued . . .