Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What Charity Is Not

What charity is not, therefore, is looking after others by telling them how to live. This is Mrs. Elton's idea of charity, and it is clearly shown to be misguided, as her officious exertions on behalf of Jane Fairfax demonstrate. In addition to directing the lives of the less fortunate, Mrs. Elton also sees charity as a matter of style. In her estimation, charity is what those in power offer to those without power: it both assists the beneficiary, and increases the positive social image and self-image of the benefactor. Early in the novel, Emma is guilty of conceiving of charity in just this way, and the introduction of Mrs. Elton to Highbury is a reminder to her of how charity should not be conducted. For example, Emma feels for Jane when Mrs. Elton insists that her servant will pick up Jane's mail, or when she insists on arranging a governessing position for Jane. Even when Mrs. Elton is planning her part in the strawberry party, her focus is on her image, and her ability to make Jane over in her own image....

Sarah Emsley, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues, p. 135. Later Emsley characterizes this by saying that Emma is "concerned with the difference between charity as love and charity as image" (p. 138).

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