Sweet Miss Bates, Sofie and Miss Bates


Miss Bates is the daughter of the local vicar. She grew up in Highbury. Her father’s living was generous so Miss Btes and her mother Mrs Bates lived in comfort. By being the wife and daughter of a clergyman gave them a high social status. It was a superficial social status. On the death of her father, Miss Bates and her mother had to leave their comfortable home and take a small apartment in town and live on the small pension that they were given as the widow of a clergyman. Having no other income or affluent family back them up this change had not only a financial impact on their lives but also a social one. They were demoted  socially and became figures of pity in the community.

Mrs Bates had another daughter who was married to a soldier. They have a daughter Jane Fairfax. Her parents die when she is very young and Jane comes to Highbury to live with her aunt and grandmother who already are in a very difficult financial position and cannot take care of a young child and give her an appropriate education. Lieutenant Fairfax had distinguished himself in battle and his superior colonel Campbell who had a daughter of Jane’s age suggested that Jane live with them as a companion to her daughter and be educated with the aim of becoming a governess. 

This is an a nutshell the sad story of Mrs Bates, Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax. 

This is the way Jane Austen describes Miss Bates.

“…..she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without goodwill. It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved everybody, was interested in everybody’s happiness, quick-sighted to everybody’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbors and friends and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature , her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.”

Jane Austen gives us a vivid picture of Miss Bates’ character.

It seems that Jane Austen is baffled by Miss Bates reactions. Here we have a poor woman with no future, living on small income that is going to shrink even more after the death of her mother because the widow ‘ income will end with her death. She has no education and no means of supporting herself. I regency times the only career a genteel woman had was marriage unless of course she had a fortune of her own.

Asked about Miss Bates , Emma says:

“she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but in general she is very much to the taste of everybody, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind; ……nobody is afraid of her-that is a great charm.”

We would expect an angry person. Angry at the world and fate that dealt her such a bad hand. But we see a woman who is affable and has always a nice word to say about everybody and is on good terms with everyone. She is almost living in an alternate universe.

She is socially invited everywhere. She makes herself agreeable to everybody.

Is it possible that she does not feel any worry? Her future is bleak and here she is being agreeable to all.

“she was a great talker with trivial matters”

It is this phrase that gives her away. This is the way her worry manifests itself. This almost compulsive act of talking non-stop about banalities, unimportant things. She was brought up to preserve the social niceties. She is by nature a mild and good natured woman. She is now put in an untenable situation. Of course she would be anxious about the future and the tragedy is there is nothing she can do to change it she has to endure it. She cannot work and make a living for her and her mother. 

Her niece was taken away by a stranger to be a companion to their daughter. They are not adopting her but having her grow up to be at the beck and call of their daughter in exchange for a genteel woman education. Colonel Campbell was a stranger to them and they had no notion what kind of people they were or if their niece would be happy living with them. Jane rarely visited them so they had to rely on her letters and to justify to herself and the neighborhood that giving away her niece to the Campbells was the right thing to do she would exaggerate her achievements  and boast about them to the neighborhood. It is an unconscious effort to convince herself and their neighbors that they have made a good choice in sending Jane Away.

Emma is irked by Miss Bates silliness and nonstop chatter. At the Box Hill picnic where everybody is gathered around an opulent picnic. Frank Churchill suggests a game.

“…..either one thing very clever, be it proser verse, originator repeated; or two things  moderately clever; or three things very dull indeed.”

When Miss Bates assures them that she will say dull things Emma responds only three. 

Emma’s reaction is Jane Austen’s reaction to Miss Btes. She is puzzled by this person. She has an inkling that there is something wrong with Miss Bates but she does not know what. For Jane Austen Miss Bates’ reaction is out off norm. I almost feel that she wants to shake her so that she opens her eyes to the real world around her.

Miss Bates characteristics

  • Non stop talking about banalities
  • Fretfulness
  • Low self-esteem

Miss Bates suffers from a situational general anxiety. It is a condition that is very difficult to treat because there is no solution to her situational problem. She is bound by social norms and has to meekly accept her situation in life having no power to change it. This kind of helplessness is understandable to Jane Austen. During her own life she had to live with the financial help of her brothers. While Jane Austen tries to fight the system Miss Bates just accepts her fate and reacts to it with this deep set anxiety that manifests itself in this incessant chatter and fretfulness and the effort not to offend anyone.

Nowadays of course Miss Bates can seek the expert help of psychologists and psychiatrists who will help her with empowerment and have recourses to government and charitable programs that will her.

One thing would interesting to know if Jane Austen believes that Miss Bates general behavior will change after Jane Fairfax marries Frank Churchill and the whole family’s financial problems are over.

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