Miss Bates is a supporting character in Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma. Shabby genteel, and a compulsive talker, she is memorably insulted on one occasion by the book's heroine, to the latter's almost immediate remorse.
|Jane Austen character|
Living in genteel poverty with her ageing widow of a mother, and only one servant, Miss Bates was nonetheless on visiting terms with the best in Highbury society. At the same time, she was dependent on her neighbours for much support – pork from Mr. Woodhouse, apples from Mr Knightley. Those who see Austen as painting uncritically a rural Tory paradise should remember the latter's words to Emma: “She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and if she live to old age, must probably sink more”.
Miss Bates has as her main characteristic an unending flow of trivial speech, freely associating from one unimportant event to another – something which was to make her an immediate comic success among Austen's first readership. Many of the clues to the book's intrigue are in fact artfully concealed and revealed within her verbose patter. Her speech is overtly a recognition of her grateful dependence on her neighbours, but it can also be seen, in its overwhelming impact on all other discourses, as almost tyrannical in its passive-aggressive self-assertion.
Austen was, like Miss Bates, the single daughter of a clergyman's widow, and, while she herself was notoriously silent in company, her letters by contrast have a rambling, inconsequential flow that has been compared to the speech of her creation: “my coarse spot, I shall turn it into a petticoat very soon. - I wish you a Merry Christmas, but no compliments of the Season”.
While she herself has thus been seen as a possible model for Miss Bates, another single spinster, Miss Milles, who “talked on...for half an hour, using such odd expressions & so foolishly minute that I could hardly keep my countenance”, has also been suggested as a possible external influence.
- E. Copeland, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (Cambridge 1997) p. 125-6
- E. Copeland, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (Cambridge 1997) p. 107 and p. 141
- R. Jenkins, A Fine Brush on Ivory (Oxford 2007) p. 153
- Jane Austen, Emma (Penguin 1973) p. 368 (Ch. 43)
- C. Harman, Jane's Fame (Edinburgh 2009) p. 74
- P. Graham, Jane Austen and Charles Darwin (2016) p. 37
- E. Auerbach, Searching for Jane Austen (2004) p. 209
- C. Harman, Jane's Fame (Edinburgh 2009) p. 66-7
- E. Copeland, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (Cambridge 1997) p. 104
- Deirdre Le Faye ed, Jane Austen's Letters (Oxford 1995) p. 30
- P. Graham, Jane Austen and Charles Darwin (2016) p. 53
- Deirdre Le Faye ed, Jane Austen's Letters (Oxford 1995) p. 245, p. 332 and p. x