So to be honest, I never really thought about Mrs. Goddard, from Emma, other than she was the woman who ran the home/school that Harriet lives and attends.
In fact, I never gave her a second thought until a while back I read the book A Visit to Highbury: Another View of Emma.
But when you think of it, Mrs. Goddard is a pretty amazing woman. She is a widow who has managed to not struggle in poverty but become a mistress of a school-not a college or upper education, but a really pleasant place for kids to learn some skills and live and grow.
“Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School-not a seminary, or an establishment…where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity-but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price.”
She has a house and garden, feeds the children good food (that in itself is an amazing kindness-think of Jane Eyre and the slop they eat), let them have freedom to play in the summer, etc. All I could think when reading this was all the horrible girls schools you read in fiction-Jane Eyre’s terrifying experiences, the way everyone bullies and looks down on Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, the mean Miss Minchin in A Little Princess, etc. I would much rather go to Mrs. Goddard’s than any of those other ones.
I mean Becky is treated horribly for having a mother who was a dancer/actress (often a codeword for prostitute), but her parents were known and married. With Harriet, she doesn’t know who her father is-but she isn’t treated badly or excluded like Becky, at Mrs. Goddard’s Harriet and any girl there can have a happy and pleasant time.
I also think that for Mrs. Goddard this school isn’t just financial security, but for someone who never had children of her own, she can enjoy mothering all these girls.
I just love how in all of Austen’s stories creates all these wonderful characters and makes them so alive. She’s not in the book a lot, but in it enough to appreciate her.
For more Emma, go to Achy Breaky Heart: Austentatious (2015)
For more on Mrs. Goddard, go to A Visit to Highbury: Another View of Emma
For more character studies, go to Right Away I Know I Won’t Like You