"A fine, easy, clean shape, light brown hair in abundance; her features regular, her complexion clear and lively, large wanton eyes, but above all, a mouth that has made me kiss it a thousand times in imagination..."
Medley's description of Harriet does several things. First, in terms of plot, it convinces Dorimant that the orange-woman was correct and that this is a woman worth pursuing. Second, it associates Harriet with nature, something that will be made clearer as the text proceeds. Harriet is not described as prim or proper; rather, she has big hair and "wanton" eyes. She is lively and vivacious, not demure and retiring. Third, it asserts the uncomfortable reality of the patriarchal era in which the play was written that women are to be looked at and judged by men, and that they are most valued for their looks.
"Poor folks can no sooner be wicked, but th'are railed at by their betters."
The shoemaker points out that rich people can act in an immodest and immoral fashion and no one seeks to censure them, yet, when poor people do it, they are immediately lambasted by the rich. This is an important statement, and Etherege knows what he is doing, for his entire play is of rich people mostly acting poorly. They lie, are jealous and angry, have affairs, gossip and calumniate, and are largely irreligious. This small line is a perfect encapsulation of the satirical aspect of the play, in which Etherege seeks to comment upon the manners and mores of the upper class and how they are orchestrated to conceal base feelings and motivations.
"He is a person, indeed, of great acquired follies."
This succinct statement encapsulates what makes Sir Fopling so obnoxious. While everyone has follies and flaws, most of the time those are intrinsic parts of our nature, not something we set out to acquire. Sir Fopling, though, lacks a real personality and substance, so when Dorimant calls out his "acquired follies," he is calling attention to this fact. Nothing about Sir Fopling, even his follies, is natural. Any quirk or tic or folly is his own creation in order to get people's attention.
"To be two days without sending, writing, or coming near you, contrary to his oath and covenant?"
Pert's anger on behalf of her mistress has to do with Mrs. Loveit's outmoded way of conceiving of love and courtship. She adheres to codes, oaths, and promises, assuming that one who makes them will be forever true. She keeps her lovers in this vise and does not seem to understand that in contemporary society the rules are a little different now. This relationship, where she hopes to cow Dorimant into submission with his words, is contrasted with that of Dorimant and Harriet, which is entered into freely by both parties and is based on mutual admiration and affection.
"May all the passions that are raised by neglected love, jealousy, indignation, spite and thirst of revenge eternally rage in her soul, as they do now in mine."
Mrs. Loveit's words here are just one sample of many. She screams, cries, and rages against Dorimant in a very unbecoming way. Despite the fact that modern readers are uncomfortable with the way Dorimant treats her (and with good reason), she is a very unlikeable character who transgresses social norms. Her behavior reveals her as one who lacks decorum, grace, and good manners; this is revealed when a lover, on whom she never should have counted in the first place, scorns her. Mrs. Loveit and Sir Fopling are actually quite suited for each other, then, as neither of them knows how to play the societal "game" properly.
"He's given me proof which I desired of his love but 'tis a proof of his ill nature too; I wish I had not seen him use her so. I sigh to think that Dorimant may be one day as faithless and unkind to me."
Belinda is another problematic case. She does realize that Dorimant is likely to use her poorly as well, but she reveals her lack of character when she agrees to go along with his plan in the first place. She is willing to be cruel and duplicitous to someone who is considered her friend. She also does everything she can to avoid being detected; she cannot own up to her role in this affair. A telling aspect of Belinda's character, or lack thereof, is that she is referred to as a "masked woman," which indicates that she does not have much under her mask -she is a cipher and unworthy of the audience's regard.
"You are ugly, you are ugly! Is she not, Mr. Courtage?"
Old Bellair is a bumbling, obnoxious character that often puts his foot in his mouth without being affair of it. He's a recognizable character type -the old man who says whatever he wants without thinking. He takes a liking to Emilia and as he lacks any social graces, he thinks the best way to hide it/flirt with her is to continually insult her. This puts him in the same category as Mrs. Loveit and Fopling in terms of characters who do not have the polished manners tat allow them to succeed in society. Indeed, Old Bellair is lied to, tricked, and sees his plans for his son radically thwarted. He and his other elderly consort, Lady Woodvill, are simply outdated and easy to cheat and fool.
"Beauty runs as great a risk of being exposed at court as wit does on the stage, where the ugly and foolish all are free to censure."
Harriet makes an interesting comparison here: society is like the stage, and everyone is playing parts. On the stage, actors and actresses play parts and the audience critiques them. This audience is usually inferior and ignorant, but it does not stop them from uttering their opinions. In real life, people also play parts and are occasionally subject to the judgment and censure of others.
"Believe me, a wife, to repair the ruins of my estate that needs it."
This is an interesting quote, and one that has given some critics reason to suggest that Dorimant's marriage to Harriet is because he has spent a lot of money and needs a rich heiress to keep him solvent. It is true that Dorimant will benefit financially from marrying Harriet, but it would be wrong to ignore the real affection he seems to have for her. In many of the asides, which are supposed to represent his thoughts and should thus be the most honest expressions of his feelings, he talks about how much he loves her and wants to be with her. And, as she is keen to vex him and mold him into a better person, it is likely he would not endure that if he did not truly like her. He is even willing to go into the country and give up his social life, which, again, does not seem like something he would do if he did not care for her; no doubt another rich woman would be around the corner. Dorimant and Harriet are well matched, and their interest in each other is authentic.
Harriet: "I cannot deny it. I would, and never marry any other man."
Lady Woodvill: "Is this the duty that you promised?"
Harriet: "But I will never marry him against your will."
In this exchange Harriet reveals her willfulness, her passion, and, finally, and her love for her mother. She is a wild, wanton, and independent young woman, but she also understands the value of parental relationships and modest behavior. She does not engage in immodest affairs or boldly defy her mother's wishes; rather, she settles down with a man she cares for without compromising her values, and through her strength of character brings her mother around to liking a man she once professed to hate with every fiber of her being. Harriet may not be the sweetest character, but her self-assurance is laudable and one of the reasons why she ensnares Dorimant.
The Man of Mode Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Man of Mode is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.