The Witch/Gypsy/Fortune Teller
Image: An exotic foreigner, somehow set apart from those present. Colorful, garish, and not subject to the rules of society. Alternately, an older woman, cronish in appearance, who represents the power to know the future and who has the power to create or destroy.
Power: Hidden knowledge, breaking boundaries
Symbology: The power of “the other” to both unify and break apart, to see clearly, and to obscure through secrecy. Sexual, sensual expression, exoticism.
Emma by Jane Austen
Her place within and under the Law is marked by paradox: women are at once cast with children and the insane, deemed too "weak" or "feeble" to be taken seriously, or to be included in the early institutions of the church, judiciary, and universities; and yet at the same time, said to be powerful and dangerous enough to "defy the laws of nature," to form covenants with the devil, to devastate crops, to introduce plagues, and to cause the death and impotence of men—as witches were typically accused of doing.
\18.1denike.html The Devil's Insatiable Sex: A Genealogy of Evil Incarnate, Margaret Denike, 2002, Hypatia 18.1 (2003) 10-43
Austen’s use of the alien dark-skinned gypsies in juxtaposition to the native White woman allows the novelist to accentuate the Englishness of the latter by stressing the foreignness of the former. As an illegitimate and orphaned member of the “large and populous village” of Highbury, Harriet initially appears similar to the nomadic outsiders, but as a young, White, and anonymous female resident of this neighborhood, she also represents the future promise of her local and national community
The gypsies occupy (temporarily) only a small section on the outskirts of Highbury, but their presence in the narrative suggests that by the dawn of the nineteenth century, England’s population is no longer publicly imagined as ethnically homogenous. The gypsies may not live within the parameters of the village, but they are also not far removed from this organized civilization, and the proximity of this foreign people will encourage England to isolate a distinct native race. … Harriet’s encounter with the Romani allows Austen to illustrate how this citizen-building process helps solidify an English national identity. The novelist distinguishes the “Black” migratory gypsies from the White residents of Highbury, establishing an English race by separating it from an outside element; this created national race then effectively represents the “Englishness” that presumably defines its members. Harriet’s involvement in this scene, as a young, anonymous, and native member of this local community, highlights her importance as a national resource: she has the power to reproduce English culture and the English race, but she must be safeguarded from the nomadic lifestyle of the gypsies and schooled in the legacy and lore of her nation.
Emma documents the efforts of Knightley and the heroine to uphold Harriet as a source of “natural” Whiteness, while the Romani become vilified as mysterious Black outsiders. Austen ambiguously depicts the Romani outside Highbury as “all clamorous, and impertinent in look, though not absolutely in word” (300). She stresses their shocking effect rather than their visual appearance; they represent a jarring and clear difference that recalls earlier historical treatments of the gypsy race.
The Woman, the Gypsies, and England: Harriet Smith’s National Role
Michael Kramp College Literature 31.1 [Winter 2004]