Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy Bicentenary Birthday Charlotte Bronte! (and what the Brontes teach us about relationships)

It has been a year since I last wrote on this blog, but Di encouraged me to write something for Charlotte's bicentennial. At first I wasn't sure what to do. But this idea had been lingering in my mind recently, and this is going to be a joint Charlotte+Emily post. Happy birthday Charlotte!

What distinguishes the Brontës from the other classic novelists? When a general reader speaks of the English classic novels, it is usually Austen, Dickens and the Brontë sisters who first spring to mind. That makes them classic classics. What these novelists have in common is readability, memorable plots and characters. For some years I was hooked on Villette and Shirley. As a serious young adult who took the world as a glum place, I felt Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were too melodramatic and unrealistic. Jane Eyre had a happy ending. Although it was my favourite novel in my teens, I preferred Villette in my early twenties. With Lucy I could empathise; with Jane I felt the rebellious affinity I had years ago was gone, to be replaced by moody pessimism. In many ways Villette is deeper and more realistic. It covers more social classes, its heroine is not the brave-girl-confronts-the-world-despite-obstacles-and-becomes-triumphant. Even with success Lucy is plagued by nerves and depression, and she is denied the happy ending we want. If Jane Eyre has the more memorable plot and quicker power of language, Villette looks at society more deeply and clearly.

Yet it is Jane Eyre that we think of, not Villette. The story is happier, more readable, it is true. There is also structure and unity. The protagonist dares to voice her feelings, whereas Lucy Snowe suppresses hers. Jane actively pursues her destiny; Lucy is more passive. This makes Jane more likable and admirable in the opinion of many readers.

And recently I realised one major similarity Jane Eyre shares with Wuthering Heights.  Like Austen, they both voice universal truths. In these books you will see universal truths and themes in human nature, both clearly expressed if not clearly perceived by the reader. That is probably what imparts to the Brontës this sense of mysticism: their almost psychic, intuitive perception of universal truths. That is why we are intrigued by these Victorian ladies, uninteresting as public personas. There is a mystery to them, there is a power in their works we cannot fathom, because that power defines life and its uncertainties.

I have wondered why the Brontës had this status of classic classic compared to more realistic works by, say, George Eliot. Apart from the readability. You do not read a Brontë novel to understand English culture and society, not even Shirley, which attempts to carefully delineate Yorkshire life, but screws up on how the different classes in society act. What stands out in that novel is not English society, but universal truths, though Jane Eyre is more effective at expressing these truths. Wuthering Heights has its characters speak too uncouthly, the unbelievably insular and extremely incestuous nature of the relationships in that novel always seemed too far-fetched to me. Yet it has great power. You do not read a Brontë novel to observe how people really speak or interact in real life. They lack fidelity to realism, the Brontës having had little life experience. You do not read one to comprehend great social themes, history or philosophy. You will not find the expansiveness of mind you get in Tolstoy or Eliot. From these two intellectual authors, finding enlightenment is not hard with a little effort. You will understand Russian society in the 19th century, or a country-town in Warwickshire. Bravo, you will have learnt a new fact of the day.

Like Austen, the Brontës were very narrow, only Austen's works are recognisably English and realistic. The Brontës are beyond a defined locality: they are universal and for eternity, though they might be narrow Yorkshirewomen (narrow for their genius and education, that is).

But that does not lessen the essence of the novel. You do not learn facts from the Brontës, but eternal principles illustrated in their stories. And I think Charlotte learned something from Emily in this aspect, in how to organise her thoughts better, which resulted in Jane Eyre. Charlotte aimed at being truthful to nature (truthful not just in sentiment, but in a solid sense), but her seeming obsession with realism in her later books are not present in her first published novel. In Jane Eyre there seems to be witchcraft brewing, a spell within the words that you will not see so clearly in the carefully polished Villette. It might be the passion, but I think it is also due to the clarity in which certain universal principles are expressed compared to Villette, which follows life as it is seen rather than universal principles.

While Eliot and Tolstoy might be faithful to reality, and write to a large extent what they saw, Charlotte and Emily wrote what they imagined in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

We like to dismiss teenage girls who rave about the passion between Cathy and Heathcliff. Talking only about undying passion is to take the book superficially. But there is some truth in these superficial readers.  What Emily did was unique. You can look at the passion in many different ways. The schoolgirl way is one. The logical cynic will say that it is an unhealthy, obsessive, abusive relationship, and Emily was satirising romantic fever. But look over it, for there is another layer over the cynical one. Emily does depict that passion as selfish and unwholesome, but it does not in any way lessen the fact that Cathy and Heathcliff love each other deeply.  Between them exists a chemical affinity, the principle which applies to our relationships.

It is important to realise that Emily doesn't judge them, at least she doesn't judge their passion the way Anne would. A moralistic 18th-century novel would have the heroine fall for the passionate handsome renegade who would prove to be a brute, and then the nice guy who has loved her all along treats her well, and then she falls in love with him. In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall we are told that Arthur Huntingdon is a villain and unsuitable as a husband, as opposed to Gilbert Markham. Emily does nothing of the sort. What she portrays is beyond common morality preached by black-and-white moralisers. Cathy and Heathcliff are both horrible people, but that does not make them less compatible with each other than they are with their respective spouses. Their natures are more alike and attuned to one another. Besides, one could argue, it's all very well to say marry the nice guy or girl, but what if the protagonist is just a horrible person and makes the nice partner unhappy? Or what if the nice partner can't make you happy (and vice versa) because you have no affinity. Cathy and Edgar's marriage, and Heathcliff and Isabella's marriage answers these questions. (Just think of all the novels where someone marries a nice dull partner and proceeds to commit adultery).

It is not morality which makes a fulfilling union: it is chemistry which is the founding principle. It defies all moralisations on how love should be: noble, virtuous, unselfish, patient. Cathy marries Edgar because he is wealthy and because Heathcliff ran away. Love is not about wanting to do things for your partner in this case; Cathy and Heathcliff are selfish and violent, and yet they suit each other. They are incapable of ideal "true love." Their love is about satisfying something within themselves and yet they are happier this way. But is that not what love is? A successful love is not just about making someone happy, because that does describe many cases of unrequited love. It is as if they are part of each other, and need each other to live and breathe. There is no simple standard for love in Wuthering Heights.

Cathy and Heathcliff do not reform for each other, unlike in Jane Eyre, where both Jane and Rochester must both develop as individuals in order to have a successful relationship.  This illustrates another truth in humanity: that many of us have tendencies too hard to change. This aspect is similar to Pride and Prejudice. And yet there is a key difference: Mr Darcy is essentially honourable and well-meaning, even though he is obtuse and unempathetic. Elizabeth is quick to judge but she is more immature and inexperienced rather than malicious.

Here is Charlotte's assessment of Mr Rochester to William Smith Williams:
Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, misguided; errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too many other men live, but being radically better than most men, he does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is taught the severe lessons of experience and has sense to learn wisdom from them. Years improve him; the effervescence of youth foamed away, what is really good in him still remains. His nature is like wine of a good vintage, time cannot sour, but only mellows him.
Err, Charlotte, I think you have made a few mistakes there, but never mind.  Mr Rochester is selfish and self-indulgent; he expects Jane to be there for him to be happy, to reform him. Charlotte was trying to justify readers' disgust of Rochester's behaviour, and probably in her mind (unlike Emily), to say a man is selfish and self-indulgent is to deny he is good or a hero. The reality is far from that. Selfishness doesn't preclude a person from deep and genuine feeling. He does not like that degraded life not because he is virtuous, but because it is shallow, superficial and boring, and he yearns for better things.

The important point is the last sentence: "time cannot sour, but only mellows him." Aside from the unlikeliness of rakes reforming themselves out of love for a virtuous woman (though stranger things have passed, so I won't fully discount that), Jane Eyre shows that people are able to change substantially to make a better relationship. While in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the problem of Helen's marriage to Arthur is that Arthur is a rake. Helen should have been wiser and not married a rake in the hopes of reforming him, that is the message of the novel. You can see that as a "take that!" to Jane Eyre. This is the principle we get in advice columns, and largely reforming people's natural tendencies is almost impossible. It is certainly practical advice on a large scale, but it is not the most progressive. It limits certain possibilities. Like Wuthering Heights which has seemingly atypical and unrealistic characters (because we do not see them in real life, yet there is some logic to it) Jane Eyre promotes individuality. Jane and Rochester, even St John to some extent, are not typical people. Jane feels real to us, and yet she is not reflective of most people around us. Very few of us would have met a real Jane Eyre. This makes Jane Eyre a refreshing change from not only artificial sentimental novels, but also "realistic novels," which delineate real kinds of people you will find in society. To write an atypical character and make them seem real is arguably more imaginative than to write a typical character and make them real, because you have no sources to study, only some kind of intuitive logic. Jane is not only determined to have a career in the 19th century, the way she spars with Rochester, her social superior, is rather unique. She actually bothers to answer his rants on needing self-reformation instead of being tactfully quiet. She is unusually passionate as a child, unexpectedly so for such a quiet, seemingly conforming girl. Her self-chosen friendship with the precocious, moralistic Helen Burns, who seems to have no other friend, is an early indication of her differences. Her attraction to, and deep feeling for Rochester is also unusual.

If Anne is more practical about rakes, Charlotte believes in the rare possibilities of reform.  Arthur Huntingdon has strong rakish tendencies which can't be removed. Mr Rochester on the other hand is a bored, lonely rake with strong sensual appetites, but has a mind and heart that has rarely been used well. She shows us the possibility that seemingly useless people have the capacity of goodness, if only the chance was offered to them. We later see this principle in Villette, where the passive Lucy becomes an effective English teacher because she has no choice but to earn her own living. It is against Lucy's nature to be active and ambitious in the real world, but when she forces herself, she does achieve something.

But while Anne, and many practical people believe character to be fairly static, Charlotte shows us that character can be dynamic. Mr Rochester is partly the product of his environment and also a natural indolence and weakness. He struggles within, more so than Huntingdon. While Mr Rochester is a struggling rake at first, he does change after Jane leaves him. But not at once. He withdraws at first, and only some time later realises his moral error and selfishness in expecting Jane to stay with him while he is still married. While engaged to Jane he smothers her, expects her to accept his superficial gifts, and treats her like a doll, to the point of being patronising, and assumes a superior position. Jane feels oppressed in that position even though she loves him. That is part of Charlotte's genius: your true love may not be suitable for you in many ways in the beginning, but it does not mean they are not your true love. Indeed they go on feeling deeply for each other, even after Jane runs away from Rochester. The problem with their relationship was not just Rochester's marriage, but his immature personality. It is only after Jane runs away and he is blinded that he becomes more humble and treats her as an equal. Their love was enduring, but their relationship - the prospect of living together - was, before she ran away, unstable. There is a pragmatism about this: instead of looking for a ready, fit-to-order partner (almost impossible in real life, and doesn't necessarily work even for good, stable partners), relationships are dynamic. True love does not make a marriage work. It is many factors that do. The sizzling chemistry between them is the first step, but other steps are required to make it work. Which makes Jane Eyre a true bildungsroman. This is why, despite not being a "Realistic" character, Rochester feels real to many people - because he develops, has deep feelings and reflects universal truths.

Arguably Rochester's reform might also be due to the fact he becomes blind and has only one arm, after Thornfield burns down. The reader might be dismayed, because it does seem a harsh narrative punishment for what he has done. I see Rochester's disability as also a boon because it makes him dependent on Jane. Charlotte does not ignore realities. I am not sure if she did that on purpose, or just put in the Biblical message. But if you look at it in a pragmatic way, it can be a good thing (for Jane). Because he now needs Jane, he is humbled, and Jane feels more secure. Due to her upbringing in a charity-school and her own eccentricity (Jane was not likable as a child, and even in adulthood does not have an attractive exterior), it is unlikely Jane will shine in high society. With Rochester in excellent health, she would be obliged to be with his upper-class set quite often, in a grand house like Thornfield. Now they live in Ferndean, which is out of the way, they can lead a happy, quiet existence. Her social status would be precarious, even in Thornfield, because Jane would not be a glamorous or high-society wife.

The same theme of natural affinity persists in Jane Eyre. It is not just because Jane lacks choice of partners as an unattractive woman. She and Rochester feel intensely drawn to each other, even after he has deceived her. Virtue does not make a person a suitable partner.  Even with St John Rivers, her love for Rochester persists, and she does not fall in love with the better-looking, more moral and stable St John. More practical and virtuous readers of the 19th century would have preferred St John. But the lack of intense chemistry makes this impossible, and add to this St John's obsession with missionary work which Jane doesn't care for.  Jane believes St John to be good (which he can be), but still she prefers Rochester because of this essential principle. There is nothing to show that St John tries to change for Jane; certainly he doesn't for Rosamond. Rochester does. To St John his missionary work and marrying Jane to get her help is more important than Jane's happiness. Rochester still expected Jane (before she ran away) to cater to his selfish needs, but at least they had chemistry, and he genuinely loved her.  It is interesting that Jane runs away to Rochester after St John forces her to marry him, and she hears Rochester's voice in the middle of nowhere. At that time she still thinks Rochester is still married, and has no idea his wife has died. Readers have asked, did Jane mean to have an affair with Rochester after St John? The answer is, probably no. But still she risks compromising her reputation, now that people know about Bertha Rochester. Probably as a well-to-do lady now, she will stay as his houseguest and friend, but not compromise herself. Her better social status and new inheritance would mean Rochester would be obliged to be more regular in his manners towards her. Only it turned out that Thornfield had burnt down. Rochester was always Jane's true love, except they first met at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances.

The Charlotte and Emily Brontë are not Austen, I admit. They do not always champion the stable, moral hero as the heroine's future partner. But their perception of love and relationships is emotional and organic rather than seemingly rational and grounded in morals.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Happy birthday Charlotte Bronte!

So, I'm back after a long hiatus! Sorry I didn't post sooner, but I've been busy, uninspired and stuck (with a lot left in drafts.)

Anyway, today is Charlotte Brontë's birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLOTTE!

(You know I would totally go lesbian for you)

Today's post won't be a profound one, but I'll write what I've thought about Charlotte in the meantime:

I like the world of Shirley the best among the novels.  Even though Villette is the most accomplished and complex, and Jane Eyre the most engaging and passionate. It speaks of Yorkshire country life in the early 19th century, and for the first time Charlotte actually looks at society - I don't mean society at large, but the people you see in a small community. Pity Louis Moore had to clog up the book though.

Why I love Charlotte: she is profoundly psychologically complex, compared to both Emily and Anne. Emily was perhaps less judgemental, but she tended to portray her characters as types or extremes. They do not seem as realistic as Charlotte's. Lucy Snowe is a masterly portrait of depression and isolation in a foreign land. Dr John is the Genuine Nice Guy who is nice to you because he's so nice, not because he likes you especially. Unlike Paul Emmanuel and Mr Rochester. Dr John sounds like a perfectly pleasant companion to be with, the sort who can talk to anybody. Of course falling in love with him is another question.

Frances Evans Henri is sweet. Too sweet for the novel she's in. I think The Professor is a study of how you live overseas, how different nationalities are. It's meant to be kinda cosmopolitan, and it tries to portray national characters. Pity she was prejudiced, but seriously certain national stereotypes are true to this day. It is really an intellectual attempt - it attempts to explain society and game theory. Like the refined but undynamic William Crimsworth, the coarse but dynamic Edward. William's unpopularity in Yorkshire makes it hard for us to get why he's a hit in Brussels, but when you see that Brussels was modest and less sophisticated in those days, William's upbringing and education explains a lot. Basically Charlotte was saying if you're refined and not stunning or charming in a sophisticated environment, your life sucks - but without looks or charm, refinement can win you respect in a foreign farmyard. And I like Hunsden's ambiguous character - is he a practical merchant or a refined gentleman? He sneers at the intellectuals and yet invites them over, he claims to be a democrat but he is a snob at heart, and his best friend is the unworldly, aloof and suppsoedly upper-class William Crimsworth. They are frenemies. I'd like to see some gay slash fanfiction about them.

Which brings me to the question: What make sCharlotte Brontë so classic and unique? It's not just the love story, there must be something in the writing. Her prose style is  vigorous in Jane Eyre, refined in Villette - she and Jane Austen and Emily are prose stylists. That could contribute to Classic Classic status. But most of all, it must be the emotional power in her work. She is biased, she gets many characters wrong (a no-no by today's standards, and often criticised in classic literature) and yet she feels so profoundly real. Why is it so?

Because the world she writes is profoundly real. Now when I say the world I don't just mean the physical world. Most excellent authors become classics because they portray an accurate physical world, a society, and realistic characters. Charlotte's real characters are few - not as many as George Eliot, who is generally less judgemental (or tries to be).

In Charlotte's case her world is the world of the mind, of the soul. When I read her books I find myself immersed in another person's existence - the heroine's. Instead of looking at them, I become them as I read, an experience you can't get while watching movies. This brings another dimension to the novel. I don't know about you, but when I read excellent authors (including Jane Austen) I see the setting, the characters, the plot, and feel like I am watching a real scene unfold before me. But when I read Charlotte Brontë I am part of the scene. It is a form of mental acting - imagining I am Jane, or Lucy, or Caroline (the latter I became very adept at inhabiting). I think I became Jane as soon as I read the book for the first time. It is no longer something to watch: it is a new existence. It is world-building in the head - but a very small world - the world of the self. (But I will speak of world-building another day).

I like the two paradoxical contrasting characters, Messrs Helstone and Yorke. I love the bluff Yorkshireman who is Northern at heart, speaks dialect and loves the people, and yet is cultured and speaks perfect French.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Heather Glen's Introduction to The Professor

Managed to get hold of the 1989 Penguin edition of The Professor by Charlotte Brontë at the library
this weekend. The introduction is by Heather Glen, who has many interesting things to say.

In her lifetime, Charlotte re-worked the manuscript many times, and repeatedly tried to get her publishers, Smith and Elder, to publish the book, and failed. It was only published after her death. "My feelings towards it can only be paralleled by those of a doting parents towards an idiot child. Its merit - I plainly perceive - will enver be owned by anybody but Mr Williams and me; very particular and unique must be our penetration, and I think highly of us both accordingly." At the time of its publication, her novelist friend and biographer Mrs Gaskell found it unpleasant, and critics have said it was a poorer version of Villette, and yet Charlotte insisted on its value.

Glen wonders:
Was this merely authorial partiality? ... I wish to argue that the charge of "unpleasantness" that has so often been brought against this novel provides a more important clue to its nature than does the patronising judgement that dismisses it as an immature. For much in The Professor that appears "unpleasant" is in fact significant: part of a coherent imaginative interrogation of values and assumptions, which Charlotte Brontë is often assumed to have shared.
The time in which The Professor was written tells us more. Glen argues it is different from Villette in this aspect: "It is offered to the reader less as the confessional autobiography of a peculiar individual than as a fictional example of a quite distinct and influential contemporary genre - that of the exemplary biography of the self-made man," a genre Samuel Smiles was famous for. He wrote stories of people with no money, connections, etc. but by dint of hard work, rose to success, and William Crimsworth, the protagonist of The Professor, has much in common with this genre. Though one might see it as a ironic piece of Self-Help books - the hero does have aristocratic birth and connections, but he rejects their advances because they wish to mould him against his will. It is almost as if Charlotte is saying, "Fat lot of good birth is going to give you, because there will be pressure on you, to surrender to others' wills." He does, however, despite spurning his aristocratic relations, have a successful career as a schoolteacher in Brussels, but he "succeeds not because of birth or good fortune, but despite handicaps, and through is own unaided efforts" with the typical Smiles values, "industry and perseverance, self-reliance and independence, self-respect and self-control." Glen speculates that in this context, "The Professor seems less a clumsy attempt to hide its author's 'real," feminine concerns behind the mask of a male narrator than a fictional imitation of a genre that ... was overwhelming masculine."

Unpleasant it certainly is.

There is something oddly disagreeable, even repellent, about Crimsworth's story. It seems altogether more disturbing than one might expect of a simple tale of obstables surmounted and victory won - full of suggestions and a barely suppressed violence,  a peculiarly sadistic sexuality.  And Crimsworth imself is a more disquieting character than the heroes of the Self-Help tradition - anxiously watchful, coolly domineering, a prey to "Hypochondria."
Crimsworth seems to be under a tremendous amount of self-control and suspicion towards the rest of the world, and his sentiments to women are rather savage and domineering. The usual reason given for this was Charlotte's inexperience as novelist and uncertainly with the masculine voice, but Glen points out her preface states that this book was by no means a first attempt. Looking at her adolescent writings,
One sees a kind of literary experimentation which dispels the notion that the author of The Professor was an inexperienced amateur ... For fifteen years before she came to write this novel, Charlotte Brontë had been playing with different kinds of narrative voice. The majority of her early stories are told from the points of view of male narrators, narrators who are themselves often seen with a highly sophisticated irony. A favourite, for instance, is Lord Charles Wellesley, a bombastic but uncertain, cynical but vulnerable, world-weary would-be Byronic hero: even as he swaggers and postures, his pretensions are exposed and mocked and his insecurities revealed. The voice of the first person in these tales is not simply one of special pleasing, but is itself objectified and question. From a very early age, Charlotte Brontë seems to have been using the male narrator not as a "disguise" but as a means of exploring the logic and limitations of a particular kind of contemporary masculine stance. 
The notes at the back tell us that Charlotte Brontë had written and abandoned an earlier preface to the novel, written from the point of view of an old acquaintance of Crimsworth.
He opens by informing the reader that, while the author of the succeeding narrative was indubitably a "respectable man." he was "perhaps not altogether the character he seems to have thought he was. Or rather - to an impartial eye - in the midst of his good points little defects and peculiarties were visible of which he was himself excusably unconcscious." ... it proposes from the outset an ironic view of the novel's narrator.
 So Crimsworth was meant to be unpleasant, which makes perfect sense, because Charlotte was fond of writing unpleasant protagonists. Good kindly Mrs Gaskell thought Lucy Snowe unpleasant, which was ironic because she was fond of Lucy Snowe's original, Charlotte Brontë; Mrs Gaskell only saw one side of Charlotte. We see Jane and Lucy mainly through their own voice, but rarely through others, because they are both fairly sympathetic characters compared to Crimsworth. Crimsworth on the other hand, adopts a tone that makes it easy to judge him from the outside, rather than from the inside. Which makes it an interesting approach. Were you and I to meet our favourite fictional characters in real life (say, Jane Eyre or Lucy Snowe) we would not like them so much as we do when we read their story. There is a reason why Lucy is almost always alone and isolated. The thing is that most readers don't realise the character we sympathise on paper would be odious in real life. Charlotte had already experimented with the unrealiable narrator in Lucy Snowe, which makes it likely she was doing it for Crimsworth as well. Thus her detractors who say she was too egotistical and could only write about herself are wrong, for to deliberately write unreliable narrators requires the shedding of egotism. Charlotte turns the tables over, by making Crimsworth odious on paper AND in real life, which is daring for a mid-19th century major novelist. Other attempts at making unsympathetic narrators include Miss Clack from The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868) and The Woman in White (see Count Fosco's perspective), and these tend to be for comic effect, well except Count Fosco. I don't know if non-Gothic realist protagonist any have been so psychologically disturbing as Crimsworth.

Glen remarks that the novel starts off awkwardly with a letter Crimsworth wrote to a schoolfriend, but the latter never received it.
The epistolary form is abruptlyt abandoned for a straight first-person narrative. But this apparently false start does not seem to be the result of authorial ineptness. For its effect is distinctive and powerful; and it is reinforced and elaborated in the novel that follows. We learn at the end of the first chapter that no answer to this letter was ever reecived; that by the time it arrived, its intended recipient had departed the country: "What hs become of him since, I know not." The confidence and intimacy usually assumed by the first-person form thus receives a curious check at the outset of this narrative. 
Personally, it is somewhat disturbing, because it is unresolved, but then reality often is, and Charlotte herself said reality was the best aspect of the book. And the reality is a sense of isolation that carries on in the book.
For the world that is introduced in this opening chapter is one in which there seems no possibility of positive human interaction at all. The first paragraph of Crimsworth's letter recalls and reconstructs the relation between himnself and his friend in prose whose insistent negativism suggests not expressive interrelation but unceasing defensive opposition. 
Crimsworth wrote to his friend,
What animal magnetism drew thee and me together I know not; certainly I never experienced anything of the Pylades and Orestes sentiment for you, and I have reason to believe that you, on you part, were equally  free from all romantic regard to me ... your sardonic coldness did not move me. I felt myself superior to that check then as I do now.
The fact the friend never receives the letter and Crimsworth never learns what happened to him speaks for itself - the sense of rejection and isolation, foreshadowed earlier on in the boys' friendship. It is as if Crimsworth guarded himself from forming too intense a friendship with Charles, who seems to be cold-hearted. Which points to a fear of rejection - a feeling Charlotte knew too well. According to Mrs Gaskell,
She has had so little kindness & affection shown to her. She said that she was afraid of loving me as much as she could, because she had never been able to inspire the kind of love she felt.
Instead of positive exuberance of spirit, there is a sense of weary cynicism from the start go.
From the very beginning, Crimsworth's story is framed in imagery of opposition, of antipathy, of rejection and resistance. The marked negativism of the prose is accompanied by a constant emphasis on refusal and denial: "his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike," "I declined both the Church and matromny," "I had no thoughts of the sort," "I do not think that my turn of mind qualifies me to make a good tradesman," "my uncles did not remonstrate; they and I parted with mutual disgust," "A resolution no more to take from hands which had refused to minister to the necessities of my dying mother," "an irreparable breach," "I repressed all - even mental comment on his note," "I anticipated no overflowings of fraternal tenderness," "my refusal of their proposals will, I fancy, operate as a barrier against all future intercourse." ... All whom he meets habitually oppose, reject, repulse, resist, deny. Even supposedly non-hostile encounters are portrayed in terms of opposition and combat, from the first glimpse of Crimsworth's brother and his wife ... Mr Crimsworth soon checked her animated scolding with a kiss ... to the closing portrait of the relation between Crimsworth and his son. The world of the novel is one in which awareness of difference leads not to interaction but to antagonism, rejection, separation. "Once convinced," says Crimsworth, "That my friend's disposition is incompatible with my own, once assured that he is indelibly stained with certain defects obnoxious to my principles and I dissolve the connection."   Teaching is a battle: the task of the teacher is not to respond to her pupils but "to enter into conflict with this foreign will to endeavour to bend it into subjection to her own."
What is the point of asking for favours, he seems to say, if you are going to be rejected? Worse still, you will be indebted to the person whom you approach. Crimsworth is over-cynical, over-pessimistic, but one can't help wondering that he is justified after all. Reality is rejection, isolation, tyranny; and Crimsworth's suppressed emotions seem to indicate one who has learnt to guard himself from disappointment. [hostility and spying???]

The Frances/Crimsworth relationship is rather disturbing.
Even the courtship between Frances and Crimsworth is imaged as a struggle for power. Thus, when he praises her work she appears to him not gratified but "triumphant" - a triumph that he feels impelled to check by "reproof." The scene of his proposal to her is marked by a barely suppressed violence.
Indeed, in the end of the novel, Hunsden has a jibe at Frances' expense. "Don't you feel your little lamp of a spirit wax very pale, beside such a girandole as Lucia's?" he asks Crimsworth, referring to Frances. Lucia was Hunsden's former beloved, whom Frances has just said was not the sort of person that Hunsden would seriously intend to marry as she was an actress or singer.

"Yes," Crimsworth, replies candidly, to which Hunsden says, "and the Professor will soon be dissatisfied with the dim light you give?" Crimsworth points out, "My sight was always too weak to endure a blaze, Frances."

Crimsworth is openly acknowledging that his wife is weak and an inferior being compared to stunning Lucia, but at least he tells us frankly that he is only capable of handling a delicate woman, not a bold, stunning woman who would scorn him (Hunsden gives the impression that Lucia scorned him or would scorn him, so Crimsworth hasn't got a chance). Charlotte is telling us one truth about human nature: the less fit, who are unable to capture nature's prize, settle for a lesser being. In the Crimsworths' case, this works out, as both of them are comfortable with each other in a way impossible with anyone else. There will be weak men who prefer delicate women rather than outstanding beauties, who are beyond control, and who will not worship them the way Franceshero-worships Crimsworth, whom she calls Monsieur. The overpowering being will overwhelm the weak one, as extreme partygoers overwhelm extreme introverts. This casts some pessimism to the book: we don't see a grande passion for a great woman, but a yearning for a soul similarly fragile, because the latter is easier to cope with. There seems nothing great or exalted in this passion, and yet it works out, unlike the quicker and more vivid emotions in Jane Eyre. Crimsworth must have control over his wife, which not only shows a domineering character but an insecure nature. His childhood was lonely and parentless, and he has trouble making himself agreeable; he is afraid of being abandoned. A Lucia would leave him in a trice; someone like Frances would be constant to him.

Glen points out that the novel is remarkably absent of "positive feeling for others within the world projected by Crimsworth's narrative." good will is "inexplicable," and a "perversity" (when Hunsden helps Crimsworth) or "part of the universal, self-interested struggle to maintain the advantage (M. Vandenhuten helps Crimsworth because he is indebted to him.
Such concord between individuals as there is seems simply an extension of egotism ... The pervasive image of human relations is of conflict or, at best, friction between self-defensive and self-seeking individuals.
Interestingly Frances, the best character, says that patriotism "spreads man's selfishness in wider circles." One might almost suspect this was 21st century game theory, natural selection and evolution of altruism, for goodness seems almost utilitarian.

Oh, and the spying, made famous in Villette, appears here. Everyone is spying on each other. It's classic Charlotte Brontë and would be pretty ridiculous if it wasn't Charlotte Brontë doing it.
The account that Crimsworth gives of his employment as a clerk is in fact an account of others' attempts to find him out ... and his own efforts to evade them ... The school to which he goes is a place of staring eyes ... his central strategy is to watch more sharply and from a  more "commanding" position than they ... Interaction with others is a process of watching and counter-watching. Thus, Crimsworth's power struggle with Mdlle Reuter begins with looks ...
Disturbing, isn't it? He even peeps at his wife embracing their son.
But more often, looking appears less as a mode than as a refusal of interaction.
I can testify to that. When I went to study abroad, I became more sensitive to the point of paranoia, and saw that some people will stare at you in a hostile way, some in an incredulous, unfriendly way, to reject further interaction with you. Especially when people look bewildered, or think you are a little strange or awkward - they are treating you like the Other, or someone contemptible. (Especially if many of them are rich and sophisticated kids, as was in my uni).
The imagery of looking and being looked at runs throughout the novel, chillingly replacing any more intimate conception of human interaction. And it points not merely to a peculiar strategy of the individual Crimsworth, but to the essential nature of the world through which he moves.  In an extraordinarily precise and consistent way, Charlotte Brontë seems to be exposing and articulating the logic of a whole society - a society whose essential dynamics are the same as those Jeremy Bentham had sought to enshrine and objectify in his great plan for a Panopticon ... an exemplary institution - a school or a madhouse, a factory or a prison - in whih the inmates would be completely separated from one another within individual cells, and in which each would be clearly visible from a central inspection tower. 
All of us judge each other, by the way we speak, dress, behave in public. There is no space for the deviants in society. I never understood the power of this novel till I went to university and heard my coursemates gossip about certain students who were a little strange. I do think, however, it would have been more artistically true had Charlotte Brontë placed this spying only in Crimsworth's mind, and not in reality. It seems ludicrous people are spying each other so overtly. (What reason would Edward have to spy on William, a menial clerk? His ego would want nothing to do with him.) Besides it would make him look neurotic and detached from the world, and enhance the emotional agressiveness of the novel.
The fundamental assumption of Crimsworth's narrative - an assumption embedded in that informing imagery of controlling observation - is the primacy of the antagonistic individual perspective, a perspective opposed to rather than shaped or modified by that of others. And, as Charlotte Brontë carefully shows, the individual who defines himself thus is a problematic entity. for even the most ordinary situations in this avowedly "plain and homely" novel are charged, in Crimsworth's telling, with a peculiar tension.
When he is at his first job, Edward is trying to figure him out, but William suppresses himself and tries to appear unreadable.
I showed him my countenance with the confidence that one would show an unlearned man a letter written in Greek; he might see lines, and trace characters, but he could make nothing of them;my nature was not his nature, and its signs were to him like the words of an unknown tongue.
How cautious and cold! But William is justified, for Edward is a tyrant.
The self in this encounter is hidden, defended, watching but indecipherable...The essential drama has become not the development of, or even the choices facing, the self, but the activity of these others and the strategies of the self to evade them.
Sounds like an espionage story. Charlotte might well be commenting on how the individual is threatened in society - as in the fête scene from Villette, Lucy, who is walking alone, sees groups of her acquaintances, who are alternately a threat, or a source of misery and isolation. And this was no new preoccupation - it haunted the Romantics too, who opposed urbanisation and industrialisation, and the oblivion of individuality and solitude. Crowds become a threat and a damning judgement.
Crimsworth's story, on one level, a tale of self-respect vindicated, of self-sufficiency affirmed and rewarded, of individual success, is on another level - one that is carefully articulated through syntax, through imagery, through narrative structure - a tale not of triumphant achievement but of thwarting and conflict, not of security arrived at but of continuing and irresoluble unease. It is a tale not of competence and independence but of a self unable to change the world through which it moves and antagonistically bound to that which it would reject. And if it is a tale of "self-control," it is one in which self-control" is exposed as a process of radical, indeed violent, self-division.
He expects no welcome or affection from his brother, as if to caution himself against harbouring high hopes and future disappointment. Crimsworth seems to inflict his personality on others as well, when musing on Mdelle Reuter's masked attraction to him, after he rejects her.
The emphasis is less on the surface of propriety and indifference than on the processes of repression and denial by which it is produced.... The negation of impulse appears as an assertion of choice and control ... To reject and deny is to exercise power - over one's actions, over one's feelings, over others. It is the primary assertion of individual separateness;that which enables a public mask to be different from the private self. 
The whole novel is "dominated by negatives." Impulse is denied, and everyone seems to be lying about themselves. Mdelle Reuter hides her emotions from the world, and this is described in negatives.
she said nothing, and her face and forehead, clothed with a mask of purely negative expression, were as blank of comment as her lips.  As neither surprise, pleasure, approbation, nor interest were evinced in her countenance, so no more were disdain, envy, annoyance, weariness.
Glen observes that she is a "mass of warring and suppressed personalities." The most obviously suppressed personality, however, would be Crimsworth, who is rebuked by Hunsden for his "apparent passivity," for he never relaxes or does excessive things i.e. drink and keep wild company.
And the sequence of negatives opens up a series of rejected possibilities, enacting in miniature that strategy of denial, of repression of impulse and refusal of expressiveness through which Crimsworth defines and maintains his social identity. It is not simply that he has a series of violent impulses that he restrains. In the peculiar centrifugal prose of his story, self itself appears to be held together by violence. 
Charlotte on the surface seemed a shy, quiet and rather boring country-spinster to the London crowd, and a nice, interesting and agreeable friend to Mrs Gaskell, who found her a model of propriety. Inside she seethed and burnt with passion and fury and disagreeableness, which she transmuted into fiction and which others found repulsive in Jane Eyre. And we see this similar suppression in Crimsworth. For to show passion was to expose yourself to possible attack by others, to judgement and ill-treatment, to give others the triumph of knowing they have humiliated your pride.

Crimsworth's sense of identity is in his self-reliance. He makes a point of not being indebted to others, and refuses to ask Mr Brown help to find another job, because Brown has helped him before, and refuses Hunsden's help. But it is "not merely the key to success: it is essential to his whole mode of being." He wants not only money to live on, "but also the capacity to act, the power to be." He wants "an independency - not just money but freedom and autonomy as well."  Fair enough. In the light of people being forced to pursue careers they greatly dislike, because it prevents them from being true to themselves, this comes as visionary. Crimsworth not only wants to "do more, earn more" but more importantly, "be more." Charlotte herself complained that as a governess, she could not be herself; she felt oppressed - not just because she was poor and forced to work hard, but because she felt it was anathema to her existence. She was ill-suited to teaching wild and noisy children, and no doubt the genius and future novelist thought her governessing beneath her talents, and did no justice to her potential. She wrote to Ellen Nussey:
I know my place is a favourable one for a governess. What dismays and haunts me sometimes, is a conviction that I have no natural knack for my vocation. If teaching only requisite, it would be smooth and easy; but it is the living in other's people's houses - the estrangement from one's real character - the adoption of a cold, rigid, apathetic exterior that is painful.
Crimsworth has a great aversion to owing people favours. He says that at school he was frugal with his pocket-money; "The image is less one of freedom and autonomy than of anxious defence against constantly present threat."

It is interesting to note that Crimsworth respects the English in Belgium, who have propriety and keep to themselves.  Glen speculates propriety has a double meaning
The surrounding imagery all emphasises a primary, and now obsolete, meaning of "propriety," that of property"; and a second now rare, that of "essence or individuality." The self is here a private possession to be defended against attack and preserved in its inviolable distinctiveness.
The English in Belgium "warded off insult with austere civility, and met hate with mute disdain; they eschewed company-keeping, and in the midst of numbers seemed to dwell isolated." Which confirms the stereotype of cold, frigid Britons. But Crimsworth seems to approve of this unsociable behaviour (which makes sense, as he too is unsocial). By extension, a cold, civil, introverted contempt, might be seen as dignified and "aristocratic." By withholding yourself from the openly hostile multitude you show you are above them, which is potentially an even more powerful force than open jeering. Open jeering and condemnation exposes the perpetrator as a vulgar philistine, and therefore shows their weakness. They see their victim as a threat or an easy victim, and are only satisfying their cruel egoes. It is only too easy to despise them. On the other hand, a well-bred contemptuous neglect shows how little the target of neglect/disdain means to you; therefore, you are superior. The key to survival is to conceal all disappointment and hurt caused by others, and never to appear desperate (as in Crimsworth's refusal of Hunsden's suggestion to get a job from Brown) for people can use that against you.

But Charlotte's meaning of "propriety" is most likely the common meaning - being proper. When Hunsden and Frances meet for the first time, Crimsworth observes there were "such models of propriety," for Hunsden, less fluent in French, cannot express as he really feels, "with a care that forbade any eccentricity."
Here the context stresses not individuality but its reverse; not self-possession but conformity to others' rules and requirements. In both cases the restraint of free expressiveness is the same, as is the word that is chosen to describe it - "propriety." The sense of self as isolated, inviolate, the ultimate piece of private property, thus appears inextricable from its opposite - the sense that the self is inexorably bound by others' conventions and prohibitions, that it has no independent existence at all. 
And both Frances and Hunsden are original characters, one can imagine both feel constrained.

Glen argues that this fictional autobiography of a self-made man questions the self-help novels that "embodied and celebrated some of the central ideological assumptions of her society."  From what I know, Victorian self-help novels were overly optimistic; hard work, intelligence and virtue will eventually earn you success, though you are without birth, money or connections. Dinah Mulock Craik's novels seem too naïve in that sense.
Through her presentation of Crimsworth's narrative she offers not merely an exposure of the shortcomings of this particular teller but a coherent imaginative interrogation of those assumptions, and a disturbingly intimate exploration of their experiential implications. Like the lyrics of Blake's Songs of Experience, this finely articulated dramatisation of a representative monologic voice embodies as acute a vision of the logic of a whole society as do many more obviously sociological analyses.  
That logic "is very bleak indeed." While self-help novels tend to be over-optimistic and unrealistically make it seem easy for the protagonists to rise, The Professor is a subversion. The tone is exceedingly negative to a "field of conflicting possibilities," all denied.
The energy is that of deadlock: no movement beyond it is envisaged. Although Crimsworth's is a linear narrative, in which effort leads to success, the novel's imaginative structure is claustrophobically circular. It begins with a description of a "friendship" fuelled by antagonism and a family divided by hostilities; and it ends with a similar, if more ambiguous set of images.
Crimsworth to some extent bullies his wife into reading boring old Wordsworth. Even more disturbingly, their son, a melancholy boy named Victor, is said at the end of the book to be going to Eton, where he will be "soundly disciplined" and given a radical grounding in "the art of self-control." Victor is certain to be picked on, given his temperament and interests (he prefers books to sports), and his attachment to his mother's gentle and compassionate nature. He is ardent, but his father insists that that must be suppressed for him to survive in life.
Will reason or love be the weapons with which in future the world will meet his violence? Oh, no! for that flash in his black eye - for that cloud on his bony brow - for that compression of his statuesque lips, the lad will some day get blows instead of blandishments - kicks instead of kisses; then for the fit of mute fury which will sicken his body and madden his soul; then for the ordeal of merited and salutary suffering, out of which he will come (I trust) a wiser and a better man.
One gets the idea he wants to break his child's will. Both parents are unwilling to let go of their only child.  But Crimsworth sees Eton as a necessity for Victor: public school was where you got a good education and made connexions. In order to succeed, the book ominously concludes, one (at least if one is a deep and melancholy soul) one must suffer, put aside those that matter most to you, and then plunge into the activities of other souls alien to you. He must be separated from his kind and loving mother, for that is bad preparation for the cruel world or comeptition and hostility.  History is repeating itself; what happened to the father will happen to the son, except Victor has loving parents and money to support him.

There is a sense of competition that requires one to forgo one's true self. Frances has an idealised view of England, which Hunsden brutally enlightens.

"The England of the novel is a place of competitive enterprise, in which "Concern" has a one-dimensionally economic meaning; of domineering masters and resentful "slaves," writes Glen. "Belgium is a place of "Popish" duplicity and suspicious watchfulness, in which "getting on" means gaining and maintaining "the advantage" over others" - a shallow, superficial, cruel society where the weak and unfit die. It is almost Darwinian in outlook except it predates Darwin - but then the hungry 1840's was a very Darwinian time. In this aspect it is more modern than the later novelist George Eliot, whose Darwinism is less obvious (though she does do it in The Mill on the Floss). The Professor is certainly pessimistic for its time, and that pessimism seems more in tune with the late Victorian era. No wonder George Gissing (a late Victorian novelist) greatly admired Charlotte Brontë.

Glen quotes Carlyle's Past and Present, whose sentiments seem to be reflected in the novel:
We call it a Society; and go about professing openly the totalest separation, isolation. Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due laws-of-war, named "fair competition" and so forth, it is a mutual hostility.
Glen observes that Charlotte's isolated approach is much different from the typical Victorian novel's outlook, which is cosy and full of social cohesion, something you don't see in today's serious novels:
Instead of Dickens' great metaphors of circulation and stoppage and George Eliot's of the social web, Charlotte Brontë offers images simply of repression and repulsion; instead of a connecting energy, she shows the tense balancing of denied impulse. The energies that animate Crimsworth's world, seem, indeed, to work against anything we might call social bonding.His tale is one of successful self-help, but there is no sense of a supportive context for this achievement. the world of business is a world of ruthless competition, in which individuals such as Edward Crimsoworth fail and make fortunes in seemingly arbitrary ways ... But if the individual life-trajectory remains the focus, this seems less the results of Charlotte Brontë's failure to imagine a social world than the expression of the logic of her vision. 
But let's come back to the ending. It is far from optimistic, even with the Crimsworths' financial success. Crimsworth asks Frances how she would react had she married an abusive husband,  Hunsden tells them about his unrequited love for a woman called Lucia who was probably a singer or actress, Crimsworth shoots Victor's rabid beloved dog and Victor is angry with his father.  Crimsworth proceeds to ponder on Victor's future sufferings at Eton.

Hunsden, says Glen, is the serpent in their paradise.  Victor has a strong attachment to him, to Frances' alarm, because she feels Hunsden is leading Victor astray. Hunsden says Frances mollycoddles him and making him a milksop, which would make him a target of bullying. Frances says it is better for him to be a milksop rather than a "fine lad," and she feels Victor is safer at school than with Hunsden.  She wishes Hunsden had children, "for then he would better know the danger if inciting their pride and indulging their foibles." Hunsden, I imagine, would be frank and easy with Victor, and encourage him to do sports, and tell him about the world. Though Frances has a point in worrying about Victor becoming a proud "fine lad," (attributes unlike his own father) one could argue that Hunsden is a good influence. Under his parents' influence, he is more likely to be grave and melancholy - traits that do not help in the world of The Professor. Hunsden provides the boy with reality - what his parents cannot give him, because it is not in their natures - he is in a way training Victor how to prepare for the harsh world by making him a "fine lad," because it is fine lads who are popular, who make money and connexions. They may be brutal, they may be superficial and insensitive, but they are likely to survive.

And it is likely that Victor will survive, despite his parents' forbodings. There is a reason why Charlotte purposely says Hunsden is influencing him, why his beloved dog who followed him everywhere has rabies and dies when Crimsworth shoots him, why he eventually comes to accept Crimsworth's mercy killing of Yorke the dog. These are preparations for the real world, and once Victor has accepted the death of a beloved friend, he is more ready to go to school. Yorke's death is analogous to Crimsworth's loss of contact with his only good friend at school, Charles Townshend, except the Victor-Yorke relationship is stronger.  Hunsden's supposedly bad influence is a sample of what real life has to offer, and once Victor is comfortable with that, he is fitter for the world.  The fact he is attached to Hunsden, even more than his parents (who are of Hunsden's generation) are, is a good omen of his future success.

But we also hear of Hunsden's personal life at the end - his unrequited passion for Lucia. It serves not only as a comparison between frail Frances and bold Lucia (we get the impression the virtuous like Crimsworth and Frances are frail in body, and the bold and lively are not entirely respectable, since Lucia was on the stage, according to Frances); but also it shows us what sort of person Hunsden is. Hunsden is chasing the unattainable in Lucia. Frances shrewdly perceives:
You never seriously thought of marrying her; you admired her originality, her fearlessness, her energy of body and mind; you delighted in her talent, whatever that was, whether song, dance, or dramatic representation; you worshipped her beauty, which was of the sort after your own heart: but I am sure she filled a sphere from whence you  would never have thought of taking a wife.
Which points to a grave defect in Hunsden, who likes to claim he's realistic.

Which brings us to the question, what sort of person is Hunsden? Early on in the novel, he is described as neither refined nor vulgar, tall and seemingly powerful but with feminine lineaments; he is a radical reformist who champions the underdog's cause and yet proud of his ancient lineage. Hunsden Yorke Hunsden is a mass of contradictions. He is also a man of the world: a successful merchant and fluent talker, who can make himself at home with others, unlike the unworldly and reserved William. And yet despite his social success, Hunsden seems to be incapable of deeper affections, of a close relationship. When Crimsworth and Frances return to England, they seem to be his closest friends, his other friends being chosen for their conversation (French and German intellectuals) and their views (the practical merchants) - he finds them interesting, but on the other hand he likes the Crimsworths. The Crimsworths are much different from his usual circle, and despite his taunts he seems to have genuine affection and friendship for William and even Frances.  Even his chosen friends are contradictory: foreign radical intellectuals and practical English merchants. While he seems allied with the English merchants in head and heart, when arguing with Frances about how good/bad England is, he claims to hate his country, and exposes the mercantile class there as mercenary, greedy and oppressive to the poor, that the industrialised country is full of famine, poverty, pollution and inequality. His books are imaginative French novels and solid English books on political economy. He belongs to several worlds, as well as to neither; according to him he is a "universal patriot." His position in life is fluid.

I call Hunsden a Limbo Person. He doesn't fit any particular category. Though he claims to be practical, he has some affinity for imaginative idealists - but in the end, reality wins. He is a Universal Person - a friend of the wealthy mercantile and even the humble clerk William, a friend of foreign intellectuals and British tradesmen. But this universality comes at the expense of a fixed identity, and an inability to truly settle down and be contented. Perhaps this is the key to his and Crimsworth's long friendship. Crimsworth, too, is a misfit, though in a different way - poor where Hunsden is prosperous, rejected where Hunsden is respected, plain where Hunsden is handsome. Throughout the novel Crimsworth doesn't fit in - even after his success, he states his friends are few in number. This is what makes them kindred - and why Crimsworth and Frances are attached to each other. Three lonely souls together make interesting and excellent company. We too get the impression Hunsden feels more honest and at ease with them; with others he must present a front of respectable merchant, or courteous talker; to the Crimsworths he is honestly and (sometimes repulsively) eccentric - what he cannot be with others, who will judge him. With fellow misfits he knows he will be accepted, and among them he is their natural leader, because he is superior to them in wealth, position and connexions. Frances and Crimsworth may contradict him, but in the end they still accept his foibles and consider him a good friend. He is truly an individual character.

At one point we see this, when Frances tells him," Your portrait to anyone who loved you would be for the sake of association be without price." Hunsden colours, for he is affected.
I believe he filled up the transient pause succeeding his antagonists's home thrust, by a wish that someone did love him as he would like to be loved - someone whose love he could unreservedly return.
Class is treated in an unusual way in the novel. Hunsden admires the portrait of William's mother, because she had sense and discernment; you could speak to her of graver matters apart from dress, visiting and compliments, but this is followed up by a sneer on her aristocratic birth and her plain features.
Not that I admire a head of that sort; it  wants character and force; there's too much of the sen-si-tive  ... in that mouth; besides, there is Aristocrat written on the brow and defined in the figure; I hate your aristocrats.
(William's mother, an aristocrat, scandalously married his father, a well-to-do merchant, something frowned upon at the time, because merchants were considered unsuitable partners for the upper classes.)

Hunsden also argues that aristocratic features doesn't make the nobility the best, and asks William to compare his mother's portrait "with Mrs Edward Crimsworth - which is the finer animal?"

The finer animal means the one who is supposedly better-looking and Alpha. But Charlotte uses the term ironically; the word animal indicates degradation and vulgarity, and objectifies people to unthinking bodies rather than mind and character. "Animal" also implies sensuality; those days sensuality was considered coarse. (Later on, Caroline Blemont is described as sensual for her age - and Crimsworth foresees she will become coarse).  Coleridge himself condemned his own "thick sensual lips."

Hunsden also agrees with William that Edward Crimsworth is a finer animal compared to Hunsden, but these handsome and vigorous physical features he inherited from his father the merchant, not his mother the noblewoman.

Edward Crimsworth, tall, handsome, imperious and rich,  is certainly a finer animal compared to the thin, plain and awkward William. But it is William who has inherited the aristocratic features and manner of his mother and uncles, and Edward can clearly see William's refinement. For William is more refined than Edward, and in his own unrecognised way, superior, though Edward may be successful, popular and more respected - the latter has more power and charisma, but in a vulgar sense, unlike William's aristocratic restraint and invisibility. In the 19th century, true gentility was considered refinement, honour and integrity and no ostentatious behaviour. Edward may be handsome and successful, but he speaks with a northern guttural accent; William speaks like an educated gentleman, smooth and polished. Edward "had no dignity"; he also bullies his workmen, clerks and wife; in their final scene together he even yells at William and threatens him with a whip - a very coarse way to exert one's will.

William on the contrary laughs with unconcealed scorn, to Edward's fury, for he knows in this respect William is superior. William remains calm and reasonable - instead of lunging at Edward, he coolly says he will fetch a magistrate to arrest Edward for assault.

So what is the point of "fine animals"? Is Charlotte Brontë questioning the way we assign class to people, treating the brash and sensual as superior to the refined and restrained? This manner of speech would have made reviewers call her coarse, but is it not truer to say that society was coarse in the first place, to judge people based on striking appearance? And is Charlotte not refined to question such coarseness?

Yet people do recognise William as refined, though they might criticise his plainness. Hunsden remarks that he laughs in a scornful, aristocratic way - a pity he hasn't got the money to support his aristocratic features. In Belgium, though at first Mdelle Reuter scorns his boyish plain looks, later, when he treats her with aristocratic neglect, she falls for him, to Pelet's fury. According to Pelet, she is besotted with Crimsworth's youth, noble deportment, formality (signifying to a person you don't care for them could be seen as a superiority in position), and his "pure morals," to Crimsworth's amazement, for Mdelle Reuter is shallow, mercenary and superficial.  Zoraïde Reuter, driven to passion by his disdain, raves about him to her mother.

"How well disdain becomes him!" she cries. "He is as handsome as Apollo when he smiles with his haughty air.

"For my part," points out Madame Reuter, pragmatically, "with his spectacles on, he always reminds me of an owl."

(Translations by Heather Glen).

The English people Crimsworth comes into contact with are cold and reserved (the national character of the 19th century English) and a number of them more prosperous, they like to show off; hence they do not respect Crimsworth, who is poor and frugal. In Belgium, however, being thrifty is considered a virtue, and Crimsworth's frugality does not raise comment. One gets the idea Charlotte is showing the different sides of prejudice: the English are proud and snobbish towards their social inferiors; the Belgians are bigoted against Protestants. He observes the English are more dignified and restrained than the Belgians; therefore a genteel reserve is not considered special for the former. The latter, who are said to be more outgoing but coarse, will admire this gentlemanly reserve and manners, not being possessed of this novelty. It is in Belgium that Crimsworth makes friends and connexions, not England, because there his difference gives him an advantage. In England, where (he says) people tend to be dignified, it is animal magnetism that determines your success. In Belgium, land of animal spirits but supposedly less intellect and refinement, the latter qualities give you an edge. This is almost like game theory, except this book was written in the 1840s-50s.

There is a disturbing part, right after Hunsden meets Frances for the first time, when he and Crimsworth shove each other in the streets. Hunsden clearly admires Frances' spirit and intelligence, and wonders why she defers to Crimsworth.
"Your lace-mender is too good for you,but not good enough for me; neither physically nor morally does she come up to my ideal of a woman. No; I dream of something far beyond that pale-faced, excitable little Helvetioan (by the bye she has infinitely more of the nervous mobile Parisienne in her than of the robust "jungfrau.") Your Mdelle Henri is in person chetive, in mind sans caractiere, compared with the queen of my visions. You, indeed, may put up with that minois chiffone, but when I marry I must have straighter and more harmonious features, to say nothing of a nobler and better developed shape than that perverse, ill-thriven child can boast."
Previously Hunsden had told Crimsworth the latter disliked the women he had seen in Yorkshire because they think nothing of him, and he can never attain women of that position; hence he has sour grapes in his mouth. Crimsworth, however, by then, had fallen for Frances, who is unlike the handsome and prosperous ladies of Yorkshire.

These tell us Charlotte's views about courtship: for a successful marriage, we must be comfortable with the other person, and Crimsworth's inferiority complex regarding the Yorkshire ladies (though in mind he is superior) is the best reason for him not to pursue them. He can exert control on Frances (though not tyrannically); this suits both of them, and hence their marriage is happy. He knows she is loving and faithful and will never leave him. A successful marriage, Charlotte seems to be saying, is not a grand passion, but contentment and complete ease with the other person, though they may not be beautiful, successful or wonderful in general. This is where Hunsden fails - in courtship he is less practical than the less worldly Crimsworth.

While he talks fluently with the young ladies of his district, he doesn't think highly of their intelligence. On the other hand he respects Frances' mind and originality of spirit, and feels at ease with her to jokingly insult her instead of being charming and conventionally polite as he is to other young ladies. His ideal of a woman is Lucia, a beautiful actress/singer with great independence of spirit, but he could not have her. Such a woman would not think much of him, though he is well-to-do and interesting in his own way, and the fact Lucia "broke chains" indicated she was not a thoroughly respectable woman by Victorian standards. Such a woman might be suspected of not being entirely faithful or devoted  to a (comparatively dull) husband like Hunsden; she would not love him and might abandon him. What Hunsden wants, Crimsworth understands, is to be loved unconditionally and fully so he can return that love unreservedly. Lucia would never give him that kind of love. He, too, feels inferior to her, and that might not put him at his ease.

So why not go for someone like Frances? Here his statement that she is too good for Crimsworth but not good enough for him, Hunsden, makes sense. Frances would be a good and devoted wife, intelligent and spirited to converse with on graver matters, and original in thought. Yet he will not pursue Frances or someone like her, because she is too childlike, too nervous, and not regal or womanly. She is "for a sensualist, charmless"; she is not a fine animal that one can show off or profess ardour for. So Hunsden is trapped in this situation: he longs for love and devotion, but the sort of woman who can give it is not to his taste; and the woman he loves is unattainable and not interested in him. He is too realistic not to have actively pursued Lucia. A "superior" woman is beyond him. This ends on a gloomy note: it suggests one has to "settle for less" in order to get a faithful partner. This William is willing to do, which is why he is happily married unlike the more attractive Hunsden.

And this explains his mutual affection for young Victor Crimsworth. Victor loves him as a friend and father figure, and Hunsden's need to be loved and worshipped is fulfilled in his friends' son.

What I find interesting is, Glen says that Lucia is based on Madame de Stael's Corinne, an independent woman who becomes an actress, and devoted herself to her career. Thus she could never fully give herself to her beloved. Yet Frances pursues a teaching career after marriage, makes a success of it, and has a happy marriage. The difference, I think, lies in the temperament and character of both ladies. Frances is spirited in thought, but constrained in deeds and manners; she is highly strung and nervous, but quiet and sedate. No one can pull Lucia down; she will do as she pleases. Which does not sound very good for independent women, but I think Charlotte was making a realistic point.

In case you're interested in reading it for yourself, I scanned a copy of Heather Glen's introduction. Here it is.

























Friday, 22 November 2013

Jane Austen's politics, introversion and Fanny Price

Manfield Park has traditionally been seen as very fuddy-duddy and insular, and as being in the Tory tradition, Jane Austen's family being Tory. The fact the patriarch of the story, Sir Thomas Bertram, is a country gentleman, would reinforce the stereotype of country gentry as Tory (City peers and merchants were Whigs). The fact Lady Bertram and even Sir Thomas do not go out much (they are not strictly "society people," though of good position) gives the idea of quietness and insularity, a family wrapped in their own little world. The thing is Austen the narrator seems to agree with the Bertram way of life in general (not in everything though) and so does the heroine Fanny Price, seeming to confirm that the Tory life is the way to happiness and order. 

The more experienced, exposed and supposedly broad-minded characters, the Crawfords and Maria Bertram, are shown to be worldly, shallow and unprincipled and hankering after distractions in the City instead of a quiet country life - a stereotypically more Whiggish temperament. (Today we might even say the same of Liberals and Conservatives). The fact that Mr Rushworth, a stupid man who is in love with Maria, "improves" his house with modern decorations which Fanny and Edmund disapprove of as being unsentimental to the old furnishings, would further indicate that old-fashioned sentiment is the Austen-approved trait, and garrulous modernity anti-Austen. Rushworth believes in "progress," though in a shallow way - the Whigs, too, believed in progress, though in a more political way. We can, however, see Austen's point: Liberals tend to be more progressive and interesting, but scornful of many good old-fashioned things; Conservatives tend to be insular and backward, but more sentimental of old-fashioned things. The thing is we can't have the best of both worlds most of the time - certain traits tend to go with the other. It is interesting to note that her more insular Toryish characters are introverted and the "liberal" Whiggish characters (those who like the city. When I say liberal I mean they like to go out and experience new things) are extroverted. And in Austen's novels, introversion is considered preferable to extroversion.

Modern readers dislike Fanny Price because she is judgemental and insular - she is not merry like Mary Crawford, and her dislike of going out too much and distractions is not a popular trait. She thinks the Crawfords and Maria are too keen on noisy activities and instant gratification. The fact her respected uncle, Sir Thomas, owns a slave plantation in Jamaica also counts against him. That this sympathetic character has this flaw in his ethics points to Austen's superiority in creating complex characters - the honest, old-fashioned patriarch who is good-hearted, and yet guilty of elitism and racism. By the early 19th century slavery was a dirty word in England.

Fanny is serious, intense and highly introverted, and prefers the old days before the Crawfords came and changed the quietness. Most people would think the exchange below shows how dull a person Fanny is. Note she prefers serious talk with her quiet uncle to watching the lively entertaining conversations of the Crawfords and Bertrams.


“Do you think so?” said Fanny: “in my opinion, my uncle would not like any addition. I think he values the very quietness you speak of, and that the repose of his own family circle is all he wants. And it does not appear to me that we are more serious than we used to be—I mean before my uncle went abroad. As well as I can recollect, it was always much the same. There was never much laughing in his presence; or, if there is any difference, it is not more, I think, than such an absence has a tendency to produce at first. There must be a sort of shyness; but I cannot recollect that our evenings formerly were ever merry, except when my uncle was in town. No young people’s are, I suppose, when those they look up to are at home”.
“I believe you are right, Fanny,” was his reply, after a short consideration. “I believe our evenings are rather returned to what they were, than assuming a new character. The novelty was in their being lively. Yet, how strong the impression that only a few weeks will give! I have been feeling as if we had never lived so before.” 
“I suppose I am graver than other people,” said Fanny. “The evenings do not appear long to me. I love to hear my uncle talk of the West Indies. I could listen to him for an hour together. It entertains me more than many other things have done; but then I am unlike other people, I dare say.” 
“Why should you dare say that?” (smiling). “Do you want to be told that you are only unlike other people in being more wise and discreet? But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? Go to my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Ask your uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: and though they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, and trust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time.” 
Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.“Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny— and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle’s admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman.” 
“Oh! don’t talk so, don’t talk so,” cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of; but seeing that she was distressed, he had done with the subject, and only added more seriously — 
“Your uncle is disposed to be pleased with you in every respect; and I only wish you would talk to him more. You are one of those who are too silent in the evening circle.”

The question is, how insular is Fanny Price? She is most likely a Tory like her respected aunt and uncle, and her embrace of old architecture and old country ways (modest, decorous and against modernisation) is associated with Toryism (in Jane Austen's view). She is prudish and judgemental; she thinks acting is immoral. Was Austen trying to make her heroine unsympathetic as possible?


The answer is no. Jane Austen does try to make Fanny sympathetic despite her intolerance and illiberality. Although she is Tory-minded, she is a more liberal one, which differentiates her from Sir Thomas. Take this scene between Fanny and Edmund.


“But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave- trade last night?”
“I did — and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”
“And I longed to do it — but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like — I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by showing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel.”
Fanny evidently opposes the slave-trade, associated with the Tories. Though passive, she has some strength of mind to go against her uncle's use of slave labour in his plantation. She is passive, because her social status is lower, she is introverted and people find her boring to be with. But deep within she thinks and challenges certain norms. When a subject stirs her attention, she thinks and feels deeply, and becomes more vocal unlike her usual self. People often accuse Fanny of being holier-than-thou, but the truth is she is deeply interested in the human condition. She may not like people in general but she is sympathetic to the slaves, unlike the so-called liberal Crawfords and younger Bertrams who have no interest in the subject. They may be Whiggish, but they are ultimately hypocrites with no feeling in broader concerns. Though supposedly insular (because she is old-fashioned and introverted) Fanny shows herself to be more liberal-minded than the rest of them. And I think this more than compensates for her judgementalism. She is also acutely sensitive to Sir Thomas' feelings about what he must think of his daughters.

Fanny Price illustrates the paradox in introverts. Susan Cain has written of highly sensitive people (a large proportion of whom are introverted). While seemingly dull and passive, she has a richer inner imagination. Whereas the Crawfords and younger Bertrams who are lively and interesting on the outside have no profound thoughts the way she does, and are ultimately shallow.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Another school essay on Jane Eyre

Found this essay I wrote back at school lying around. It is dated 5th October 2009.

Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" chronicles the life of a young woman's struggle to gain independence over her own life. Indeed, it is the unusual aspect of this novel, instead of having a heroine who finds ultimate protection in a man, that astonished the reviews: "Reality - deep, significant reality."

A major issue in this novel is survival. Realising that she cannot find the "human affections and sympathies" so absent at Gatehead, Jane, who recalls Bessie's stories of school, informs Mr Lloyd the apothecary, "I should indeed like to go to school," leading him to suggest this idea to Mrs Reed. On the suraface it is a child's escape into a better world, but wat strikes the reader's eye is that Jane mentions no love or friendship as an advantage of schooling. Instead she dreams of "pictures they painted," "books they [young ladies] translated." What Jane's intention is the attainment of knowledge. Aware that she is a "dependent," Jane's act of informing Llyod catalyses Mrs Reed's decision to send her to Lowood. Curiously the ten-year-old Jane is more interested in accomplishments of ladies and governesses. She realises that to survive and earn a living, she must equip herself with academic achievements. Relating this to Brontë's life, Brontë read "Blackwood's Magazine" and adult periodicals at a precocious age. Her future career at Cowan Bridge school was "governess." Years later, as a teacher, it is Jane who actively advertise as a governess, affecting the main plot of the novel at Thornfield. From the feminist perspective, Jane's determination addresses the Woman Question perturbing Victorian England, and particularly the impoverished spinster Charlotte Brontë. Without beauty, fortune or status, Jane is unable to marry well, an avenue destined for Victorian young ladies. Another event of interest is her hope "to set up a school of my own" after she has saved enough money, an ambition of Brontë. Intellectual accomplishments of the mind are hence a mode of survival.

From the emotional viewpoint, Jane who has been deprived of familial love falls in love with the enigmatic albeit much older Mr Rochester. "Old enough to be your father: signifies an Electra complex, a longing for fatherly love, which she never knew. While Jan's conservative approach is to subject her heart to "discipline," the uncontrollable tumult of feelings is undeniable. Their chemistry is such that Jane rebukes Rochester for his determination to be reformed by a "disguised deity." Socially Jane has risen to conduct conversations with her social superior. By doing so she pave the path towards Rochester's growing attachment to her. Ultimately, it is she who confronts Rochester in the garden: "Do you think, because I am poor, plain and little, I am heartless and soulless? You think wrong!" "It was you who made the offer," Rochester acknowledges after his proposal to her. It is Jane's truthfulness in love that shocked he prudish Victorian readers, some of whom forbade their daughters from reading. By doing so jane hs found commitment in someone who truly loves her, and has secured a position emotionally to an extent. It must be noted tat despite this, Jane flees from Thornfield, ostensibly to retrieve her honour, but unconsciously to spurn forbidden love. Her dream of an "infant" and of Rochester leaving her are significant, as it represents the shattering of love, personified as a "'child" that she has nursed. Jane's search for love has overflourished to a malignant tumour that threatens her virtue and self-respect in 19th century Britain. What Jane fears is that she will be consumed by the fires of passion symbolised by Bertha, and so lose her identity as an individual. "The more solitary and friendless I am ... the more I will respect myself. "By mastering her emotions, Jane advocates Reason, which rules her actions ultimately, a theme frequently used by Brontë in other novels.

[I didn't write this back then, but I would now add that Rochester tried to dominate Jane and force her to become a society lady by making her buy colourful expensive dresses. Jane resists this too, as she dislikes society people.]

19th century Victorian England saw the rise of the church's influence on society's morals. Rochester's intended bigamy which shocked readers compels Jane to run away. "In those days, I saw God for His creature - of whom I had made an idol," she reelects, a sin in Christinaty. Jane's pagan love for Rochester is unhealthy as he is immoral and deceptive, attempting to ruin Jane's honour. To instil her sense of morals, Jane resolves to escape: "I will keep the laws --- sanctioned by man." This while depriving her of a lover, enables Jane to learn harsh living at Marsh End, the true meaning of honest toil as a "village schoolmistress, honest and free." By helping members of society learn educated skills, Jane has redeemed her sin, an important feature in Christianity. "I felt I became a favourite in the neighbourhood," she declares, happy with her students' parents who "loaded me with attentions. Another moral action she does is to distribute her inheritance among her cousins as "twenty thousand pounds would oppress me."  Earning their gratitude has increased the familial connections Jane never had. Spiritually devoid in the beginning, Jane's Marsh End life signifies a reconciliation with God.

The battle within Jane's self is the choice between love and religion. St John's threats that she will burn in "fire and brimstone" if she does not marry him weakens Jane, who wants to perform missionary work in India to remove "caste" and "prejudice." The fatal flaw is that being single, she must marry he "chiselled marble" St John who feels no husbandly love for her. Jane's arguments with St John how his domineering influence on her, as he wants as wife "to influence efficiently in life, and to retain absolutely till death." Her flight signifies her choice of love for Rochester as well as an intangible moral honour: marrying St John would be prostituting herself, especially as she well do good works with no self-enthusiasm. "Classically learned," Brontë would have been exposed to Platonic idealism, in which the complete harmony of the soul requires a balance of emotion, reason, courage and morals. By returning to Rochester, Jane is emotionally and morally fulfilled, particularly as she responds to his agony of being apart from her. What is presented is an internal destiny of a previously disharmonious soul that gains transcendence. "Jane Eyre" is a novel about fulfilment, and in the end Jane achieves this aim that Brontë could not have. Critics have lambasted Jane's domestic desires after her more feminist ventures at Marsh End. What is important is not so much a zealous career, but a true home "Reader, I married him," resounds the famous line in the novel,indicating Jane's position as ruler and matriarch of her new household. "My spirit is willing to accomplish" this ask of reunion, performed by "the flesh."

In conclusion, "Jane Eyre" is the wish-fulfilment of a lady who wished to manage her destiny. What has emerged is a feminist, individualistic manifesto of catharsis in the case in Jane Eyre, a figure for "million .. in revolt."

[As far as I am aware Charlotte Brontë was not a Platonist or knew much about platonism. I put that in because at the time I was a pretentious teenager who wanted to get top marks.]

My teacher's comments:
Confident textual knowledge
Material is coherently organised.

Discuss narrative voice ....
(focus on Bronte's methods ...)