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 ...)

Friday, 27 September 2013

Villette and me

I first read Villette when I was 16. At that time, it made less impression on me, and while I enjoyed the poetical descriptions of scenery and feeling, and felt soothed by them, it seemed to lack the power of Jane Eyre. The whole piece reminded me of a French Impressionist painting on a cosy Sunday afternoon, with a sunny garden and mild blue skies in the background. As for the melancholy, I only felt sad when Paul died, but the whole power was lost on my adolescent mind. I could not understand the reason for Lucy's reserve and unhappiness throughout the novel, except the part when she was all alone during the summer holidays, and that was lost on me. Still, I liked the novel. I half-suspected that it was superior to Jane Eyre, but could not understand why, though the characters seemed far more real and convincing, and the language more refined and less purple. I was more interested in Paulina's character then than reticent Lucy's. I wondered why she had to reappear so late in the novel, but it was only till I was at university till I appreciated the power of Charlotte Brontë.

Many readers dislike Lucy for her anti-Catholicism and her prejudice against non-English people. The French and Belgians are skewered alive; they are said to be inferior and less intelligent, shallow, noisy, dishonest and coquettish. I admit I was surprised that everyone seemed to be hostile. But we are not asking for an objective, realistic vision of Belgian residents. It is not a minute detail of Belgian society Lucy is presenting us; it is an emotional record of her soul, and how she perceives them. The Belgians are obnoxious not because Belgians are generally obnoxious, but because they do not understand Lucy, and Lucy cannot identify with them. She is weak, uncharming, reserved and not calculated to gain affection from people in general. She has no charisma and cannot fit into society. Naturally the Belgians would be hostile to her. Even more so, in a foreign environment she experiences culture shock at the manners of Belgian citizens. And because Lucy's account is biased, we see how it is really like to experience culture shock, in Charlotte Brontë's version. We don't always blame ourselves; we are apt to blame the locals for being unruly, annoying, etc. Lucy cannot be objective because if she were, that would not be consistent with her traumatised character. This I only learnt after I had gone abroad, and had the misfortune to be placed in the same kitchen with mainly drunken and noisy students in my first year. I had the impression people there were a shallow, drunken bunch, and only later, when I got to know more sober students I realised my first impression was wrong. I can safely say that Villette has taught me many things about myself.

There are passages in Villette that explain Lucy's philosophy of good art. Art criticism was popular in Victorian high culture, exemplified by John Ruskin's Modern Painters. Charlotte enjoyed his works, but what in particular she liked we do not know. She does tell us, however, that on going to the art gallery, she prefers works which are true to nature, and picturesque scenes. She deplores showy paintings, painted to impress rather than to illuminate a truth. For example, the Cleopatra, which depicts a lazy woman reclined on a couch with pots and pans scattered on the ground, her form barely covered by sheaths of cloth. This is sloth and sensuality in excess, a symbol of how humans have degraded into, and this argument may be used for some Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are more interested in pretty women and surroundings than truth to nature or emotional power. Look at some of the popular Victorian paintings and they are meant for gaudiness than truth. Such paintings are horrible because they are shallow and immoral. But Lucy doesn't stop there. Oh no, she condemns landscapes for not being accurate to nature, because the painters paint trees an idealised colour rather than the truth, and present things as being more exciting than they are. Real life, she implies, is not so sunny or Gothically gloomy. At first I was at a loss at her art criticism, because I like the Impressionists with their vague landscapes, and the gloomy, powerful Romantics, but recently her views on art have influenced my taste.
A depiction of Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable

I was going through some paintings of the Romantic era when I alighted on the works of John Constable. Formerly they were good, but boring; and now I derived a fresh source of inspiration from them. The trees and the grass are always faithful to nature, the water feels slow but flowing, and the essence of the Suffolk countryside is captured. He draws labourers at their tasks, instead of showy Grecian buildings in the midst of solitude, as the neo-Classical painters were apt to do. The trees are not stereotypical green paint on trunk, but real species you see. I felt the force of Lucy Snowe's argument in Villette. Especially since I underwent a similar experience at the Tate 2 years back. Most of the portraits were more interested in bright garish colours than in portraying how the sitter really looked; there was a lack of depth of space and dimension; many were more interested in depicting some ideology of the painter that no one could discern, unless well-read, rather than in painting things in a more straightforward manner. The symbolism was trite. There were a few JMW Turner paintings - I liked his sea-paintings with ships rolling on distinct waves, but his famous and powerful paintings puzzled me. They are vague and full of gleams and flashes, and very few outlines, that you cannot guess what they are supposed to represent. I quote the part where Lucy objects to certain paintings:
These are not a white like nature. Nature's daylight never had that colour; never was made so turbid, either by storm or cloud, as it is laid there, under a sky of indigo: and that indigo is not ether; and those dark weeds plastered upon it are not trees.

indistinct Turner. supposed to represent a railway. The rest is fog and mystery.

If you study the structure of Villette, you realise that the focus of Lucy's friends/acquaintances changes: in volume I, it is Ginevra Fanshawe she talks about; in Volume II, Dr John and Paulina; in Volume III, it is Paul Emmanuel. The divisions are fairly distinct that I wonder if Charlotte Brontë did it on purpose. This is important in a Bildungsroman; it's not a dramatic plot where everybody meets up for a jolly good yak continually over the course of the novel, like David Copperfield. Instead it mimicks real life, where you make and break relationships, lose touch with your friends from each stage of your life. This is part of the depressing factor of Villette - Lucy doesn't retain close ties with most of her friends.  I was initially sad we didn't get to see much of Dr John and Paulina after Volume II, but it was necessary to the development of the plot and Lucy's character. In Volume III she finally sees them at a fête without her, with their families; she is no longer their bosom friend, but an outsider, a horrid awakening reality. Certainly at university, my friendships did not have the same depth and intensity as my high school friendships, and I have moved on faster than I would have expected, and looking at Villette, I am struck by the prophetic powers of Charlotte Brontë.

It is a curious thing that the good, liberal and intelligent characters, Dr John and Paulina, first become friends with Lucy, then later their friendships cool. After Paulina and Dr John fall in love they are absorbed in each other, and lose interest in Lucy, and Lucy gives up on them. In contrast the less benevolent characters, Ginevra and M. Paul keep in touch with Lucy. We never find out whether John and Paulina keep in touch with her. And this does reflect some ironies in real life - we may love our flawed and prejudiced friends more than our good and broad-minded friends, because we just have more chemistry with the former than the latter. Lucy claims to despise the shallow and selfish Ginevra, but obviously she's fond of her in her own rough way. Ginevra is the sort of friend serious people love to despise, and yet you can't help liking her. She is rude and prejudiced and occasionally vulgar, but she is never too haughty to approach the diffident Lucy. Paulina on the other hand is cold and reserved with Fraulein Anna Braun, though the former is generally a good and humble character, and her pride is of a higher order than Ginevra's.  M. Paul is prejudiced against the English and Protestants, but he can't help being attracted to Lucy's individual spirit, and eventually they fall in love. So in Villette, chemistry seems to have a greater influence on friendships and relationships than intellectual compatibility and ideals (Lucy is intelligent like Paulina and Dr John). But this is simplifying matters: both Lucy and Paul are religious, only Lucy is a fierce Protestant, and Paul a devout Catholic - still, they believe in the same God.  They are both prejudiced against an opposite (Lucy against Catholics and Belgians; Paul against English and Protestants) and thus share a similarity in temperament (Paul notes their physiognomies are similar, indicating character is similar).  Lucy is not liberal and confident in cultivated society (unlike Paulina, who shines with the accomplished scientists, and Graham, a successful doctor and amateur scientist) though intellectually she is probably on par with them. Her prejudice and somewhat insularity places her on equal terms with Paul. Both she and Paul are odd characters in a sense: both insular, think their own nationality/religion is superior, and yet both are original and intellectual. Intellect is usually associated with liberality and not insularity, but they share this paradoxical quirk. You could say it makes them outcasts. Paul has more power, energy and charisma than Lucy, however, being based on Constantin Heger, Charlotte's beloved teacher in Brussels, and perhaps this is compatible with her passivity and anticharisma. But he brings out her fire and energy, her teasing and witty remarks, her originality in writing devoirs, and unlike Dr John and Paulina, refuses to see her as a shadow. She is the latters' listener; but she is on equal ground with Paul. I think we see a progression, from friendly acquaintance/obnoxious friend in Ginevra (who doesn't call her a friend), to not-so-close friends with Graham, good friends with Paulina, to lover in Paul. Only Paul really remains constant - is Lucy/Charlotte asserting the superiority of romantic relationships? Many of us forget our friends when we are in a committed relationship, preferring to tell things to the lover instead - and this is true for Lucy.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nutting by William Wordsworth

Originally Nutting was meant to be included in Wordsworth's magnum opus, The Prelude, but he decided to omit it, because it had no real bearing on the "plot" (if The Prelude can be said to have a plot) and it served well as an independent entity. Nutting is a self-contained poem with a sort-of plot and moral, in the manner of nature preservation. Carol Rumens in the Guardian discusses the fairy-tale-like aspect of the poem.
As in all his profoundest poems, the moral "story" is seamlessly entwined with the psychological one, and both are realised through a rich mixture of naturalistic and idealised pastoral imagery. The "fairy-tale" qualities are apparent from the start. The poem begins with a quest. The young boy sets off, armed with his nutting-crook and wallet: he is dressed in raggedy old clothes, for the practical reasons proposed by the "frugal dame" - but an element of disguise ("More ragged than need was!") is strongly suggested. Having forced his way through the brambles and over the "pathless rocks" the young adventurer finds the treasure he is seeking. And, although there are no monsters or goblins in sight, and the lesson is purely psychological, he learns like any young hero that treasure is not as easily taken as he had believed. 
The boy goes to the woods to look for nuts, and to prevent him from tearing good clothes, the old woman he rents his room from, Ann Tyson, tells him to wear his old clothes. There is a sense of mystery and excitement in his "disguise." The boy perhaps a little too confidently ( he smiles "at thorns, and brakes, and brambles") thinks this is unnecessary, for he is not doing any particularly strenuous activity. Then Wordsworth adopts a delightful tone, as the boy enjoys his liberty and sense of discovery at exploring a "pathless" wood, a path possibly untrodden by others.  He comes across a Paradise, to his exultation, in "one dear nook unvisited," which he claims as his kingdom.
... Not a broken bough
Droop's with its wither'd leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation,but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with milk-white clusters hung,
A virgin scene! - A little while I stood,
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in; and with wise restraint
Voluptuous, fearless of a rival eyed
The banquet ...
The Grotto Rydal Hall Lake District

The unknown scene is viewed with sensuous delight, a strange adjective for a peaceful woodland scene, when it would be more suited to perfume, or spices of the Orient, or a pretty girl, or something. He is happy to come across a previously uncharted territory, and sits beneath the trees and plays with the flowers. Rumens writes:
Both the laden hazel-tree and the "dear nook unvisited" have magical qualities, and a moral suggestiveness which the boy partly responds to. He defers gratification, experiences sheer delight in the loveliness and abundance of his surroundings. But then another, more primitive self breaks through and lays waste to the trees. The hero of this fable is also its monster.
Abruptly the speaker breaks away to ponder about some beauties, and he tries to justify a reason for what he did that he regretted. About to withhold from gratifying his greed for nuts, he is overwhelmed by the beauty and luxuriant scenes. It seems like he is unwilling to part with the treasures in this wood, because beauty is transient, and will not last through the seasons. He gives in to instant gratification of the senses; in this case, greed and gluttony.
Perhaps it was a bower beneath whose leaves
The violets of five seasons reappear
And fade, unseen by any human eye,
Where fairy water-breaks do murmur on
forever, and I saw the sparkling foam,
And with my cheek on one of those green stones
That, fleec'd with moss, beneath the shady trees,
Lay round me scatter'd like a flock of sheep,
I heard the murmur and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease, and, of its joy secure
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. 
Interestingly, the "murmuring sound," is mentioned in Paradise Lost, which comes from water issuing from a cave, which means that Wordsworth probably had Paradise Lost in mind when he wrote this. As he worshipped Milton and took him for a model (as Keats took Shakespeare) this is more likely.

The untarnished virgin imagery is coming out here; the violet (flowers are often used to describe pretty girls) are out only for 5 seasons, and after their bloom, fades away, rather like young lasses who, after their first beauty, decline. Thus he must act to claim the joy they give him. But it sounds disturbing, this sense of transience and fragility. Violets are also mentioned in one of the Lucy poems:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the Eye!
And are small with a tender fragrance. Like Lucy, the violets are scarcely seen, and sheltered by the moss, and fade away. In his wilfulness to claim his property, he cannot resist nature's charms and fells the hazel bushes and the bower.
Then up I rose,
And dragg'd to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage; and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower
Deform'd and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being ...
Nature is given human treatment, and the effect is that of rape, pillage and deformity as a metaphor for killing nature, which is unable to resist such force from cruel man. This might for all you know be a metaphor for greedy man who build factories and fell trees to clear land for development. A rare and secluded beauty is ripped apart by a greedy boy, and you can't help but compare it to ravishing a defenceless virgin. Defloration was considered a highly important, emotionally-affecting and potentially ruinous event in those days, which makes the rape-imagery more powerful in its time than now.
The movement of the syntax over the blank verse lines has been almost relaxed until this moment, rhythmically one of abrupt high drama: "Then up I rose." No reason is given: none is needed. A natural human impulse drives the boy to jump up and rake the trees of their hazel-nuts. After he has seized the hoard, the sight of the "silent trees" themselves and "the intruding sky" awakens another response, a terrible sense of guilt at the destruction caused by his innocent greed. That he has "deformed and sullied" the "bower" is the wisdom, the "knowledge of good and evil", that he has painfully achieved – and so he imparts the lesson to his listener
Now the formerly shaded woods are destroyed, for the sun peeps through the trees, who remain silent over his crimes. And despite getting his treasure he is filled with guilt that overwhelms his pleasure.
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees and the intruding sky. 
And so he tells his moral to his "dearest Maiden!" possibly Dorothy Wordsworth, to
move along these shades
In gentleness of heart with gentle hand
Touch - for there is a spirit in the woods.
For Nature has a life-force which we cannot ignore, and a soul of its own, very Romantic. The lesson is not a hard one, but the power of the ravaging boy upon the nuts and flowers gives it a special place among Wordsworth's nature-poems. I would not call him a Byronic hero, but the sympathetic hero's cruelty to the nuts and flowers, and his sensuousness share some things in common with a Byronic hero. Noticeably, nature here is portrayed as calmer than the more visual and intense scenes in Coleridge's conversational poems; the excitement is all from the speaker, not the scene itself, unlike the moving torrents of water commoner in Coleridge. But this might be Wordsworth's own personality: his style tends to be sonorous but calm and measured; Coleridge, lyrical, excitable and irregular. Coleridge must see the movements in nature; Wordsworth is content with its calmness, which reflects both men's characters: Coleridge was intellectual, excitable and volatile; Wordsworth steady, down-to-earth and calm.

The parallels between this and Paradise Lost seem quite clear. The boy is tempted by an Eden-like bower, where he experiences voluptuous bliss, and thinks he is in a fairyland of happiness and eternity. He is tempted to destroy the place to pick his hazels, and this he does, only to regret as he sees the intruding sky - possibly an allusion to Adam and Eve surprised in their nakedness? This would mean that Wordsworth is Eve or Satan. Imagine sober old Wordsworth as a Satanic figure!

Nutting could be an interesting re-write of Paradise Lost.  Instead of sex as sin, it is Nature as the Tempter, and unlike Paradise Lost, there is no external devil to whisper temptations into Eve's ear. The devil lurks within the boy, and there is no Satanic tempter. We must not blame the source of temptation for our actions, Wordsworth seems to say, we must blame ourselves - in this case, Wordsworth the Destroyer. Perhaps he was criticising Milton's morality, which seems too unrealistic and obvious. Wordsworth's temptation is more subtle, too. One criticism of Milton by the Romantics (it might have been Hazlitt) was that Milton, though grand and impressive, lacked the human touch, which Wordsworth has, though he can only do the egotistical sublime really effectively (a complaint from Keats). Or could Wordsworth be reading Satan as a personification of our own base desires (rather than a separate enemy out to conquer a kingdom). The boy does end up destroying his newly-discovered kingdom - but this time, the kingdom belongs to him. This makes the Satanic figure more complex - and you can tie it in with the Romantic Gothic exploration of the evil unconscious, or repressed base desires. In Hogg's Confession of a Sinner, it is not fully apparent whether the evil Satanic figure is the villain's repressed subconscious or a mythical figure. Nutting doesn't sound Gothic, which makes it more realistic (Wordsworth despised the Gothic genre), and yet he might have been influenced by the same things that influenced the Gothics (Gray's Elegy in the Churchyard is one thing).

Another influence cited is Spenser's The Faerie Queene, (a very popular influence on 19th century poets)  in the scene whether Sir Guyon goes to Acrasia's Bower of Bliss, a beautiful haven of nature. To defeat her (a nymphomaniac who tempts men and turns them into beasts) he destroys the bower to prevent more men from being tempted into that poisonous paradise, just as Wordsworth the boy destroys the real-life bower. However, Guyon is supposed to be good, and Wordsworth commits a sin in destroying the bower, so Nutting may be a rewrite of Spenser's morals (perhaps Wordsworth thought Spenser was thoughtless and giving the wrong message about nature).
Acrasia by John Melhuish Strudwick

It seems there was an earlier, longer version of the poem, in which the speaker addresses a girl called Lucy (possibly the same Lucy as in his Lucy poems), who is confronted with rape. Wordsworth eventually tidied it up to publish the finished version of "Nutting," but after the publication of that poem, he had Mary Hutchinson copy out the verses for the original version, which is far more disturbing than the published one, which indicates he considered the first version important, and had not fully given it up.

There are two early drafts. One is this:

The other is this:

A few scholars suggest that the bower in Nutting is associated with Spenser's Bower of Bliss in the Faerie Queene. It is hard to see how the bower in Nutting is the same, because the bower in Nutting is good and natural, whereas the Bower of Bliss in the Faerie Queene is artificial and entraps people and turns them into beasts. The boy, however, does turn beastly when he destroys the bower, and the same voluptuousness is applied to the natural as Spenser did in the artificial bower. Wordsworth may have drawn parallels, but in his own case, chose to make the bower good, wholesome and delightful instead. It is unlikely that the message and morality in Nutting was drawn from The Faerie Queene, and Wordsworth might have been indulging in a personal literary joke.
Sir Guyon in Acrasia's Bower of Bliss by Thomas Uwins

Lucy has some education and culture, having known "some nurture," and so her violence in treating the hazels is all the more shocking to Wordsworth, particularly with her "cruel" eagerness, "tempestuous bloom," and "an enemy of nature" "far beyond the Indian hills." What makes it particularly disturbing is that she is female and gently nurtured. Yet the Lucy poems deal with a girl who lives in seclusion unknown and unloved by most, so the gentle nurture is surprising, because you think of a rustic recluse, not an educated and refined girl. This might indicate that Lucy has some similarities with Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of Wordsworth, an educated woman who gave up a life of comfort to live with her brother in the countryside with very little company (by the standards of that time).  Lucy represents Wordsworth's ideal woman, a Rousseauan ideal rather than a reality, and yet intrigues us with her mystery, because no one really knows who she is.  While Lucy normally has no voice, and seems passive, here Lucy is actively destroying hazels, and the speaker is directly addressing her instead of thinking or imagining about her. She is violent and imperfect here, instead of the supposedly perfect (but I would dispute the perfection of the Lucy of even the other poems). In the other poems she is a friend of nature; here, she is "an enemy of nature."  And in the other poems Wordsworth deemed her worth worshipping; here he is giving her a moral lesson based on his mistake of destroying the bower. He tells her to treasure nature, to be gentle and restful, and the superiority of nature to man. The final version still shows a moral story, but here the listener is passive and not violent; and the main action comes from the speaker. Literary theorists will wonder why (jealousy on Mary's part, etc etc) but it is more effective to cut out the Lucy parts, though it is less clear and lucid. Apart from the fact they are unharmonious and overmoralistic, it seems dull and repetitive to have two people committing violence on nature, and two people learning the same lesson, and two people with violent, destructive natures (potentially sexual?) The contrast between active and passive is more effective and interesting.

Then there's the sexual perspective, which is doubtful. True, he uses sexual rape language, but that could be to make the message more powerful. Then again, there might be a sexual subtext underneath the main "Do not harm nature" message. Perhaps it chronicles the process of growing up. The inconsiderate child who wants instant gratification learns that he must not pluck the branches, and becomes wiser, for his Eden is no longer eternal and unravaged. It signifies a loss of innocence, because he has committed a sin. Though instead of actually having sex he is killing trees, which is an interesting twist on the Paradise Lost Sin Story. Wordsworth might have had a sense of humour. But assuming that the sex angle is really there, it could signify puberty, which comes with violence and sexual energy and instant gratification. Lucy is supposed to be pure (at least in the other Lucy poems he wants her to be pure), and hence the violence the speaker disapproves of might be what he deems excessive sexuality in women.

Lucy is more real and less ethereal in the manuscript version, though it is less powerful, too clunky and more boring than the finished version of Nutting. It is however a useful guide as to his thoughts on the development of Lucy.

You see why he didn't publish the manuscript version. Apart from the fact it sounds awful (for Wordsworth, anyway), the theme of the poem is less clear and effective. "Nutting" is about loving nature; Lucy's presence would mingle too many themes and clutter up the picture.