Friday, 31 August 2012

How Shirley might have turned out

Winifred Gérin I believe said that the first 2 volumes of Shirley were well-drawn, but after that the writing deteriorated. It starts from The Valley of the Shadow of Death, the chapter Charlotte Brontë started after her sister Anne's death according to Mrs Gaskell. It is from this chapter that the writing really becomes unconvincing. It was a moment of deep sorrow, and Charlotte was forced to put down her work to look after Anne.

The way Caroline swoons into an illness, for example, seems to be overmelodramatic. Assuming Anne had not died, or Charlotte had not lost her spark, how might it have turned out?

We might have had more interesting conversations between Caroline and Shirley. Perhaps on the subject of their feelings for the Moore brothers - it seems stupid that Caroline assumes Shirley is in love with Robert Moore when she isn't. As one early reviewer said, if Shirley knows Caroline is lovesick for Robert why doesn't she assure Caroline that she is not in love with him? That would spare Caroline a great deal of trouble. Of course one could interpret Shirley's enthusiasm for Robert as a mask to express her feelings for Louis - since she can't praise the latter praising the former is a substitute, since they're brothers. Still, it is quite obvious that Caroline loves Robert - Shirley even tells Caroline she shouldn't be ashamed of being fond of Robert (though one could interpret it platonically).

In turn Caroline could find out more about Louis and Shirley's old times with him. Shirley will reminisce to Caroline about the good old days when she and Henry were children and Louis taught them. More ideas about the French authors, about prose writing and poetry in general? It would accord with the sort of thing Charlotte and Emily Brontë talked about. Which points to another thing. Why the relationship between the two girls is never fully fleshed out. It's because Shirley is based on Emily, and Charlotte and Emily probably talked a lot about intellectual imaginary stuff which would bore the readers, so Charlotte couldn't write it in. They would analyse characters together, maybe (I can't imagine Emily doing that, but then Shirley is idealised. And she is shrewd about Caroline's own character.)

Some cosy sessions involving Henry, Shirley and Caroline (somehow I can't imagine Charlotte writing that. Fanfiction writers, take note.) Alternately Caroline's conversations with Louis. Louis is an utter failure as a character, but I strongly urge fanfic writers to change him a bit. Well, make him a nice but reserved gentleman, cultured but shy. Unfortunately I don't know anyone like Louis in real life, so I can't write a Louis Moore fanfic. Perhaps Caroline and Louis discuss the pros and cons of the teaching profession. Caroline (ohoho, sneaky girl!) skilfully extracts information on Robert from his brother.

But why am I focusing on people's conversation? Charlotte was no chronicler of conversations, unless they were unique. Shirley might be an exception though, since Mrs Yorke and gang do have a great deal of talk, and Caroline and Louis will always speak seriously.  Hortense can talk about Louis to Caroline.

Alternately, since the whole charity-causes-and curate sub-plot seems to vanish rather suddenly, I'm betting on more scenes involving Mr Hall, Miss Ainley and Miss Mann. And the 3 curates. What would Charlotte write about them though? The charity plot seems to have been exhausted by Whitsuntide. I think more likely, she would discuss their characters more thoroughly. See how Mr Hall converses with Louis Moore. I always  thought their relationship wasn't well-covered. Hall likes Louis and yet we hardly hear anything about their friendship.

Shirley's holiday in a watering-place, where she meets Sir Philip Nunnely. I would like to hear more about him. He scarcely appears in a few pages. Shirley's response and thoughts about him. Like how she liked him, but he could never be as agreeable a friend as Caroline - feminine friendships are important. Or something.

I suspect, from the promising start of Caroline and Louis' conversation it was meant to lead to more interesting exchanges but we are forced to endure Caroline's mad speeches about death.  Speaking of which Mrs Pryor's response to society - how she gets on with Louis Moore (by the way has no one realised how coincidental that aunt and nephew were both tutors in the same house, one to Shirley, one to Henry, and Louis never realised she's his aunt?! And Mrs Pryor didn't seem to be affected that her nephew was in the same house?!) Mrs Pryor and Shirley talk about Caroline, Robert and Louis. Mrs Pryor notices Shirley's distractedness - perhaps suspects a tendre for Louis. Shirley can burst out into an exclamation on how she will not marry a capitalist like Robert, thus relieving Caroline of a heavy burden. But of course her conflicted love powers the novel. It's still doable, because since Robert is bankrupt he still can't marry her, which is still a problem, never mind Shirley as possible rival for his affections.

Mrs Pryor may let slip some piece of information by accident - Robert suspects she is Caroline's mother, tension between them. Though if anyone discovered anything it should be Louis. Surprisingly Shirley discovered it before Louis did.  Louis is more stupid than I thought.

Then how should Mrs Pryor confess to Caroline that she is her mother? Not the deathbed scene, please - that doesn't sound too likely.  Mrs Pryor fears detection on the part of Robert, and decides to take action. How this should take place is a profound mystery to me.  I will imagine that Caroline finally confides to Mrs Pryor about her parents' unhappy marriage and how lonely she is without parents, and Mrs Pryor may break the news to her somewhere in the conversation. Though Mrs P's reasons for leaving Caroline are not realistic, as GH Lewes said in an early review. She is meant to be a good woman and yet she leaves her own child to its uncle - only the sort of thing an unkind thoughtless woman would do, and that is not her character. Unless you make Mrs P a depressed raving artist, which she clearly isn't.  We could of course make a more plausible deathbed confession on the part of Mrs P instead of Caroline, but then it wouldn't work because reuniting with her mother makes Caroline happy and confident.  She finally develops as a contented woman, instead of merely waiting for Robert. Of course we could just do the Caroline deathbed scene only we reverse the roles of her and Mrs P. Mrs P thinks she will die and confesses to her daughter. Then Caroline nurses her and she recovers. Why didn't I think of that earlier???

And I should like to hear more about the Yorkes' radical notions. Let them debate with Shirley, with Moore listening on amused. And let Robert and Yorke debate as well. And since Louis is supposed to have the most powerful intellect (yet we only hear of Caroline and Shirley's intellect) let him propose a neat ideal argument - Utilitarianism maybe? But then Charlotte wasn't into that stuff, and she was a Romantic, not a practical person. Anyway it would demonstrate Louis' intellect, his idealism and abstraction (since Utilitarianism could be rather overidealistic) and his more harsh practicality over Shirley's extravagant romanticism. Shirley could then argue about nature and feeling and whatever. Shirley would like the individual, I suspect, Louis perhaps society in general. Mrs Gaskell owned to sympathising with the individual and said that Florence Nightingale could only care for humanity, never the individual.

Consider the themes of Shirley. Apart from women's rights and love and whatnot, take note of the industrial strikes. Charlotte lived in 1848, the year the Chartist riots broke out. Shirley is set in 1812, during the Luddite riots. She was voicing her contemporary opinion in the past because she loved the past and because she wanted to write about current issues without knowing how to set it in her own era. We know Charlotte wasn't a big social commentator, but her attachment to the Romantic era is a useful titbit. Shirley could be a critique on the transition from the Romantic to the Victorian era. From a more close-knit, natural and less commercial society to a distant, industrial and selfish era. From feeling to practicality. From wonderful sincere natural poetry from the heart to more hard-headed critiques on social issues. (Charlotte wasn't fond of Victorian poetry. She didn't like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of the most respected poets of the early Victorian era, who was into social issues. She also despised Tennyson. I can guess she thought his words too elegant and sentimental rather than full of feeling and raw. It is true Tennyson's power is gloomy melancholy rather than passion. I think it was GK Chesterton who said that Tennyson had good expression but little thought to substantiate his poetry, whereas Robert Browning couldn't express well in words all he felt.)  I think she would mention the turn from Romanticism to Victorianism - make this change sound sombre and pessimistic.

But I'm making this a bit too Trollopean. I like Trollope and all that but he's not Charlotte Brontë. (By the way despite despising unrealistic writing he admired Charlotte. That is high praise. Trollope himself didn't think he was a genius.)  Put it this way a shrewd judge of character with enough plot can be a Trollope (and you need the gift of storytelling as well) but very few can be a Charlotte Brontë. Even though she's flawed. She is not perfect, but she is inimitable. To write somewhat in her manner you would have to have lived in a remote Yorkshire village in the 19th century. Today if she had been born she would have been a troubled pupil at school and probably wouldn't have succeeded. Thank heavens for liberal Victorian education. (Yes, they were strict but in many ways they were more liberal than us. Far more intellectual, for one thing. And less politically correct. I don't believe in pandering to female pupils mainly, because look what it's done. Destroyed a great deal of originality. I believe excellent female intellects excel under a masculine education.  I'm a feminist, but I do have great respect for some traditional masculine educational methods.  Now go ahead and curse me if you want.)

I would write a fanfiction, only I could never do justice to Charlotte Brontë. Anyway very few people are interested in Shirley so it wouldn't generate a fandom. Everyone is into Jane Eyre (sigh) and only two fanfics on Villette at Yuletide. Now that's a great fanfic website. Fanfic writers of Shirley would preferably be well-read in Romantic poetry, something few of us can aspire to.

So what do you think?

Monday, 27 August 2012

Aspects of Charlotte Brontë's life from her books: The Duality of Nature

Even in her lifetime, Charlotte Brontë was noted to incorporate her life into her books. Thackeray referred to her as Jane Eyre, and acute critics observed the similarities between Jane and Lucy Snowe, who are also Charlotte Brontë. That would explain why so many fail to understand Lucy, and condemn her as badly-written. On the contrary it is exceedingly well-written. Lucy is complex because she is based on a real person, who is Charlotte. Had Lucy been entirely fictional she would have been less complex, her reasons for doing strange things clearer - but her reasons are never clear. It's Charlotte imagining herself in a different situation back in the past, in Belgium.

In the Fraser's Magazine review of Jane Eyre, the reviewer writes:
Reality—deep, significant reality, is the characteristic of this book. It is an autobiography—not, perhaps, in the naked facts and circumstances, but in the actual suffering and experience. This gives the book its charm: it is soul speaking to soul: it is an utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering, much enduring spirit: suspiria de profundis.
Jane Eyre is overly melodramatic and Gothic but even the feelings were real. And yet, how? The passion for Rochester might be paralleled to the passion for Heger but even I would dispute that. Rochester's origins lie in the Byronic hero rather than Heger, who would feature as Paul Emmanuel in Villette.  Cowan Bridge School is re-echoed as Lowood, Helen Burns is Charlotte's elder sister Maria. But these are the early parts of the book, and Lowood is not actually the major part of the story, though it undoubtedly influences Jane. What then is the pervading reality in Jane Eyre that tells us about Charlotte? Firstly, the heroine is small and plain, like Charlotte. She is also an impoverished governess without many accomplishments (Charlotte's accomplishments weren't actually very much compared to many educated young ladies, but her reading and originality were outstanding. These qualities however weren't prized in governesses). But unlike Lucy Snowe who seems more akin to Charlotte, Jane Eyre speaks frankly in a way that would make Charlotte blush. Charlotte would not speak in that way to her employer. This is explained away by the fact Jane is comfortable with Mr Rochester. It also explains some inconsistencies in the text: despite her garrulousness with Rochester, she is ill at ease with everyone else. Mrs Reed hates her not so much for her poverty but because she is strange and aloof. Miss Rigby of the Quarterly Review too heaped sarcasm upon Jane Eyre, claiming Jane is too proud, because she has no friends before meeting Rochester, and condemns Jane for being a problem-child: no one can like her, says Miss Rigby. Though hurtful, Miss Rigby holds the key to the mystery. Jane is unlikeable, but to Rochester she is free and an exception. She is lively in mind, but because she is unlikeable she has to appear subdued - only when she is comfortable with certain people does she shine. This explains St John's remark that she is not timid. Miss Rigby offers the perspective that other people would see in Jane Eyre had they really met that person. We love Jane because we see her perspective, but if we met her in person we wouldn't like her.

And how does this tally with Charlotte's childhood? For Jane's childhood is the part which is one of the most vivid and convincing, rather than her romance with Rochester (at least I thought so when I was 14, and still think so now). It offers some of the deepest analysis in the book. Jane's friend in school, Mary Ann Wilson, is based on Mellany Hane, who apparently protected Charlotte in Cowan Bridge for a short while. Mellany was some years older, which is why she appeared as an older sister figure, just as Mary Ann was for Jane. And yet Mary Ann is merely a superficial friend to have fun with, not the transcendence Jane has with Helen Burns. This shows Jane's inability to form meaningful relationships with those who are not particularly enlightened or sympathetic - somewhat like Charlotte, but Charlotte was far better at maintaining relationships than Jane. We also see in Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontës that Charlotte was awkward with her godmother and the children in that house. They were supposed to be her companions on her visits but she never really got along with them, just as Jane doesn't really play with her schoolfellows (except the two older girls).

In Shirley, we get a superior picture of how Charlotte might be. Catherine Winkworth, who became friends with Charlotte through Mrs Gaskell, wrote to a friend that it is "infinitely more original and full of character than the ordinary run of novels - it belongs to quite a higher class." When it came out finally people began to guess Currer Bell's identity, especially residents of Haworth and the neighbouring parishes. Rev WM Heald, Ellen Nussey's vicar, managed to identify several characters' originals in a letter to Ellen (he was apparently Mr Hall, so Mr Heald must have been some nice guy). Malone, Donne and Sweeting are based on real curates Charlotte knew and despised. She wrote to Ellen once that the curates are ordinary boring things who probably laugh at her spinster ways, so the contemptible behaviour of the curates are immortalised in Shirley. Mr Helstone is a good picture for a novelist not known to draw good men. He is based on Rev Mr Roberson, an honourable man who defended against the rioters. Basically Shirley is the lives of people in a few Yorkshire parishes. I've neglected to mention Caroline, the actual heroine of the novel, though not as heroic as Shirley. We hear Caroline's thoughts, hopes, dreams and perceptions. Better still, we see her as she lives, day to day. It is not the fantastic fiery outbursts of Jane Eyre we read: Jane Eyre doesn't really describe her day-to-day life quite as well as Caroline's is described. Jane appears to be a radical, less an ordinary person - and radicals do have ordinary lives most of the time. This makes Caroline a convincing triumph. True, much of it is melancholy, but we know she sews, reads, cries, or goes to Hollow Cottage for French lessons. As Charlotte wrote to Ellen Nussey she does little to pass the time, which reminds you of Caroline.  She is less obviously intellectual, less lively than Charlotte at first glance, but this is not so much the case. True, she did not write stories from a young age as her creator did. But she offers Charlotte's opinions on poetry: they should be true rather than refined. She is quiet and subdued, but apparently Charlotte was the same in public, with almost everyone except those she was comfortable with.

"But she doesn't do anything lively!" I hear the reader protest. Actually, if you look carefully, she does. You may not see her to advantage with that pagan goddess Shirley, but it is stated that when Louis Moore first comes to Briarfield, Caroline feels lively, and talks to him at ease.
Robert - perhaps aware that Caroline's glance had wandered towards and dwelt upon him, though he had neither met nor answered it - put down the book of engravings, and approaching, took a seat at her side. She resumed her conversation with Louis, but, while she talked to him, her thoughts were elsewhere: her heart beat on the side from which her face was half-averted. She acknowledged a steady, manly, kindly air in Louis; but she bent before the secret power of Robert. To be so near him - though he was silent - though he did not touch so much as her scarf-fringe, or the white hem of her dress - affected her like a spell. Had she been obliged to speak to him only, it would have quelled - but, at liberty to address another, it excited her. Her discourse flowed freely: it was gay, playful, eloquent. The indulgent look and placid manner of her auditor encouraged her to ease; the sober pleasure expressed by his smile drew out all that was brilliant in her nature. She felt that this evening she appeared to advantage, and, as Robert was a spectator, the consciousness contented her: had he been called away, collapse would at once have succeeded stimulus.
Robert gives her confidence to speak, and because Louis is reserved, like her, she appears to advantage. To a more open, talkative person Caroline knows she can never entertain that person.

Louis does not seem to seek Caroline's friendship:
 It even appeared that he would accept nothing more: in that abode at least; for when his cousin Caroline made gentle overtures of friendship, he did not encourage them; he rather avoided than sought her.
Caroline's overtures of friendship are inconsistent for a girl who needed Shirley to make the first move of friendship, but not so really. In Jane Eyre, Jane offers to help Rochester because he is not charming - a charming person would not have made her sympathise. Caroline feels at home with Louis, because like her, he is an outcast, and of a reserved nature. In real life Charlotte was witty with George Smith, William Smith Williams and her best friend Ellen Nussey. Not so with the society she was forced to face in London houses.  Duality of nature, not inconsistency of character, is what Charlotte has immortalised within the pages of Shirley. There's some of it in Pride and Prejudice, but surprisingly few seem to have seen it in Elizabeth Bennet.  Probably because we are all blinded for our love for Lizzie. I give you Charlotte's answer to Henry Nussey, refusing his proposal of marriage:
As for me, you do not know me, I am not this serious, grave, cool-headed individual you suppose -- You would think me romantic and eccentric -- you would say I was satirical and severe. 
Villette is arguably about Charlotte's character. It is not marked by circumstances, as some reviewers said, but by the presence (or absence) of Lucy Snowe. Which reminds you of Mansfield Park, though Mansfield Park's characters are more closely-knit in the plot than Villette's are. Lucy is a frustrating heroine, because she conceals so much. And yet the incidents in the novel don't mirror Charlotte's life so much as the feelings do.

Lucy says she didn't reveal her identity to her godbrother Dr John because it was not her nature to do so. "Why not?" generations of readers have screamed. It is as if she is trying to torture herself. Not so. Go back to the first 3 chapters of Villette, and you will see Polly's unhappiness because Graham prefers his schoolfriends to her company. She feels unwanted. In many ways Polly reflects Lucy's own sentiments, so Lucy's unwillingness to be so friendly to Graham is she did not think it would make a difference in his own feelings towards her. They get along well enough but true genuine friendship she thinks is beyond her - as her own relations with George Smith were tempered with bouts of uncertainty (like his relatives' fear of Charlotte Brontë). She was not at all like Smith, as Lucy is not like Dr John. She knows she will be nothing to him compared to his other friends and feels she can't measure up to them. Which is one reason why despite fancying Smith Charlotte never really wanted to marry him. To expect friendship from such a dissimilar quarter, Lucy feels, would be to fool herself and to conceal her true nature. Charlotte hated it when critics in London were tearing apart her identity. Also, we may see some aspects of Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, her most persistent fan, who kept on inviting her to his house. Charlotte was not fond of him, because she felt he was insincere and she was not comfortable in his company. He was a practical realist; she a romantic dreamer. Anyway one day she went to London knowing very well Sir James was there, and she refused to call on him (not very polite thing to do). Which reminds you of Lucy Snowe deliberately not telling Dr John who she is.

Let's get on to the unfinished Emma, a fragment of only 20 pages. How might Emma have turned out? In Jane Eyre, we have Charlotte's childhood, in Shirley her teenage and twenties' years at home in the Parsonage, in Villette her experiences in Brussels. What about Emma? Unfortunately there is too little to tell, and I doubt Charlotte could have finished it had she survived. She had no raging passion now with so many things to do and a husband to occupy her time, and despite the same number of years after Villette as between the publication of Shirley and Villette, no new novel was written. Her flame was extinguished.  But assuming Emma had been written and completed, the fragment shows us how it might have turned out. The themes used are similar to Charlotte's juvenilia: life at a girls' boarding-school. Villette doesn't mention the inhabitants of the Pensionnate deeply, Emma might have. Surprisingly, for a Brontë novel one of the protagonists (who speaks in first person, the other chapter is written in third person, which makes it a mixed narrative) is a married woman (Anne did it, but that's another story). Charlotte's heroines are invariably young single girls. But here we have Mrs Chalfont, a widow past her first youth. Significantly, it was written after Charlotte's marriage, which means in the interval between Villette and her marriage she hadn't come up with a satisfactory story. But why a widow? A widow has more independence and maturity than a young girl, and since one of the main players appears to be a young schoolgirl, Matilda Gitzgibbons, it is possibly Mrs Chalfont was meant to be a benefactor to Matilda, who turns out not to be an heiress after all. Also, being a married woman, Charlotte thought she could write an older, more mature character better. The burning passion for love and fulfilment had somewhat in quenched in her, a more maternal temperament fostered (she refers to her husband as her "dear boy." Ugh! He didn't deserve our Charlotte.) Would it not make sense if the heroine is a woman trying to fulfil others' lives (as Charlotte tried to matchmake Ellen after she married Nicholls)? But why not make Mrs Chalfont an ordinary married woman? I suppose either Charlotte couldn't think of a suitable husband for Mrs Chalfont, or she wanted Mrs C to have more independence and originality and time away from a husband. Also, it is possibly she may have wanted Mrs C to marry someone in the book and you can't have this with a married woman can you?  After all there's a Mr Ellin, an observer who appears to be helpful to Matilda.  It is possible he and Mrs C are old acquaintances.

Since Charlotte wasn't good at making mature people her protagonists it is possibly she may have given up the idea. But let's speculate on Mr Ellin? Who is he? A gentleman, I presume, of independent means, since a professional man wouldn't be spending his time with the mystery of Matilda as he wouldn't have the time and means. And who is Matilda? That is the question. If we know who she is we might solve the mystery.

I don't know if you've noticed that Matilda's surroundings correspond to one phase of Charlotte's life not covered: Roehead. If Lowood is Cowan Bridge than Matilda's school is Roehead, Charlotte's second school. Matilda walks apart from her schoolfellows and doesn't play with them. Mr Ellin puts it down to pride: I think it is uneasiness. Recall how unhappy the girl looks. This may reflect Charlotte's experience at Roe Head, though she did do well there, making two lifelong friends and becoming top student. With her other schoolfriends I doubt she made much of a hit. Charlotte's juvenilia also has a lonely teacher in a school who has sympathy in one of the pupils. Could this be the source of Emma? (Lyndall Gordon discusses some of it I think).

Mr Fitzgibbons' abandonment of his daughter may strike a chord with us: James Helstone in Shirley was cruel to his daughter Caroline and forgot to feed her at times. If Emma had materialised we might have got a better picture of rural society, possibly akin to Shirley, but with mystery, something you don't expect in Charlotte Brontë.   If this was meant to be a detective story that means she was advanced, ahead of Wilkie Collins, the best-known Victorian classic detective novelist, not counting Conan Doyle.

In another fragment discarded, Willie Ellin is the weak brother of an industrialist (like the Crimsworths) who is bullied by his brother and runs away. Could Mr Ellin be like Willie? The story is too far-fetched (where does Mr Ellin get his money?) but some ideas may have been taken from it. Another far-fetched idea I am going to suggest is, Matilda is Mr Ellin's niece. She is the daughter of his brother from whom he ran away. The brother lost his money and ran away abandoning his child. But it still doesn't explain why Mr Fitzgibbon gave a false name and address. Maybe he is a crook (definitely is). Or he could be hiding a secret from the neighbourhood. We will never know. The best thing would be to imagine you are Charlotte Brontë. And yet this story is so un-Charlottelike it might even be a detective story. You can guess Charlotte's work if it was a bildungsroman but not if it's genre fiction.

"Who are you, Lucy Snowe?" asks Ginevra in Villette. We might well ask the same in Emma: "Who are you, Matilda Fitzgibbon?" A strange personality? I think it's significant that Miss Wilcox doesn't like Matilda - Charlotte took pains to stress them - the way Jane Eyre is disliked. It hints at a girl's development in a hostile world. Another good approach would be to look at her juvenilia, which has more suspense and thriller-like elements which could be the clue to the mystery.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Why we love Asian novels

I am sadly remiss in this aspect. The first time I recall reading an Asian novel (written in English for an international audience, not one of your authentic realistic "local voices") I was ten years old. My mother for some strange reason made me rent an Amy Tan, goodness knows why because she never read Amy Tan. I thought the book not bad then (I was 10, remember?) but now I suspect I would find it dull and shallow. I do not like Amy Tan. She insists on stereotyping Asian-Americans. They are either old fogies or ultra-liberal young people. Why can't we have ordinary characters?  A lot of us are fairly similar inside, it is the structure of that culture that differentiates people of different cultures. And then you have the so-called isolated outside Asian protagonist who nevertheless counts Caucasians as their best friends (and is still very "Asian" according to the novelists' perception of Asianness). From personal observations these Asians are likely to be well-integrated and their sense of isolation is not as intense as these novelists would like us to believe. A genuinely existentialist-crisis ultra-Asian would not count these liberal Caucasians as their best friends to the omission of their fellow Asians. This is unrealistic characterisation, and even worse sin than stereotyping. (And many stereotypes are true).

But I digress. Has anyone noticed the popularity of works by Indian authors in particular? I know there's post-colonial theory and all that crap (heavens, can't we just have a story???) and racial equality and all that, but there's something more. I'm not going to argue these works are singularly profound and far more intellectual, but I do agree they make pleasurable reading. I've read a little VS Naipaul and parts of Vikram Seth (this was when my literary intellect was still undeveloped) and found it enjoyable. I hated modern literary fiction but I liked these books. I must confess to being very Victorian in literary tastes, so this is perhaps surprising.

Firstly you have to praise many Indian novelists for their super prose style. With bare minimalism, stark simplicity being in vogue in Anglophone countries, it is so terse and dull just reading the agonies and reserve of some modern character who refuses to reveal his true nature to you. By the way has anyone noticed that you never really describe a person's character nowadays? Victorian classics will say Mrs So and So was a good kind woman, almost never now, unless the person is obviously charitable or outstandingly kind. I suppose modern society has little time or energy to be kind, so naturally kind people don't act on their inclinations. We're less close-knit. On the other hand we don't mention selfishness so much. Well we do, but it's often to do with drunkards or career-frustrated people and such. Selfishness is the norm. No one has a true character.  We don't condemn a character for being bad (unless he does something illegal or abusive) because we don't get to know people well enough, and because badness is the norm. Sigh. Having been influenced by the colonial Victorians, it's not hard to realise one of the reasons why Indian novelists can be wonderful crafters of language. Typically colonies inherit many old-fashioned traditions, and take some years to be culturally modern (even though intellectually they may still be equal), which helps in writing.

Then you've got to consider the plot. The specialised nature of ethnic fiction means you have to go ethnic. No one wants to hear an Asian-sounding name write an ordinary realist novel. You have to show what it is to be whatever culture you come from. Hence the stereotyping of silly old grannies. But it also means to get an audience who are unused to the ethnic theme, you must have plots and interesting exotic scenery. Hence exoticising customs which aren't or weren't the norm in the culture you speak of.  I was reading Tan Twan Eng's new book the other day at Waterstone's (he's a Malaysian author by the way, but ethnic Chinese) and it was quite readable, but I rolled my eyes at the way he portrayed the heroine's tea-planting friends. If you read the book it has quite a bit on Japanese gardens (Japan invaded Malaya during WWII), racial stereotyping (actually this was common back then, so it's not historically untrue) and several interjections in Malay, which was quite unnecessary because it's not a widely-spoken tongue and only confusing international readers.  There was also a deliberate attempt to make every single race talk to each other on easy terms. I believe in racial unity and all that, but really trying to cram as many races in one chapter, while highlighting each race's own peculiarities is too much. It is not convincing. There's a Chinese heroine staying with a Dutch tea-planter's family, with an Indian maid, a Malay hotel-owner, and of course the Japanese gardener who once worked for the Emperor of Japan. I know racial unity was pretty good then, but still ...

Those with many friends of different races in those days were enlightened people, and not as stereotypically ethnic as the country bumpkins. So it is silly to portray them as stereotypically ethnic and over-attached to their own customs. This technique however has its merits, because the reader wants to read about as many different cultures in one book, as it's more exciting. Rather like David Copperfield encompassing almost every social class in Victorian England. It's nostalgic to reflect happier days when we were all united, and trade union riots were less common, race controversies non-existent (there was racism but it didn't make such a big press) and everybody was more personal. I can understand its appeal. The plot involved Japanese woodblock prints. In Chinese-American novels, I can be sure there will be Cultural Revolutions or WWII if it's intelligent, or if it's silly, some stuff pertaining to dragons, which either overexaggerates superstition or totally gets the facts wrong.

I think, however, the greatest advantage of the Asian Novel that makes it a classic is the community you get in it.  Contemporary fiction tends to be detached, reserved, unlikeable and oversexed. Sex, contrary to popular expectations, dehumanises and decreases the intimacy of a novel, because instead of emotional rapport we are seeing physical contact. The Asian novel, due to the nature of its exoticism, which includes writing of the culture 50 years ago (Tan Twan Eng said he can't write contemporary settings as there would be nothing to write about except shopping malls. I disagree, because all the political instability and scandals are fodder for novels but you see his point). Old-time Asia is wonderful because the family unit was close, and family units are wonderful sources for drama. You have many characters who are close so there are more people you can write about in depth, and how they are all connected. The modern realism novel can't do this because people aren't so close to their family now, it would be misleading to portray too many close families. You could of course write about the hero's friends, but then even the ideal of friendship is so shallow now that friends who are intensely attached are accused of having gay relations with each other (like Sherlock and Dr Watson.) Best friends then were really close, though nowadays they are more transitory and may not meet up so often as they used to. So you can't write a novel where all the characters are closely connected - they have to be detached subplots. An Asian family in the 1950s is a different matter entirely. This is why the Anglophone novel died out after the Victorians - masterpieces are rarely readable and do not give the warm feel-good feeling inside because there is little emotional intimacy. Even reclusive Lucy Snow from Villette is more close to the reader than many modern protagonists. She conceals, but at least she reveals a lot of her sentiments so an acute reader can guess her character well. Not so for contemporary novels. Victorian novels also tend to depict the hero's family or members of a community e.g. the Barsetshire Chronicles and link things together. You can't do that now because it's unrealistic.

We love Jane Eyre because she finds true love in the end, we love Jane Austen because of the social comedy (I notice people dream of the balls and the conversation in the Regency era, rather than the beautiful poetry it produced. They also tend to neglect the deeper aspects of Austen, which infuriates me). It's so warm-hearted. Exotic novels with unreal characters will indulge in happy endings (there is a novel by an Anglo-Indian author called oh hell I've forgotten his name). I enjoyed it though it was unreal. It left no emotional impact on me though and I won't read it again. But these happy-ending novels have a problem. They won't be taken seriously in the long run or become classics unless they're realistic. They will become pulp fiction, like the Gothic novels of the late 18th century.  On the other hand the unhappy dreary Asian novels will not end up being loved by generations. Especially if it's about being tortured by Communists. It is really horrid that highbrow Chinese novels in the international market have to be about Communism and the Cultural revolution and surviving in a smoky city. It has to be political. It is not warm-hearted or a golden story.

One of the contenders of a possible enduring classic is Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. It has character, lots of customs and yet not too exotic, realism and more than a dash of intellect. It also has family and its expectations, a common theme in the Victorian novel. Which reminds me, why do we love the Victorian novel so much? Why aren't 18th century books and even early 20th century regarded so much as cannon classics? There's Jane Austen but she's an exception. Unreal characters in 18th century fiction (even the intelligent ones) and detached, unfeeling protagonists of the 20th century (plus the fact you don't get a happy ending) aren't fodder material for TV adaptations. No one will love it much. Asian literature may still be relatively undeveloped in Anglophone countries but it is the future.

Speaking of which I got a copy of When Red Is Black by Qiu Xiaolong, as Chinese detective novelist.  It didn't make everyone a boring superstitious nut or a vacuous liberal. The characters were real, which is something for crime fiction. Of course they couldn't go so deep because it is still crime fiction, but still, the cultural insight was pretty good.  Qiu writes as he sees, not merely to pander to international tastes. That is his strength. And it was pretty enjoyable. There was enough detail so that those unversed with Chinese culture can get the picture, but not too much to make it an exotic fanfare. The individual's isolation from family is also a relatively new concept in Asia (well not that new, but it wasn't so bad before) and this is excellent stuff for novels. New values, new ideals - all these are overexhausted in the Western canon.

Many contemporary novels set centuries ago tend to make it bleak, isolated and a surprising lack of family relations. They have not captured the soul of the past. Reading up history doesn't help much. It gives you an idea about the issues you may explore, but to make a story a story with convincing characters (and you don't need much history to get Jane Austen) you must must must read the literature of that era, better still the biographies of persons living then and their letters. The Asian authors are better in this aspect, because they're more family-oriented. I wouldn't be surprised if they get the Victorian novels better.

If you get a really clever novelist, he or she is going to capitalise on the silly exotic stuff. Like taking parts of folklore and transplanting it in modern-day India, for example. It will be Gothic. Think of how Jane Eyre became an instant success. Nowadays literary fiction can't afford to be Gothic, but folklore still has some respectability. This is why though I love the Victorian authors, I prefer contemporary Asian authors over their Western counterparts. So screw the realists for making everything so dreary.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Anne Brontë: Modern rebel or conservative nostalgic?

We like to think of Tenant of Wildfell Hall as the supreme example of early Victorian feminism. It was indeed radical for Anne Brontë to think up this subject matter - more socially radical certainly than Charlotte's novelistic themes at the time. And yet Anne is remarkably old-fashioned in some ways, far more so than you would expect in someone of such radical ideas. It is a pity she has been sidelined compared to her sisters, but I suppose many readers read the Brontës for their passion, and Anne is not passionate. Her standing was nothing to Charlotte's in their lifetime, but she was not as shocking as Emily.

Case for modernity: In Agnes Grey, the idea of choosing a plain governess as a heroine to highlight the issues of suffering governesses. The Victorians were the ones who popularised the novel as engine for social issues. In Mansfield Park we hear a little, which anticipates the Victorians, but it was not yet fully developed in the Regency era.   Possibly an early example of a suffering governess is Jane Fairfax in Emma but we never hear her thoughts. She is a marginalised member of society, and ignored by that horrible snob of a heroine, Emma Woodhouse. (I've thought it is so curious how different Fanny Price and Emma are from each other, and how could Austen sympathise with both heroines). Making the underdog a heroine is also a more modern concept. Yes, I hear you scream "But what about the classic literary orphans who morph into swans?" Yes, we've heard of that nice quiet heroine who is despised for being countrified, but such heroines are normally pretty and morph into swans and become admired and fit in better with time. Agnes Grey is not one of those. She gains more knowledge but nothing is mentioned of her beauty. She does gain an admirer, Mr Weston, but he is attracted to her modesty and deepness. Rosalie's descent into an unhappy marriage is almost tragic, whereas in earlier fictions it would be satirised and caricatured, and wouldn't play a significant part of Agnes' life. Anne was quite a reclusive personality, and her own pupil's forced engagement was one of the more important events in her life. She hardly went anywhere, and after her governessship and writing career had even less contact with society. We like to call Emily the recluse but Anne was one as well. If Emily hadn't been the chief Victorian recluse it is possible Anne would have stood out.

Agnes herself is quite an independent young woman. When her father loses his money in speculation, she offers to go out to become a governess. The family thinks her nerves cannot take it. She says "Try me," and succeeds to some extent. This is something, because as a member of the gentry she is not expected to work. Mind you the families she teaches don't fall at her feet. This again is harsh realism, not the wonders an 18th century heroine would work on reforming and getting everyone's love.

In Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the escape of a wife from a drunken husband is itself radical. Not only that, she takes her child with her. Those days husbands had custody of children so Helen's flight is spectacular. Like Anne, she even tries to earn her own living by painting landscapes (though her brother generously offers her a home for free). She insists on paying him back, as well as Gilbert when he gives her a book to read, because she hates to feel obliged to anyone. Does this remind you of Jane Eyre? In those days it wouldn't have been expected for Helen to pay back her brother, which makes this startlingly modern. Also you must have noticed that Huntingdon never reforms, unlike the sickly sweet sentimental 18th century novels. This is true realism, the nitty-gritty.

 Even more, she falls in love with a man while still married to her husband. This was radical. I know the Victorians had these plots, but they were more late-Victorian, and besides these sort of women were fallen women. Helen remains virtuous throughout and avoids Gilbert Markham because she doesn't want to commit adultery.  Oh, and when her husband dies she proposes to Gilbert, who by the way is several social classes below her, even though he is an educated farmer. Helen is of the gentry, and her husband's death has made her well-off and the owner of a decent estate, better off than when she was a young girl. Gilbert is middle-class. Note that championing the middle-classes instead of the profligate gentry rakes in the novel is a Victorian thing. The Regency era loved the upper classes. Anne does not, because her hero isn't, and her heroine practises middle-class values such as personally teaching her own son when they can afford a governess. It was customary to hire a governess or send the kid off to school if you were upper-class.

Case for old-fashionedness: Apart from the morality tale it was meant to be (as Anne wrote in the preface, something popular in the 18th century and Regency era, just look at Fanny Burney and Jane Austen), the scene is set in the 1820's, 20 years before publication. To us, perhaps 20 years isn't much, I mean setting a novel in the  1980's and 90's isn't really historical fiction, but to the Victorians the Regency and the Victorians were vastly different. In fact they were ashamed of their Regency ancestors who were profligate wastrels and adulterers. £5000 isn't much in the Regency era according to their novels, but it is a good sum in the Victorian era, despite inflation, which shows you how prudence was exercised. The rakes, Arthur Huntingdon, would-be adulterer Walter Hargreave and the profligate son of a banker Mr Hattersley love drinking and carousing - caricatures you will find in 18th century fiction. This sort of thing was despised in the Victorian era, less reviled in the earlier days. It is not surprising to see this in Anne's fiction, because the Brontë children had access to Pamela by Samuel Richardson, which has a rake as an antihero-villain, who reforms because of a good woman. By the way I hate that book. In her preface, Anne writes:
I would not be understood to suppose that the proceedings of the unhappy scapegrace, with his few profligate companions I have here introduced, are a specimen of the common practices of society - the case is an extreme one, as I trusted none would fail to perceive; but I know that such characters do exist, and if I have warned one rash youth from following in their steps, or prevented one thoughtless girl from falling into the very natural error of my heroine, the book has not been written in vain. 
Anne's purpose, then, is to discourage girls from thinking they can reform a rake by marrying them - the sort of claptrap you get in 18th century novels. This opinion is modern, the setting old-fashioned. There is no important gentleman character who is respectable except Frederick Lawrence, and this is rather un-Victorian, who loved their respectable men. Even the unsympathetic characters you find in other Victorian novels are more respectable: they either have a proper job, or if they don't work, you don't see adultery and all the heinous nonsense the gentlemen here talk about.

Despite all the anti-Byronic rake sentiment, Anne's heroine is a mystery woman - yet another Gothic heritage. She says little about her past and keeps to herself. Arguably the individualistic protagonist only became fully developed in the Victorian era which makes it modernist (Frankenstein, which has got an individualistic hero, was ahead of its time, and doesn't really count.  It is an excellent speculative fiction but purists wouldn't call it strictly literary though it is a classic. I think Mary Shelley would have been like a scifi author with wider themes. Also, the lack of truly convincing characters makes it not so literary. But I digress).

 I sense a hint of Fanny Burney (late 18th century) in Anne, however. The epistolary form, found in Evelina, the morality as well, the presence of minor characters who take part in the plot, for example Millicent Hattersley, Helen's close friend who is about her age. Victorian heroines' close friends their age tend to be glossed over, because Victorian authors will dwell on social issues, or typicakl domestic scenes, or the inner anguish. Friends of the heroine seem irrelevant in the heroine's existence, unless they're involved in the plot as well.  Millicent is different from traditional 18th century heroine's best friends because she clearly suffers inwardly, rather than act as confidant or social critic with the heroine, or fellow-gossiper. But she is not a major character, and her part in the plot, though existent, doesn't really affect the novel much.

There is even divorce mentioned, something very uncommon in a Victorian classic (until Thomas Hardy came along years later). In Regency novels you do hear divorce, which could only be available if the wife was proven to commit adultery. See Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Maria Edgworth's Patronage. The characters openly talk about divorces in high society and delight in scandal - the Victorians didn't, even though divorce was more readily available to the middle-class Victorian. Yet there is less divorce in the Victorian novels, because they were censored and repressed. Divorce was also more of an aristocratic thing because high society women tended to adulter more prominently compared to the middle-classes who wished to preserve their reputation. It was the way to enter good society, since they didn't have birth or much education or contacts. Chastity is essentially a middle-class virtue back then. Yet in Tenant, Lady Lowborough commits adultery and is divorced by her husband. Tenant is steaming full of undescribed sex, something you wouldn't expect in demure Anne Brontë, who while being paid attention by Willie Weightman:
He sits opposite Anne at church sighing softly and looking out of the corners of his eyes to win her attention - and Anne is so quiet, her look so downcast - they are a picture .
On the other hand you could say divorce is modern, because it is a late-Victorian thing and after. But the fact the Brontës lived in the Romantic era and read the silver-fork fiction of that time with all its rakes shows. Anne may be a realist but she is also a nostalgic. Though differently from Charlotte who waxes lyrical over the good old days. Anne seems to be pointing to a future which is far more progressive than the good old days. Quintessentially Victorian. I don't know why she chose that era in particular, unless she wished to show how far we've progressed, or perhaps she was just more familiar with the modes of that era which influenced her childhood writings.

There's also the rationalist streak in Anne. Realism is a Victorian rather than Regency thing, but surprise surprise high passion and Romanticism in mainstream literary fiction is Victorian, not Regency, though the Regency coincided with the Romantic movement. So while she writes of rakes faithfully, Anne doesn't emphasise on high passions, what Helen felt for Huntingdon before she married him.  It is reason and morality, not so much feeling that is important - lessons you will learn in 18th century novels. Victorian suitors tend to be more romantic than their 18th century counterparts, who are boring paragons of respectability who say the lady in question is good and suits him, whereas the Victorian gentleman will actually express his intense feelings for the lady and go into a melancholy when the lady doesn't respond favourably. Gilbert is melancholy when Helen rejects him, but their so-called romantic scene owes a great deal to respectable behaviour (Gilbert thinks she is smart, and hates female gossips, and Helen likes him because he is kind) rather than soulmate material. Anne was very religious so this makes sense. But it makes love a kind of morality lessons rather than high elevated feelings. Perhaps I'm biased though. It just occurred to me I didn't mention Agnes Grey in this argument. Agnes loves Mr Weston for being kind to her and dogs, and Mr Weston likes her because she is humble and not superficial. This is probably the sort of love Anne felt for Willie Weightman, who was a kind curate, a gentle mild love based on reason and respect. The passion Anne felt however is not emphasised in the novel.

Anne being extremely religious shows this up not only by getting Agnes to marry a clergyman, but by writing and having her own hymns published - before Charlotte became a published author. Yup, that's right. Old-fashioned morality perhaps, though arguably the early Victorians had their own extreme religious movements and Anne had some involvement in one of the religious speakers. Secularity and agnosticism was undoubtedly a new thing. Let's just say the educated intellectuals became more secular (though still respectable) whereas the descendants of aristocratic rakes (and rakes don't really go for religion) became more religious and respectable. There is no real answer.

Poetry-wise, she and Charlotte were intensely personal (apart from the hymns she wrote), where first-person is favoured, and the poet identifies with an individual who gives a speech. This is the dramatic form, the sort that Robert Browning popularised.  Which was rather modern. But the forms was already present in the Romantic poets, so it is hard to tell.

So is Anne old or new? The answer is both. Compared to her more famous sister Charlotte, Anne's social themes are radical, but when it comes to style (and expressing the individual) Charlotte was the radical.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Further adventures in Sir Walter Scott

And so I've gone to the same bookshop that I went to last week. It is the Churchill Antiques in the Coinage Hall, Boscawen Street, Truro. I saw the proprietor again and he recognised me at once. But you don't get many people my age in this sort of place, so I suppose it was natural. Also, Cornish people are more personal than Londoners.

Today there was this bag stack of red hardback books by Sir Walter Scott on a table that weren't there last week. Oh my eyes feasted on them! They're the Waverley Novels, Centenary edition, which means they were published in 1871. £7.50 each, quite affordable and reasonable. He tried to sell me 3 for the price of 4, but I pointed out they were too heavy to lug all the way to London, where I'll be moving for the start of term. So he said he could sell me two for 12, then "no, make that 10!" It was too good an offer to refuse, so I asked him to recommend to me and he chose Kenilworth and St Ronan's Well.  He seemed pleased to see me buy another 2 books (!) and we parted on decent terms.

Kenilworth and St Ronan's Well. Not very famous works. but  the former is underrated. 

I like the prety embossed pattern on the front. Not quite the same  class as a genuine leather but still not bad.

Anyway I asked the owner for his business card. His name is Jonathan Clifford. He loves buying up biographies of 20th century politicians in the UK (it's his hobby) so if you are into it, you could try contacting him. The place also has Victorian photos and stamps. There are numerous books on Cornwall and its landscapes and history (how local!)

Beside this shop is Charlotte's Tea House, where I had my first Cornish tea, though without the tea as it was a hot day. I had a banana milkshake instead. The food is a scone which comes with strawberry jam and clotted cream which looks a lot like paler butter. By the way if you pass by a café selling ice cream made of clotted cream try it. Much creamier than most ice-cream in London. I shall grow fat soon. Sigh ....

Afterwards, I went to Waterstone's and bought the Penguin Clothbound Edition of Mansfield Park for £15. I am resolved to vindicate Fanny Price, despite having been formerly anti-Austen. The reason I was anti-Austen wasn't so much that I actually hated Austen, but because of those silly Austenites who keep on hammering my beloved Brontë sisters and asserting Austen's perfect superiority. Well, both have their goodness and  flaws and can't we keep a civilised tongue in here?! In any case I prefer the Brontës' exceptional inspiration to Austen's perfection. Though that's an acquired taste.

Speaking of which yesterday I took the bus to Falmouth and went to Falmouth Bookseller's where they sold a Penguin Classics (an older version, this was before the sleak black jackets) edition of The Bride of Lammermoor, said to be Scott's most psychologically compelling work.  I must say Edgar Ravenswood seems rather attractive, and he reminds me of Mr Rochester in a way. Strange, because I can't stand Mr Rochester. For a Brontëite I prefer Austen's heroes. Yes, seriously. Because they're real. I like Edward Ferrars, Captain Wentworth and I suspect I will come to like Edmund Bertram. No Darcy, please - everyone out there seems to want to get into his pants.

I am now drinking a curious concoction of instant milk tea mixed with hazelnut drink to keep me awake. Stay tuned for my further forays into the secondhand bookworld. Gah, don't know what to do tomorrow. I'll probably go to Lanhydrock Castle. Only thing, the buses there are so infrequent. I like do miss the hustle and bustle of London life (and the restaurants that close later). How on earth do you get the dinner crowd if you close so early???

Saturday, 18 August 2012

How Charlotte Brontë revolutionised Gothic literature

Jane Austen famously dismissed Gothic literature as stupid (very valid though). Gothic fiction was popular and at its height in her time and it was mainly shallow sensational stuff. The only major literary novelists of note of that era are all female because they were just better at social comedy which was the only real prominent realistic genre at the time. Don't count Sir Walter Scott, because he's not strictly literary and lacks some realism. I'd like to see what Jane Austen would have made out of Charlotte Brontë making Gothic literature intellectual. Take that, Jane! It almost seems as if Charlotte deliberately strove to prove her wrong. But this isn't possible as she only read Jane Austen later. Ironically, Charlotte dissed Jane Austen for being too mild, she did praise her shrewdness and realistic observations, but dismissed her lack of feeling as cold and unintellectual. This is also very true. Austen may be second to Shakespeare in terms of characterisation (notice those who rate her second are only justified because of characterisation, because lots of other authors had just as good or even better styles of writing and intellectual issues) but she never could have come up with Hamlet. This proves Shakespeare was either a neurotic weirdo or very very good at making a unique character. Most likely explanation, however, was he plundered another book. Ironically Hamlet is fairly Gothic (it's got ghosts and incest and a mediaeval castle, and murder, what's not Gothic about that?) and most of us would agree it is one of the most intellectual of Shakespeare's plays.

Strictly speaking, though, Emily deserves more credit than Charlotte, because Wuthering Heights was written before Jane Eyre, and it's far more obviously Gothic, with real supernatural incidents, unbounded passion, secluded characters who act so passionate and unrealistic you want to smack them with your fist. Emily might have been a genius but WH is more poetry than prose, methinks. As an epic poem it would have been a major work. It is a major novel now (not so much in its time) because of feminism, because we now believe in revealing our passions and desires and because WE ARE JUST MORE DARN SEXUAL. If our times were prudish WH wouldn't have got such a reception. Because it's fashionable to swoon over bad boys and act on impulse rather than reason out your love because of virtuous character etc etc, WH is become fashionable. By the way that's not a grammatical error, "is become" is a Victorian phrase. So take that, grammar Nazis.

I'm going to talk about my beloved Charlotte though.  Jane Eyre is undoubtedly Gothic. What with the poor forsaken orphan, the scary headmaster-villain, the secluded manor of Thornfield and later Ferndean, the Byronic hero. Let's not forget the madwoman in the attic who haunts the house to burn her husband's bed.   Oh, and of course the supernatural  calling of Jane by Rochester, and her answering his cries of "Jane! Jane! Jane!" And yet when it first came out it was considered an intellectual better sort of book, especially by the male critics. Male critics had a tendency to scorn feminine novels so this is quite high praise.  Emily may have written first, but Charlotte was published first and had on the whole better reviews.  So it was her book that shaped the way people thought rather than Emily, whose influence came later. Emily was known partly as the sister of Charlotte Brontë and came into her own later on.

Why Jane Eyre was a revolution in the Gothic genre was it is intellectual. Nowadays little girls swoon over the love story, but back then it was praised for its fidelity to the human heart, and censored from young girls. Even Mrs Gaskell had to give her daughter permission to read it.  Unlike the passive heroine of Gothic novels, Jane is rebellious. Her determination to go forward, find a job and a life is surprisingly modern of that time. She does not hope to become a prop to some family member, unlike the sentimental heroine who will be attached to her family. Her aloofness is striking. She is an individual in her own right, not a stereotypical heroine. And yet this is an attribute of Romantic poetry. Deep individuals in novels only really became the vogue in the Victorian era, but the ideal of the individual owes its origin to Romanticism.  The solitary wanderer is a staple of that era, it makes you think of travellers facing a dark and gloomy journey. Not having read Ann Radcliffe or Matthew Lewis I can't say much about solitary wanderers present (or not) in their novels, but I do know solitary wanderers are typical of Romantic poetry. Look at Cowper's The Castaway, quoted in Shirley. But unlike the lone traveller who encounters weird adventures, Jane is a lonely heroine who has to learn life's lessons on her own. The isolation the Victorians felt, in contrast to the sunnier past they liked to idealise, is here, all put back in an earlier time. Jane Eyre is essentially a Victorian-minded woman in a Romantic past, ironic because Charlotte revered the Romantics, and she was like a Romantic living in the Victorian present.

What you may have noticed is that Gothic fiction of that era tends to have beautiful, passive, perfect heroines who swoon away easily. They are also beloved by the rest. Jane takes action, when she applies for a job, when she runs away, and when she argues. That being said, she's not really an action person. She would be a still, silent child compared to the rest, and Mrs Reed dislikes the quiet unsociable child. It is her mind that moves rather than her conversation.  Elizabeth Rigby, an early reviewer who disliked the novel, had it right that Jane had a problem since she didn't make a single friend at school apart from Miss Temple and Helen Burns. Some people insist on diagnosing Jane with a mental disorder but anyway neurosis isn't what I want to argue about. Jane is flawed. People do not like her easily and even when she goes to Thornfield where she  meets respect and acceptance, she is not really part of the household as such. Mrs Fairfax tries to be kind to her, but Jane can't empathise with her as Mrs Fairfax doesn't have an exceptional mind. I doubt Jane is being a holier-than-thou snob, she says she esteems Mrs Fairfax and Adele but can't be part of them.  This is never really resolved in the novel.

The thing is, while poetry was the dominant "high literature" form in the Romantic era, except Maria Edgworth and Jane Austen, its popularity died out to the literary novel in the Victorian era. Charlotte seems to be translating Gothic poetry into prose. All the wild passion and supernatural stuff may be found in Scott and Byron, her childhood heroes. Only the part about Rochester's sudden telepathic message is a morality lesson telling Jane to escape the rigid loveless St John Rivers. Morality tales might be an 18th century fictional staple, but you don't expect it in a Gothic novel. Morality tales were also rated higher than Gothic tales in the Romantic era as well as the Victorian, so by incorporating both Charlotte proved it is possible for Gothicism to be literary and not a wholly lurid immoral thing. Also the part where Jane refuses to succumb to Rochester's pleas to make her his mistress and runs away.

Oh, and don't forget the wild passion. Especially the wild passion that excites everyone's imagination, as it did mine when I was 14 and reading this in bed in the wee hours of the morning. Some of my most pleasant reading hours was in bed snuggled up in a blanket and my teddy bear. Wild passion and incest and people dying for love is very Gothic, very Byronic. While there's no incest here (except St John wanting to marry his cousin Jane, and that was acceptable back then) there is the adulterous passion Jane and Rochester share but unlike some Gothic tales, never consummate. Rochester is a Bluebeard who hides his wife in the attic while he deliberately seeks to engage Jane's virgin heart. But this passion transcends the physical and the sensuous. There's the intellectual and emotional. Rochester broadens Jane's horizons, makes her feel happy and wanted. He says he is an intellectual epicure which is why he was attracted to Jane in the first place. Charlotte Brontë managed to make passion beyond the silly romantic contemptible to the reviewers, having domestic comfort, intellectual attraction and moral reform in the relationship necessary to their love. I don't know whether you've noticed that it's not just Rochester who has been reformed, so has Jane. He develops her as a person, giving her love and companionship and emotional maturity.  Jane was not very fond of people except Miss Temple and Helen Burns before meeting him. He teaches how it is like to have a good friendship.  Did Charlotte intend this? I don't know, but this platonic intellectual friendship thing is not a Gothicism, it is part of realism.  Jane Austen started it 30 years ago, but Charlotte went further than that, saying it is possible to have an intellectual as well as passionate love. Because when Jane Austen's heroines are being intellectual and rational they are not as consumed by passion. Intellect seems to dampen ardency if anything and ardency is seen as bad and irrational (Though it often is mind you). When they are being clever they do not get obsessed with the other person, which shows you how unpassionate Regency novels can be. There is a lack of exaltedness and high feeling and staunch contancy. Jane Eyre and Rochester are both ardent and intellectually attracted, and it is their mental communion that fires off the more sensual aspects of their relationship.

The famous "Jane! Jane! Jane!" scene, while being supernatural, is actually more than sensation. A similar experience occurred to Charlotte, so she could be transcribing a hallucination. (Or maybe a time-warp. I don't know). The whole purpose is to show the reader that Jane and Rochester are destined for each other, that their love transcends time and space. Almost as if God (who seems to be an unseen character in the novel) approves and brings them together this way.
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There's no wicked priest here (I think there was one in The Italian by Ann Radcliffe), but there is a cold frigid clergyman. He might well stand in for a villainous priest though strictly speaking he is not exactly a villain.  There is no real villain in the novel except Bertha - now Charlotte regretted making her too melodramatic years later. But she is mad, so she is excused from thorough villainy. Charlotte's realism ensured that no one is out and out a thorough villain bent on murdering people. Blanche is cruel, but she is not a murderer. She is selfish and cold-hearted but not insanely wicked. Bertha was an unchaste adulteress and a would-be murderer but she was sort of bought and sold (her father wanted her to marry Rochester who was of good birth). Circumstance, not merely character, makes the characters wicked. This distinguishes Jane Eyre from the stereotypical Gothic novel which has a definite villain. Apart from Mad Bertha who is too ludicrous to be taken seriously the real candidate for Gothic villain would be our Mr Bluebeard, Mr Rochester. The attempt to seduce an innocent young maiden, imprison a mad wife and have a string of mistresses is sinful enough. But even he is reformed, something which though ludicrous to my cynical streak, is a sign of Charlotte's efforts not to make villains thorough villains. As Rochester says circumstances not nature made him a sinner.

Did I mention the old manor house is reminiscent of Gothicism? There are battlements and furniture carved with Apostles which look menacing by night. There's also a mysterious attic. Gothic literature was called such because it was set in mediaeval castles or monasteries which obviously had Gothic architecture. I don't know what style Thornfield is in, but Jane observes it is "a gentleman's manor-house, not a nobleman's seat." Charlotte refuses to go Gothic all the way and put us in a turreted castle with drawbridge. I don't know if this was a sly dig at the Gothic novelists, but the effect on me was it showed Jane could be comfortable here, as a nobleman's estate would awe her and make her feel inferior. Speaking of noblemen it's interesting that Rochester is not one. He is a well-born gentleman, and Jane is an impoverished lady of the professional gentry (which is distinct from really upper-class gentry). You normally get well-born ladies and gentlemen as heroes and heroines in Gothic novels.

Marmion is:
one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days—the golden age of modern literature. Alas! the readers of our era are less favoured.
Immortalising the Romantic era again. In addition to Marmion there's numerous quotes from The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which is undoubtedly Gothic, what with its abbey, mediaeval knights, a wizard in a grave, family feuds and even an imp. Quite good for setting the mood, methinks, especially for a novel with such a convincing heroine, where you don't expect all these poetry to come in. I think however Charlotte was trying to promote the Romantic and Gothic literature which influenced her in youth, which makes it revolutionary for a literary fiction piece.  Also Gothic novelists tend to set their works in a historical era, because it's more mysterious, exciting and Romantic. Charlotte does that too - but she cleverly inserts her opinion on the state of modern literature, instead of rambling about mediaeval chivalric codes. It is more typical for historical worshippers to wax lyrical on other things - luxuries, but worshipping literature is certainly cerebral. Charlotte loved to put in a commentary on art and how it should be: see Lucy's diatribe against the paintings in Villette, and Caroline's opinion on Cowper's poetry. In Shirley, one character is reading The Italian by Radcliffe.  Caroline thinks that despite the travelling that goes on in that book, the traveller ends up disappointed. A pretty deep analysis for Gothic literature. Speaking of travelling, Jane's journey is not so much a leap into sumptuous landscapes but a journey of the self and understanding herself and people. Take that, Mrs Radcliffe.

Probably the most enigmatic part would be the morbid water-colours Jane shows to Mr Rochester. Apparently they were based on similar works Charlotte had seen in her youth. They might be there just to exhibit Jane's talent, but I'm not so sure about that. Rochester is impressed by the way she expresses her art, though it is not the skill that enthralls him. It must be the sublimeness, not the beauty of it - yet another Romantic concept. Latmos is mentioned, one of the signs that Charlotte had classical education, which was considered impressive in books compared to Gothic stuff. Jane has Gothicised classical literature and made it respectable. The pictures she painted are symbolic of her phases in life (discovering Rochester's mad wife, her cousins and St John's frigidity), rather like presentiments.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

My foray into Sir Walter Scott

Before this, I had never read a line by Sir Walter Scott. Though that isn't strictly true, I did look up certain quotations by him in Charlotte Brontë and analysed them. But I went to this really cool secondhand bookshop in Truro (I'm doing an internship in Cornwall), which shares the same building as a place called Charlotte's Tea Shop, famed for its Victorian-style decor.

The building which contains Charlotte's Tea House, Truro
I'm a sucker for anything Victorian. Heck, if you even showed me a Victorian toilet I'd probably go ecstatic. Anyway I was hoping for a Cornish tea (it involves scones, clotted cream and jam and tea) but they had run out of scones so I had an egg custard and strawberry milkshake.

Interior of Charlotte's Tea House

egg custard
That wasn't the main point, though it was a pleasant sit on those seats with old-fashioned fabric, the red floral sort I believe. Right next door is the second-hand bookshop with old books at quite reasonable prices. They also sell Victorian photographs and stamps if you want, though you will leave with your wallet much lighter. The real steal are the books. They're stored in wooden cabinets, yes the old ones you may have seen in your grandparents' house. What amazed me was the lack of surveillance. But the British seem to be trustful of everyone, especially if they're booksellers.

I saw leatherbound volumes, some in good hard material, some in soft leather, copies of Tennyson, or Byron (That one comes with an introduction by Matthew Arnold who asserts Byron is a major literary figure and not an idiot the Victorians supposed him to be), even Mrs Hemans, a bestselling Romantic poet who is now obscure to most except literary scholars.  The Mrs Hemans was £ 7.50 I think but the quality of the poems wasn't good enough to make me want to buy it. I'm researching into the Romantic era because partly I want to understand the Brontës' influence, also I'm writing a story set in it.   If you want to know what people in that era read, don't read Wordsworth and Keats, read Byron, Mrs Hemans and Scott. Oh, and I forgot to mention several volumes of Scott. There was a softcover leather one that wasn't cheap, neither was my copy (I think it was £24).  But worth every penny I paid. It's an 1872 edition with an introduction by Francis Turner Palgrave, a well-known scholar. The cover seems to be dark navy blue or indigo and there's a purple bookmark ribbon inside, the pages are lined with some golden material. It must have cost a great deal when it was first sold, and I understand these sort of books were over a pound back then which means tens of pounds today, beyond most readers' incomes. Also a 1922 edition of Matthew Arnold's poems. Now Arnold is scarcely spoken of in mainstream poetry circles, unless you happen to study literature or are well-read. Lots of people know Tennyson and Browning, but Matthew Arnold seems to be a minor figure. Well, he was a well-respected poet in the Victorian era - known for Dover Beach. His forte was to criticise the times he lived in, which makes him a very topical poet, at least for his time. But his topicalness is why he is not as immortal as Tennyson and Browning, who either revered some chivalric code, or immortalised grief and passion, or dramatised people's emotions. Browning is the most "literary" among them in his perception of varied characters, something even many Victorians couldn't do. In this way he's like Jane Austen, though Jane Austen was shrewd rather than intense. She saw people's motives, understood them, wrote about them realistically, but unlike Browning, she wouldn't go deep into their feelings. Deep empathy is a Victorian invention. I doubt Austen could write about a crazed murderer from his point of view, or describe to us an intellectual, anguished soul.  Mainstream was her byword, which makes it extremely realistic. Thus Fanny Price is really an achievement for someone so mainstream. But I'm rambling now.

I didn't have very much cash with me, so I hesitated to buy, but the proprietor, who is a balding, middle-aged man of refined voice and appearance (I notice many second-hand bookshops with decent old books have these sort of proprietors. I wonder why?) said he would sell me these two for £25. So I bought them. Here they are.

I looked over Sir Walter Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel and now I understand why it captivated so many readers of its time.  Scott is actually easy reading for poetry, his words are fairly simple and straightforward. He is descriptive, which adds to the picture he's trying to convey. But the description is far easier to stomach than Keats, though Keats is the better poet. It is a tale of chivalry and daring and revenge - which reminds me of those poor blighted souls who swear by Twilight. There's also an element of Gothic fantasy, which is far more than I can say for Twilight.  There's plot, adventure, love, violence, and castles - who wouldn't want? But you wouldn't have to analyse it the way you would Keats and Wordsworth, which is why Scott remains a minor poet. A lesser mortal, however, wouldn't find it boring as Wordsworth - understandably.

£25 is not the sort of money a struggling undergraduate should be throwing away on books - we normally get paperbacks. But I don't feel cheated at all. A new clothbound Penguin edition would cost £15 each and if I'd got 2 of those that makes £30. I have 2 leather books for £5 less, and what's more, they're old editions which makes them potentially more valuable.  I told my friend (who knows a bit about finding old books) about the good value I got for an old edition and he was envious. Though if they're sitting in a bookshop for less than a few hundred, one wonders how much they'll appreciate in value, so my friend's envy might be a little misplaced.

Why you should read Sir Walter Scott:
1. Jane Austen admired him. He admired her as well. Now Jane Austen derided Gothicism but the fact she liked Scott despite his Gothic stereotypes shows you something
2. Charlotte Brontë loved his works. Several of his quotes appear in Jane Eyre, and in The Professor, Scott excites Frances' ardent imagination.
3. He was friends with Maria Edgworth, whose bestselling books (far more intellectual than most books of her time, and in many ways more penetrating than Frankenstein, that overrated classic) were admired by Jane Austen.
4. He can really describe an abbey, the interiors of a castle, and chivalric knights
5. He popularised the historical novel genre. Because of him we have bestselling crap like The Other Boleyn Girl.
6. Without him it is likely we wouldn't have Jane Eyre. Now this one is likely true. Jane Eyre is noticeably more Gothic and Romantic than Charlotte's other novels, and during and before her time Gothic novels were derided as mass pulp fiction. The difference was, an intelligent author now wrote intelligent issues, a well-crafted heroine using a Gothic setting and an abundance of poetry championing the Romantic era. She made the Gothic novel a respectable genre - see Dracula, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rebecca.

Interestingly Scott's son-in-law was the caustic critic John Gibson Lockhart who I believe was unduly harsh to the Cockney school of poets. Scott was a mild, benign old man, which makes you wonder how the two got on. Especially since Scott was considered popular stuff rather than truly highbrow literature. Still he was respected (I suppose you could compare him to JK Rowling, who though a really awesome novelist, is nothing as intellectual as Pullman and Pratchett or psychologically realistic as Diana Wynne Jones. If Diana Wynne Jones had written for adults she would have revolutionised fantasy as realistic literary fiction. Sadly, she died a year ago. RIP).

I glanced at the Arnold book and the stuff is not bad, only I think he relies too much on Greek learning and books and Victorian social criticism. True natural love is not as abundant as in Wordsworth, he is more rational, more cynical, less Romantic. Which is why even today he is a respected critic among literary circles who still know his name, long after his death.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Why the Passion is Pure in Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte didn't intend to commit adultery with Heger, no matter how much she loved him. It is the higher form of love, not the physical part I think she wished to emphasise. We can thus see Villette as a way to vindicate her innocence. There are several pieces of evidence for this. Firstly, she was angry Branwell committed adultery. She might have loved a married man, but at least she did not intend adultery, because her love for him was on a higher plane. In fact I do not know whether she was physically attracted to Heger. We will probably never know.

Yes, I know very well Jane and Rochester have an intensely physical relationship, but Charlotte was 30 at the time and would likely be more susceptible to the romances of her youth. Their very sensuousness sounds more like the fantasies of an idealistic young woman who imagines how love could be, rather than a sex-starved spinster who was tempted to kiss a man. Note with time the sensuousness in her fiction disappears, as she grew to know herself better. I rather think she got disillusioned with physical affection with time. There is scarcely any of that in Shirley and Villette. True, Caroline worships Robert's handsomeness, but it is a visual pleasure, not the kisses of Mr Rochester. These are different things, as a well-informed asexual will tell you.

Then there's the evidence in Villette. Lucy does not wax lyrical on Dr John's beauty - rather they distance them apart, because she knows she has nothing in common with him, as he has the advantage of beauty over her. She finds his handsomeness painful, and admires it as an artist, not as a lover.  With Paul it is an emotional connection. Except for the smell of the cigar their relationship is noticeably devoid of physicalness - understandable by Victorian standards, but strange when you compare it to Jane Eyre.
envied no girl her lover, no bride her bridegroom, no wife her husband
She is content with his friendship. Charlotte is trying to say through fiction and Lucy Snowe that her love for Heger was platonic - well, romantic perhaps, but certainly not physical. If there was physical attraction she did not intend to act on it. She is a lonely woman who needs a friend, not a pretty woman dangling for a lover. Which reminds me of a letter she wrote to Ellen Nussey.
“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay singlebut that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely
It is not so much the conjugal affections as the emotional friendship Lucy longs for, if Charlotte's sentiments are similar to Lucy's. Lucy is lonely from lack of friends, not because she particularly desires any man until Paul Emmanuel. She cries at leaving the Brettons, because they are her only friends so far. She may be in love with John Bretton but she harbours no delusions about him loving her. She longs for his letters, because she likes talking to him, but she hopes for nothing more. She is in love with his charm and friendship but not his beauty. With Paul Emmanuel this need for friendship is satisfied. Note that when she befriends Paulina her complaints grow less intense, because Paulina is to some extent her equal.

Later on when Paul goes off to the West Indies she still remains happy, because she has his letters as testament of his firm friendship. They do love, but in a higher sense. She does not go ecstatic like a girl. In the final scene when they declare their love for each other, the only physical thing is hand-patting and hair-stroking, nothing more. Even the kiss is on the hand. There is nothing remotely sensuous here. It is pure, almost the way two best friends who are girls might in those times treat each other.

Villette is also Charlotte's answer to her dilemma on whether she loved her publisher George Smith or not. By making Paul Lucy's lover instead of John Bretton and calling Dr John superficial, she is justifying why she could not ultimately love George Smith. Because what she felt for Paul's real-life counterpart, Heger, was greater than what she felt for George Smith. Villette was a struggle to understand her own feelings. She fought against her feelings for George Smith, and by writing out the novel, was trying to convince herself Smith was nothing to Heger. Heger was master of her heart, he taught her to write. Smith was nice and kind and charming, but she did not feel the thrill of inspiration. Paul does inspire Lucy, but not Dr John. To Dr John, Lucy is just another friend; to M. Paul, she is a friend he is interested in and seeks to know better and make observations on. He may be intrusive but at least he is interested. Just as Heger was interested in making Charlotte a better writer - which she responded with passion. He is of her kind, as Dr John is not of Lucy's kind. A love based on intellect and inspiration rather than charm must surely be superior. George Smith was upset Charlotte didn't make him the hero. I wonder why. Even if she had, it would mean Lucy got together with John, in other words, fictional Charlotte with fictional George Smith, which would reveal her love for him and be rather embarrassing. Perhaps that would have been more flattering.

It explains why, despite having given up on Heger and fallen for Smith, in the novel, it is the reverse chronology. Not what you would expect, but by having Lucy paired off with M. Paul, Charlotte is reaffirming the superiority of her old love over her new one. That her love was unreal is besides the point.  It was true to her, anyway, and with Heger she did not feel as inferior as she might have with Smith, whose associates she was uncomfortable with.

Another thing that I wondered about was why did Charlotte write an ostentatiously passionate novel like Jane Eyre, and feel shocked when the critics found it coarse? All the passion would have been out of place in prudish Victorian times, that is, if you equate it with sexuality. However, on the other hand, if the passion wasn't meant to emphasise sexuality you begin to understand Charlotte's confusion. If the passion was mainly emotional and intellectual (as it is in Villette) then it would be less shameful to Charlotte. Had it been overtly sexual she would have felt guilty. Jane Eyre does have a great deal of physical sensations, but it might be the result of reading many romances in her youth, rather than a deliberate attempt to characterise sexuality. Obviously it is difficult to wax lyrical over soul-mateship, but if you put in physical elements it is easier, because it has been done before. Charlotte was imitating her predecessors in physicality rather than actually advocating sexual things. Also all the emotional-intellectual stuff isn't a great way of showing the reader how in love a couple is, unless you are a very skilled writer (and Charlotte only developed this later on).

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Why Shirley Keeldar binds the novel together

A contemporary reviewer said the real heroine of Shirley is Caroline Helstone. We see into her thoughts, feelings, dreams and daily life - we do become Caroline. But we never know what Shirley is thinking, except through Caroline and Louis Moore. Indeed it seems in the first part of the book that she may be in love with Robert Moore, though if you read in between the lines, she perceives Caroline's love for Robert, and even encourages it. It is true that while Charlotte Brontë didn't write Shirley well, she is important as a heroine.

Caroline's existence has been dull, lonely and unfulfilled until she meets Shirley. If not for Shirley, who to share her thoughts with? We see her as the lovelorn maiden, but she shows her more intellectual side when she and Shirley discuss poetry. The plot couldn't go on either without Shirley. Caroline would waste away with no close friend to be with, and develop less as a person. Also, it is through Shirley she gets to reunite with her mother Mrs Pryor, who is Shirley's governess and companion. We get to hear Caroline's thoughts, too, on feminism, such as wanting to become a governess to escape her solitude. She voices out her discontent at the only suitors who would marry her - Malone or Donne. Curiously, Shirley asks her whether she is Rousseauan - possibly it means whether emotions should rule over reason, and Caroline refutes this thinking Rousseau unrealistic. And yet Caroline loves the truth and feeling in Cowper's poetry. One suspects her of repressing her naturally emotional side. Shirley fulfils the need for emotional and intellectual fulfilment - aspects we only see when she and Caroline become friends.

But I was thinking of the social aspect as well. Shirley is upper-class gentry, Caroline professional middle-class(her uncle is a clergyman). Shirley's other associates are Robert Moore (middle-class tradesman), Mr Yorke (a complicated case of old landed middle-class tradesman, which makes him gentry by middle-class standards, though not by the titled), etc. Then you have Mrs Pryor, educated but poor middle-class, William Farren (working-class) and Louis Moore (just like Mrs Pryor). It is curious that despite being upper-class Shirley's friends are middle-class. This points to a lack of pride, which is good, but it is strange for one in her position. Charlotte Brontë knew little about the upper-classes, which could be why, but it defeats the purpose of an upper-class heroine. No, there must be a reason, and it is that she glues everyone together. Shirley is unusual in that it offers the viewpoints of different sets of characters - Caroline, the Yorkes, Shirley's household, the Moores. What else can unite them but Shirley? As Shirley interacts with everyone else, she brings all the themes together, and prevents narrative discontinuity. Caroline does not get on with the Yorkes until much later on, or with the Wynnes and the Sympsons. Her main associates are those of the middle-class, and her inability to get on with the gentry could make readers think Caroline is a major meanie. The fact Shirley doesn't care for the rest shows you that she and Caroline are exceptionally thoughtful.

You can't discount the fact Shirley lends money to Robert Moore - a classic example of kind-hearted landowner. This reflects Charlotte's high Tory principles. It's also important to the plot, because how else does Robert tide over? This contributes to the confusion over Shirley's feelings for Robert. Everyone thinks she loves him, when she loves his brother, and is being nice to Robert for Louis' sake. Shirley's attachment to her Master, Louis Moore, is yet another example of her coming down to her middle-class flock, though Louis' intellect is superior. It celebrates intellect rather than class as the determinant of superiority.

Let's move on to Mr Yorke. He gives Shirley away and seems to be an old family friend. From his side, we know he is a landowning merchant who advises Robert to marry Shirley. He is among those gossipers who assume Shirley plans to marry Robert. He is another part of the picture, because unlike Helstone and Mrs Pryor, he is a genuine Radical. Robert may be a Whig, but being a tradesman can't be as pro-worker as the affluent Mr Yorke. Tory and Radical unite in Shirley Keeldar and Mr Yorke. It's useful because a solely Tory cast of characters would be biassed and boring, and Mr Yorke seems to be one of those men who supported the French revolution, disliked the church and disdained the Duke of Wellington. Yet he is a sympathetic character and father figure to Robert Moore. That Shirley likes Mr Yorke shows she is tolerant of those of different ideology and class, or more likely she prefers them to her own class.

Why not have an upper-middle class heroine? Charlotte presumably wanted different classes, besides, an heiress to a businessman would be in a way condoning the narrow principles of a tradesman. Charlotte didn't seem to like the wealthy merchants in the novel, apart from Mr Yorke, denoting them as vulgar, boring and unfeeling. No doubt she had some antipathy to trade. A non-mercantile heroine on the other hand could be idealistic and thoughtful. Remember Charlotte made some cutting remarks on the low origin of one of her employers who was unkind to her.

I have not mentioned the sub-plot of the charity Miss Ainley is involved in. Shirley puts in her money and time to help Miss Ainley, without which we wouldn't be able to see an active role on Caroline's part in the scheme. Caroline doesn't like helping out in these things, but with Shirley advocating a charitable deed she does. We are also entertained by Messrs Donne and Malone, who come begging for money for their own charitable schemes. Charlotte gets a vicious satisfaction when Shirley turns them out of her house, scoring a victory against the wretched clergymen. They wouldn't try that with Caroline who isn't as rich as Shirley. Malone's materialism is also amusingly shown when he shifts his attentions from Caroline to Shirley.  Malone then is no good mate for Caroline.

It helps too that there's conflict between Caroline and Shirley as the former thinks the latter is her rival in Robert's affections. That she still loves Shirley despite this is testament to Caroline's fidelity and exaltedness. Shirley's friendship with Robert is liberal by the standards of 1812, but it shows you the unique side of her character. She is interested in trade, the equal of men, and is interested in better poetry. She is too idealised for reality, but there you are: you see Charlotte's own views of how she wished women to be equal to men. Charlotte often longed for intellectual conversation with intellectual men. This makes Shirley a phenomenon in Victorian fiction. Shirley is the only unbiassed political person here: though a Tory, she sympathise with the workers and chides Robert for using the military to fend off the rioters. She also rebukes Mr Yorke, a Radical who condemned Robert's cowardice in getting the military. Charlotte advocates moderation, a virtue only Shirley has in her politics. Even Mr Helstone dislikes Robert for his Whig views, and Mr Yorke for being a Radical. Kindness, not political ideologies, is the key, says Shirley, praising kind Mr Hall.

I wonder how the novel would have turned out if Anne hadn't died, and Charlotte less distracted. It takes a morbid turn from Caroline's descent into illness - The Valley of the Shadow of Death onwards. Caroline may not have fallen ill so suddenly, Mrs Pryor's revelation less fanciful, and Louis Moore's pursuit less absurd. We may have seen more of Robert's self-reflection into his possible marriage to Shirley. Or Louis' unhappiness with the Sympsons.  Or Caroline's relations with Louis. I thought it interesting she was open and friendly with him, unlike with others. We might have seen Caroline's observations of Louis' life. I would have liked to see more of him with Mr Hall but I doubt that would have been written. The Sympsons were badly written and so was Louis - they lacked conviction. More struggle on the part of the workers would have done. Louis' visits to the Farrens, etc.

I realise what I write is fanciful thinking, and I'll stop here. Will post more on other significant bits in Charlotte Brontë's works later.