Sunday, 30 September 2012

Random pictures by Andrew Tozer

Summer Heat, Mousehole by Andrew Tozer
I saw this outside a shop in Falmouth, googled the painter and was pleasantly surprised to find he is a contemporary painter. Andrew Tozer is apparently influenced by the Impressionists. No surprise there.
Custom House Quay, Sunny Morning by Andrew Tozer
Like Impressionist paintings, he's best viewed from the distance rather than close up, that way you see the colours swirl together and imagine details that don't exist. Close up, you see there are no details.

Read Mysteries of Udolpho and it had an interesting cover, a painting called Woman on a Balcony  by Carl Gustav Carus. Googled him and found this:

Very Romantic. I wonder why the Romantics are not as famous as the Impressionists as a school and as a group of individuals (except Turner, but he's an individual).

Apparently Carus was a doctor and a naturalist. One of your 19th century polymaths. We don't seem to get them today, more's the pity.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Why is Lucy Snowe a man?

Not, I beg of you, a case of mistaken identity. Do you recall the scene where Lucy Snowe plays the role of a  man in Madame Beck's Pensionnat? I think it is important to show us Lucy's personality, because why include this irelevant scene? I doubt that Charlotte took part in Belgian theatricals. If anything, she might have been inspired by a school event in Roe Head. Some mad pseudo-scholars says she is being lesbian to Ginevra. I would dispute that. Girls were closer in the 19th century than now, and besides, there is no evidence to prove they are lesbian.

Well, to recap. Lucy refuses the role when M. Paul forces it  on her, because she is shy and publicity-averse. He persuades her, however, and when she is on stage she acts well. Before then, she is asked to dress as a man. She refuses the suit, taking only a cravat and minimal items. Some people say she is asserting her feminineness. That is a simplistic view. Lucy is shy, and she feels to dress as a man, she is out of her comfort zone - it is not something a shy Victorian woman would do readily. Cross-dressing wasn't so common then, and it is turning her into a character she isn't comfortable with.  Because it is not her nature to wear men's garments, she cannot act herself in comfort.

And yet despite her nervousness she plays the foppish suitor well, according to Dr John. This shows Lucy's insight into flirtatious men - perhaps a touch of William Weightman here? But Lucy's newfound masculinity is not meant to be lesbian or tomboyish - it is a reflection of Charlotte Brontë herself.

When flirting with George Smith she signed off with a man's name, Currer Bell. It gave her the security she could not have as Charlotte Brontë because that would be improper. Well, not really, lots of people wrote flirtatious things those days, and it would have been tolerably accepted among lively flirtatious women, but a quiet soul like Charlotte doing that would be shocking. The world is unkind to souls like her.

But in some respects, Charlotte was masculine in a Victorian sense. Jane Eyre was perceived to have been written by a man, not just because it was course, but because it was vigorous and powerful. Few women have written powerfully before her - even Jane Austen does not come close, with all her subtlety.  And (something we hardly credit her for, since most of us think she's feminist) Charlotte was more accepting of men than women in general.

Yes, the little lady who protested against the lack of jobs for women loved men. She might not have had the insight to write proper heroes, but she knew her Mr Helstones, her Mr Donnes and Malones, and her Mr Yorkes. One should never fall in love with one's own hero. When Charlotte was a governess she preferred her male employers to their wives, who she felt were snobbish and viewed her as a slave. The men, she felt, were more intelligent and didn't pick on them. Men couldn't be bothered about these things, whereas women are more personal and therefore more interfering. They gave her a chance to be independent. And Charlotte was not typically feminine. Her method of expression was not common among female writers - passionate, powerful, searing. It was as reckless as a man's. This powerful Romantic style was a masculine thing. For someone who liked bluntness, hated formal society and manners, and loved intellect for its own sake, this is rather masculine.  Ladies are more refined in manners and expect more of their fellow-females. Charlotte hated to conform to something she couldn't do. So making her alter-ego Lucy Snowe enact a man well - far more charming than as her normal female self - shows she could have been more comfortable as a man. She also shows she understands the way men are - since she can imitate a flirtatious man so well on stage, and cannot change her feminine character in reality.

As a woman, she is acid to Ginevra, and puts up with her only because she is entertaining and no one else bothers to be nice to her. As a man on stage, she acts out the role of charming suitor far better to Ginevra, the flirt. Curious, but there must be a reason Charlotte put this bit in - it's too obviously dull or insignificant to have been there for no purpose. It could mean Lucy, who conceals herself from the reader, is very reticent about herself, and so has to take up a new role in order to assert her (imaginary) personality. Because she is not dominant or charismatic. And this masculine role shows Lucy's need to adopt a role that isn't her in order to express herself well. An attack on the artificialities of society, perhaps?  Lucy can't afford to show her true self to the public because she feels weak and vulnerable. A false front would serve her better.  It is more personal than thematic, however, which makes it all the more complicated.

Yet Lucy's masculinity doesn't fit in with her reluctance to dress as a man. Some scholar has come up with the idea that Lucy doesn't want people to see that she is a man, whatever that means. But if I am right, it could mean that because Lucy's character can be mannish, were she to dress as a man people would think at once how mannish she is, that the male garb suits her personality better than a dress - and this she cannot bear. It is more acceptable in society for a woman to be feminine in temperament, not masculine. And it would make her The Other - an outcast who cannot sympathise with her fellow-females. Lucy realises she's different but doesn't want this to stand out, so she conforms to feminine dressing. Notice her dress is a dull dun colour, which keeps her in the shade, unlike her male persona. Perhaps Charlotte thought she would be different if she was a man - respected more, more charismatic, more in the limelight. Certain traits are acceptable in man, shunned in woman. We know this, because Southey wrote to her saying a woman should not make literature her profession.

We see, too, that her meaningful relationships are with men - notable Dr John and M. Paul. There's Paulina, but she is not too feminine in that she doesn't gossip like other women. Ginevra is a diversion rather than a friend. It is the men who respect her as an independent, intelligent woman; Dr John takes her to galleries and concerts, M. Paul discourses with her, M. de Bassompierre thinks she is wise and hopes she will befriend his daughter - they take more trouble with her than the ladies (except Mrs Bretton and Paulina, who are old friends and exceptional women). Even the bookseller who is not even a friend earns more sympathy from her.

After the play is over she is strangely more confident in speaking to Dr John. I suppose the success of the performance exulted her to be more vocal. As a demure shy woman she cannot tease him about his love for Ginevra. In another personality, that of a man, it may seem less shocking to her delicate nature. Lucy notes her speaking out is unusual, and Dr John notices it as well. The mask of the stage has permitted Lucy to say what she feels, without showing her true colours.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Melmoth the Wanderer and Music

I have recently finished a most astonishing book by Charles Robert Maturin called Melmoth the Wanderer. I'll update on it some day, but I'm really very busy nowadays, what with my job and term is going to start soon. Argh!
Charles Robert Maturin

Basically it's about John Melmoth who sold his soul to the devil in the 17th century for 150 years of extra life and supernatural powers. It is said that strange music is heard when he approaches his victim. He spends his life trying to persuade others to sell their soul to release him from the contract. Otherwise he will die in hell.  As I happened to be listening to this piece while reading the book I'll share it here.

The beginning is scary, reminiscent of a burning building, ominous with the surrealism only Scriabin could put in - which is the feeling I felt on reading the novel. It does resolve into moments of sweetness and intense feeling, just like the parts of Moncada's sufferings in the Spanish Inquisition and Melmoth's tragic love for Immalee.

Whatever it is, I advise you, if you love Gothic novels with intense emotion, philosophical argument and cynicism do try this book. It is no easy read, being more complex than Ann Radcliffe and The Monk, but more satisfying. The character of Melmoth, though shadowy in most parts, is a work of consummate genius.

While on Youtube I happened to be forced to go through one of those stupid ads before the real video starts, and it was the Fifty Shades Classical Album. Yup, EL James has chosen some songs mentioned in the series to be compiled into an album. It's pretty good, though I groaned at the fact she has just insulted my favourite composer, Rachmaninov, by selecting his 2nd Piano Concerto (my favourite piece) in a stupid novel. Anyway one of the pieces chosen is Chopin's Nocturne 1. This one has especially stuck in my head. It could represent the temporary peace during the romancing of Immalee and Melmoth, yet with undercurrents of gloom. Melmoth becomes pensively gloom from fiercely misanthropic. And he is a real cynic. He battles within himself whether to get her to sell her soul or to leave her so he can't hurt her. Which kind of reminds me of Sparkly Vampire and that Mary Sue, only Melmoth is waaaaaaaay more complex and therefore fascinating in a horrible way.

Which reminds me, I'm behind with my review on Mansfield Park and the Brontës. Not to mention the Brontë fanfics I'm supposed to continue (and I am too tired to think up new ideas quickly.)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Gothicism and its Discontents

History is repeating itself in the literary world. In the 1790's the Gothic novel was the craze in the Anglophone world, the doyenne of which was the famous Ann Radcliffe. (I think our equivalent would be Anne Rice, though both use different modes). She wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (parodied in Northanger Abbey) and The Italian. Matthew Lewis wrote only one novel at the age of 19 - The Monk, which became popular, so much that his nickname was Monk Lewis. William Beckford wrote Vathek. Mary Shelley wrote not only Frankenstein but numerous other things, among which is The Last Man (which I haven't read, but it's dystopian, according to the summary on the back). Check Oxford World's Classics, which seems to be making a trade in old Gothic novels nowadays. You didn't see all these un-literary old Gothic novels for years - not in the 90's, not in the early part of this decade. Now you see them in Waterstone's, which means they're mainstream. Well as far as classics can become mainstream. Even a latecomer in the Gothic era (well past its heyday) was Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (published in 1820), now available in Penguin Classics.

But before we go deeply into novels, let's talk about poetry. Why is it that Gothic novels of the Romantic era are considered un-literary, whereas Gothic poetry is transcendent, visionary, intellectual and an emblem of the Romantic era? This is being unfair. OK, I know Ann Radcliffe isn't deep or realistic, but then you could argue the same for Coleridge's Christabel. And the heroine is a kind of innocent Mary Sue. Not that I dislike Christabel: I am just pointing out a discrepancy. There's a vampire lesbian, which is something out of the ordinary, and there isn't any deep philosophy (well, Coleridge did feel he wasn't as good as Wordsworth. But the man was a genius, more intellectual than Wordsworth). The villains in Gothic novels are unrealistic and too heinous, but so are lesbian vampires who prey on a girl's life. Frankenstein is an exception (and is less thrilling though it is deeper) because it discusses the possibility of resurrecting corpses, and owes its existence to lectures attended by the young Mary Shelley. The hero also develops in his own twisted way, though he is the only convincing character - and  I think over-sentimentalised.  Lamia is definitely literary because it analyses people's feelings so well and has great power. But you could argue the same for Matthew Lewis' The Monk - it is more powerful than Mrs Radcliffe. But ghostly nuns, bandits, scary priests and demons in disguise aren't realistic. Neither are lesbian vampires. Therefore in Gothic literature realism isn't the point. Perhaps the point is power. A long novel with irrelevant passages loses its power, whereas a shorter poem with a nice rhyme has more power. I think we unconsciously discriminate against each genre. Novels are more biased to realism, poetry to power.  Still there's something missing. As for Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it is possibly a tale of ingratitude and suffering, but the haunting part predominates over everything else. It is terror - but then one could argue terror is a human experience. Yes, but you get terror in old Gothic novels. So novels deserve some credit as well. My other idea is, poetry may possibly immortalise the beast within us, whereas novels seek thrills in unconvincing old monasteries and castles with a nice scary plot to entertain the reader.  Because poetry is shorter, it doesn't go on into the details of how characters speak and move the way novels do - solving the problem of discrepancies in real life. We are just awed at the immortal passion or whatever. What do you think?

As I said our modern Gothic novelist equivalent is the vampiric Anne Rice, who has defined the modern vampire for us, at least the non-Dracula version. Anne Rice isn't strictly literary, but she has entertained many readers and created enthralling plots we must take off our hats to her. There is a difference, however, between the 18th-19th century Gothic and the modern Gothic. The old version will have someone selling his soul to the devil quite often, someone deep and passionate who either lusts for power, knowledge or just plain good old-fashioned lust. It's a nod to Goethe and Marlowe and the neglected Germans. Quite often it takes place in the South or in an Arab state, because that's supposed to be exotic. Other important elements are a Mediaeval monastery, a castle, abbey, always abandoned or secretive, demons, ghosts, legends, vampires, even The Wandering Jew (this appears in The Monk, a really enjoyable novel. And I'm not a Gothic fan).   The hero is a lone wanderer, the heroine overly virtuous, the villain really creepy. Modern Gothic fiction (I'm no expert, so do correct me if I'm wrong) is quite varied, but the vampire genre seems to be the most popular. How the two periods differ is, there are no rules in old Gothicism. A vampire or whatever appears out of nowhere to threaten the hero, but little is known about them. You may get some details about vampires but that's about it. It's some mysterious folklore. The real terror lies in the mystery of the villain/creature. Whereas we modernists tend to have well-defined creatures and rules. Gothicism in an age of science. Even our fantasy has to be reasonable, though we set our own laws. But it removes the mystique, because you can expect something, you know something about whatever threat it is. I know that magical beings have different powers revealed in the course of the story but the fact is, we're bombarded with information. There is no particular power assigned to the old creatures of lore. Though I must admit I do like knowing about the creatures' backgrounds; it's more vivid that way.

With this return of the old Gothic novels, perhaps it is safe to guess that this is caused by the sudden vampire influx. Yes, I know Anne Rice was here decades ago, but with that teenage fluffy series, Twilight, it's bringing vampires full front into the media. You have to like fantasy and suspense to read Anne Rice, but you don't have to have a brain to read Twilight. It's more mainstream because it's romance, and everyone knows romance requires the least intelligence to appreciate it. Brontë works are not counted and how dare you insult the classics.

To become a classic you have to become a bestseller. This includes literary fiction as well as silly novels. Twilight is a bestseller, and has been followed by the un-Gothic Fifty Shades and now Gabriel's Inferno. Now the last 2 are not Gothic, but the first has vampires, a Byronic hero and a silly heroine - fits the formula. Arguably the old-fashioned Gothic novel has a formula. Because of this the demand of the market will cater for Gothic romance. (Though Twilight doesn't feel Gothic to me). Literary fiction in an attempt to boost sales may become more Gothic, and high time it was. Say what you like but dull realism is getting on my nerves. It's too photographic (something even the Victorians complained about).  So it makes sense that a formula based on the Twilight series will develop in literary general fiction.

"But it's not even intelligent!" I hear you protest. "Or even realistic." This is true, but remember that late Gothic fiction was of a higher intellect than the early novelists. Mrs Radcliffe was a sensational writer, even if she didn't condone (fictional) rape and incest. In the early 19th century, Mary Shelley attended lectures on chemistry and the life-force, and put the ideas she had heard in Frankenstein. Can man be resurrected from corpses? The characterisation is crude, the plot boring and meaningless, with a notable lack of excitement, apart from terror, but you can't deny it's intellectual. Pretty good for an 19-year-old (Gothic fiction seems to suit the young. I wonder why?) Charles Maturin's novel is about a man who sells his soul to the devil and is an anti-Catholic treatise (it's best you don't read it as one, or it might spoil your enjoyment). It's about the inner psychological torment in a person - something developed by the Gothic authors, not so much the 18th century novelists. Even Jane Austen enjoyed Gothic novels in her youth.

And I daresay this inner torment in the Gothics transmuted into Victorian psychological realism. The Brontë sisters are ample evidence for Gothic literary fiction and psychological realism in the Victorian era. Apart from the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre, you have the tormented villain-hero, Mr Rochester, even a cruel clergyman (St John is well-meaning but heartless). The solitary wanderer-heroine, the high emotions, the mystery - all these are Gothic elements. Wuthering Heights goes even further. Everyone in that community is isolated from the world, there is a villain-hero, a ghost and a rumbling old house.

Instead of fear of the supernatural or some rapist villain too evil to be true, it is fear of a person - fear of the unknown, in both cases. A brooding, domineering man can be a mystery to an innocent young woman - and this fed the Brontës. Look at Jane Eyre and Isabella Linton. As says, the villain mustn't be a monster in fact, but only a monster within. People like something familiar and realistic they can identify with. So I foresee more Gothic heroes. Edward Cullen is definitely un-vampiric that fans have complained, but it is this sort of hero (without the total unrealism and the atrocious writing) that can develop in literary fiction, the way a bona fide vampire can't, unless you're Emily Bronë. And no one will ever become the next Emily Brontë. Well, I do personally know someone who was a bit like her, but she isn't into writing fiction. The new nerd doesn't write novels, unlike those days.

Keats borrowed from Mrs Radcliffe and ended up becoming more famous than her - posthumously. Why shouldn't some clever git take a leaf out of a certain resident of Utah's book and become the next Currer Bell? Contemporary fiction has lost its gusto and power - why not borrow from genre fiction to boost it? I feel sad for Anne Rice because she is a better writer than SMeyer and yet it is SMeyer who will be the Trope Codifier for the new Gothicism.

Twilight will probably last longer than Anne Rice although it's stupider because firstly it caters to a general audience (read: stupid people, and if you're offended I assume you are one of those I intended to insult) and secondly, it's more versatile in a way. Outraged fantasy fans, do not picket on my lawn. The various fantasy authors who have built a wonderful regulated world will not last long because they have rules. Zombies are like this, vampires are like this. It loses its mystique. Magic works in certain ways. Many fantasy fans have complained that there's not enough magic in Twilight, the vampirism is ill-developed, the vampires don't act or look like vampires, there's no sense of fantasy or other-worldliness. This defect will promote Twilight's longevity, if not in print, then in influence. If you know how magic works, how the fantasy world works, it loses its mystery. The old Gothic novels had no proper rules, which enthralls and intrigues us the way a better-written Twilight would. Unexpected incidents happen. Twilight is not thrilling but parts of it serve as a model how it might have been had a more talented writer written it. There is perhaps more realism, less otherworldliness in Keats and Coleridge's fantasy poems (they are far less spooky) than an old Gothic novel, but this has promoted its classic status and given it its power. An enduring fantasy classic must never have too many rules and must have intellectual themes that pertain to the real world. Only with this realism do you get that sense of mystery, power and awe that wears out with the ordinary sensational Gothic novel. It's the author's mind that becomes the Gothic villain after all.

Gothicism is a Romantic tradition, and all this darkness about vampires and abbeys aren't the only fantasy thing in Romanticism. There's the Fairy-Tale Ballad, as opposed to the Dark Twisted Creatures. Though fairies can be just as eerie, if you've read Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies. And. on a more classic note, Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Lamia is more Gothic, because she's a snake-woman. I don't know how fairies are going to become mainstream, because I haven't heard of any blockbuster fairy-tale-influenced romance or saga. But we can agree that in romantic terms (I mean in the low vulgar sense of hearts and flowers), vampires are masculine (forget the femme fatale who suck men's souls, these won't sell as well). whereas fairies are feminine. Fairies have also been idealised traditionally in Victorian stories. Perhaps a human male-fairy romance? Classics always have love stories.

Pure fantasy doesn't become classic literary fiction: but realism with fantasy elements has that possibility. I will be posting on Gothicism in Villette later on, so stay tuned.

Thanks to Katherine of November's Autumn for her comment that inspired part of this discussion.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Book shopping

And so I've been to Truro again this weekend, to the bookshop I mentioned before. The owner managed to convince me to get 3 books, two which cost £30 and the 3rd he gave to me, which was originally £5. I got a biography of Jane Austen by David Stokes (better than the Claire Tomalin one, apparently, she's a readable biographer but I guess having to research so many people means she can't devote so many pages to each author) published in 1997. Also a volume of Tennyson's poems. Now the cover, which is of dark blus soft leather, isn't particularly impressive, but it has beautiful paper inside, the sort stuck to the leather jacket. There's also a sketch of Tennyson on the frontispiece.  The third book in question was The Three Brontës by May Sinclair. This edition was published in the 1950's.
I chatted a while with the owner.  It seems he was a former golfer (!!!) who also sells 1920's golf clubs and has a fascination with Winston Churchill.  He has family in Somerset, which is Thomas Hardy country. But he doesn't roll his R's or anything. I watched Far from the Madding Crowd and thought they spoke a bit like Americans. I somehow don't associate athletes with antique books but it must be different in the UK. Especially old cricketeers and golfers and rugby players (I think). I always find it amusing when people try to guess my age. The owner was saying "I was living in London when I was your - " he abruptly stopped and corrected himself - "when I was in my late teens and twenties." I suppose an interest in old books correlates with old age. It's funny, when I'm with my parents people underestimate my age, when I'm with friends people get it nearly right, and when I'm by myself people are either unsure or overestimate my age.

Then I went to Waterstone's and got Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (kind of reminiscent of EM Forster, it's set in the Edwardian era) and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (published 1820, which makes it a Gothic Romantic novel). I was struggling between Maturin or Matthew Lewis' The Monk (quite suspenseful, and far more horrifying than our contemporary horror) but since I'd read 200 pages of The Monk I thought I'd go for Maturin, who seems to be deeper than Lewis anyway.

The Stranger's Child somewhat reminds me of the relationship between Tennyson and Hallam (with added gay bits) but then I haven't read enough of the book, so a review will wait. But it was a bestseller last year and no one could understand why it didn't get on the Booker list. Oh I know why. Hollinghurst had won the Booker some years ago so he was disqualified. Whatever it is, I'm sure this book will last the ages and become a classic. At least I hope so - Hollinghurst isn't exactly a major bestseller, not like Ian McEwan and JM Coetzee. I like McEwan's prose but I think he is too short - which doesn't help you sympathise with the characters much. I've read Atonement and Amsterdam. Coetzee's sex scenes totally put me off. Perhaps there's some truth in the maxim that men write bad sex. But the seduction scenes in The Monk were pretty sensual without being obscene, intriguing but not boring. And it was written by a man. I think sex scenes are too graphic which is what makes them boooooring.

But E.L. James is as graphic as you can get and many people loooove her books. Then again my tastes are eccentric. I have an uncle who's into literature and stuff and he was shocked I hadn't read many modern authors e.g. Rohinton Mistry and Pat Barker (well I did read 50 pages of Pat Barker, but that was for my  creative writing module, FULL STOP) because I have a sort of literary reputation in the family. (I'm the only one who really took the subject seriously at school and won school prizes). I tried talking to him instead about Trollope and The Gang (i.e. Victorians) and he didn't seem to think highly of it as contemporary fiction. !!! Or maybe he was just awkward he hadn't read it as much as I have. (This one is probable. I'm the only Victorian fanatic in the family). Still my ignorance of modern fiction is a profound shock to those accustomed to seeing me as The Bluestocking. Hello? There is something called Terry Pratchett, you know. Oh right, he's not literary. I think him far cleverer and wittier than all those pretentious twits who call themselves literary authors.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Reviewing Juliet Barker's The Brontës: Vindicating the Characters

I got a copy of Juliet Barker's The Brontës (2010) this last week at Waterstone's, having heard it was widely praised. The historical research Juliet Barker has done is certainly superior to any other biography of that family before. The good bits include Patrick's past, the Luddites, the political scene, and numerous excerpts from Angria and Gondal.  Factually speaking, this book is by far the best you can get. But subjectively speaking, I feel that Juliet Barker has made several errors which I hope to bring to attention. I don't mean she was exactly wrong in her research or anything, but to be honest Winifred Gerin's biography of Charlotte Brontë has grasped the essence of Charlotte as a woman. Juliet Barker's chief error is that she fails to sympathise with Charlotte, and it shows. Which is a pity, because the book otherwise is really well-written. Also, it may lead ignorant readers to hate Charlotte for no good reason and provide fuel for fanatical Austenites. (I don't mean the liberal Austenites who like the Brontës as well. Good grief, Austen and Brontë are like two opposing religions.)

Firstly, Juliet Barker tends to bear a grudge against Charlotte for either being unfair. For example, Charlotte didn't rate Anne's talents highly. I agree this was rather unjust of her, but bearing in mind the sort of family they came from, Anne's talents would not shine compared to Emily's.  In fact Charlotte considered Emily a greater genius than herself, so you can't say it was jealousy.  Anyway we'll skip that.

She also blames Charlotte for "self-inflicting" her unhappy loneliness in Belgium. I beg to differ. To be sure, Charlotte shunned people and seemed to despise them, but Juliet Barker's issue is that she is extremely logical and reasonable. She sees and judges Charlotte as a detached outsider, which can be good, but is detrimental in this case. You cannot judge the Brontës with general impartialities, not because they were geniuses or wonderful people, but because their character and temperament was so different from anyone else. For them the exception is proven rather than the rule. Of course any ordinary person in Brussels who acted as Charlotte did would be an unbearable snob, but Charlotte was not an unbearable snob. She could be remarkably self-effacing in her letters, and felt inferior to many people (except in depth and intellect, and I think she was right in this). She was patronising to Anne but remember that Charlotte too was a genius. The reason Charlotte shunned people was not because she set out to hate them, but because judging from her reactions in Brussels and London (which Barker fails to have noticed) she was extremely shy, awkward and insecure in company. She could not make friends easily, and she had no charisma. Even if people tried to be nice to her I am sure she tried to be grateful (this was in her character) but she could go no further.  Small talk was not her forte unless she was comfortable with the person, something she rarely was. Note she tried to be friendly to the Jenkins but didn't know what to say. With foreigners she would feel shy and unfamiliar and therefore her tongue would be held back even more. Charlotte's superiority complex against foreigners stemmed from a complex cause: she was insecure and to mask these insecurities, and because she couldn't understand foreign culture, her defence mechanism was to despise them. It is a common defence mechanism I am sure all of us are acquainted with. It is not detached logic we are looking at here, it is empathy with Charlotte Brontë in a subjective manner. She did not think like other people (she didn't know how to) and so the rules of society must be adjusted for her. Ditto for Emily, who I think has been misjudged as well.

Barker sets out to cast Anne as a heroine. This would not be so bad (Anne has been underrated, and she had the most stable job among the siblings, though Charlotte was the most extroverted among the sisters) if only she would not make so many spiteful jabs at Charlotte for remaining at home. Charlotte probably had the weakness of sloth but I do not see how it makes her particularly evil. Her father's job earned little money but they had enough to live on and not to work was normal for that era. I think it is not so much sloth (Charlotte worked very hard at her studies and at work at Brussels) as loneliness that made Charlotte remain at home. Remember, all the Brontë sisters couldn't stand being in a strange environment, and couldn't become likeable. This intense loneliness would result in a mental breakdown - something most of us wouldn't get, as we are not the Brontë sisters (I suspect they were neurotic) and prevented them from being cheerful at work. Of course they would become unenthusiastic, though they were all diligent. Emily fared the worst, but Barker herself says she had no time for small-talk and the only friend outside the family she had was Louise de Bassompierre. She had trouble coping with the real world, a tendency inherited by Charlotte as well. We all see Charlotte as the normal one, but she was no normal person. She was only normal compared to the rest of the sisters. While we must commend Anne's fortitude for staying on at Thorpe Green there is no need to over-condemn Charlotte. Besides, Anne was naturally more capable at being tidy and able to get along with her pupils better. I suspect being quite childlike in nature (not that she was immature), she could sympathise more with children - that's something natural, not something anyone can acquire - certainly not Charlotte and Emily.  Anne was more stable and so this reflected in her writings - cool and logical. Barker states her favourite novel is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and she finds Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights melodramatic. I agree both are melodramatic, but there lies the power of the Brontës, something even Anne had though in lesser quantities. To dislike the Brontës for their melodrama is to dislike the force that drove their work. Excessive emotion in high literature is probably their pioneering. Looking at them with a cool and detached eye would undoubtedly make you sympathise with Anne and despise the attitude of the rest. But Anne was an exceptional person: the rest were more obviously flawed.

Also, I don't know why Barker must say Anne was not in love with William Weightman but Charlotte was. She says that Charlotte's interest in him, her insistence on staying at home means she loved him. Whereas Anne's poem doesn't mean she loved Weightman. I think the argument is flawed. If this argument shows Charlotte loved WW, it can also show Anne loved him as well, to the same degree. I doubt Charlotte was in love with WW. If she was, it was a minor infatuation - not the all-consuming passion of Heger and George Smith.  Anne remained at her job instead of returning to Haworth to be with WW, which according to Juliet Barker, means she wasn't into WW. We must look at Anne's character as well. As a good, dutiful woman she would want to earn her bread. Why come home when she could be doing her duty and getting respect from her employers? Also, WW was a flirt and was not in love with Anne - not deeply, that is. Anne was known for being a strict Christian and it is quite likely she had self-denial. If she knew that she could never be with Willie Weightman there would be no reason for her to come back as seeing him would be too painful and she might feel it was a silly indulgence. Remember she was a realistic person. She was also very shy and quiet, and according to Charlotte's letter, when WW gazed at Anne and sighed, she said nothing. Barker says that as Charlotte appears not to notice Anne's affection for WW, saying that Ellen Nussey should marry Weightman, it means Anne didn't love WW. This means nothing, as Anne may have loved in secret. Charlotte, as we all agree (Barker definitely would) did not understand Anne at all. If Anne loved WW, she would not be aware of it.  Also suggesting that Ellen would make WW a good wife would indicate Charlotte was not in love with him. As for Anne's not returning to Haworth:  if she spoke so little to WW there would be no hope for her. She would not throw herself away on a flirt. The poem mourning his death is said to be platonic and no hint of passion shows. I beg to differ. Why did she write a poem on him and Charlotte didn't, if Charlotte loved him? Charlotte wrote anguished poetry on Heger, but not on Weightman. Barker's justification that Anne did not love WW was that she refers to him as "our darling", not "my darling." Of course he was the whole family's darling. And "our" may make a better rhythm than "my". But in a later stanza she writes,
That angel smile that late so much
Could my fond heart rejoice;
And he has silenced by his touch
The music of thy voice.

I'll weep no more thine early doom,
But O! I still must mourn
The pleasures buried in thy tomb,
For they will not return.
The first person pronoun comes here, but this is ignored. It might indicate she was in love with him. Since WW spoke most to Charlotte among the sisters, it would make sense for Charlotte to treasure him more, instead of Anne who was quiet most of the time. The fact she treasured him could mean she loved him. It's inconclusive though, so let's get to Charlotte. Why Charlotte was likely not in love with WW, even though she was certainly interested in him: he was her first friend after her schooldays. Being bored and lonely at times, his cheerful presence must have meant much to her. He was congenial and it would have been flattering to be friends with a popular person (I'm sure we've seen this many many times). She had not much of a social circle, so what he said and did would be of great interest to her. Feeling she was unlikeable, she must have felt happy he made her feel otherwise. So when he flirted with other women she was sour, not so much because she wanted to marry him, but because she liked to be the special good friend. She writes he hardly came to the parsonage some time later, and no doubt their lives were dull after that. Having few friends she invested her hopes in him, and he turned out to be a shallow friend (though he was a kind person). She may have liked the fact he flirted a little with her (many girls liked to be flirted with even with people they weren't in love with) because it gave her self-esteem, but it does not translate to love.  Some people no doubt will challenge this view, but I am seeing Charlotte subjectively, through her books and through my knowledge of her life.

When Branwell was drunk, jobless and adulterous, Barker pours her vitriol into Charlotte. Charlotte despised and condemned Branwell for adultery - she had a perfect right to. Barker says this is hypocritical as Charlotte was in love with a married man. This is true, but unlike Branwell she never stooped to adultery. Even if Heger was in love with her, she would have hated the idea of being a mistress and being second-best instead of a wife. Branwell advertised his sorrows in the open about his unhappy affair, whereas Charlotte suffered much in silence. It is justifiable that she thought that if she had to suffer in silence about an unhappy love, Branwell was being weak and contemptible by airing out his sorrows. His love was also sensual, whereas Charlotte's was primarily intellectual. She would rate her love higher than his. We can see this in Jane Eyre. Charlotte's impassioned letters to Heger was not to have an affair, but what she desired was his friendship. He was married and she had her respectability, and she wouldn't want to have an affair. But she longed for an intellectual equal as a friend, who understood her genius and corrected her. The girls at her old school, Roe Head would have been impressed by her intelligence but they would not have been her equal. Heger was clearly superior as he could correct her.  She did love him, but she would settle for platonic friendship. Remember we are looking at a lonely, intellectually frustrated woman. Heger was her closest thing to the society of clever people - her sisters, being family, don't exactly count, because they are not outside. This reclusive woman would have longed for outside friendship and acknowledgement of her abilities.  In fact Barker's resentment against Charlotte for being unkind to Branwell is the most unforgivable thing in the book - one could understand why she was angry with Charlotte for not caring for Anne.

Also, Barker alleges that Emily was selfish by not worrying about the family money and worries while staying at home. Emily was worse than Charlotte: she simply couldn't get along with people. If she went out to work she would be lonely and wouldn't fit in. Today, had they lived, the sisters might have been problem cases at school (intelligent and quiet and bullied) and been diagnosed with a mental disorder. We are fortunate they were Victorians, and so their eccentricity was not considered a medical problem, which fostered their creativity. Emily was self-centred, but she couldn't help it. She was not deliberately mean, but she could not understand many things around her. Though she was the genius among the sisters.

Barker seems to have a tendre for Branwell, since she heaps infamy on Charlotte for being mean about him. Branwell was clever, he did look for jobs, which is why Barker thinks Charlotte shouldn't have said those things about him. The point is he didn't accept a job he was offered, which justified Charlotte's meanness. Barker also condemns Charlotte for not accepting a job offer and therefore being lazy and self-indulgent in her woes. If Charlotte is self-indulgent in this, so is Branwell. In fact Branwell's self-indulgence is less justifiable, as he was charming, intelligent and could get along with the world far better than his famous sister.

I am not discouraging anyone from reading Barker's biography. It is a good biography, except for her bias against Charlotte (but just mentally erase a few sentences and you'll be fine). We could see this biography as an outsider's view on the Brontës eccentricities - which weren't well-liked, in their lifetime. If Juliet Barker wants to destroy the myth of long-suffering geniuses she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. She makes Charlotte seem petty, Emily seem selfish, and Anne a realist. In ordinary life the sisters were dull, except for the things they thought and wrote. We tend to think we love Emily Brontë, had we met her in real life we would have disliked her.  In this aspect it is a useful way to understand why other people didn't like the Brontës in their lifetime. In contrast, Winifred Gerin's biography could be an example of an insider into the mind of Charlotte Brontë. She looks inwards, Barker looks outwards with a rational dissecting eye.

Perhaps I have no right to say this, as I am only an amateur student with none of Dr Barker's qualifications and research. But some things must be said, and I hope that by writing this I have justified the actions of the Brontë family. Winifred Gerin knew about the self-indulgence about the elder sisters, but she accepted their reasons for being so, and by doing so showed a great understanding of their characters and their position in their surroundings.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Men in Shirley

Unusually for Brontë fiction, Shirley has a wide range of male characters - far more than Jane Eyre and that masterpiece, Villette. Anne Brontë's men are often contemptible creatures, and Emily's too unrealistic. I was reading Juliet Barker's biography on the Brontës and wondering where had Charlotte got her male characters from, since in Shirley so many were drawn from life, they were recognised at once by Yorkshire people.

The heroes are not well-drawn. Charlotte had a morbid tendency to fantasise about domineering men (yes, I'm looking at you, 50 Shades, and honestly the Brontës knew how to eroticise refraint and masochism. Far better than a bunch of whips and butt plugs. Seriously. What are butt plugs even used for?)  Yet, it is curious that Caroline and Shirley talk about marrying and such.

'I suppose we each find an exception in the one we love, till we are married,' suggested Caroline. 

'I suppose so: and this exception we believe to be of sterling materials; we fancy it like ourselves; we imagine a sense of harmony. We think his voice gives the softest, truest promise of a heart that will never harden against us: we read in his eyes that faithful feeling - affection. I don't think we should trust to what they call passion at all, Caroline. I believe it is a mere fire of dry sticks, blazing up and vanishing: but we watch him, and see him kind to animals, to little children, to poor people. He is kind to us likewise - good - considerate: he does not flatter women, but he is patient with them, and he seems to be easy in their presence, and to find their company genial. He likes them not only for vain and selfish reasons, but as we like him - because we like him. Then we observe that he is just - that he always speaks the truth - that he is conscientious. We feel joy and peace when he comes into a room: we feel sadness and trouble when he leaves it. We know that this man has been a kind son, that he is a kind brother: will any one dare to tell me that he will not be a kind husband?' 
Which is very true. This distrust of passion is what Charlotte advised to Ellen - advice she did not take, being of an ardent nature. She either loved or didn't. Infatuations were nothing to her. If she did have that crush on Willie Weightman it certainly didn't burn her the way M. Heger and George Smith did, and she would have pushed all thoughts of marriage to him away. But what I meant to say was Shirley's description is very vivid. Was it based on fickle but kind-hearted Willie Weightman, a thorough maleflirt? I doubt that Charlotte thought he would have made a good husband so clearly the picture is not fully based on Willie Weightman, or this speech does not reflect Charlotte's true opinions - only the naïve Shirley. After all Charlotte wanted to  show how helpless women are in that book, so this path would make sense. What I wonder is, did Shirley the character have anyone in mind as she said that? Does she mean Louis Moore?

The facts do add up. Everyone seems to love Louis (hello, Gary Stu).  He gets along well with the poor (William Farren's family), especially the latter's children, and he is certainly not a flatterer. Even Mrs Yorke who dislikes her husband's friends in general takes a liking to this stern, grave man. (Somehow this description of Louis, except the intellect, resembles Arthur Nicholls. I wonder whether Nicholls thought that Moore is based on him). The description is so graphic one can't help but suspect Charlotte is foreshadowing the romance between Louis and Shirley. Is this supposed to be a clue that Shirley doesn't love Robert Moore?  Shirley never lets out her feelings for Louis before this, and is remarkably reticent on the subject of her heart. Is this the one outburst of her passion which she otherwise cannot express?

Shirley later waxes lyrical on Robert's charms - strange for someone who is not in love with him. But by declaring her admiration for Robert she is really doing the same for his brother - because she dares not do that openly. Because they are related and share certain traits, she can have an excuse to boost Robert. (Also Robert makes a connection with Louis more respectable, because of his gentlemanly traits).

On reading about Branwell's cultivated friends and life as a railway stationmaster (he was far more outgoing than his sisters, and idiots persist in saying he is autistic. This is stupid. If anyone was autistic it was Emily. I hate these human support groups who say some genius must have a mental illness of some kind). Well, he knew a sculptor, and several others, and these young men would form a society and meet up to discuss their writings. Quite a contrast from the inward family sessions back at Haworth. Charlotte never had that sort of intellectual life her brother had. If Louis is meant to be a Romantic intellectual, was he based on Branwell? I know he is not Branwell - he is more sober and stable, but his whimsical wanderings about fairies (of all things!) is more the mark of a poet than an ordinary intellectual. This furthers the case for a poet as the inspiration for his character, and Branwell published his poems in the papers before his sisters did. Branwell also aspired to become an artist, and Louis is a competent artist. We also know Branwell was a tutor for a brief period, and fouled it up. Making Louis a tutor of all things would be degrading to his character - would not someone working in an office be more determined and forceful? Apart from the teacher-pupil relationship I can see another reason why Charlotte had this occupation for him. She didn't know any intellectual men apart from Branwell and so had to use him as a partial model. Perhaps she also wanted to show how imperfect Louis is - despite his commendable character he is possibly unworldly and indolent.

Old Mr Helstone is well-written. He was immediately recognised as the Revd Mr Roberson, who was friends with Mr Brontë.  Some people however have said he is based on Mr Brontë, though Charlotte herself says he is Mr Roberson. I suspect he was mainly based on Roberson but little touches were based on her own father. Charlotte never got to hear Roberson speak every day and so had to guess. Mr Brontë didn't cry when his wife died; neither does Mr Helstone. Then his distance with his niece reflects Mr Brontë's distance with his children (though they got along well). In Mr Helstone we see the duality of nature - jolly outside, quiet and stern at home. Though Caroline not being lively or charismatic would account for it. Perhaps Mr Helstone is a charismatic introvert. If he is based on Charlotte's father it would help to know that Mrs Gaskell thought him a horrible, grim old man who was aloof from his children. Yet others have spoken of his old-fashioned, gentlemanly charm( I believe so did Mrs Gaskell, until she changed her mind). I think Patrick was like this - he often liked solitude, as Charlotte wrote in a letter, but in company he could shine. Just not too much company.

Monday, 10 September 2012

I have been ...

This meme was from November's Autumn and originated from Elinor, Elizabeth and Emma. 

I have been:

Parts of my future novel which has been long delayed. It's a sort of alternate history with fantasy elements, to be set in Yorkshire in the early 19th century. Though it seems to be more character-driven, which isn't too good for the plot.  Also part of my Shirley fanfiction.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (just finished). Today I read The Brontës by Juliet Barker and part of Matthew Lewis' The Monk. Should be starting on Sir Walter Scott's poetry and this little book on Cornish folklore.

Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto.

Watched Pride and Prejudice 1980 and episode 2 of Mansfield Park 1983. Also a delightful 50 shades parody.

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price in MP 1983. It's the best version so far, and the actress is underrated.

at old Cornish manor houses. I love Lanhydrock (it's a  sumptuous Victorian house) and the stately Georgian Pencarrow. Also went up to St Michael's Mount, a castle on an island.
Lanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall

About the Brontes and their lives. (This is my main obsession). Also laboratory techniques.
Strange. I dreamt last night that I was engaged to be married to Lord Byron (!!!) which is weird, because I prefer Keats, and I'm pissed off with Byron for making a fool out of Keats.  What was strange was my betrothed didn't look like Byron in real life (on the other hand I don't remember seeing the face of my "betrothed".  In fact the details of the dream are so vague to me now I can't remember if it was that I thought my "betrothed" was Byronic. Which is sooo not my type.

But it probably had to do with the fanfic I wrote comparing Wordsworth and Byron.

my 3rd and final year of university.  I'll be learning neuroscience as my first module, and terrified by the prospect.
I could go to Haworth, Yorkshire and all the other places that inspired the Brontës' novels. And also the Lake District.
the scenery in Cornwall and the secondhand bookshop I found here, which sold 19th century editions for reduced prices. How I shall miss the place! The food at the university here where I'm working. Oh, and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Why Fifty Shades of Grey should be made into a manga

I know it's a bad novel and I've said so many times. but there are some silver linings: namely the Inner Goddess and the Subconscious. Why? you scream. Apart from being (unintentionally) funny, they are metaphors for Anastasia's state of mind. You know, when you want to express something and can't find words enough?

I love this parody! Also,

I must say the actress looks like EL James! Ironically Jacob Gosling is supposed to represent Jacob Black/Jose when in reality EL James' husband says Ryan Gosling is to play Christian Grey.

Reminds you of the Brontës. No, the language is redundant and less powerful. But if we read EL James as a parody of Jekyll and Hyde complexes, why not? It is my personal opinion that 50 Shades is better off as a Manga than a written novel. Because in mangas you get to see visual renderings of the character's thoughts in a state that the characters aren't in. So what about 50 Shades Anime Version? I knew a number of girls at school who read pornographic manga, which proves that 50 Shades which is more suited to airy bimboes can appeal to the geeky crowd.  Unfortunately I'm not a manga reader, so I can't imagine all the possibilities the series can take, but hey, let us provide a living for manga artists.

You get to see the luxury suite really for yourself in visual form, as well as the food. (OMG FOOD PORN). It may even vie with Ratatouille in terms of FOOD PORN. Also, how to draw in the inner goddess and the subconscious? One square shows what Ana is doing, the next shows what she is thinking (as in, the inner goddess jumping up and down like a cheerleader.)

"I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I’m very attached to this.” - Christian Grey to Ana. The artist could render this as a representation of a banana-shaped object with eyes and a smiley face waving and saying "Hi!" oh and wearing sunglasses.

My inner goddess sits in the lotus position looking serene except for the sly, self-congratulatory smile on her face.~ Anastasia. A picture of Ana sitting like the Buddha in some robe sitting on top of a lotus and meditating.

My subconscious is frantically fanning herself, and my inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm.~ Anastasia. Do Regency lady fanning herself perspriring in disapproval, while the Inner Goddess is a woman in a bearskin doing some barbarian danc

 “I thought it was chocolate hot fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on top. But hey, what do I know?” - Ana. Just draw a brownie with a little smiley food flag on it saying SEX. And another one of a vanilla ice-cream with a sad face flag saying SEX.
 “I found some baby oil. Let me rub it on your behind.” “Christian squirts baby oil onto his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness — from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid.” - This would make a good commercial. I suspect EL James was aiming to become the spokesman for a baby oil brand and make millions out of it.
I just heard an interview on Youtube where EL James says "there's very well-rounded characters," and I laughed. Christian Grey is a Mary Sue disguised with the usual excuse of Tortured Past and Inability to Commit. He is a Villain Sue, where they get their way despite being so bad and spiteful and domineering. By the way Villain Sues do exist in real life - I've known some of them, though they weren't as deep and talented as novels would have them. I have no objection to Villain Sues in fiction because they do portray the Harsh Realities of Life, and serve as a useful antagonist to the hero. What I object to is that we're expected to fantasise about them and love them. How shallow we all are.

But the virus is spreading. I'm now in  a  remote part of Cornwall, and upon getting on the train and seeing someone (finally!) reading a book, what do I see on peering closer that it's Fifty Shades??? Who on earth would spend money on such a thing?! Granted, I had a book that was double the price (it was hardback) but worth it - it was Mansfield Park, by the way, a grossly underrated book I'll be posting on.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Who is Louis Moore?: Shirley reinterpreted

The most difficult part of Shirley is the character of Louis Moore.  Unfortunately he was not well-crafted, Charlotte Brontë being ignorant of men. Louis is supposed to be quiet and sensitive and soulful and well-liked by all. Which makes him a Mary Sue. I don't see the wonderful parts of him being described. The thing is, for this cultured, intelligent man to be real, we must determine his typecast. Is he the jovial Thackeray the sort to give lectures at halls? I doubt so. A sort of William Hazlitt? Perhaps.

We've got to remember the book is set in the Romantic era, the era the Brontës worshipped (yes, the era of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and Tenant of Wildfell Hall).  What was the Romantic era famous for? Apart from Byron, you had the wandering visionary. A Wordsworthian figure. I can imagine Louis Moore as a sort of Wordsworthian figure who takes solitary walks contemplating the French Revolution (well after that, since it's set in 1811-1812) or let us say the Luddite Riots and the Reform Bills.  He is also a thinker rather than a doer (Robert Moore is the doer).  I've often asked, why doesn't the man go and get a job? Charles Lamb without money or connections became a civil servant. Oh right, I know why. So the relationship can develop between him and Shirley at close range. Also, Charlotte was obsessed with the teacher-pupil thing. Her submission and mastery is far far more erotic than 50 Shades even though no one removes their garments.

Then Louis is a shy, unworldly man. He would not be the sort to dominate women. I can't imagine this cultured, sensitive man dominating a wild girl like Shirley. Though his 8 or 9 years would give him an advantage. Supposing he dominated a woman it would be in a grumpy, dull-husband sort of way, and not at all exciting. I have seen this sort of men before (the man in question was highly intelligent, grumpy and very very fastidious. He stifled his outgoing wife. And he insisted on eating only one type of fish. How boring can you get???) I don't think Charlotte would want Louis to be this sort of man (people tell me this man hardly uttered a word in company unless among intellectual people, and the only reason this man spoke to me was I happened to attend the same university as him, not because I was agreeable and charming).  Let me sift through my memories of gossip and find a model for Louis Moore.  And because people like Mr Hall and the Farrens like Louis, I doubt dominance is his usual game. I think he is highly individualistic, with a reverence for nature (Mr Hall says he kept on sketching landscapes in the rain) which ties in with the Wordsworth figure. Wordsworth however could be domineering. Within literary circles he was known to think himself better than every other poet (though he is considered The Poet of Britain, as Shakespeare is considered The Playwright or Dickens/Austen The Novelist). When Keats argued with him on a subject Mrs Wordsworth told him: "Mr Wordsworth is generally not challenged" or something. Undoubtedly he was an innovator, even though Cowper did his sort of thing years ago. Charlotte was very much into Wordsworth. Is it possible that Wordsworth might be a model for Louis Moore? He is not Byronic.
the Romantic visionary always portrayed for that era by Friedrich
Here's an interesting titbit: Wordsworth was tutor to a young man for a short while. That makes the model more convincing. Naturally we can't all be Wordsworth, and Louis' habits would be far more stable than Wordsworth's, so I would depict him as a stereotypical Romantic era intellectual. Not the sort who gets published, perhaps, but one of those intelligent, educated young men who were well-versed with the Edinburgh Review, political issues, poetry and Hazlitt's essays. Some would gather in small gatherings to discuss books (why haven't we got this wonderfully passionate culture nowadays?! The only thing with some resemblance to this culture would be the fans of anime and fantasy, and that's not the same thing, is it?) Apparently in a letter to William Smith Williams, Charlotte Brontë said she enjoyed Hazlitt's essays. Now Hazlitt was known for writing a book on Shakespeare's characters, which makes him quite a modernist. That is the sort of thing Louis Moore I imagine would read. Now what if Louis Moore were based on the Hazlitt prototype? (I doubt Charlotte had read him before writing Shirley, but remember this is a discourse on the sort of Romantic types). Hazlitt was brilliant, scholarly and cynical.  Friends considered him a genius. However he was an ardent Radical and hated everyone who abandoned the cause. For example Wordsworth and Coleridge. He was friends with the latter in his youth. No, Louis Moore cannot be Hazlitt. In company Hazlitt was shy and reserved, but witty and well-spoken with friends. (Ironically Jane Austen was somewhat like that). Keats admired his lectures. In this aspect we detect Louis Moore, who says so little to Caroline when she tries to draw him out, but is the bosom friend of Mr Hall.  
He is most definitely not the brilliant, unstable Coleridge, opium-addict, clergyman and supernatural poet. The Brontës did read The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by de Quincey, which would have one of the Romantic propottypes. Brilliant, erratic and visionary. Though Louis is not supposedly erratic.
To imagine Louis Moore would be to discard some of Charlotte's descriptions, so I'll settle for Wordsworth. He has some visionary ideals, he's well-read, of a sensitive nature and a delight to talk to in intelligent conversation. He prefers congenial and original souls to elegant company - he is a thinker, not a wit like Charles Lamb. He has not quite got the genius of a poet or painter, but dabbles in amateur efforts, rather like Keats' friends Charles Armitage Brown and John Hamilton Reynolds. He is an intellectual of the old school, as someone said of Mrs Gaskell's father, who lived during the Romantic era, unlike the more practical Victorian figures who were more into reform. Of course you had lots of reform in the Romantic era but a lot of the artistic ideals were inward, whereas the Victorians were outward and industrial.  Though well-read in contemporary affairs, Louis' interests are primarily book-learned rather than political. I see a clever man, the sort who's not common, but nothing spectacular. Perhaps it's my biased prejudice. 
This portrait, however, is superficial, and I take my hat off to anyone who can write a convincing narrative involving Louis Moore. I've finally written part of my fanfiction on Shirley, but it's far from complete. 

We have now got a rough sketch of Louis Moore as an individual. What about his relations to society? I would have supposed that being a quiet man he would be fond of someone with a more similar temperament. I imagine he would get tired of a talkative wife. But many quiet men like talkative, lively women. Only such women would eventually find them boring. Shirley's liveliness would attract him, he respects her intellect and originality, though I think worshipping her is going too far. He is not one to be much attracted to most lively women, however, as they wouldn't be congenial to him.  (This is one of Mr Hall's traits in the novel). So among the down-to-earth  women he is comfortable with, Shirley would be the liveliest and most charming.  Shirley is rather exalted in her thoughts but she is not proud with Caroline and certainly not with Louis. This of course would make Shirley the object of his ardour. I wonder why he doesn't like Caroline very well? She is his cousin, and she makes efforts to befriend him.  But he avoids her. Caroline hasn't got much charm - she is terrified of her neighbours - and prefers the society of mother and father figures.  Shirley on the other hand is confident with men - Mr Yorke, Robert Moore and William Farren she speaks to them as equals. Caroline's conversation tends to be more social and political; Shirley's more imaginative and whimsical. As Mr Hall says, there is a "curious charm" about Shirley. Shirley is not an extrovert in fact: she is a charismatic introvert.  Surrounded by fine society she likes, she would be out of Louis' reach, but if she enjoys her own solitude they have something in common.  He would get to see her as she really is. To like Louis Moore I think is not easy, unlike what Charlotte says to the contrary: but those who do have the privilege of his confidence really respect him.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Books and Music

This month's prompt at November's Autumn is Music. Find a piece of music that expresses a book you've read. I've chosen Rachmaninov's Adagio from his 2nd Symphony.

The first part reminds me of Jane Eyre, when she is in the orchard listening to the nightingale singing. This leads to the famous proposal scene in the book.  There is something tender and melodious in the beginning, representing Jane's youth and impressionable feelings. Than it deepens into agony (Jane's anguished love) which bursts full in the middle of the song. The more ambivalent part later on could represent Jane's torn feelings between love and duty, and her loneliness away from Rochester while she is at Morton. Whatever it is, there is something very solitary about the music that captivates you. On the other hand, the melancholy running throughout is very akin to Villette.

Ironically Rachmaninov was known as the Last Romantic. While Romanticism in literature was in the late 18th to early 19th century, Romanticism in music was from the 1820's to the 1910's. Perhaps music emulates fiction years later, I don't know. But certainly classicism was the norm the years before Jane Eyre was written.

This excerpt from his Piano Concerto No. 2 is divine, forward to the last passage. I imagine a great waterfall, a traveller standing atop a mighty mountain, swayed by the winds. Not a bad accompaniment to the part when Jane rescues Rochester from the fire, but I suspect the strong melancholy in this work is more consistent with Villette. There is great pondering and introspection in between the waterfalls, almost feeble and yet not without depth - reminiscent of Lucy Snowe's impassioned helplessness. The mighty waterfall always meant to me a fall from heights - Lucy's descent into melancholy maybe? Her profound anguish? Even as the music softens it grows more melancholy. It is a resolution but not a happy one.  As you can hear it's highly individualistic, almost ethereal and yet full of power. The power critics praised Charlotte Brontë for.

I must pay tribute to a lesser-esteemed work I enjoyed at school. I read it while listening to the radio. The name of this cook is I Capture the Castle - a thoughtful book, though by no means realistic. It's intellectual, charming, and the heroine is full of feeling. The song that happened to be playing at the moment was Shakin' Stevens' Because I Love You, not exactly the sort of thing that I would now associate with the book but back then it stirred me. It seemed so suited especially when there was unrequited love in the book.

I didn't know the song and the singer then, but the tune stayed with me till I forgot it the next day and months later. It came in my dreams (the full instrumental version, no less! I think I'm more musical in my sleeping than waking state) and disappeared again.  I tried to remember to no avail till I heard it again last year and jotted down the lyrics. A google search yielded the results. I know my parents suffered that few days when I earnestly strove to recall the music - they know how obsessive I am over certain musical motifs.

A particularly haunting song you must hear is Schubert's Serenade. It's very Gothic. I always think of it when I see a Pre-Raphaelite painting of the Lady of Shalott in her boat. It would go well with Tennyson's poem of the same name, or his Mariana. Alternately, it would go well with the more eerie parts of Keats'  first deleted stanza of Ode to Melancholy, or a poem by a lesser-known poet, whose name has only come to me recently. I did him for A-Levels and forgot. Unfortunately I lent my A-Level text to a friend and have forgotten which friend it was. Garn.

Here is Where Lies the Land? by Arthur Hugh Clough

WHERE lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.
On sunny noons upon the deck’s smooth face        5
Linked arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace;
Or, o’er the stern reclining, watch below
The foaming wake far widening as we go.
On stormy nights when wild north-westers rave,
How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!        10
The dripping sailor on the reeling mast
Exults to bear, and scorns to wish it past.
Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,        15
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

It's a very versatile piece - read Rime of the Ancient Mariner with it at night in bed. Come to think of it, Wilkie Collins' The Law and the Lady would go well with a Gothic piece.  Don't ask me why, the book isn't Gothic but it made me think of Gothic castles. It makes me think of some mysterious lady who might be a vampire or Lamia lowering herself into a boat and sailing into the night.

St Michael's Mount and the Branwell Meadery

On Sunday I went to St Michael's Mount in Marazion, which is a short distance away from Penzance, Cornwall. It is best you go before the tide comes up, otherwise you'll have to catch a ferry. The steps were steep and stony and winding, and it was pretty hard keeping my balance, but anyway it was worth it. If you're into Mediaeval stuff. The story goes, the previous owner of the place had a wager with the St Aubyn family and wagered his property. St Aubyn won, and so got the Mount. Well you know how it is like with these Regency people. It is certainly grander, more ancient, but I prefer the well-regulated rooms of Pencarrow, also the family home of the St Aubyn family. The head of the family is a baronet, by the way.

St Michael's Mount

the Blue Drawing-room

View from the balcony

Coming back to Penzance this building caught my eye. Branwell Mill! What a coincidence, I thought, that was the name of Charlotte Brontë's mother.  Then I realised that Mrs Brontë, née Maria Branwell, was from Penzance. Could they possibly be related? The name of the restaurant (this place seems to be a restaurant now) is the Branwell Meadery. Now I know that Maria Branwell's father was a brewer.

Mind you, there are good Cornish wines. I believe there's a vineyard near Pencarrow - around Bodmin, I think. They make rose wine I think.

Anyway I've started on my Shirley fanfiction - here it is. I haven't finished it though, and it's far from entertaining. Hope the references are not to obscure. I don't know much about Cowper or Burns or Byron so what I've written is based on reviews from the 19th century and knowledge of Charlotte Brontë's opinions on poetry.

If Louis Moore's character doesn't seem recognisable it's because I've tweaked him a bit. You see, Charlotte didn't write him convincingly so I decided to develop a different character, though still with some similarities to the original. I was annoyed though that she had to make him so intelligent and well-loved, but nothing in the novel justifies this. We never see his intelligence or goodness.

Anyway here's my new money-making scheme. Since writing fanfics of Twilight and Fifty Shades and self-publishing it will definitely make you a millionaire, I am going to do the same with Shirley. I am a struggling student and thus am justified in copying others' ideas. Also making up characters isn't easy for a young person, and well, I have my precept in Shirley. Hopefully I'll get enough hits, self-publish it, and receive a 7-figure deal from Penguin. We can all dream.

Character sketches: Sue the food critic

In training for my intended future as a novelist, I'm going to write some little pieces of original fiction based on character sketches. This is really useful especially when you want to incorporate new characters.

The other day I was on Facebook and my friend messaged me to grumble about one of her pals who liked to post weird statuses and comments. So I took a good look at my friend's photos and the comments of her Facebook friend, whom we'll call Sue.  My friend was right, Sue was weird. And not weird in the gentle loopy or intellectual eccentric way, because I like those sort of weirdoes. Mind you, I know the sort of weirdo Sue is. I've seen a number of those, though they aren't really weirdoes as attention-seekers. Then it made me think of someone I know personally, who is very similar to Sue. I found in Sue's idiosyncrasies excellent inspiration for fiction, so here it is. Unfortunately I don't know Sue, so I cannot write much about her, so I shall caricature the other person instead. I can't be bothered to think up a new name for her, so let's call her Sue as well.  The character I've written will be an amalgamation of the two Sues (and no, they are not Mary Sues).

I warn you, if you hate petty small-mindedness this is not for you. For those who love to laugh at silly idiosyncrasies go ahead.

Here goes.

Sue the Food Critic

Whatever you may say against the University of Bronteshire you cannot criticise its cooking. The cateen cook had an extraordinary talent of making ordinary ingredients taste like gourmet cuisine, and so I uploaded several photos of the food on Facebook.  Sue had secured a summer job at the University of Chicklitshire where her mother taught, and seemed to be enjoying it.  I chatted with her once or twice out of boredom (being in a strange new place myself and having nothing else to do) and the chats died a natural death.  I did not exactly regret it.

Curiously she never praised the photos I put up. This would not have been surprising for a reserved character, but then everyone else declared they liked my pictures, even those who normally shunned Facebook. Instead, Sue would take this as an opportunity to inform me what she had for lunch that day, particularly emphasising on how exciting the food was. i doubt it could have been so: good university food is not so common.  I wondered why, when she was at a British university, her chosen lunch fare was primarily foreign. I prefer foreign cuisine in general but many British caterers do not always do justice to it. The dahl was odious and I refused to touch it. I usually had a more British repast, which I enjoyed exceedingly.

"I had a Chinese egg tart today," she crowed on the comments section, after I had uploaded a photo of chilli con carne with paella.  It seemed she too had a chilli con carne.  I rolled my eyes in amusement.

I pointed out that the photo in which she tagged me not long after I put up the picture of the chilli was actually depicting a Portuguese egg tart. I consider myself somewhat of an amateur expert on food, and her description insulted my notions of culture.

"No, it's Chinese."

I pointed out that the edges were too fluffy and moreover, didn't have any ridges. Therefore it must be Portuguese. This exchange at first was rather amusing and I didn't think much of it. She acknowledged that I was Master of desserts, and we parted on amiable terms.

I recall another incident when I asked her what she had for lunch, after she had commented on my photo. Clearly it couldn't have been good, because she said "Never mind." I wonder why she was so keen to portray what wonderful meals she had, that mine didn't at all seem impressive.

I became tired, however, after several incidents. I had put up a picture of spaghetti bolognese served with garlic bread - not the best, but decent enough. I suppose the cook was harried that day. The bread was better than the pasta and I did justice to it accordingly, by chomping in a most unladylike manner. Shortly after I uploaded the photo, Sue commented, "Garlic bread with herbs would be better. :("

For some reason I was mildly irritated. I had enjoyed my meal: was she trying to undermine my food?  My mother could be critical of food, being a fastidious eater, but that was something else entirely. It wasn't purely food criticism she was aiming at: she wanted to, in addition to roasting my food (in a metaphorical sense) boast about how superior her food was.

I promptly replied, "There's cheese on the bread. Suits me. :)"

"I thought it was the sort with herbs, it's what I usually have."

Well, I soon forgot the incident. I ate more lunches and uploaded more photos for the edification of my friends and my fastidious mother: she praised the cook to the skies, and so did Dad, who normally hates Facebook like the plague. "You are in Food Paradise," commented an appreciative friend. I agreed whole-heartedly.

Anyway one day I had uploaded a picture of nut roast with cranberry sauce and cauliflower cheese, with a side serving of excellent roast potatoes (one of the best meals I had at the university).  Everyone else said it was wonderful: "tantamount to food porn," observed one of my friends. Only Sue begged to differ.

"The cauliflower cheese doesn't look that cheesy though," she commented.

I snapped at last. What was wrong with the woman? "I can assure you," I said, patronisingly, "it has a lot of cheese, the creamy sort that melts in liquid."

This was not strictly true. In fact it was untrue. It did not stop me from enjoying the cauliflower, for it was tender and juicy. Anyway who cared for a little bit of cauliflower when the main dish was clearly appetising? The good overshadowed the bad. No one else would have noticed the lack of cheese: they would have complimented the potatoes. We are apt to praise food in university canteens if it is good: dull food is too common for us to condemn it soundly.

"Oh. I had roast potatoes too, but for breakfast," replied Sue. Not wishing to be outdone by my clearly crisp potatoes.

It is my policy to bear a grudge against anyone who insists on destroying my pleasure in a meal.  If she were a trades unionist, I wondered, who knew to what ends she would stir? She could be a Miltonic Satan who wishes to tempt others away from their heavenly food to hers. Her egg tart didn't even look particularly good, and I do know a little about these things.

My friend Mary was online at that moment and so I had a good rant about Sue.  Mary is of a placid, unromantic nature, and came to my defence straight away. But not in the way I had hoped for.

"I know she's like that, that's her way. But it's not like people are going to judge you. She's the one with a problem. They'll see what sort of person she is."

"That is besides the point," I bulldozed. "The point is, people are going to think what the sort of friends I have are totally ignorant of polite conventions."

This is a ridiculous thing to be angry about. It is so stupid it ought to be made into a comedy. I daresay if she had been a true conoisseur I wouldn't have cared two hoots. But I will not have people who have insular tastes in food criticising my meals.

To be continued ...