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.

1 comment:

  1. I must say, I did not like Louis at all when I read Shirley. Your analysis is really interesting, though, especially the comparison to Wordsworth. I also like your description of Shirley, a "charismatic introvert". Maybe an idealized version of Caroline?