Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Schoolchildren crushes in Shirley

Has anyone noticed the unusual prevalence of schoolchildren crushes in Shirley? Charlotte Brontë was not acute when it came to children (because she and her siblings were unusual children) but here you see a very true part of childhood you don't see in other novels.

In the scene when Moore is visiting the Yorkes, Jessie said that Robert Moore has agreed to marry her. By the way she is younger than 12 years old, which makes the whole thing quite comical. Mr Yorke tells her that Moore is false (jokingly), and Rose said that Robert is too grave to be false. But Jessie doesn't come to see him, Moore protests when Jessie accuses him of faithlessness. She said it is because he doesn't ask her to visit him, so he asks her and her sister Rose to visit his cottage. Ironically in the same scene, Jessie and Rose talk about Caroline, who loves Robert and is his secret beloved. (Sounds like a soap opera - which shows you that classics are not necessarily boring. This is why our contemporary fiction that will become classics are compelling reads that are shallow rather than boring realism. Just take a look at HG Wells who doesn't have vivid characters).

Then you have Martin Yorke, son of Mr Yorke. When Robert is gravely wounded, Mrs Yorke will not let Caroline or Mrs Pryor visit him. So Caroline speaks to Martin, who has heard rumours that she is in love with Robert. Martin approaches Caroline and offers to let her see Moore. This is because he wants to see Caroline and he has a schoolboy crush on her. He spends his time hatching up schemes to help Caroline see Robert Moore. because he would like to see her reaction. At one point he is going to ask her to kiss him but then is prevented because Mrs Yorke is coming and might catch them. In the end he becomes one of the bridesmen of their marriage. It's such a coincidence that two siblings fall in love with two lovers. Which is cute. At least they can commiserate that they didn't get their catch.

Another case would be Henry Sympson, who has a schoolboy crush on his cousin Shirley. He calls her a white witch, and asks her if she prefers him or her two suitors, Mr Sam Wynne and Malone. Even Louis Moore observes that Henry is his rival and in his diary notes that Henry must get used to being apart from Shirley. What I don't understand is , if the Sympsons have broken contact with Shirley due to the fact she's marrying Louis, how does Henry become her bridesman? He can't travel to her place by himself - I presume his family comes along too.

In a tender scene Robert cautions Caroline to beware of her heart - he thinks she might fall in love with Mr Hall, who is her favourite parson. Caroline in turn teasingly accuses him of flirting with the formidable Miss Mann, to whom he gave a potted plant.

Abelard and Heloise by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
A less infantile crush would be the 17-year-old Shirley's infatuation for her tutor, Louis Moore, four years before the story starts. We know she loved him before the story, because she is already so nice to Robert Moore, and we know she is nice to Robert because she loves Louis. Since she last met Louis 4 years ago she must have loved him at least 4 years ago. Louis would then have been about 26, not quite the same, as it is natural (back then) for older teens to fancy people in their twenties. Whereas a 13-year-old's crush for an 18-year old, while a smaller age gap, is quite infantile in a way.

There is also the less personal crushes of Caroline and Shirley for (of all people!) the Duke of Wellington, probably because Charlotte fancied him like mad when she was a schoolgirl. It even carried on till adulthood that George Smith took her to church to get a look at the Duke.

But we've forgotten platonic "crushes" and hero-worship, and in the 19th century being in love was not necessarily sexual, it could be something intellectual and visionary, depending on the context. Caroline, despite being timid and ignored by most people, is respected by her young Sunday-school pupils, a fact noted by Shirley, who tries to cultivate her confidence.  Then when Caroline visits Hortense she meets Jessy and Rose Yorke. Jessy at once speaks to her and kisses her (ironically they are "rivals in love," as Jessy has a crush on Robert Moore but she doesn't know it yet) and tells her she has always liked her. Even though they have never had a conversation before. Rose doesn't show any affection but she tells Caroline pointedly that she should be travelling instead of staying at home, and speaks to her seriously enough. Caroline also has a sort of friendship with the girls' 13-year-old brother, Martin, later on. Noticeably, she doesn't seem to be as close to (or even acquainted with) Matthew or Mark Yorke, the oldest brothers who are nearer her age. Mark is 15. Since Matthew is out of school and helping his father in the business he must be at least 16 (if he completed 6th form, at least 18).  I do not think he is past 20. Rose and Martin sort of boss over the older Caroline, who takes it in her stride better than the neglect or curiosity of her fellow young ladies. There must be something childlike in Caroline that appeals to the younger ones - that makes her more accessible to them. She is not at ease with those her age - she is an outsider, emotionally unfulfilled, and fits nowhere, so that might make her more likely to shift to the camp of the younger children.
Sally by Edmund Blair Leighton. Caroline fears Robert will marry Shirley which is why I put this in.

There is also the other end - those who love Caroline are also very much her senior. They see her as a pet in a way- someone younger they can talk to. Mr Hall usually seeks her out, she seems to be on first-name terms with Margaret Hall, and she gets on fairly well with Miss Ainley. Hortense Moore is her relation, and besides Caroline doesn't laugh at Hortense, which is why Hortense is fond of her. Mr Helstone and she have little chemistry but he sees her in the light of a child, much like Mr Hall does (though Mr Hall has more respect for her. He does remark on her lack of confidence though).  Mr Yorke doesn't speak to Caroline, but he once mentions to Robert Moore that he puts on his spectacles to look at her in church because she reminds him of his dead former love who spurned him. She is described as gentle-looking, though Mary Cave (the love of Mr Yorke's life) is less "flesh-looking" and "lass-looking." Mary Cave was like an angel. These adjectives indicate Caroline's air of youthfulness, the sort of words you would apply to a child or young girl. It is "cuteness" rather than Mary Cave's classical elegance that characterises Caroline, though she is said to have good taste in dress. Her dress is also very girl-like and pale. She looks a like sentimental picture of the romantic school in Mr Yorke's house, something innocent and infantilised. This is a contrast to her intense emotion, reverence for nature and poetry and interest in social issues. Charlotte Brontë has once again showed us the many sides of one person - in this case, childlike innocence and intellectual maturity. Poor Caroline! She is no one's equal - except Shirley's.

Singing to the Reverend by Leighton. I suppose this is a tolerable way of looking at Caroline's life

Shirley on the other hand is a contrast. Far from being in the background of the grown-ups, the former guardian of her estate, Mr Yorke, pays homage to her. They are on excellent terms and she speaks to him as an equal, something Caroline can never do, except with the shy Mr Hall. Shirley is also on easy terms with Mr Helstone who banters with her the way he never does with Caroline. Shirley has charm; Caroline only with those who want to worship her or pet her. But despite her charm, Mr Hall still prefers Caroline to Shirley though he likes and respects Shirley as well. Time and affection have had their effect. Mr Hall speaks more to Shirley at one point, but looked oftenest at Caroline, whom he thinks needs looking after.

Another case of schoolgirl crushes would be in Villette, when the seven-year-old Paulina has a powerful infatuation of Graham Bretton, who is 9 years older. This lasts till adulthood when they fall in love and eventually marry.

In The Professor, the schoolgirls wantonly try to flirt with Crimsworth but it is not cute or innocent, they giggle and slack and flash artificial smiles at him. 

No comments:

Post a Comment