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. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Names and literary figures

It occurred to me that some literary figures with similar names have some things in common, so I thought I'd post it here.

It is most interesting to note that a number of the female literary geniuses were reclusive and misanthropical. I wonder why? Literature is supposed to be humane and embrace society.

William
William Shakespeare is known as The Playwright, as William Wordsworth is synonymous with English poetry. These are the towers of English literature.

Shakespeare was certainly a visionary - in character, in poetry especially he was eloquent. He is probably the father of Romanticism (though by several centuries). The Romantics opposed the rational witty 18th century poets and went all emotional. Shakespeare was well in advance. His poetry is fairly simple, like the Romantics, and not like the Metaphysicals.

Wordsworth was visionary in giving voice to simple rustic people in his poetry, using simple language unlike the technical ornate verse of the 18th century. He is widely considered to revolutionise poetry.

A lesser William, William Blake, is now considered part of the Big Six Romantic poets (arguably more famous than the Victorian poets). Like the two Williams, he was a visionary (he had hallucinations). Even more than Wordsworth, his language was simple. (And he's before Wordsworth). And yet perplexing.  He is less elegant than Wordsworth.

William Makepeace Thackeray, along with Dickens, was one of the foremost novelists of the early Victorian era. A known social critic, which you will see in Vanity Fair, which is set during the Napoleonic Wars, the era of the Romantics.

William Cowper, an obscure Romantic poet, loved by Jane Austen and the Brontës used simple language before Wordsworth even came into the picture, and his poetry contains a great deal of natural emotion and passion. While he didn't have Wordsworth's impact, his style certain came before the latter popularised it. Known for The Task and The Castaway.

Emily
Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson were both eccentric but highly creative and unconventional writers, both noted for simplicity of style. Both were recluses and little is comparatively known about them. As well as being a novelist, Emily Brontë was a talented unusual poet, and Miss Dickinson was fond of No Coward Soul is Mine.

Their works were not widely accepted in their lifetimes, but after their deaths they grew to the stature of geniuses. Emily Brontë is now considered the greatest among her sisters. She made the Byronic hero popular and mainstream (though this is misinterpreted) in the form of Heathcliff. Emily Dickinson was declined for publication while she lived. She is the most cryptic of the 19th century poets.

Robert
Robert Burns was a famous 18th century poet, famed for promoting Scottish verse. He is The Scottish Bard. Charlotte Brontë praised his simplicity, truth to nature and sincerity. Robert Browning was with Tennyson the most famous Victorian poets and held as godly figures. Unlike Burns, he is more profound, complex and wordy. Yet he was known to use a great deal of crude slang in his poetry, which is a similarity. While arguably not as influential as Wordsworth he was a towering figure.

Robert Southey, Poet Laureate before Wordsworth, his friend. Both and Coleridge were known as the Lake Poets, because they lived in the Lake District. Well-received in his time and the Victorian era, he has now faded to obscurity. He doesn't have the power of Wordsworth and Coleridge but he has harmony and his works sound well on the ear. Known for nature poems and the Gothic Thalaba the Destroyer. His Life of Nelson is still in print (yup, he was a biographer and journalist, and his house had thousands of books). Now known as the guy who told Charlotte Brontë that literature is not a woman's business. though we've misconstrued him as misogynist. In fact he was supportive of female and working-class poets. His point was to caution Charlotte against desiring celebrity through poetry, and to write poetry for its own sake, so that it will be good.

Robert Carlyle, eminent Victorian historian. Wrote the History of the French Revolution, which influenced Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. Known for his relative informality in a formal era, which probably was why his book was compelling reading.

Charles
The most famous novelist of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens, popularised the Newgate novel, crime, and social issues. He wrote mainly about the working and lower-middle classes. Considered a caricaturist and comic novelist. He was internationally renowned, before the days of fast travel.

Charles Darwin, naturalist, wrote no novels, but The Origin of Species is still in print, and influenced many scientists and novelists. Many of his principles are still in use today. His most famous theory is natural selection, now mainstream in biology. He also introduced the concept of sexual selection in the Descent of Man. Unlike other Victorian scientific works, Origin of Species is comparatively simple to read. Darwin wasn't considered eloquent or good at language, which is probably why his language is simple and informal.

Charles Lamb, author of Tales from Shakespeare with his sister Mary. He was however known as the essayist Elia, for his sharp wit and humour, and his off-colour jokes at dinner parties. He was friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom he went to school.

Mary
Mary Shelley was the first science fiction author of Frankenstein. Her other later works were less well-received, as she was better at Gothic power than politics and society novels. (The Romantics were no realists when it came to fiction).

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was the most intellectual major Victorian novelist, famed for Middlemarch. She analysed social issues, politics and family troubles - the most complete major Victorian novels perhaps. She too had a great deal of passion, as you can see in Mill on the Floss. Perhaps her problem was she had no poetic spirit in her, as an early reviewer said: she was very intelligent with a dash of genius, whereas Charlotte Brontë had genius with a dash of intelligence. As well as being a novelist, she was a journalist,
translator, and well-versed in several languages, philosophy and the sciences.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, sensational novelist of the "bigamy" genre. Author of Lady Audley's Secret. Her reputation hasn't really been good, but she still sells, which shows you she must be a compelling read - something that is uncommon for genre fiction.

Samuel
Samuel Richardson (not widely read now) was the father of the psychological novel, which began with Pamela. Arguably the psychology there is flawed, but instead of far-fetched exciting plot, there was an emphasis on character tension. He does not make easy reading.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, partner of Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth's job was to write the simply language of ordinary people, whereas Coleridge was to write supernatural poems. The whole point was to dramatise the emotions that would be felt had the supernatural events taken place, which is a form of psychological realism. Unlike Wordsworth he has greater dramatic power, more mystery and a small output. After 1810 his poetic powers had died out. His finest works, Khubla Khan and Christabel remain unfinished.
He was widely known in his time for his lectures on philosophy and literature and considered a greater genius than Wordsworth. After their deaths however Wordsworth has been acknowledged as the greater man because of his influence (which is more accessible than Coleridge's eccentricity).

And if you're into stereotypes of poets on drugs, the Romantics originated them. Coleridge was an opium addict, like Thomas de Quincey.

A little-known but in his time, successful (even offered the Poet Laureateship) Samuel Rogers.

John
John Keats, one of the Big Six of the Romantic poets. Unlike the Lake Poets, he was of the Cockney school of poets (including Leigh Hunt) and its only timeless survivor. Known for his Odes and luxurious language. For those who are fans, they will know his theory of negative capability, the ability to write about things and people without knowing the background or intentions ... because you know what they will do, and what you write is truthful to nature. This he got from Shakespeare. Originated one of the stereotypes of poets: he died of consumption at the age of twenty-five.

John Clare, peasant-poet of the Romantic era. Unlike most poets, he improved with age, though his earnings fell with time. While Wordsworth and Coleridge declined in middle-age, Clare improved. Known for his existential poem "I Am." He and Keats shared the same publishers, Taylor and Hessey, but never got to meet. Clare unlike the major Romantics was immensely truthful to nature, and yet considered a better class of poetry. He is an important minor poet. One of his criticisms of Keats was that the latter held too many natural things in his fancy rather than seeing them as they were.

He also conformed to another poetic stereotype: he died in a lunatic asylum. While he was there he wrote some of his best lyrics.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wife of Robert Browning and famed for her Sonnets of the Portuguese. She also wrote the feminist poem Aurora Leigh. It is through poetry that the courtship of the Brownings began, which makes them one of the most famous literary lovers in the 19th century. She was delicate though a prodigy for her age. Her poems were widely praised in her day (she was considered as a possible successor to Wordsworth's Poet Laureateship when he died) and had a lot of political and social issues.

Elizabeth Gaskell, author of North and South, made a stir when she wrote the industrial novel Mary Barton. It is the first major industrial novel still read today. A born storyteller, Dickens called her Scheherezade. Her final and best work was Wives and Daughters, unfinished by her death. She was friends with Charlotte Brontë and wrote the latter's biography. While the latter was a prickly personage, she was fond of Mrs Gaskell, who was at ease with good society, the intelligentsia, active in social work and the working-classes and yet a warm, kind person who loved the eldest Brontë sister, who was her temperamental opposite, as she was. Unfortunately she was prone to gossip, but still her characters stand out for their  reality, far more so than the more intellectual George Eliot, whom she admired. Like Mrs Browning, she was into social issues.

Anne/Ann
Ann Radcliffe, the trope codifier of Gothic fiction. Famed for the Mysteries of Udolpho, mentioned in Northanger Abbey. She influenced the Romantic poets including Keats and was considered a prose poet in her time. Unlike her contemporaries she wrote a great deal about nature in her novels (when the dominant form was the society comedy or morality novel) and how one could be impressed by it. While her psychology is rudimentary you do see fear, suspense and some emotion in her novels.

Anne Brontë, the forgotten Brontë sister, author of the first major governess novel, Agnes Grey. Also wrote Tenant of Wildfell Hall, about a wife running away from an alcoholic husband, which caused a controversy when it was published. Was ahead of her more emotionally expressive sister Charlotte in this. Little is known about her. Like Ann Radcliffe she was a recluse and withdrew from society.

Thomas
The foremost late Victorian novelist of the realist tradition, Thomas Hardy, famed for his rural landscape painting, reminiscent of Romantic poetry. He was also known for obscenity, because he wanted reform in the marriage laws to enable easier divorce. Symbolism and high emotion abounds in his works, and far more despair than his predecessors. In his later life he published poetry, but never made it as much as he did as a novelist.

Thomas de Quincey wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater, not the most famous work, but as he's published by Penguin Popular Classics (which doesn't exist anymore) he deserves a mainstream mention. It was written in the Romantic era, when realist, emotionally charged novels were not the norm (Jane Austen an exception). There is an emphasis on the intellectual individual. He was read by the young Charlotte Brontë who wrote a convincing scene of an opium-addled Lucy Snowe in Villette. One of the early confessional biographies? novels? to be classified along with classic novels.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Classics Challenge: Mansfield Park

This month's prompt by Katherine is to jot down some notes on a chapter of a novel. I've chosen Mansfield Park Chapter 43.  It's when Fanny returns home to Portsmouth after her stay at Mansfield Park.
Susan was growing very fond of her, and though without any of the early delight in books, which had been so strong in Fanny, with a disposition less inclined to sedentary pursuits, or to information for information's sake, she had so strong a desire of not appearing ignorant, as with a good clear understanding, made her a most attentive, profitable, thankful pupil. Fanny was her oracle.  Fanny's explanations and remarks were a most important addition to every essay, or every chapter of history. When Fanny told her of former times, dwelt more on her mind than the pages of Goldsmith; and she paid her sister the compliment of preferring her style to that of any printed author.  The early habit of reading was wanting. 
Unlike Fanny, Susan has not been well-educated at Mansfield Park, as their parents are poor. Fanny was taken in by her wealthy uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram.
Fanny Price with books from the circulating library. Susan asks her why spend all the money on those books.

The passage shows that Fanny is the deeper, more superior sister, because she genuinely enjoys reading for its own sake, unlike Susan who only reads to appear genteel. Jane Austen here is having a sly dig at those people who are intelligent enough to read good books, but don't care to be intellectual. While Fanny is intellectual and thoughtful, Susan is merely quick and intelligent. The originals of an idea or thought should be read to appreciate the author's thoughts the best, and yet Susan prefers Fanny to interpret those works for her, because Fanny is easier to understand. This shows Susan can be shallow, and is learning only for self-vanity and interest. Susan is overall a sympathetic character, so I hope you don't dislike her. Many of us are more like Susan than we care to admit.
Goldsmith's History of England. A staple for school education in the 18th and 19th century. Mind you, I heard Thomas Carlyle was creating a revolution in history when he wrote his work on the French Revolution.

Note that Susan has a disposition less inclined to sedentary pursuits. Why not make Susan more quiet and calm like her sister Fanny? Jane Austen I think deliberately did this, to contrast the sisters, and also to make her own point, which resounds strongly throughout the book.  Those who are lively, vivacious and like outdoor activities are rarely ever seen to be intellectual or bookish. On the other hand, weak, quiet Fanny is intellectual and bookish like Edmund. Edmund would be somewhere in the middle - he goes into society because he likes people, and also because it's expected of him, but he enjoys his quiet moments too, and finds society quite shallow.  Susan like most of the shallow people in the book is active, and therefore less likely to be interested in books. In the end, she proves to be better adapted to the life at Mansfield than Fanny, because she is more spirited and extroverted, and therefore has a similar wavelength to the rest. Austen was trying to show us that the lively ones are accepted better but not the timid ones like Fanny. Fanny's timidity is never really resolved in the novel but she is still a paragon. "Aha!" Austen might be saying. "Here you are - you think you like those paragons, but look at how people don't care for Fanny." And the readers didn't care for Fanny. Perhaps they felt despised. If they did, they deserved to be despised.  Anyone who thinks Fanny is a complete detestable prig deserves to be despised.
Susan and Fanny Price from Mansfield Park 1983.

I think it's true of many of us. If you prefer a lively life above everything you have less time for books and are less likely to be attached to them. If you're clever and quiet you have more time for books. And this reflects a part of Jane Austen. It is said by Miss Mitford that before the publication of her novels, Jane Austen was a poker no one cared about, but now her books had been published, she is still a poker, but a poker that everyone is afraid of. She caricatured society: no wonder people were afraid. To her family she was fun, warm and lively: to outsiders, cold, reserved and awkward.  Is Fanny Price a part of Jane Austen? Cassandra Austen couldn't stand Fanny Price, but curiously Jane Austen did not defend Fanny or say much about her. I think she didn't want people to associate her with that character, which is why Fanny's background in Jane Austen's letter remains in the shade. Jane Austen was having a rant at those shallow, proud extroverts in favour of the intelligent introvert - a bit too strong at times, but I can't help feeling I would pat her back and tell her to carry on the slander.
Mary Russell Mitford, acquaintance of the Austens, and good friend of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

"Look at those accomplished misses," Miss Austen might be saying, "they are intelligent, but they only study to appear of consequence in the world to suit their position in society. They do not read for pure delight." Echoes of this appear in Pride and Prejudice, when Darcy remarks very few women actually read for intellectual pleasure. When you consider the Regency era was a frivolous age, it makes sense for Jane Austen to protest against the flirty wit in favour of the subdued but intellectual bluestocking - the latter which became the staple of Victorian fiction. Victorian girls were less flirtatious than their Regency counterparts, better-educated in mathematics especially, but the ideal of the heroine changed. The 18th century heroine was a quiet, virtuous prig, who stands out among the noisy flirts and wits around her. The Victorian heroine was different. She had spirit, even if she was quiet, and she is less a paragon than her predecessor. She stands out among the submissive girls of her time. Though the submissive girls are not always quiet sorts. The Victorians had social and psychological realism. I suppose the heroine must be the opposite of the general type of young lady at the time. Since the 18th century ladies were hussies you had a prig for a heroine. Since the Victorian ladies were subdued, reserved and comparatively meek, you had a spirited, intelligent more rebellious heroine. Though the spirited heroine wasn't necessarily a flirt and an extreme extrovert, as you can see from Molly Gibson and the Brontë heroines. Margaret Hale is somewhere in the middle - a social reformer, with spirit, and yet not a brazen hussy. I suppose the Victorian heroines are more varied, though the major ones are spirited and dare to think for themselves. But I'm being unkind to extroverts - some of whom I really like and whose intellect I respect. (They are not the norm, by the way, so this is not statistical).

This scene is also touching, because it shows a new rapport between Fanny and Susan. Before this Fanny didn't seem to have any particular emotional connection or equal friendship with anyone apart from Edmund - certainly not with any girl her age. So coming home secures her a companion, and both sisters appreciate each other. Susan appreciates Fanny's knowledge and genteel manners, and Fanny appreciates Susan's willingness to learn and her acceptance of Fanny. Despite being superior to many of the middle-class circles in Portsmouth they shun Fanny after a while because she isn't accomplished or (what is more) interesting. If she had an interesting character her lack of accomplishments wouldn't matter. They only spoke to her thinking she was genteel and therefore superior. But because she hasn't been as well-educated as the Bertrams too bad. False friendship this is. Yet Austen emphasises Fanny's studies, so surely she must be accomplished? Not so. You can read the Edinburgh Review, Hazlitt's lectures and Lamb's Essays but it doesn't mean you can play the harp, the pianoforte and speak Italian. Lizzy Bennet is well-read but isn't talented at many things, like Fanny. Whereas the more accomplished ladies don't read as much as she does. While ladies are merely talented, Fanny has intellect and deep feeling. Austen could be having a go at those who equate accomplishments with intelligent and superiority but have no taste for fine feeling or poetry. I think this thing still persists today. We want super-talented students who have no taste for reading things beyond their syllabus, who don't read deep things like Paradise Lost (for example).
Charles Lamb, co-author of Tales from Shakespeare. In his time he was known as the author of Elia's Essays.

Fanny may be slow, and so may be the intellectual people Austen alludes to, but it doesn't mean they're stupid, unfeeling and unthinking. They are deeper than the shallow talented people. To appreciate a literary criticism requires some intellect and interest, not merely talent. This elevates the slower Fanny above the rest.

By the way, if you're interested I wrote a guest post on The Squeee's blog, on Friendships with Men in Jane Austen's World.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

I had heard about the hype and wanted to see what it was about. Usually I would have read for free at Waterstone's, because I rarely ever buy anything except classics and biographies, my books taking up most of my luggage weight at the airport, but it was always out of stock. Since I'm a freeloader this time I actually ordered a brand-new copy. In 2 days I finished it. I had heard about it, of course, that it's a bestseller based on Twilight fanfiction (and I don't condemn peopel for stealing SMeyer's ideas. Her books are so formulaic it's practically history repeating itself. The same repetition went on for Gothic novels in the 18th-19th century.)

And for something based on Twilight, it wasn't too bad. The prose was easy to read, the plot kept sufficiently entertaining (meaning I didn't run around in circles questioning the historical context of 1832), the dialogue at times warm-hearted and even funny. It is shaky because it was meant to be read by simple minds (remember this is romance, readers! and I don't normally dig romance) but overall it was better than Twilight and Fifty Shades.

The plot is about Julianne Mitchell, an American starting her MA course at the University of Toronto. She lives in a horrible studio flat and is lonely. It turns out her professor is the elder brother of her best friend back at school, Rachel. On her first day, she antagonises him and at the same time makes a new friend, Paul Norris, a PhD student for Professor Gabriel Emerson. Paul is obviously interested in her. Julia while she appreciates him doesn't feel the same way. Anyway she antagonises Emerson who asks to see her in his office. She doesn't get to, because she overhears him speaking on the phone in distress. His mother has died. She leaves a note and leaves. Anyway Emerson terrifies her. We learn about her background. Her parents are divorced. Her mother is an alcoholic who screws men around, and her father was too busy for her since he's in local council or something. She has been emotionally damaged and hasn't seen Rachel for some time. Then Rachel comes over to Toronto to see her and her brother Gabriel and the best friends reunite. They go to a club and Gabriel is obviously quite fascinated with Julianne's beauty. Seriously. By the way he's into Dante studies. Rachel and Gabriel are horrified at Julia's poverty so Gabriel gets Rachel to buy Julia a nice bag. Things lead to another, and one night Julia finds that Gabriel is being disruptive in a club called The Lobby. He is on the verge of having an affair with his slutty PhD student, Crista Peterson. Julia takes him back to his flat to avoid the professor-student affair, but he vomits on her clothes and makes silly suggestive remarks.  While doing so, he kisses her and she is thrilled. Because of the vomit on her clothes and she wants him to be OK, she decides to stay the night. Apparently he wants her presence I think. We find out She has had a crush on him for a long time since she was at high school. They met once when she was 17, staying at Rachel's house. Both of them lay in a hammock in the garden and Gabriel called her Beatrice and kissed her for the first time. At that time he was on drugs and thought later that Julianne was a result of a drug-induced hallucination. Back to the present, Julia writes a love note for Gabriel and they both discover each other's obsession for each other. They begin a relationship. This is marred by the fact he's her professor, but then after that term ends he won't be her professor any more so they won't consummate their relationship yet. Some things on Gabriel's secret life - he had this girlfriend once and they nearly had a child together only she miscarried it, etc etc. Julia's abusive ex-boyfriend breaks into the house during her holidays and tries to rape her but Gabriel comes and rescues her in time. The book ends with the term, Julia accompanies Gabriel on a trip to Italy and they finally consummate their relationship.

(Oh yeah in the meantime her grades are marked by Professor Katherine Picton, a retired Dante scholar, so Gabriel has nothing on his conscience.)

The good parts: It's written in third person, so you get to see the viewpoints of the heroine, Julianne Mitchell, Gabriel Emerson, Rachel, Paul, etc. The first two are the main characters. Unlike Twilight and 50 shades, you don't get a silly self-centred little bitch like Bella or a plain idiot like Ana. Julianne is a sweet, likeable girl, shy and damaged, but not utterly selfish. I do wish that characters wouldn't keep on saying she's kind when there's no evidence for that. But then I recall in reality, there are such people we call nice who aren't particularly generous or helpful, but they never say a bad word against others, they are good listeners and they don't behave badly. On the other hand I know many jerks and bitches who are very nice to their own friends but treat everyone else like dirt.  High school and college isn't what it used to be. Julianne is a top student in Dante studies, which makes her brainier than her predecessors, because at least she bothers to go get a masters and even aims for a PhD (you go, girl!) She doesn't want to bother her parents, she tries not to worry them (unlike Bella) and even refrains from being seduced by Gabriel when he is drunk. Whereas Bella kept on nagging Edward to consummate their relationship and Ana had no qualms losing her virginity to Christian Grey. Now virginity may be a bane in this century (to many people, I don't think so) but innocent shy girls who are still virgins in a sex-obsessed world, and moreover are very attractive, don't simply enthusiastically plunge into their defloration at once. If they do, they're not as innocent as their authors depict them to be. And if they are innocent there would be more reluctance. Julia wants to be loved for herself, not merely as a representation of Beatrice Portinari, Dante's beloved.

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Based on Beatrice from Dante's Inferno.

I also approve of the fact that her temperament causes her to have trouble fitting in easily in Toronto. I felt sorry for her but then you recall Bella and Ana complain about being losers but everyone wants to be friends with them, popular girls seek their approbation and lots of men desire them. This does not make them social losers. Even if they hate people they are not losers.  Julia on the other hand is a shy, damaged soul and doesn't seem to fit in well except with Paul who takes a shine to her. Only 2 men seem to be interested in dating her, which is far more plausible than Bella's 4 (I think?) and Ana's 5.  She is also beautiful which may make you think she's a Mary Sue, but she is less a Mary Sue than Bella and Ana. Because she is beautiful it makes sense that 2 men love her at the same time. I've heard of such cases. Whereas Bella and Ana insist on how imperfect and plain they are and yet people are crazy over them. Even the authors try to stress they are not beautiful but it's evident to everyone else they are. So being honest about Julia's beauty is a good thing.

People say the book is cerebral. This is true for a romance novel. There's Raphaelite paintings mentioned, Dante and Beatrice, Graham Greene, the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy and excellent taste in music. That being said, EL James does have good taste in music - far better than SMeyer. There isn't anything seirous about these authors, SR uses them to make a witty or amusing point. Which is better than glorifying Heathcliff. Oh, and SR hates Heathcliff, which is one thing good about her. Prepare to be disappointed, because there's no intellectual analysis or deep philosophy. Still, the author obviously is intelligent.

We've also got Paul Norris, the PhD student who fancies Julia. Since there's obviously meant to be a love triangle, Paul is presumably Jacob Black's replacement. But he is nothing like Jacob. He is kind and caring but he does not take advantage of Julia. He makes her laugh and tries to make her happy. He calls her Rabbit, as if there is something cute and childish about her - she is supposed to be innocent, remember?  There is something so protective about him - he is not a sex god like Jacob and Jose Rodriguez from 50 Shades are supposed to be. And he's well-educated.  He doesn't force his kisses on her - it is Julia who kisses him first because she is grateful for his kindness. And when in one incident, Julia's sweater falls off, revealing her bra strap, he replaces the sweater in its rightful position, to Julia's gratitude, instead of leering like a sicko. Not like Jacob and Jose who force kisses on the heroines. I like Paul and I am so rooting for him.
Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday, a Pre-Raphaelite painter.

The bad points. Characterisation. Julia may be better than her predecessors but she doesn't stand out as vivid or suffering or anything. This is a common failure among novelists, which is why most people's novels don't become classics. Since classics are rare this is not really counted as a failing. Also, Paul's interest in her seems too convenient. Why would he be so interested in a loser like her, hanging out with her alone, when he could be with other people? He's a popular, affable guy. Then Gabriel is the typical bad Byronic hero, former drug addict and womaniser and rebel. He falls in love with Julia too quickly and yet they're supposed to share True Love. Gah! Then there's the typical feminine fantasy of the hero spoiling the heroine. Like the fact Gabriel buys designer items for Julia. WTF?! If he really cares for her, he can just buy ordinary good items. There's no need to show off. He even has his own personal shopper and wears designer sunglasses and clothing. What a dandy. It's just like Christian Grey and Edward Cullen who are both loaded. In this day and age we must still voice fantasies about marrying wealthy men. How silly and outdated we are.

(As a side note, I mentioned this to a friend and she pointed out: "What's wrong with having designer clothes? It's good. I'd seize the opportunity." That is besides the point. This is plain GLORIFYING designer clothes. I believe we should be trim and elegant but designer stuff is overrated. Seriously. Seeking more sympathy I even vented my frustrations to my dad, who disapproves of designer stuff. He replied, "But don't you women want to marry rich men?" and was shocked when I unleashed my contempt of investment bankers, capitalists and well-heeled businessmen. Seriously, my family doesn't approve of the sort of men I hero-worship: namely, intellectual refined Victorian heroes.)

And why in this day and age does 33-year-old Gabriel wear a bow tie?! None of my professors, even the old ones, wear a bow tie. And some of the language is outdated, like Paul introducing himself as Paul Norris. NO ONE uses their surname nowadays in their first introduction. You learn it over time. This can be rather frustrating, especially when everyone shares the same first name. And you begin to see why the Victorians were on last-name terms.

I like the little touches of chocolat au pain (I think) and the food mentioned. SR is trying to get us interested in Canadian culture and Florence. It's a pity they were not rendered more vividly or described in picturesque terms, as many non-Canadians will be puzzled.

I also thought it shallow that Julia keeps on admiring Gabriel's bum. For heaven's sake, woman, restrain yourself. Even if you do admire his bum, that is no reason why the writer should mention it, or describe how heavenly Gabriel's body is. After several detailed kissing scenes I got bored. This book has put me off kissing, the way D.H. Lawrence put me off sex scenes. I could never enjoy reading a sex scene after reading D.H. Lawrence. Considering I was only 15 or 16 at the time you see what a trauma it is. And all the oh-so-boring descriptions of all the groping that ensues. Thankfully they don't consummate their relationship till the last chapter. But it is still better than 50 Shades which in one book has no less than 12 sex scenes and orgasms. Oh, did I mention that Julia gets an orgasm the first time she loses her virginity? Some people have no understanding of biology. Mind you, instead of 50 Shades' violence, Gabriel's Inferno is more tender, which is a good thing, only it looks so desperately lustful. How unromantic.

Then Paul, who seems to be the only genuinely nice character, gets very few chapters and little development. Pity, I liked him. Did I mention that Christa Peterson wants to have an affair with Gabriel? She is one-dimensional. Her idea of getting him is to bare her cleavage at him and flirt so outrageously that even I have not witnessed personally. She also openly sneers at Julia and says nasty things to her in front of Paul. Women are less obvious than that, please. I've known many snobs and bullies and they treat you with cold disdain and pointedly ignore you. They don't simply say nasty things in front of others. They don't want to seem like a bitch. And other guys won't think them a bitch, particularly not the popular ones like Paul. Here, Paul openly backs Julia against Christa. The whole point in being a popular bitch is that none of the guys who matter think that you are a bitch and they don't hold it against you. Which makes Julia seem Mary-Suish, though still better than Bella and Ana.

There's also the hilarious one-dimensional Professor Ann Singer who once had a BDSM affair with Gabriel (!!!) until he split it up. She wants him again and she also is a sexual predator to Julia (before she tried something on Paul, who reported her). Since the novel is supposed to highlight childhood abuse, drug abuse, blah blah blah these one-dimensional characters don't really fit in. Paul is two-dimensional, Julia and Gabriel a bit better. The Clarks were not too bad. I thought the theme was over-religious but on the whole it's OK since they don't trash atheists or call us sinners.

If you like light matter and lots of kissing, try it. It's certainly better than Twilight and you might end up better-informed if you've never read a piece of art criticism in your life. But if you are a serious romance-hater I advise you to avoid it like the plague. I hear the 2nd book is about university politics and the troubles of professor-student romance, so it should be better. I may find a copy and read it for free. One the stupid bookshops hasn't got one.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Why the heroines in Charlotte Brontë are only children

Has anyone noticed this trend? Jane Eyre, Caroline Helstone, Shirley Keeldar and Lucy Snowe are the only children in their families. At least I think Lucy is. She mentions her relatives die, which is probably a reference to Charlotte's dying siblings, so Lucy might have had siblings, but since they are dead for most of the book she is technically an only child.

It's a common tactic, even in Victorian novels, to have small families. There's too much bother making up big families. Hence the unusual prevalence of two-child families in an era that didn't use contraceptives much, where 5 children might be more accurate. Still, it is curious that Charlotte had all her heroines only children. Come to think of it, so is Frances Evans Henri.  But why?

You could say, the same reason why many heroines are orphans. If they have no brothers or sisters, theoretically they have more freedom to do as they please, instead of having to provide for a family, or depending on a brother for their maintenance. If Jane Eyre had a brother she may not have to work so long as a governess. If Frances had a father or brother she wouldn't have been a lace-mender. And this is important in Charlotte Brontë, because it casts the heroine in a tragic light. They are independent women forced to earn their own living - part of the Woman Question in the busy, changing and yet idyllic to later decades 1840's.  This is what makes Charlotte Brontë universal; Jane Eyre is set in the Romantic era (say the 1810's or 20's) but the themes are of Charlotte's own era, the 1840's. This technique of using the past to reflect the present is useful, because it shows you how things haven't changed, if the issue works in both eras. Then if they had family, the patriarch push his ideas on her, and she wouldn't be so free to think. As an orphan she would be uncurbed.  A notable exception is Caroline Helstone, but then in the beginning of the novel her mother has left her with her crusty uncle who is a bit of a misogynist. He leaves her to her own devices, which is why she has deep and profound thoughts on poetry. In Shirley you have the anomaly of two only children, who are the two heroines. In any other novel, one only child is perhaps nothing. But to have two?
The governess by Richard Redgrave

I suppose this is the contributing factor to their friendship. Having no sister, they seek each other out. As Caroline says:
Shirley, I never had a sister - you never had a sister, but it flashes on me this moment how sisters feel towards each other ... I am supported and soothed when you - that is, you only - are near, Shirley.  Do you believe me now?
It is the search for an equal that makes the novel essentially warm-hearted. The friendship would not seem so wonderful and intense had they had sisters to look after in the first place. It could also explain why both are visionary and independent-thinking women, though far better off than other Charlotte Brontë heroines financially. You see this too in Jane's vehement affection for Helen Burns, and later, Diana and Mary Rivers. The lone traveller finding a sister-figure in the end - it is so touching, and a good resolution for any Victorian novel. Because good Victorian novels have some resolution. While other novels might go and describe the warmth between two sisters, here we see an actual development from acquaintanceship to close friendship, something that is taken for granted in a family surrounding. This itself is a journey, perhaps a wishful fantasy on Charlotte's part. She loved her sisters, but then Emily and Anne loved each other more than they loved Charlotte, and Ellen Nussey wasn't intellectual. Sure, there was Mary Taylor, but Mary desired liberty in New Zealand so much she was willing to part with her English friends. In Shirley and Caroline's friendship there is both emotional and intellectual attachment in one friend - something Charlotte didn't experience (except with Mary, but I think Ellen was closer to her).

A very important point is the solitary Romantic wanderer. Charlotte loved the Romantics. She immortalised them in Jane Eyre and she has chosen their era for Shirley. An only child obviously is more likely to be alone in the world, and so apart from the independence and forced to earn for a living in Jane Eyre, Villette and The Professor, we look at the emotional, personal aspect - the loneliness. Villette is essentially a novel about loneliness. Lucy Snowe may be an independent, free-minded woman, but she also desires affection. Charlotte was fortunate to have sisters to talk and write to. Lucy is less fortunate, because she is an only child, and this way Charlotte intensifies the loneliness felt by Lucy, by Jane, Caroline and Frances. Shirley enjoys being alone and anyway she has many friends so she is not strictly counted. Charlotte was horribly lonely in Brussels after Emily left. With no one to speak to all the time, shunned by the Hegers, she evoked this sensation vividly. It was like being an only child. Who else before Charlotte had evoked loneliness so well in literature? Who else told it truthfully, vividly and convincingly and has survived to the present day? Classic Victorian literature did not know a truly lonely heroine till Charlotte Brontë came into the publishing world. It shows the vulnerability of a weak force, unconnected, having to struggle in the world - what she was concerned with. And intensity of emotion is characteristic of Charlotte.

Interestingly, Paulina Home and Shirley, both only children, are not lonely people. Paulina genuinely enjoys being alone (apart from the times she seeks out Lucy's friendship) and Shirley has many people to talk to and doesn't care much for them anyway. And John Graham Bretton is also an only child. Dr John's case is more likely to be a conservation of characters on Charlotte's part so that is probably insignificant.  But here's a theory: assuming there really was a reason why 3 characters in Villette are only children is to illustrate how people in similar circumstances can turn out so differently. Lucy is an only child and she is lonely. Paulina is an only child, she is petted and loved, and not lonely, though slightly awkward.  Graham is an only child, spoilt and loved, successful in the world. Yes, the fortunate two have money on their side, but something inherited and "constitutional" plays a part. Pauline is naturally graceful, intelligent and sweet. Graham is naturally clever, lively and charming. Lucy is intellectual and passionate but not graceful, sweet or charming. Polly hero-worships her, but that is because Lucy is sensible and seemingly steady, not giddy like her shallow cousin Ginevra. Both girls intend to improve themselves by learning German, and instead of gabbling away, derive pleasure from just being together without saying much.

Caroline is the most fortunate, in having people in the neighbourhood who care for her e.g. Mr Hall, the Moores, her uncle. There is a kind of Victorian domesticity here, unlike Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, which are not set firmly in any year, and yet have a Romantic quality to their characters. Charlotte was trying to be more ordinary and realistic here. And yet all the people apart from Shirley whom she loves are much older than her, which makes her seem even more a child compared to them. She has this impression of being mothered or fathered by other people, rather than befriended as a peer (excepting Shirley, who is sort of elder-sisterly to her). How intense are these affections! More familial than friendly, I think, a substitute for the lack of parents and siblings.

I have omitted to mention Frances Henri. Less well-developed than the other heroines, she comes to work in Brussels as a lace-mender and teacher, where she meets her future husband, William Crimsworth, that unloveable creature.  Now The Professor differs from the rest (except Shirley, maybe) in that the hero is seen as a protector for the heroine. I know Mr Rochester and M. Paul do provide for Jane and Lucy but those are largely independent before the suitor thing comes along. Well, so is Frances, but she seems to enjoy submitting even more than her fellow-heroines. Caroline is provided for by her uncle, and Shirley has her own fortune, so the effect of relying on a suitor/husband to provide isn't so strong as in Frances and Crimsworth. Yes, Frances insists on working even after marriage, but there is still a strong sense of deference to her husband. And remember Charlotte intended for the book to be called The Master, only to change it at Williams' advice (I think? But it was never published in her lifetime.) And Crimsworth keeps on harping on how he needs to earn a living to support Frances. (So does Robert Moore, but his affections turn away for a while, and he's thinking not so much as how to support a wife as how to survive). Now if Frances had a brother we wouldn't have the submission scenes. We wouldn't feel the sweet air of vulnerability around her as Crimsworth does. And she wouldn't have educated herself so well with siblings to look after. With time on her hands she reads poetry and buys books and thinks.

Human relationships, it seems, can perturb the solitary intellectual self in Charlotte Brontë. This would explain why a lot of the heroines' thoughts are turned to liberty and freedom. In contrast the heroes all have brothers (some of them antagonistic), which means the heroes are more steady in a sense, which makes them ideal protectors of the delicate heroines. But it could mean that the girls are somewhat naïve and unseasoned about human relations, since they have no siblings, compared to the heroes. Though independent and perceptive, this naïveté in the heroines is important to emphasise on how unfit they are in the world.

"How can you expect delicately nurtured females to fend for themselves, at the beck and call of stupider oafs?" I can hear Charlotte shouting. Naïveté is not only the privilege of the genteel and ladylike, but also a Victorian way of illustrating innocence, compared to the false flirtations of more worldly young ladies. You will see a lot of this in Shirley.

Alternately, perhaps Charlotte was a radical in her own way. Before her, the solitary wanderer was traditionally a man of education and learning, stuff she would have picked up from Wordsworth and Byron, her heroes. The Romantic intellectual is a gentleman, not a lady. Female bluestockings were society ladies or those who mingled with fellow (male) intellectuals. Perhaps Charlotte was unhappy at the unfairness of it all, that the province of solitary wanderers must all be men (and written by men in the Romantic era). Then it was socially more acceptable to be a morose, brooding male intellectual but a woman who did that was considered strange. Eccentricity was back then more compatible with men.
Wanderer above the Mist by Caspar David Friedrich

"Why does no one write about the female wanderer?" she might have asked, "instead of romanticising solitary men? There is nothing at all wonderful about this loneliness." She had read Wordsworth's Lucy poems, which romanticised a girl alone with nature, and possibly she felt snarky about this idealism on his part. "It's not as great as it seems, you know," she might have thought.  If she could bring up the subject of female professionals, why not the subject of female intellectuals, something so dear to her heart?  And so she might have written her books with these thoughts in her mind. It's all speculation of course, but a possible theory. Here is a passage from Shirley which voices Charlotte's discontent with feminine portraits by male authors:
'If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend. Then to hear them fall into ecstasies with each other's creations, worshipping the heroine of such a poem - novel - drama, thinking it fine - divine! Fine and divine it may be, but often quite artificial - false as the rose in my best bonnet there. If I spoke all I think on this point; if I gave my real opinion of some first-rate female characters in first-rate works, where should I be? Dead under a cairn of avenging stones in half-an-hour.'

Monday, 1 October 2012

Translation, composition and the Brontës

I am going to introduce two terms here to differentiate the Brontë sisters, composers and translators. A composer is one who imagines things and then writes down the inspiration. A translator looks at real life and puts it into the novel.

It is curious that M. Heger stormed at Charlotte. He could not understand why her compositions were so much better than her translations. I think she had an original soul. She felt constrained by already-present texts, and could not grasp the entirety of their meaning. Now when expressing herself she was vivid. She was a better describer than analyst - she is not so clear-cut as Emily, as she once wrote to William Smith Williams, that Emily's true strength was as an essayist.

It is strange, that despite Emily's superior arguing skills, when it came to novel-writing, it was Emily who composed and Charlotte who "translated."  By which I mean, Emily conjured characters out of her own imagination e.g. Heathcliff, an unbelievably demonic being, who despite being not very realistic, transcends time and emotion i.e. revulsion. This is what critics thought made it a genius, despite the disgust they felt on reading it.  Emily cared less for present externals then her two other sisters, and so this reflects in her characters. Even the incidents, adopting an orphan (though it's based on a true story) is more legendary than realistic. It is the stuff that feeds stories. She was the best poet among the sisters, and her Gondal saga seems to have been the sort of thing with epic heroes, dungeons and high feelings - not the thing literary fiction appreciates, more's the pity. If you are talented and passionate it is not very hard to make up some passionate heroes and heroines with exciting adventures. Without wars and events her characters would have languished away, I suspect. This reclusive woman lived on events. Yet very few of us are gifted with that power, simple though it seems in theory. We are more realists. When it came to her essays Emily wrote what she thought, argued it through, clearly and cuttingly. When she wrote of a historical figure, she made him into a brave hero, the sort to be admired in a poem from afar. You see him in a distant land, towering above the rocks or something. This is the stuff of poetry.

Charlotte on the other hand was a "Translator." She analysed real people and transcribed them into the text.. Unlike Emily, she had to know the person in order to create a vivid character out of them. Which is why the characters in Shirley are so convincing - they are based on real people. The 3 curates  Malone, Donne and Sweeting were actual people she had met in real life. And after the book was published they took to calling each other by their fictional names. More than transcribe them from real life, she had to analyse them, and see how they would react in different surroundings. Her best characters are not simply made up or type-casted. Caroline is sweet but weak, Mr Helstone good but stern and unfeeling, Mr Yorke a cultured Radical with family pride - these are real people. Dr John is kind-hearted but ultimately shallow. In her Brussels essays she liked to describe feelings from within. Her historical figure is shown to be insignificant-looking, but a brave man. She looks at him from inside - sees him as flawed, unheroic, personal. Less effective than Emily, but still has its charm. Ironically her early Angrian tales are full of passion and malevolence (reminiscent of Emily) but this gave way as she grew older to bleak reality. Her Villette characters are marvellous - seen in a biased manner of course, but we are here to see Lucy Snowe's perception of characters rather than merely the actual characters as they really are.

Anne on the surface is a translator - because all her characters are believable. She refuses to glamourise a bad boy like Rochester or Heathcliff, going in for the kill. Agnes Grey is drawn from life, which makes it a transcription (rather than Charlotte's more sophisticated "Translation.") Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an achievement, because it analyses characters and pronounces judgement on them. I do not like the over-moralistic tone but otherwise it is a good story. Arthur Huntingdon is partly based on Branwell, but certainly not fully based, as Branwell was more intellectual and sensitive, and Huntingdon is a rich, sophisticated gentleman, which Branwell certainly wasn't. Huntingdon is drawn from a type rather than Branwell. There is a possibility that he was based on an abusive husband Anne heard of, whose wife came to the Parsonage. (Check Juliet Barker's The Brontës for the details) which makes the portrait more realistic, but it is still based on a type of abusive husband. Gilbert Markham too is a type - the gentle, good-natured man who will not listen to gossip. The gossipers in the village especially the nasty strict Rev. Millward are obviously types, but better-drawn than your average novel.

So what is Anne? A translator or a composer? To make a character from a type needs some originality, which makes it a composition. On the other hand so many features of that type are already present for the writer to use, and all it takes for an excellent writer is to bring it to life, give it more realistic detail - and bravo! you've got a character. Anne must be in the middle. Which is unusual, as we are used to seeing Charlotte in the middle (at least 19th century critics thought so).  Anne was not the only novelist to employ typecasting - Dickens was susceptible to it, Thackeray to some extent (George Osborne and William Dobbin are types, no matter how well-drawn they are) and even her sister Charlotte (though those characters are not her most vivid). It's more early Victorian than late Victorian, which is perhaps why the novels of the early Victorian era were more entertaining and enduring (I know there's Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and H Rider Haggard, and I love Rider Haggard, but those are not literary fiction, and the fact the late Victorian classics are more adventure shows you something about how literary fiction changed to boredom.)  There's an essay about how realism became so photographic it became dull and meaningless. But anyway Anne does not stoop to that level. I will call her a transcriber, something Charlotte does since she copies from life, but Anne copies from type, which makes it slightly different. Even the reality of Agnes Grey is not without the impression you are seeing the bad sides of most people, which make them types rather than fully-fledged people, but she was 25 at the time. Mr Weston too is a type though he might be fairly convincing. Agnes herself is the best-drawn but compared to Helen Huntingdon she seems more type-ish, but that could be due to her youth. Youths can be less complex, more frank and ardent.