Friday, 22 November 2013

Jane Austen's politics, introversion and Fanny Price

Manfield Park has traditionally been seen as very fuddy-duddy and insular, and as being in the Tory tradition, Jane Austen's family being Tory. The fact the patriarch of the story, Sir Thomas Bertram, is a country gentleman, would reinforce the stereotype of country gentry as Tory (City peers and merchants were Whigs). The fact Lady Bertram and even Sir Thomas do not go out much (they are not strictly "society people," though of good position) gives the idea of quietness and insularity, a family wrapped in their own little world. The thing is Austen the narrator seems to agree with the Bertram way of life in general (not in everything though) and so does the heroine Fanny Price, seeming to confirm that the Tory life is the way to happiness and order. 

The more experienced, exposed and supposedly broad-minded characters, the Crawfords and Maria Bertram, are shown to be worldly, shallow and unprincipled and hankering after distractions in the City instead of a quiet country life - a stereotypically more Whiggish temperament. (Today we might even say the same of Liberals and Conservatives). The fact that Mr Rushworth, a stupid man who is in love with Maria, "improves" his house with modern decorations which Fanny and Edmund disapprove of as being unsentimental to the old furnishings, would further indicate that old-fashioned sentiment is the Austen-approved trait, and garrulous modernity anti-Austen. Rushworth believes in "progress," though in a shallow way - the Whigs, too, believed in progress, though in a more political way. We can, however, see Austen's point: Liberals tend to be more progressive and interesting, but scornful of many good old-fashioned things; Conservatives tend to be insular and backward, but more sentimental of old-fashioned things. The thing is we can't have the best of both worlds most of the time - certain traits tend to go with the other. It is interesting to note that her more insular Toryish characters are introverted and the "liberal" Whiggish characters (those who like the city. When I say liberal I mean they like to go out and experience new things) are extroverted. And in Austen's novels, introversion is considered preferable to extroversion.

Modern readers dislike Fanny Price because she is judgemental and insular - she is not merry like Mary Crawford, and her dislike of going out too much and distractions is not a popular trait. She thinks the Crawfords and Maria are too keen on noisy activities and instant gratification. The fact her respected uncle, Sir Thomas, owns a slave plantation in Jamaica also counts against him. That this sympathetic character has this flaw in his ethics points to Austen's superiority in creating complex characters - the honest, old-fashioned patriarch who is good-hearted, and yet guilty of elitism and racism. By the early 19th century slavery was a dirty word in England.

Fanny is serious, intense and highly introverted, and prefers the old days before the Crawfords came and changed the quietness. Most people would think the exchange below shows how dull a person Fanny is. Note she prefers serious talk with her quiet uncle to watching the lively entertaining conversations of the Crawfords and Bertrams.

“Do you think so?” said Fanny: “in my opinion, my uncle would not like any addition. I think he values the very quietness you speak of, and that the repose of his own family circle is all he wants. And it does not appear to me that we are more serious than we used to be—I mean before my uncle went abroad. As well as I can recollect, it was always much the same. There was never much laughing in his presence; or, if there is any difference, it is not more, I think, than such an absence has a tendency to produce at first. There must be a sort of shyness; but I cannot recollect that our evenings formerly were ever merry, except when my uncle was in town. No young people’s are, I suppose, when those they look up to are at home”.
“I believe you are right, Fanny,” was his reply, after a short consideration. “I believe our evenings are rather returned to what they were, than assuming a new character. The novelty was in their being lively. Yet, how strong the impression that only a few weeks will give! I have been feeling as if we had never lived so before.” 
“I suppose I am graver than other people,” said Fanny. “The evenings do not appear long to me. I love to hear my uncle talk of the West Indies. I could listen to him for an hour together. It entertains me more than many other things have done; but then I am unlike other people, I dare say.” 
“Why should you dare say that?” (smiling). “Do you want to be told that you are only unlike other people in being more wise and discreet? But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? Go to my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Ask your uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: and though they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, and trust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time.” 
Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.“Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny— and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle’s admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman.” 
“Oh! don’t talk so, don’t talk so,” cried Fanny, distressed by more feelings than he was aware of; but seeing that she was distressed, he had done with the subject, and only added more seriously — 
“Your uncle is disposed to be pleased with you in every respect; and I only wish you would talk to him more. You are one of those who are too silent in the evening circle.”

The question is, how insular is Fanny Price? She is most likely a Tory like her respected aunt and uncle, and her embrace of old architecture and old country ways (modest, decorous and against modernisation) is associated with Toryism (in Jane Austen's view). She is prudish and judgemental; she thinks acting is immoral. Was Austen trying to make her heroine unsympathetic as possible?

The answer is no. Jane Austen does try to make Fanny sympathetic despite her intolerance and illiberality. Although she is Tory-minded, she is a more liberal one, which differentiates her from Sir Thomas. Take this scene between Fanny and Edmund.

“But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave- trade last night?”
“I did — and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”
“And I longed to do it — but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like — I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by showing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel.”
Fanny evidently opposes the slave-trade, associated with the Tories. Though passive, she has some strength of mind to go against her uncle's use of slave labour in his plantation. She is passive, because her social status is lower, she is introverted and people find her boring to be with. But deep within she thinks and challenges certain norms. When a subject stirs her attention, she thinks and feels deeply, and becomes more vocal unlike her usual self. People often accuse Fanny of being holier-than-thou, but the truth is she is deeply interested in the human condition. She may not like people in general but she is sympathetic to the slaves, unlike the so-called liberal Crawfords and younger Bertrams who have no interest in the subject. They may be Whiggish, but they are ultimately hypocrites with no feeling in broader concerns. Though supposedly insular (because she is old-fashioned and introverted) Fanny shows herself to be more liberal-minded than the rest of them. And I think this more than compensates for her judgementalism. She is also acutely sensitive to Sir Thomas' feelings about what he must think of his daughters.

Fanny Price illustrates the paradox in introverts. Susan Cain has written of highly sensitive people (a large proportion of whom are introverted). While seemingly dull and passive, she has a richer inner imagination. Whereas the Crawfords and younger Bertrams who are lively and interesting on the outside have no profound thoughts the way she does, and are ultimately shallow.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Another school essay on Jane Eyre

Found this essay I wrote back at school lying around. It is dated 5th October 2009.

Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" chronicles the life of a young woman's struggle to gain independence over her own life. Indeed, it is the unusual aspect of this novel, instead of having a heroine who finds ultimate protection in a man, that astonished the reviews: "Reality - deep, significant reality."

A major issue in this novel is survival. Realising that she cannot find the "human affections and sympathies" so absent at Gatehead, Jane, who recalls Bessie's stories of school, informs Mr Lloyd the apothecary, "I should indeed like to go to school," leading him to suggest this idea to Mrs Reed. On the suraface it is a child's escape into a better world, but wat strikes the reader's eye is that Jane mentions no love or friendship as an advantage of schooling. Instead she dreams of "pictures they painted," "books they [young ladies] translated." What Jane's intention is the attainment of knowledge. Aware that she is a "dependent," Jane's act of informing Llyod catalyses Mrs Reed's decision to send her to Lowood. Curiously the ten-year-old Jane is more interested in accomplishments of ladies and governesses. She realises that to survive and earn a living, she must equip herself with academic achievements. Relating this to Brontë's life, Brontë read "Blackwood's Magazine" and adult periodicals at a precocious age. Her future career at Cowan Bridge school was "governess." Years later, as a teacher, it is Jane who actively advertise as a governess, affecting the main plot of the novel at Thornfield. From the feminist perspective, Jane's determination addresses the Woman Question perturbing Victorian England, and particularly the impoverished spinster Charlotte Brontë. Without beauty, fortune or status, Jane is unable to marry well, an avenue destined for Victorian young ladies. Another event of interest is her hope "to set up a school of my own" after she has saved enough money, an ambition of Brontë. Intellectual accomplishments of the mind are hence a mode of survival.

From the emotional viewpoint, Jane who has been deprived of familial love falls in love with the enigmatic albeit much older Mr Rochester. "Old enough to be your father: signifies an Electra complex, a longing for fatherly love, which she never knew. While Jan's conservative approach is to subject her heart to "discipline," the uncontrollable tumult of feelings is undeniable. Their chemistry is such that Jane rebukes Rochester for his determination to be reformed by a "disguised deity." Socially Jane has risen to conduct conversations with her social superior. By doing so she pave the path towards Rochester's growing attachment to her. Ultimately, it is she who confronts Rochester in the garden: "Do you think, because I am poor, plain and little, I am heartless and soulless? You think wrong!" "It was you who made the offer," Rochester acknowledges after his proposal to her. It is Jane's truthfulness in love that shocked he prudish Victorian readers, some of whom forbade their daughters from reading. By doing so jane hs found commitment in someone who truly loves her, and has secured a position emotionally to an extent. It must be noted tat despite this, Jane flees from Thornfield, ostensibly to retrieve her honour, but unconsciously to spurn forbidden love. Her dream of an "infant" and of Rochester leaving her are significant, as it represents the shattering of love, personified as a "'child" that she has nursed. Jane's search for love has overflourished to a malignant tumour that threatens her virtue and self-respect in 19th century Britain. What Jane fears is that she will be consumed by the fires of passion symbolised by Bertha, and so lose her identity as an individual. "The more solitary and friendless I am ... the more I will respect myself. "By mastering her emotions, Jane advocates Reason, which rules her actions ultimately, a theme frequently used by Brontë in other novels.

[I didn't write this back then, but I would now add that Rochester tried to dominate Jane and force her to become a society lady by making her buy colourful expensive dresses. Jane resists this too, as she dislikes society people.]

19th century Victorian England saw the rise of the church's influence on society's morals. Rochester's intended bigamy which shocked readers compels Jane to run away. "In those days, I saw God for His creature - of whom I had made an idol," she reelects, a sin in Christinaty. Jane's pagan love for Rochester is unhealthy as he is immoral and deceptive, attempting to ruin Jane's honour. To instil her sense of morals, Jane resolves to escape: "I will keep the laws --- sanctioned by man." This while depriving her of a lover, enables Jane to learn harsh living at Marsh End, the true meaning of honest toil as a "village schoolmistress, honest and free." By helping members of society learn educated skills, Jane has redeemed her sin, an important feature in Christianity. "I felt I became a favourite in the neighbourhood," she declares, happy with her students' parents who "loaded me with attentions. Another moral action she does is to distribute her inheritance among her cousins as "twenty thousand pounds would oppress me."  Earning their gratitude has increased the familial connections Jane never had. Spiritually devoid in the beginning, Jane's Marsh End life signifies a reconciliation with God.

The battle within Jane's self is the choice between love and religion. St John's threats that she will burn in "fire and brimstone" if she does not marry him weakens Jane, who wants to perform missionary work in India to remove "caste" and "prejudice." The fatal flaw is that being single, she must marry he "chiselled marble" St John who feels no husbandly love for her. Jane's arguments with St John how his domineering influence on her, as he wants as wife "to influence efficiently in life, and to retain absolutely till death." Her flight signifies her choice of love for Rochester as well as an intangible moral honour: marrying St John would be prostituting herself, especially as she well do good works with no self-enthusiasm. "Classically learned," Brontë would have been exposed to Platonic idealism, in which the complete harmony of the soul requires a balance of emotion, reason, courage and morals. By returning to Rochester, Jane is emotionally and morally fulfilled, particularly as she responds to his agony of being apart from her. What is presented is an internal destiny of a previously disharmonious soul that gains transcendence. "Jane Eyre" is a novel about fulfilment, and in the end Jane achieves this aim that Brontë could not have. Critics have lambasted Jane's domestic desires after her more feminist ventures at Marsh End. What is important is not so much a zealous career, but a true home "Reader, I married him," resounds the famous line in the novel,indicating Jane's position as ruler and matriarch of her new household. "My spirit is willing to accomplish" this ask of reunion, performed by "the flesh."

In conclusion, "Jane Eyre" is the wish-fulfilment of a lady who wished to manage her destiny. What has emerged is a feminist, individualistic manifesto of catharsis in the case in Jane Eyre, a figure for "million .. in revolt."

[As far as I am aware Charlotte Brontë was not a Platonist or knew much about platonism. I put that in because at the time I was a pretentious teenager who wanted to get top marks.]

My teacher's comments:
Confident textual knowledge
Material is coherently organised.

Discuss narrative voice ....
(focus on Bronte's methods ...)

Friday, 27 September 2013

Villette and me

I first read Villette when I was 16. At that time, it made less impression on me, and while I enjoyed the poetical descriptions of scenery and feeling, and felt soothed by them, it seemed to lack the power of Jane Eyre. The whole piece reminded me of a French Impressionist painting on a cosy Sunday afternoon, with a sunny garden and mild blue skies in the background. As for the melancholy, I only felt sad when Paul died, but the whole power was lost on my adolescent mind. I could not understand the reason for Lucy's reserve and unhappiness throughout the novel, except the part when she was all alone during the summer holidays, and that was lost on me. Still, I liked the novel. I half-suspected that it was superior to Jane Eyre, but could not understand why, though the characters seemed far more real and convincing, and the language more refined and less purple. I was more interested in Paulina's character then than reticent Lucy's. I wondered why she had to reappear so late in the novel, but it was only till I was at university till I appreciated the power of Charlotte Brontë.

Many readers dislike Lucy for her anti-Catholicism and her prejudice against non-English people. The French and Belgians are skewered alive; they are said to be inferior and less intelligent, shallow, noisy, dishonest and coquettish. I admit I was surprised that everyone seemed to be hostile. But we are not asking for an objective, realistic vision of Belgian residents. It is not a minute detail of Belgian society Lucy is presenting us; it is an emotional record of her soul, and how she perceives them. The Belgians are obnoxious not because Belgians are generally obnoxious, but because they do not understand Lucy, and Lucy cannot identify with them. She is weak, uncharming, reserved and not calculated to gain affection from people in general. She has no charisma and cannot fit into society. Naturally the Belgians would be hostile to her. Even more so, in a foreign environment she experiences culture shock at the manners of Belgian citizens. And because Lucy's account is biased, we see how it is really like to experience culture shock, in Charlotte Brontë's version. We don't always blame ourselves; we are apt to blame the locals for being unruly, annoying, etc. Lucy cannot be objective because if she were, that would not be consistent with her traumatised character. This I only learnt after I had gone abroad, and had the misfortune to be placed in the same kitchen with mainly drunken and noisy students in my first year. I had the impression people there were a shallow, drunken bunch, and only later, when I got to know more sober students I realised my first impression was wrong. I can safely say that Villette has taught me many things about myself.

There are passages in Villette that explain Lucy's philosophy of good art. Art criticism was popular in Victorian high culture, exemplified by John Ruskin's Modern Painters. Charlotte enjoyed his works, but what in particular she liked we do not know. She does tell us, however, that on going to the art gallery, she prefers works which are true to nature, and picturesque scenes. She deplores showy paintings, painted to impress rather than to illuminate a truth. For example, the Cleopatra, which depicts a lazy woman reclined on a couch with pots and pans scattered on the ground, her form barely covered by sheaths of cloth. This is sloth and sensuality in excess, a symbol of how humans have degraded into, and this argument may be used for some Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are more interested in pretty women and surroundings than truth to nature or emotional power. Look at some of the popular Victorian paintings and they are meant for gaudiness than truth. Such paintings are horrible because they are shallow and immoral. But Lucy doesn't stop there. Oh no, she condemns landscapes for not being accurate to nature, because the painters paint trees an idealised colour rather than the truth, and present things as being more exciting than they are. Real life, she implies, is not so sunny or Gothically gloomy. At first I was at a loss at her art criticism, because I like the Impressionists with their vague landscapes, and the gloomy, powerful Romantics, but recently her views on art have influenced my taste.
A depiction of Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable

I was going through some paintings of the Romantic era when I alighted on the works of John Constable. Formerly they were good, but boring; and now I derived a fresh source of inspiration from them. The trees and the grass are always faithful to nature, the water feels slow but flowing, and the essence of the Suffolk countryside is captured. He draws labourers at their tasks, instead of showy Grecian buildings in the midst of solitude, as the neo-Classical painters were apt to do. The trees are not stereotypical green paint on trunk, but real species you see. I felt the force of Lucy Snowe's argument in Villette. Especially since I underwent a similar experience at the Tate 2 years back. Most of the portraits were more interested in bright garish colours than in portraying how the sitter really looked; there was a lack of depth of space and dimension; many were more interested in depicting some ideology of the painter that no one could discern, unless well-read, rather than in painting things in a more straightforward manner. The symbolism was trite. There were a few JMW Turner paintings - I liked his sea-paintings with ships rolling on distinct waves, but his famous and powerful paintings puzzled me. They are vague and full of gleams and flashes, and very few outlines, that you cannot guess what they are supposed to represent. I quote the part where Lucy objects to certain paintings:
These are not a white like nature. Nature's daylight never had that colour; never was made so turbid, either by storm or cloud, as it is laid there, under a sky of indigo: and that indigo is not ether; and those dark weeds plastered upon it are not trees.

indistinct Turner. supposed to represent a railway. The rest is fog and mystery.

If you study the structure of Villette, you realise that the focus of Lucy's friends/acquaintances changes: in volume I, it is Ginevra Fanshawe she talks about; in Volume II, Dr John and Paulina; in Volume III, it is Paul Emmanuel. The divisions are fairly distinct that I wonder if Charlotte Brontë did it on purpose. This is important in a Bildungsroman; it's not a dramatic plot where everybody meets up for a jolly good yak continually over the course of the novel, like David Copperfield. Instead it mimicks real life, where you make and break relationships, lose touch with your friends from each stage of your life. This is part of the depressing factor of Villette - Lucy doesn't retain close ties with most of her friends.  I was initially sad we didn't get to see much of Dr John and Paulina after Volume II, but it was necessary to the development of the plot and Lucy's character. In Volume III she finally sees them at a fête without her, with their families; she is no longer their bosom friend, but an outsider, a horrid awakening reality. Certainly at university, my friendships did not have the same depth and intensity as my high school friendships, and I have moved on faster than I would have expected, and looking at Villette, I am struck by the prophetic powers of Charlotte Brontë.

It is a curious thing that the good, liberal and intelligent characters, Dr John and Paulina, first become friends with Lucy, then later their friendships cool. After Paulina and Dr John fall in love they are absorbed in each other, and lose interest in Lucy, and Lucy gives up on them. In contrast the less benevolent characters, Ginevra and M. Paul keep in touch with Lucy. We never find out whether John and Paulina keep in touch with her. And this does reflect some ironies in real life - we may love our flawed and prejudiced friends more than our good and broad-minded friends, because we just have more chemistry with the former than the latter. Lucy claims to despise the shallow and selfish Ginevra, but obviously she's fond of her in her own rough way. Ginevra is the sort of friend serious people love to despise, and yet you can't help liking her. She is rude and prejudiced and occasionally vulgar, but she is never too haughty to approach the diffident Lucy. Paulina on the other hand is cold and reserved with Fraulein Anna Braun, though the former is generally a good and humble character, and her pride is of a higher order than Ginevra's.  M. Paul is prejudiced against the English and Protestants, but he can't help being attracted to Lucy's individual spirit, and eventually they fall in love. So in Villette, chemistry seems to have a greater influence on friendships and relationships than intellectual compatibility and ideals (Lucy is intelligent like Paulina and Dr John). But this is simplifying matters: both Lucy and Paul are religious, only Lucy is a fierce Protestant, and Paul a devout Catholic - still, they believe in the same God.  They are both prejudiced against an opposite (Lucy against Catholics and Belgians; Paul against English and Protestants) and thus share a similarity in temperament (Paul notes their physiognomies are similar, indicating character is similar).  Lucy is not liberal and confident in cultivated society (unlike Paulina, who shines with the accomplished scientists, and Graham, a successful doctor and amateur scientist) though intellectually she is probably on par with them. Her prejudice and somewhat insularity places her on equal terms with Paul. Both she and Paul are odd characters in a sense: both insular, think their own nationality/religion is superior, and yet both are original and intellectual. Intellect is usually associated with liberality and not insularity, but they share this paradoxical quirk. You could say it makes them outcasts. Paul has more power, energy and charisma than Lucy, however, being based on Constantin Heger, Charlotte's beloved teacher in Brussels, and perhaps this is compatible with her passivity and anticharisma. But he brings out her fire and energy, her teasing and witty remarks, her originality in writing devoirs, and unlike Dr John and Paulina, refuses to see her as a shadow. She is the latters' listener; but she is on equal ground with Paul. I think we see a progression, from friendly acquaintance/obnoxious friend in Ginevra (who doesn't call her a friend), to not-so-close friends with Graham, good friends with Paulina, to lover in Paul. Only Paul really remains constant - is Lucy/Charlotte asserting the superiority of romantic relationships? Many of us forget our friends when we are in a committed relationship, preferring to tell things to the lover instead - and this is true for Lucy.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nutting by William Wordsworth

Originally Nutting was meant to be included in Wordsworth's magnum opus, The Prelude, but he decided to omit it, because it had no real bearing on the "plot" (if The Prelude can be said to have a plot) and it served well as an independent entity. Nutting is a self-contained poem with a sort-of plot and moral, in the manner of nature preservation. Carol Rumens in the Guardian discusses the fairy-tale-like aspect of the poem.
As in all his profoundest poems, the moral "story" is seamlessly entwined with the psychological one, and both are realised through a rich mixture of naturalistic and idealised pastoral imagery. The "fairy-tale" qualities are apparent from the start. The poem begins with a quest. The young boy sets off, armed with his nutting-crook and wallet: he is dressed in raggedy old clothes, for the practical reasons proposed by the "frugal dame" - but an element of disguise ("More ragged than need was!") is strongly suggested. Having forced his way through the brambles and over the "pathless rocks" the young adventurer finds the treasure he is seeking. And, although there are no monsters or goblins in sight, and the lesson is purely psychological, he learns like any young hero that treasure is not as easily taken as he had believed. 
The boy goes to the woods to look for nuts, and to prevent him from tearing good clothes, the old woman he rents his room from, Ann Tyson, tells him to wear his old clothes. There is a sense of mystery and excitement in his "disguise." The boy perhaps a little too confidently ( he smiles "at thorns, and brakes, and brambles") thinks this is unnecessary, for he is not doing any particularly strenuous activity. Then Wordsworth adopts a delightful tone, as the boy enjoys his liberty and sense of discovery at exploring a "pathless" wood, a path possibly untrodden by others.  He comes across a Paradise, to his exultation, in "one dear nook unvisited," which he claims as his kingdom.
... Not a broken bough
Droop's with its wither'd leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation,but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with milk-white clusters hung,
A virgin scene! - A little while I stood,
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in; and with wise restraint
Voluptuous, fearless of a rival eyed
The banquet ...
The Grotto Rydal Hall Lake District

The unknown scene is viewed with sensuous delight, a strange adjective for a peaceful woodland scene, when it would be more suited to perfume, or spices of the Orient, or a pretty girl, or something. He is happy to come across a previously uncharted territory, and sits beneath the trees and plays with the flowers. Rumens writes:
Both the laden hazel-tree and the "dear nook unvisited" have magical qualities, and a moral suggestiveness which the boy partly responds to. He defers gratification, experiences sheer delight in the loveliness and abundance of his surroundings. But then another, more primitive self breaks through and lays waste to the trees. The hero of this fable is also its monster.
Abruptly the speaker breaks away to ponder about some beauties, and he tries to justify a reason for what he did that he regretted. About to withhold from gratifying his greed for nuts, he is overwhelmed by the beauty and luxuriant scenes. It seems like he is unwilling to part with the treasures in this wood, because beauty is transient, and will not last through the seasons. He gives in to instant gratification of the senses; in this case, greed and gluttony.
Perhaps it was a bower beneath whose leaves
The violets of five seasons reappear
And fade, unseen by any human eye,
Where fairy water-breaks do murmur on
forever, and I saw the sparkling foam,
And with my cheek on one of those green stones
That, fleec'd with moss, beneath the shady trees,
Lay round me scatter'd like a flock of sheep,
I heard the murmur and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease, and, of its joy secure
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. 
Interestingly, the "murmuring sound," is mentioned in Paradise Lost, which comes from water issuing from a cave, which means that Wordsworth probably had Paradise Lost in mind when he wrote this. As he worshipped Milton and took him for a model (as Keats took Shakespeare) this is more likely.

The untarnished virgin imagery is coming out here; the violet (flowers are often used to describe pretty girls) are out only for 5 seasons, and after their bloom, fades away, rather like young lasses who, after their first beauty, decline. Thus he must act to claim the joy they give him. But it sounds disturbing, this sense of transience and fragility. Violets are also mentioned in one of the Lucy poems:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the Eye!
And are small with a tender fragrance. Like Lucy, the violets are scarcely seen, and sheltered by the moss, and fade away. In his wilfulness to claim his property, he cannot resist nature's charms and fells the hazel bushes and the bower.
Then up I rose,
And dragg'd to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage; and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower
Deform'd and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being ...
Nature is given human treatment, and the effect is that of rape, pillage and deformity as a metaphor for killing nature, which is unable to resist such force from cruel man. This might for all you know be a metaphor for greedy man who build factories and fell trees to clear land for development. A rare and secluded beauty is ripped apart by a greedy boy, and you can't help but compare it to ravishing a defenceless virgin. Defloration was considered a highly important, emotionally-affecting and potentially ruinous event in those days, which makes the rape-imagery more powerful in its time than now.
The movement of the syntax over the blank verse lines has been almost relaxed until this moment, rhythmically one of abrupt high drama: "Then up I rose." No reason is given: none is needed. A natural human impulse drives the boy to jump up and rake the trees of their hazel-nuts. After he has seized the hoard, the sight of the "silent trees" themselves and "the intruding sky" awakens another response, a terrible sense of guilt at the destruction caused by his innocent greed. That he has "deformed and sullied" the "bower" is the wisdom, the "knowledge of good and evil", that he has painfully achieved – and so he imparts the lesson to his listener
Now the formerly shaded woods are destroyed, for the sun peeps through the trees, who remain silent over his crimes. And despite getting his treasure he is filled with guilt that overwhelms his pleasure.
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees and the intruding sky. 
And so he tells his moral to his "dearest Maiden!" possibly Dorothy Wordsworth, to
move along these shades
In gentleness of heart with gentle hand
Touch - for there is a spirit in the woods.
For Nature has a life-force which we cannot ignore, and a soul of its own, very Romantic. The lesson is not a hard one, but the power of the ravaging boy upon the nuts and flowers gives it a special place among Wordsworth's nature-poems. I would not call him a Byronic hero, but the sympathetic hero's cruelty to the nuts and flowers, and his sensuousness share some things in common with a Byronic hero. Noticeably, nature here is portrayed as calmer than the more visual and intense scenes in Coleridge's conversational poems; the excitement is all from the speaker, not the scene itself, unlike the moving torrents of water commoner in Coleridge. But this might be Wordsworth's own personality: his style tends to be sonorous but calm and measured; Coleridge, lyrical, excitable and irregular. Coleridge must see the movements in nature; Wordsworth is content with its calmness, which reflects both men's characters: Coleridge was intellectual, excitable and volatile; Wordsworth steady, down-to-earth and calm.

The parallels between this and Paradise Lost seem quite clear. The boy is tempted by an Eden-like bower, where he experiences voluptuous bliss, and thinks he is in a fairyland of happiness and eternity. He is tempted to destroy the place to pick his hazels, and this he does, only to regret as he sees the intruding sky - possibly an allusion to Adam and Eve surprised in their nakedness? This would mean that Wordsworth is Eve or Satan. Imagine sober old Wordsworth as a Satanic figure!

Nutting could be an interesting re-write of Paradise Lost.  Instead of sex as sin, it is Nature as the Tempter, and unlike Paradise Lost, there is no external devil to whisper temptations into Eve's ear. The devil lurks within the boy, and there is no Satanic tempter. We must not blame the source of temptation for our actions, Wordsworth seems to say, we must blame ourselves - in this case, Wordsworth the Destroyer. Perhaps he was criticising Milton's morality, which seems too unrealistic and obvious. Wordsworth's temptation is more subtle, too. One criticism of Milton by the Romantics (it might have been Hazlitt) was that Milton, though grand and impressive, lacked the human touch, which Wordsworth has, though he can only do the egotistical sublime really effectively (a complaint from Keats). Or could Wordsworth be reading Satan as a personification of our own base desires (rather than a separate enemy out to conquer a kingdom). The boy does end up destroying his newly-discovered kingdom - but this time, the kingdom belongs to him. This makes the Satanic figure more complex - and you can tie it in with the Romantic Gothic exploration of the evil unconscious, or repressed base desires. In Hogg's Confession of a Sinner, it is not fully apparent whether the evil Satanic figure is the villain's repressed subconscious or a mythical figure. Nutting doesn't sound Gothic, which makes it more realistic (Wordsworth despised the Gothic genre), and yet he might have been influenced by the same things that influenced the Gothics (Gray's Elegy in the Churchyard is one thing).

Another influence cited is Spenser's The Faerie Queene, (a very popular influence on 19th century poets)  in the scene whether Sir Guyon goes to Acrasia's Bower of Bliss, a beautiful haven of nature. To defeat her (a nymphomaniac who tempts men and turns them into beasts) he destroys the bower to prevent more men from being tempted into that poisonous paradise, just as Wordsworth the boy destroys the real-life bower. However, Guyon is supposed to be good, and Wordsworth commits a sin in destroying the bower, so Nutting may be a rewrite of Spenser's morals (perhaps Wordsworth thought Spenser was thoughtless and giving the wrong message about nature).
Acrasia by John Melhuish Strudwick

It seems there was an earlier, longer version of the poem, in which the speaker addresses a girl called Lucy (possibly the same Lucy as in his Lucy poems), who is confronted with rape. Wordsworth eventually tidied it up to publish the finished version of "Nutting," but after the publication of that poem, he had Mary Hutchinson copy out the verses for the original version, which is far more disturbing than the published one, which indicates he considered the first version important, and had not fully given it up.

There are two early drafts. One is this:

The other is this:

A few scholars suggest that the bower in Nutting is associated with Spenser's Bower of Bliss in the Faerie Queene. It is hard to see how the bower in Nutting is the same, because the bower in Nutting is good and natural, whereas the Bower of Bliss in the Faerie Queene is artificial and entraps people and turns them into beasts. The boy, however, does turn beastly when he destroys the bower, and the same voluptuousness is applied to the natural as Spenser did in the artificial bower. Wordsworth may have drawn parallels, but in his own case, chose to make the bower good, wholesome and delightful instead. It is unlikely that the message and morality in Nutting was drawn from The Faerie Queene, and Wordsworth might have been indulging in a personal literary joke.
Sir Guyon in Acrasia's Bower of Bliss by Thomas Uwins

Lucy has some education and culture, having known "some nurture," and so her violence in treating the hazels is all the more shocking to Wordsworth, particularly with her "cruel" eagerness, "tempestuous bloom," and "an enemy of nature" "far beyond the Indian hills." What makes it particularly disturbing is that she is female and gently nurtured. Yet the Lucy poems deal with a girl who lives in seclusion unknown and unloved by most, so the gentle nurture is surprising, because you think of a rustic recluse, not an educated and refined girl. This might indicate that Lucy has some similarities with Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of Wordsworth, an educated woman who gave up a life of comfort to live with her brother in the countryside with very little company (by the standards of that time).  Lucy represents Wordsworth's ideal woman, a Rousseauan ideal rather than a reality, and yet intrigues us with her mystery, because no one really knows who she is.  While Lucy normally has no voice, and seems passive, here Lucy is actively destroying hazels, and the speaker is directly addressing her instead of thinking or imagining about her. She is violent and imperfect here, instead of the supposedly perfect (but I would dispute the perfection of the Lucy of even the other poems). In the other poems she is a friend of nature; here, she is "an enemy of nature."  And in the other poems Wordsworth deemed her worth worshipping; here he is giving her a moral lesson based on his mistake of destroying the bower. He tells her to treasure nature, to be gentle and restful, and the superiority of nature to man. The final version still shows a moral story, but here the listener is passive and not violent; and the main action comes from the speaker. Literary theorists will wonder why (jealousy on Mary's part, etc etc) but it is more effective to cut out the Lucy parts, though it is less clear and lucid. Apart from the fact they are unharmonious and overmoralistic, it seems dull and repetitive to have two people committing violence on nature, and two people learning the same lesson, and two people with violent, destructive natures (potentially sexual?) The contrast between active and passive is more effective and interesting.

Then there's the sexual perspective, which is doubtful. True, he uses sexual rape language, but that could be to make the message more powerful. Then again, there might be a sexual subtext underneath the main "Do not harm nature" message. Perhaps it chronicles the process of growing up. The inconsiderate child who wants instant gratification learns that he must not pluck the branches, and becomes wiser, for his Eden is no longer eternal and unravaged. It signifies a loss of innocence, because he has committed a sin. Though instead of actually having sex he is killing trees, which is an interesting twist on the Paradise Lost Sin Story. Wordsworth might have had a sense of humour. But assuming that the sex angle is really there, it could signify puberty, which comes with violence and sexual energy and instant gratification. Lucy is supposed to be pure (at least in the other Lucy poems he wants her to be pure), and hence the violence the speaker disapproves of might be what he deems excessive sexuality in women.

Lucy is more real and less ethereal in the manuscript version, though it is less powerful, too clunky and more boring than the finished version of Nutting. It is however a useful guide as to his thoughts on the development of Lucy.

You see why he didn't publish the manuscript version. Apart from the fact it sounds awful (for Wordsworth, anyway), the theme of the poem is less clear and effective. "Nutting" is about loving nature; Lucy's presence would mingle too many themes and clutter up the picture.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A School Essay on Jane Eyre

Found among my old A-Level papers this essay I wrote 4 years ago for a class test on Jane Eyre. I've lost the question but you can judge what it was from the answer. Excuse the extremely rigid classifications and immature analysis.

It is true that Bronte presents men as deficient in morality and dependent on women to be their spiritual and moral guide in Jane Eyre. Indeed, this sentiment was felt by Charlotte Brontë as feminist and devout Evangelical, who, in her letters, condemned the shallowness of men.

An important aspect of "Jane Eyre" is its effective representation of the social setting in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the era where the plot of "Jane Eyre" is set. Historically, this era preceded the Victorian era, which brought with it several self-help novels dealing with the fictional autobiographies of those who had risen from poverty to middle-class respectability through diligence and industry. The late 18th and 19th centuries, however, was the Romantic era of profligation. The wealthy landowners were at the top of the social hierarchy and did not work for their own living, often seeking mistresses and wasting their life in social but destructive pleasures. This attribute is present in Mr Rochester, a symbol of the Romantic-era landowner. His father, who was "anxious not to divide the estate" send him to "Jamaica, to espouse a bride already courted for me.  For a man, who, Jane observes, values peersonality, virtue, and conventionality, he holds to "the ideas of their class." namely, property, wealth and status: a shallow act. As "Jane Eyre" is a novel exemplifying true inner virtues and God's judgement, Rochester discovers that his wife has a "pigmy intellect," whose "vices sprang fast and rank," indicating judgement on his selfishness. She is inflicted by "the germs of insanity," due to her "excesses." "Yet I could not live alone," Rochester justifies himself and so "sought the companionship of mistresses," even  determined to marry bigamously, preferably to a "kind," 'caring," "intellectual" woman in order to save his soul.

The characterisation of Rochester indicates his lack of spiritual fulfilment. It is noted that for a man described as "proud," he constantly seeks Jane's advice on morality. Indeed, he asks her several times, where he is "justified in overleaping a custom" to gain access to purity. What his intentions are he initially does not specify, but he proposes to seek "a new acquaintance" who is "a disguised pilgrim - a deity, I verily believe." The fact that he bombards Jane with questions already ,mark her out as his spiritual and moral guide. In fact Rochester's and Jane's ideas on spirituality and morality differ: Rochester seeks it in a "stranger" who will impart to him "reformation" - in Jane, whose virtues he admires; whereas Jane advises him to "look higher than your equals" and 'men and woman may die, philosophers falter in wisdom." The key to this conflict is independence and individuality, tied to spirituality and morality. These virtues are the core themes of the novel. Rochester sins by depending on a "fellow-creature" for reformation, instead of striving alone. Such a reformation would hence be passive, reflecting Helen's view that "There is no merit in such goodness" (that is passive). After the revelation of Rochester's insane wife, Jane tells herself "Laws and principles are for moments like this" where temptation is prevalent.

The setting of "Jane Eyre's" key incidents occur in the "Eden-like garden" which is filled with "apple-trees, pear-trees," and "laden with ripe fruit. Its floral presentation with "jasmine," "sweetbriar" and "daisies" convey a feminine aspect to the surroundings. It is noted that it is outside, in the open, particularly in the garden, that Rochester is most frank and open with Jane; for it is "real, sweet and pure," like the woman he loves - Jane. Hence the garden is a metaphor for feminine truth and fertility. It is here that he asks Jane about his justification committing an act "which neither your conscience sanctifies nor judgement approves." Though still ambiguous, it centres on Rochester's true feelings - love, and the fact of his intended bigamy. In the proposal scene, he declares "For the world's judgement - I wash my hands thereof. For man's opinion - I defy it" in order to be with Jane as his spiritual helpmeet. Jane personifies the attributes if sweetness, fertility (when she later gives birth). life and freshness of the garden, where they spend their time being truly at ease with each other. Hence the setting is a symbol for Rochester's reverence for feminine qualities associated with all that is "real, sweet and pure."

Structurally, it is the men who bring ruin or seek to do so, to the female protagonist. The issue here focuses on morality and spirituality. When Rochester's mad wife is exposed, he insists on Jane's remaining with him: "You are my better self" in contrast to her advice: "Believe in God." It is only after her departure and his wife's death that he acknowledges as "The hand of God in my doom." In other words it is a woman (Jane) who must act by leaving in order to bring him to his senses. No matter how moral Rochester eventually becomes, it is not true, natural morality; it is the work of circumstances initiated by a woman. Similarly St John Rivers depends on Jane to be his spiritual and moral guide, although he refuses to act on her advice. His idea of morality is to marry Jane "to be a helper to Indian women." Despite Jane's persistence in "I will go ...

[The text stops here; either the page is missing, or I ran out of time. Then a new paragraph] ....

In conclusion, "Jane Eyre" depicts Bronte's opinions of men's immoralities and dependence on women for spirituality and morality, as she strove to convey the essence of feminine virtues associated with the Victorian era.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Classics Club August Meme

Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics?  Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?

This is for the August meme of the Classics Club book spin.  I normally am a stickler for the introductions of classic novels, and my particular favourite would be the 1974 Penguin English Library Edition of Shirley by Charlotte Bronte, introduction by Andrew and Judith Hook. I like this intro better as they go into the historical relevance of the setting to the story and characters. 

Provincial manners may be more attractive than outwardly sophisticated airs and graces, but they are nonetheless inhospitable to the world of imaginative feeling and sympathy. The values of that world reside in individuals, not in society or any part of it. 

 The radical Mr Yorke, a proud Yorkshireman to the core, is honest and respects both heroines - always a good sign of character. He despises proud Cockneys who think they are superior to Northerners, and affirms a Yorkshire burr is more wholesome than a pseudo-refined Cockney. Though educated and able to speak with a pure accent, he choose to speak Yorkshire dialect. And yet despite his honesty, he is bigoted. He cannot bear those above him, and is good only to his equals and social inferiors. He is also a blunt, practical merchant, whose family cares nothing for poetry. He is cultured: he speaks French and Italian, and is well-read, but there is more than a hint of insularity in him, which opposes imagination and poetry. He will look on the practical side of things - he is intellectual and cultivated rather than sensitive and imaginative, unlike the less-educated Caroline, who cares for Chenier's poetry La Jeune Captive. 

She is a comparative novice in the French language, but is able to critique French literature with sincerity and feeling. But she is not part of society: before Shirley comes, she has no close friends her age living in the district. She is very much a solitary individual, with strange and enlightened thoughts. She longs for an occupation because she is bored and lonely, and she wants to put good use of her abilities. Unlike most people. she and Shirley are capable of appreciating poetry for sincere feeling, and scorn elevated poetry meant to exhibit intellect rather than pure emotion. Caroline dislikes the classical dramatists, Corneille and Racine, in favour of Chenier, the proto-Romantic, and Shakespeare's accurate delineation of character, irregular naturalism and intense feeling, finds more favour with her than the classicists of the 18th century. True emotional depth and feeling belong not to artificial society, but neither does it belong to honest and wholesome people like Mr Yorke. Many good characters in the novel are incapable of appreciating heightened emotion the way the heroines do, like Mr Helstone, Mrs Pryor, Mr Yorke and Mr Hall. The gentlemen are very much provincial Yorkshiremen but they cannot be said to be sympathetic to the fine arts. The better cultured on the other hand are insincere and flashy. Hence Shirley is very much about the individual Romantic, which suits the Romantic era setting.

The Hooks also make the important point that the ending of the novel is not a conventionally happy one. Instead it is ambiguous: despite the heroines' marriages, Robert Moore decides to enclose Briarfield Common and rent them out to farmers, to Caroline's distress, for nature will be destroyed. He makes the valid point that with his new money he will be able to employ more workers, pay them better and thus contribute the society. There is no solution: this is Charlotte Brontë's realism sinking in. Unlike Mrs Gaskell she is not unrealistically optimistic or forgiving. With the development in the North, the scenery is gone, to be replaced by ugly mills and factories. There are no more fairies, a symbol of nature and imagination. Society has become materialistic and commercial, at the expense of solitude and imagination. This is the world the Brontë children dreamed of, especially Charlotte and Emily, the Romantic era in which they were born in, and which faded away in their adulthood. They used that in their novels and poetry, and resisted many wider questions in their works (though aware of them).

The movement of history is seen as embracing both continuity and change. The new industrial society that Robert Moore looks forward to in 1812 has indeed come into being. But a price has been paid. The natural beauty of the Hollow has been swept away by the stone, brick and ashes of the new industrialism. The fading folk-memory of the “fairish,” last seen in Fieldhead Hollow further back in the pre-industrial past, hints even at the imagination’s inability to survive in the context of such a brave new world. But there is no such imaginative failure in Shirley itself.

I cannot recommend this edition highly enough.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Book list

Meant to join the Classics Club Book Spin but had no time, since this is final year. I did manage to read a number of books though, and here is the list of books I want to read and books I have read:

Books I want to read
1. Dante's Inferno translated by Henry Cary (have done 22 cantoes so far, which is about 2/3)
2. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
3. Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell (read part of it)
4. Wordsworth biography by Juliet Barker
5. Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal (read part of it)
6. Percy Shelley's biography by Richard Holmes (read until before the part he leaves for Switzerland with Mary Shelley)
7. The Bleak Age by JL and Barbara Hammond (done 1/3) It's about socio-economic life in the early 19th century.
8. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, translated by someone called Joly
9. Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge

Books I have read

1. Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
2. Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
(It has not been a bumper year for classics)

Minor works of the 18th and 19th centuries
1. Secresy, or Ruin on the Rock by Eliza Fenwick (Gothic novel)
2. The Year of the Jubilee by George Gissing

1. Jingo by Terry Pratchett
2. Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
3. The Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones
4. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
5. Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers (I think ... though it might have been the previous term)

Modern fiction
1. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
2. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
(I actually want to be the next Tan Twan Eng, only more Bildungsromany.)

Biographies and nonfiction
1. Coleridge: Early Visions by Richard Holmes
2. Coleridge: Darker Reflections by Richard Holmes
3. The English Opium Eater (biography of Thomas de Quincey) by Robert Morrison
4. Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets by Thomas de Quincey (well, most of it. I skipped the boring sections and read all to do with the Poets).
5. Some Victorian gay biography about two gay men who cross dressed
6. The Passionate Sisterhood (about the wives and daughters of the Romantic poets) by Kathleen Jones
7. Romantics at School by Morris Marples (about Romantic poets)
8. Keats' biography by Nicholas Roe
9. Something about the history of the lake district
10. A book about Charlotte Brontë by Frederika Macdonald
11. The Three Brontës by May Sinclair

Enid Blyton
1. All 15 books in the Five Find-Outers Mystery series
2. The Rockingdown Mystery
3. The Rilloby Fair Mystery

This is not a complete list, but I really don't remember all the book I've read. This year hasn't been a wonderful year for reading due to final year exams.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Mansfield Park and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

It is strange that there are so many similarities between Mansfield Park and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne Brontë, rationalist and least romantic of the famous trio, has been compared to Jane Austen, and yet her stern, middle-class outlook is different from the gregarious gentry in Austenland. But Mansfield Park is different: it has a loser-girl for a heroine. Fanny Price does not get her way most of the time: she's poor, sickly, introverted and uncharming. She has one point in her favour: she's well-read and thoughtful and appreciates the Romantic poets, just as Anne Elliott does in Persuasion. She is also honest and principled, though unfairly condemned for being priggish. You can rarely have strong principles without priggishness. And yet Tenant is praised to the skies, and Mansfield Park roundly condemned. In one point are they condemned: priggish heroine. Anyway here are the similarities.

Both have a rakish suitor who pursue a moralistic heroine. In Tenant, Arthur Huntingdon pursues the naïve Helen Lawrence. After their marriage her moralistic strain comes out; she condemns her husband soundly for drinking, swearing, adultering, and raising their son wrongly. In MP, the rakish Henry Crawford pursues innocent Fanny Price, a prim moralistic girl. Both men, note it, are well-off; both girls do not have fortunes. Crawford flirts with Maria Bertram, and after her mercenary marriage to Mr Rushworth, commits adultery with her, and runs away with her, leaving Fanny Price. Unlike Helen, Fanny refuses Crawford's marriage proposal. Edmund and Fanny marry, after Edmund gets over his first love and Fanny refuses Crawford. Helen and Gilbert marry, after Huntingdon dies and Gilbert gets over his infatuation for Eliza Millward.

But it is startlingly similar. Huntingdon's mistress, Lady Lowborough was the former Miss Arabella Wilmot, who after his marriage to Helen, marries Lord Lowborough, a reformed drunk and rake. He reforms after his marriage to please his wife. Arabella married Lowborough for his money and title, just as Maria married Rushworth. Arabella had trouble getting married early because she was a big flirt. Maria is not old when she marries but it is likely Huntingdon married prudish Helen because he knew Helen would be faithful and look after the children well, and he may have thought Arabella an easy lay to sleep with - someone you don't have a long-term relationship with. He may have thought her unfaithful, as she proves to be with her husband. This may be why Crawford doesn't propose to Maria, which leads her to accept Rushworth. She is a flirt; he doesn't want to commit, he may think she's an easy lay, unlike virtuous Fanny, unattainable and trustworthy. (Also, there were no other girls to flirt with when Fanny's around). Still, he could easily flirt with Fanny without proposing to her. Either Austen made a mistake in his psychology, but Miss Sneyd of Mansfield Park blog says that it is significant Crawford is a plain man. Perhaps he has an inferiority complex with regards to flirtatious women, who may cheat on him. Though he is charming. He knows he will get the second bite of the cherry, so to speak, and the fact Fanny is an unplucked cherry may be a further incentive to pursue her. (Little does he know she is pining away for Edmund). He may be a beta male with alpha charm (a high beta though) and steals women easily. But he is a fun-lover and he likes fun-lovers, and he realises that these fun-loving women may cheat on him or lose interest due to his plain looks. They are experienced and and easily bored and will move on easily. Fanny has strong attachments, she is honest and virtuous and lacks experience, and will never cheat on a man.  This may be a hard pill to swallow but those days even rakish men actually liked to marry virtuous women. (Nowadays it is a stigma to be constant to one lover). Maria marries Rushworth when she realises Crawford will never marry her, whereas Fanny, despite knowing she has no chance with Edmund, sticks steadfastly to her love for him and refuses Crawford.

MP is more complex than Tenant, in that Huntingdon is almost pure evil: he drinks, philanders, abuses, etc. etc. He also has no learning. His only virtue is his charm and good looks (and money). Crawford truly appreciates Shakespeare, which makes Fanny respect (but not) love him - she is intellectually attracted but physically and morally repulsed. Helen is physically attracted to Huntingdon - perhaps socially. Nothing more. Fanny is lucky to be nearly sexless, in a sense, that attractive Crawford repulses her. Crawford is also capable of (partially) appreciating Fanny for her goodness, her virtue, and her cleverness. He will talk gossip and flashy plays to Maria, but solid Shakespeare to Fanny. Huntingdon has no use for his wife's intelligence. Arabella Wilmot is a terrible flirt and a manipulative bitch, and so is Maria, but we do see Maria's agony at not getting Crawford. Arabella is more obviously slutty than Maria too. So it's ultra-bastard and ultra-bitch. The villains of MP are more subtle and true. We also have the likeable Mary Crawford, not the real villain like Maria, but is Fanny's rival for Edmund's affections. I like Mary, but she is shallow, selfish and thoughtless. She is witty and friendly - she is not adulterous - she has qualms about hugging men in public, unlike Maria - but she accepts this in others. Edmund is disgusted by this attitude in her in the end, when she accepts adultery between her brother and his sister. She also likes Fanny, which makes her better than Maria, and is capable of seeing her goodness, but that is because there is no other genteel young lady in the area. She settles for Fanny for company and for a listening ear - she does not love Fanny for herself. Sure, she praises her, but we know Fanny is not her bosom buddy. I happen to know a few Mary Crawfords, and friends know several, and they are likeable people but not our best friends.

But Fanny and Helen, though moralistic and virtuous, develop differently. Fanny does not appear to develop, because she is always right. But she does - she realises that Crawford has good points in his Bardolatry, and yet resists him. She develops as a person when Edmund forsakes her for Mary. Her refusal of the eligible Crawford despite the fact Edmund loves Mary, not her, is all the more courageous, because she has no hope, and yet she clings on to principle.  The fact Edmund jilts Mary is a lucky fluke that happens later in the story. She develops when she moves back home for a few weeks and realises despite its faults, Mansfield Park is superior to Portsmouth because it is well-ordered and cultivated, and not vulgar. It may have immoral people like Maria and gang, but at least it was there she learnt her lessons from Edmund and saw worldly creatures like the Crawfords. She knows now that she is superior to Portsmouth and her former life with her parents. The fact she is passive is due to her shy, poor, uncharismatic nature. She cannot be otherwise because no one will support her. Her one active deed is to refuse Crawford and even so she is brave. Helen more noticeably develops because she realises her husband is cruel and sordid till she runs away from him with their son. She meets a goody-goody man and marries him when her husband is dead. Fanny has loved a good man from the start - and Mr Right. Helen went from Wrong to Right. People appreciate Helen more because she has made a mistake, but Helen is luckier because she is beautiful, she is accomplished and connected and she has friends. Fanny is friendless outside her family, who torment her. Helen has a brother who gives her a rent-free home and money for her paintings, which he purchases (I think). Fanny has similarities to Molly Gibson of Wives and Daughters fame, but people like Molly better. Molly is luckier and her stepsister's charisma is less shown that Mary Crawford's. The fact Helen does a daring thing like run away from her husband rouses everyone's sympathy and admiration. Fanny's passivity invoke our scorn and resentment. But is it not more daring for a poor uncharismatic heroine to assert her defiance than a beautiful charismatic one? Gentlemen do seek the heart of Helen after all, unlike poor Fanny. Gilbert the goody-goody wants Helen, but Edmund doesn't want Fanny until much later. Fanny's brother can't help her much, unlike Helen's brother Frederick Lawrence.

Helen was more refined and dignified than Eliza; so it is natural for Gilbert to fall for her. It was easy. Fanny had to suffer because Edmund loved Mary more than her, and he was deeply infatuated by the latter's charms. He eventually loves Fanny, but it is a steady, settling-down kind of love. Fanny is also inferior in accomplishments, class and attractions, whereas Helen is superior to Eliza. So Fanny suffers more in the course of true love.

We should forgive Helen for being silly to marry Huntingdon in the first place, what with his scandalous reputation. But is it not commendatory that Fanny resists the charms of an attractive wealthy young man in favour of a poorer and duller man who doesn't love her? Does it not show the depth of character insight in her? Does it not show that her reason is not dulled by her romanticism?

We get the impression Helen marries Gilbert isn't just his goodness, it's because there is a lack of good men in her life, and perhaps she is a bit desperate. They don't even get to bond the way Fanny does with Edmund.  Fanny's refusal of Crawford indicates that desperation does not influence her choice of man, but love and familiarity. I also like the fact Edmund helped to develop Fanny's intellect and keen appreciation of nature. Gilbert does not; Helen appears to be smarter than him.  Edmund and Fanny appreciate each other's goodness, principles and intelligence; we do not feel the same with Gilbert and Helen. Gilbert seems to be struck by her beauty, refinement and higher class; whereas she, tired of a Regency rake, is longing for an honest country swain to take her into his arms.

But because the morality is better-marked in Tenant, it is more powerful, and then it has the power of description. Anne Brontë describes the larches and the gloomy aspect of the scene, something Jane Austen never does. She puts them into Fanny's mouth instead. Fanny is a fan of Walter Scott and Cowper, and Helen likes poetry, but Helen does not quote poetry the way Fanny does. Fanny's emotions are more highly stirred by poetry. You see the landscape in Tenant the way you do not in MP.

To this end I left the more frequented regions, the wooded valleys, the corn-fields, and the meadow-lands, and proceeded to mount the steep acclivity of Wildfell, the wildest and the loftiest eminence in our neighbourhood, where, as you ascend, the hedges, as well as the trees, become scanty and stunted, the former, at length, giving place to rough stone fences, partly greened over with ivy and moss, the latter to larches and Scotch fir-trees, or isolated blackthorns. The fields, being rough and stony, and wholly unfit for the plough, were mostly devoted to the posturing of sheep and cattle; the soil was thin and poor: bits of grey rock here and there peeped out from the grassy hillocks; bilberry-plants and heather - relics of more savage wildness - grew under the walls; and in many of the enclosures, ragweeds and rushes usurped supremacy over the scanty herbage; but these were not my property. (From Tenant of Wildfell Hall)
Tenant is about doing the wrong thing and getting punished for it; MP is about doing the right thing and getting persecuted for it (but it all ends happily, because it is a Jane Austen novel). Not that I disliked Tenant; the wild cruel scenes held a power of their own, and I enjoyed it, because Anne Brontë was a good author, but it did not emotionally affect me so deeply as Mansfield Park, the more realistic and complex novel.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Fans, sane and insane

In this week alone, 2 people have commented on my parody rants of Fifty Shades, written more than a year ago.  I can't be bothered to link the posts here, so if you want to read them, just look for the Fifty Shades tag. What surprised me was, the commentors were saying along the lines of "I'm so glad you posted about this! I'm really looking forward to watching the movie!" or "I love Anastasia Steele!" You get the gist. I suspect these spammers are being PAID to comment on the series and spread the word around. They obviously didn't read my posts, else they would have been offended by my snarky tone.

Anyway, I checked my Brontë poll on the blog. The most popular novels are as follows:
Jane Eyre: 29 votes
Wuthering Heights: 15 votes
Villette: 15 votes
Tenant of Wildfell Hall: 5 votes
Agnes Grey: 2 votes
Shirley: 1 vote
Total: 67 votes

I'm pleasantly surprised that Villette is now equal to Wuthering Heights in terms of votes, because that is an underrated novel. Though this is probably because my blog is Villette-mad, and fans of that book will be directed to my blog. I am also glad some people have the taste and diligence to admire Agnes Grey, a pleasing book, and that the unpopular Shirley has finally garnered one vote. Anne Brontë was a more balanced and structured writer, but Charlotte was emotionally more complex.

Which reminds me of the time i went to this bookshop in Haworth called Datchard's I think. The owner was showing me a 1922 edition of Shirley and we were discussing our favourite literary sisters. She said she liked Anne, and she doesn't get why teenage girls all go wild for Heathcliff. I pleaded guilty to loving Charlotte, but added I preferred Villette and Shirley to Jane Eyre. Which seemed to please her. She said she liked Shirley too, which surprised me because it is a little-known book. Not as great as Middlemarch but the characters are more original and less stereotypical. I bought a few old copies of the Brontë Society Transactions and the 1922 Shirley, which was awesome illustrations. It is my fond hope that it will fetch hundreds or thousands some day so I can sell it at an auction. I doubt it though because it was £15. I saw a first edition of  Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers book but it was 60 and I didn't feel like spending that much on a book that wasn't even my favourite (the first 9 in the series are the best). They cost more than Famous Five which is weird because FF is more popular than FFO - FFO is highly underrated I think, and in some ways superior to some of Agatha Christie's novels. There is a stronger sense of psychological realism, a fidelity to nature, and language true to life. Agatha Christie is too melodramatic  - Dorothy Sayers is better, though still a bit far-fetched at times. I used to love both mystery authors, because I love solving mysteries, but re-reading the books I loved as a child brings more pleasure than all the best works of the Golden Age of Detective Stories. Enid Blyton is evergreen. George Kirrin in FF is well-drawn, and so is little Bets Hilton of the FFO.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fanny Price and Dorothy Wordsworth

I’ve been meaning to explore the nature of Fanny Price’s intelligence and cultivation. In Mansfield Park, Fanny is less accomplished than her cousins and Miss Crawford; she plays no music, and doesn’t seem to be fluent in French. But she is well-read on philosophy, due to Edmund’s discriminating taste, and is acquainted with the old English classics as well as modern poetry by Cowper and Walter Scott. (Modern by their standards; both poets are from the Romantic era).
So despite being less quick and accomplished, what makes Fanny Price more intelligent in a sense, and therefore superior to the Misses Bertram?  
To use an analogy, I will put forth Dorothy Wordsworth as an example. In Thomas de Quincey’s Reminiscences of the Lake Poets, he writes:
"Her manner was warm and even ardent; her sensibility seemed constitutionally deep; and some subtle fire of impassioned intellect apparently burned within her, which, being alternately pushed forward into a conspicuous expression by the irrepressible instincts of her temperament, and then immediately checked, in obedience to the decorum of her sex and age, and her maidenly condition, gave to her whole demeanour, an to her conversation, an air of embarrassment, and even of self-conflict, that was almost distressing to witness …whereas the intellect of Wordsworth was, by its original tendency, too stern, too austere, too much enamoured of an ascetic harsh sublimity, she it was … that first couched his eye to the sense of beauty, humanised him by the gentler charities, and engrafted with her delicate female touch, those graces upon the ruder growths of his nature which have since clothed the forest of his genius … She did not cultivate the graces which preside over the person and its carriage. But on the other hand she was a person of very remarkable endowments intellectually; and in addition to the other great services which she rendered to her brother … the exceeding sympathy, always ready and always profound, by which she made all that one could tell her … reverberate … to one’s own feelings, by the manifest impression it made upon hers … Her knowledge of literature of irregular, and thoroughly unsystematic, She was content to be ignorant of many things; but what she knew and had really mastered lay where it could not be disturbed - in the temple of her own most fervid heart."
Dorothy Wordsworth in old age

Like Miss Wordsworth, Fanny is ignorant of many talents and accomplishments, but she is full of feeling for nature and virtue and the past. She is horrified that Mr Rushworth is pulling down the old architecture of his house in favour of new renovations. She quotes Cowper and Scott, and she feels Shakespeare most profoundly. Her religion is not accomplishment but feeling. Mrs Wordsworth was less exposed to high society and the world, but fit in better than Dorothy, because of her temperament, calm in contrast to Dorothy’s fire. Susan Price, more active and likeable and confident, fits in easily though she is less accomplished and intelligent than Fanny, who has seen some high life unlike Susan. 
Now to go deeper. Coleridge married Sarah Fricker, an accomplished young woman who was the daughter of a well-to-do merchant who became bankrupt. She went to a good school and dressed well. She read Mary Wollstonecraft and professed liberal principles, which may be why Coleridge married her. Mrs Coleridge taught her daughter and nieces French and Italian and mathematics, and she was good at these. Her daughter was a prodigy under her tutelage. And yet Coleridge found his wife deficient in intelligence. He wrote to her saying she was less intelligent and accomplished than him. This is true (Coleridge was a genius) but it does not explain why he so admired the intellect of Dorothy Wordsworth, who was certainly less accomplished in languages and mathematics than Mrs Coleridge, and was less sophisticated than the city-born Mrs Coleridge.
Sarah Fricker, wife of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The trouble was, Mrs Coleridge did not care for, or understand, Coleridge’s poetry, whereas Dorothy contributed to her brother’s and Coleridge’s poetry by her descriptions of natural scenes. She was a good critic and highly sensitive and emotional, unlike good practical Mrs Coleridge. Mrs Coleridge was accomplished but not sensitive and soulful; Miss Wordsworth was less accomplished but felt and understood poetry - a sort of natural intelligence based on feeling rather than reasoned thought - the pinnacle of Romanticism. (In reality Mrs Coleridge was generous, fun, warm-hearted and well-loved; Miss Wordsworth was liked by her brother’s friends but could be selfish and unsympathetic of others’ troubles. But that is another story.)
Mrs Coleridge’s intelligence is external and perceptible; Dorothy’s more internal and requires an intelligent person to discern her qualities. Just as Fanny Price’s values are less perceptible than the accomplishments of Miss Crawford and her cousins. Fanny’s learning actually means something to her, whereas the rest see it as accomplishments you should have to shine in the world, to look genteel and fetch a rich husband.