Monday, 15 July 2013

The Romantics and Emily Bronte by Dorothy J. Cooper

Here are extracts from the Bronte Society Transactions, 1952.

The Romantic Revival in English Literature was widespread in 1818, the year of Emily Brontë's birth, and during its lifetime its influence was felt in every form of Art. Her own work is highly individual and yet many traces of the movement, current in her day, may be found in it.
The most striking evidence of it is in her interest in the significance of the individual and the workings of the human mind. Like Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, de Quincey, she followed it in its darkest explorations and from this springs the intensity of her writings. Unlike the Romantics, Shelley, Byron and de Quincey particularly, she never indulged this individualism into creating a man "not as other men are"; no one could accuse her of shunning that contact with life which is the vital resource of great poetry.  She made great attempts to hide what she felt most deeply and it is this habit of putting aside her visions, attending to the ironing, baking picking the black-currants, before she will give her own thoughts a little space, which brings the driving force into her poetry, the familiar dark hour in which "Fancy," the "Strange Power", her "Angel" are permitted to come. We cannot insist too much on Ellen Nussey's remark that Emily liked her because she never treated her as a peculiar person. She did not dwell on emotion for its own sake, as an interesting record of experience, but because she was forced by circumstances into knowing "the agonies, the strife/Of human hearts" as well as her own spiritual agonies and strife; her work has a frankness of expression and a strength which distinguishes it from the poetry of her contemporaries.  Keats suffered under the same sentence of death, but he was lulled for a while by the world of sensations and colour and crowding sensuous impressions which checked his painful thoughts. The stone parsonage, the moors, the semi-Calvinist creed at home and at school gave little encouragement to the world of the senses, and it is with a sudden shock of pleasure that Emily observed the colours of the summer moors, the skies, the first yellow crocuses at the Heights and the languid shadows of an autumn evening. We value the spare sentences which describe them, all the more because of their rareness. 
The cherished Liberty of the Romantics is again seen with a difference in her work. Since she lived her own perfect pattern of Liberty, she invariably returned to it after a patient period attending the behests of others and the interim seemed immaterial. She had no interest in the political aspects of the other Liberty - "Vain are the creeds that move men's hearts" - and her religion was a matter between God and herself. And so the affairs of the numerous valleys below and beyond Haworth passed by almost as if unnoticed ...
The nostalgic melancoly of Keats and Shelley, the cry of human weakness from Coleridge, which she could have found it shameful to utter - "To be beloved is all I need," - Wordsworth's sorros that he can never again see with the innovent eye of childhood, all these seem slgiht and subtle beside that black melancholy of hers, understandably traceable to the shabby walls of the parsonage, the garden stones, "black with autumn rain," the dampness which is implicit in everything that the Brontës described and even came to love, in Haworth. Urged onlt be this, her poetry would be morbid, but it is informed by a familiarity with Death, that calm acknowledgement of it which often shocks us in "Wuthering Heights." Sometimes in her poetry she tries to remind herself of the coldness and decay of death: - 
 In the earth, the earth, thou shalt be laid,
A grey stone standing over thee,
Black mould beneath thee spread
And black mould to cover thee.

This, as often occurs, becomes the Elizabethan beauty and frankness of 

Well, there is rest there,
So fast come thy prophecy;
The time when my sunny hair
Shall with grass roots entwined be.

At her death, Emily seemed to have a moment, a feeling of the horor of it. Her description of Heathcliff's death, the vigil by Catherine's side, her love for Branwell during his last years and her pity for him as he died, give us a picture of a woman and a poet who was as far as possible removed from any mood which permitted her to be "half in love with easeful death."  Her melancholy does not descent without warning, giving the impression of the painful outpourings of adoloscence - "I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" but is a purposive longing for the earth and a solution of the wrongs of life. External nature consoles for a while but the consolatoin is transient, no one knew it better than she. She liked Cowper's "The Castaway" and we feel that in one of his phrases is her attitude to death - "We perish each alone." She lived alone and made it her constant aim to learn how to die alone. Alfred de Vigny's poem on the death of the wolf suits her attitude, perhaps, more nearly than any of her Englsih contemporaries, for she, too, thought it cowardly to pray or appeal against her sentence and her wish was to complete fully the taste she had been given on earth and after that, like the wolf, to suffer and die without a sound.
In all Romantic poetry, we come across a preiod in which the sorrows of the world are the poet's. Coleridge, in such circumstances, writes,
But yesternight, I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Upstarting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!

and our first thought is reflective, pondering a sensitive mind which is confronted with the apparent ascendency of evil. Emily Brontë wrote:
Oh God of  Heaven! the dream of horror:
The frightful dream is over now,
The sickened heart, the blasting sorrow,
The ghastly night, the ghastlier morrow,
The aching sense of utter woe.


She was nineteen when she wrote it and after the first shock it arouses, we realise that sorrow was constant in this life, not in moods, but in an endless succession which could not be staved off beyond two or three light verses. Whether she writes of the Gondalian fortunes or discard that mask, the two or three times of sheer tragedy are implicit in her work and theirs is not a comforting inspiration; they go far beyond the pathos, suffering, regret of the Romantics.

Because of this, the lyric gift is rare in her poetry. A personal sorrow excludes preoccupation with the infiniate variations on the theme of nature, which delight us so much in Shelley's lyrics. Here is her attempt at it in a fragment which she left unfinished:

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers away;
Lengthen night and shorten day; 
Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the Autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow.
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

There is a brave and beautiful beginning but it seems that the writers, conscious that the deeper melancholy will always intrude, give sup the lyric as she realises how it is shaping. Her choice of a theme such as "The Night Wing". one which Shelley would have loved, becomes instead of a series of a fast-flowing images such as Shelley would have made it, a poem touched with that some nostalgia leading here to a quiet, resigned irony.

And when they heart is laid at rest,
Beneath the church-aisle stone,
I shall have time enough to mourn,
And thou to be alone.
Of course, the lords and ladies of the Gondal tales derive from the Romances and novels of terror which became so popular during the Romantic Revival. "Lines written in Aspin Castle" is the very epitome of the Gothic tale and there is the real "Castle of Otranto" touch in the picture of moonlight illuminating the portrait,

And when the moonbeam, chill and blue,
Stream the spectral windows through,
That picture's like a spectre too.

All the Brontës enjoyed playing this game and too often Emily lets elaborate phrases, strained apostrophes and jaded figures of speech get the better of her as she plays it. Yet here, just as often, we suddenly sense the quickened pace, a striking and original idea or image, a sincere and forceful expression. She has risen above the childish convention and has informed it with the seriousness of her own gift.

Lord Byron had a very great influence on Charlotte Brontë's imagination. We can trace it distinctly in her sketches and in Mr Rochester and Louis Moore. Byron, rejected and admired of society and trying to make a glory out of his outlawed position, strangely, had much in common with the girl at Haworth Parsonage, who grew up to feel herself in a similar position in her own small world. Emily was always a rebel against the dependence of girls and she gifted the personality of her imagination with a man's freedom, no gentleman of society but a dark and threatening creature. He represented no compromise and he fits in almost identically with Byron's character. This description of Ellen Dean's is typical - 

"Do you mark those two lines between your eyes, and those thick brows that, instead of rising arched, sink in the middle; and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly but lurk glinting under them, like devil's spies?"

As her life became more and more identifies with this outcast, he became not a Romantic attitude but a tragic personality with the pride and bitterness of Milton's Satan. Ellen Dean, later in "Wuthering Heights," says of him, "Poor wretch, you have a heart and nerves the same as your brother men! Why should you be anxious to conceal them? Your pride cannot blind God! You tempt time to wring them till He forces a cry of humiliation," and in this we see that Heathcliff has assumed greater proportions than the attractive parish. This language is beyong the range of the original model and the comparison with Byron ends here.

One outstanding point links her with Wordsworth. The power of nature realised in childhood is evident at once in both and the almost pagan freedom that it gave. Wordsworth, a child at the fireside, felt the work of the frost outside, splitting the trees and making weird noises on the fells with much thge same wonder as Emily Brontë watched the "waste of wintersnow."  Landscape is a state of mind in both writesr. Emily Brontë can convey Heathcliff perfectly in a sudden storm on the moorland or Catherine in a moment of spring suhshine at the Heights. Wordsworth gives us a vivid impression of his own personality in every landscape he describes. The end of the "Prelude" comes in the calm of a mountain top, above a belt of mist, and the end of "Wuthering Heights" has the same calm fulfilment through the earth. No other writesr have made us feel so deeply that the earth "Can centre both the worlds of HEaven and Hell" whether in the brute stone of a mountain peak or a day when the becks and brooks are all brim-full  and the voice of delight speaks through them. They have both traught us that the sun and rain visit all alike and that there is rest in the earth for each one of us.

There is a striking comparison to be made between Emily Brontë's poetry and that of Coleridge, and the central poems concerned in making the comparison are "Christabel" and "And now the house-dog stretched once more."  The first tells the story of a strange lady, received into a medieval castle by the young daughter of the baron, and the subsequent attempts of the stranger to win the girl over to the world of evil magic from which she comes. Emily Brontë's poem tells of a sea-farer, dark and forbiding as Heathcliff, who enters a shepherd's household and terrifies its occupants by his "basilisk charm.

No - there was something in his face,
Some nameless thing they could not trace, 
And something in his voice's tone
 Which turned their blood as chill as stone.
If Emily Brontë had completed her fragment, there is every indication that the mechanics of the story would have followed Coleridge's, but nowhere her does her atmosphere resemble that of "Christabel." The abrupt words of the Stranger are precursors of Heathcliff obviously.  Elsewhere we catch a phrase which almost echoes Coleridge; for example - (Coleridge: "Tears in Solitude")
Stand we forth, 
Render them back upon the insulted ocean,
And let them toss as idly on its waves,
As the vile seaweed.

and Emily Brontë - "The Old Stoic"
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds.
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main.
Then there is that amazing poem of hers The Philosopher. There is only one passage in Romantic literature comparable with these lines and it is in Kubla Khan.

I saw a spirit standing, Man,
Where thou dost stand - an hour ago;
And round his feet, three rivers ran
Of equal depth and equal flow -
A golden stream, and one like blood,
And one like Sapphire, seemed to be,
But where they joined their triple flood
It tumbled in an inky sea.
The situation in which much of her greatest verse was written - that of the watcher gazing out over the snow in the depths of night - is reminiscent too of Frost at Midnight, in its union of the magic power of frost with the silence of a sleeping house. Many critics have commente donthe sea-imagery which so often enters her poetry, although she knew the sea less than her sisters did. I think it not impossible that she may have realised, in reading the ancient Mariner, that the symbol of eternity next most powerful to an unbroken stretch of moorland is that of the sea, for it is always used symbolically in her poems and never for its descriptive value. The use of nature, espcially at night, to suggest a rapt, mystical experience in the mind of men, linkes the tow poets at once, though Emily Bronë does not use her powers with the conscious narcotic effect that Coleridge so powerfully commands. She is by far the more individual poet and it is possible that she never read a line of Coleridge's work, though in a family that considered poetry of vital importance and considering the trend of her own verse, I think it unlikely.

Wild nature became the indispensable background to a Romantic novel or poem. Scotland came into its own, and as many poets as possible claimed Scots kinsmen, the others made protracted visits to the more rugged parts of its domains. Sir Walter Scott had first exploited the taste; the more barren his heaths, desolate his castles, gloomy his chapels and precipitous his mountains, the more his public was pleased. The Romantics, with varying degrees of subtlety, follow his example, one needs only to compare the lath and pasteboard of the Titans' cave in Hyperion with the opening of Wordsworth's Michael, to see it at once. It is rather difficult to see how, in this respect, Emily Brontë comes into the general trend. Haworth and its environs are thought by many people to be exciting in no way. There are complaints that the moors are uniform and too far-stretching to be interesting and various. Some of the people drawn to Haworth are not sensitive enough to see that here is a supreme example of the eternal truth that landscape is a state of mind. We talk of the moors as a "background" in Wuthering Heights, when Emily brontë used no such artificial means of suggesting their beauty. In no instance does she devote more than a line of two to a set description of landscape, yet more than Hardy, who strove for pages to get the effect she captured in a few words, we are throughout conscious of the wild landscape outside, because it exists within the characters themselves.

A better description of an isolated West Riding farm than this could not be found "One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one say, as if craving alms of the sun."  It is more than a description, for the characters of Wuthering Heghts are in it too and there is more poetry in that single sentence than in all the "faery lands forlorn" of the Romantic movement. The Haworth landscape is not pleasantly romantic; there are no drams of the medieval past to associate with it, and yet it is uncanny that a desolation so complete exists within easy reach of Keighley and Bradford. It is this easy exchange between the practical and the absolute which makes Emily Brontë's work a thing apart from most Romantic literature, and her landscape so impressive, because we can see her own personality in it. when we think of her poem "The Visionary", we call the girl who performed endless household duties willingly and efficiently with, as a reward, those few hours when she was free to watch over Haworth moors with their covering of snow, an experience so much newer to us than the white forests lost in the Middle Ages, and a voice that says foru s in her poetry something that we have often tried to say.

Her life was near to us and practical in every detail and she endured much during her short span here,
Where pleasure still will lead to wrong
And helpless Reason warn in vain,
And Truth is weak and Treachery strong,
And Joy the shortest path to Pain;
And Peace the lethargy of Greig:
And Hope a phantom of the soul;
And Life, a labour void and brief;
And Death the despot of the whole!
This is not Romantic, fashionable disillusionment.
She saw life, her life, very steadily from the start, darkened as it was for her, but this is a penguins sadness of soul, expressed with the passionate sincerity of experience. 




Sunday, 14 July 2013

The problem with Gwendoline Mary Lacey

Everyone who’s read the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton will at once perceive the venom all the girls (plus the creator) has for Gwendoline Mary Lacey. She is sly, deceitful, a sneak and a mother’s girl. She is spoiled by mother and governess, and is selfish and thoughtless. She also says nasty things about her schoolmates.
And yet Gwen is very real and vivid, and I cannot hate her. Blyton tried to make her horrible and hateful, but she couldn’t fully succeed because she made Gwen more complex than she meant her to be. Gwen is bullied by everyone and hasn’t got any friends in school, because they say she is a liar and a nasty piece of work. But the problem started on the first day of school when she was laughed at and jeered at because she cried when her parents left her at boarding school. They gave her no sympathy.
Gwen tried vainly to make friends but no one liked her - the poor thing had no charisma, no charm for friendship. This made her frustrated and vicious - and she vented it out by gossiping about everyone else. To her, everyone is nasty, because no one acknowledges her as a human being, and Alicia Johns bullies her. Of course she thinks the whole school is evil. To make friends she bullied a shy girl and tried to frame other people, so that the shy girl would like her and so she would get revenge on the whole school. The shy girl at first tried to accept Gwen’s advances of friendship, but she never liked her, never truly gave her a chance at friendship.
Another charge against her is she is a snob. She wants to be friends with Clarissa Carter because she’s the daughter of a lord. But there are many snobs, and they are liked and respected because they are fashionable, so ostracising a girl just for being a snob is going too far. Also, Gwen is not fully snobbish as you think. She tries to befriend Mary-Lou and others who are less socially superior, which means that she is fine with ordinary middle-class friends. The reason she thinks she’s superior is this: being ostracised by everyone, she tries to compensate for her inferiority complex by telling herself she’s superior to everyone else, and admiring her own golden hair. She ignores the others from then on because they have been unkind to her, under the false reason that they’re vulgar (but the unconscious reason is her inferiority complex) and so tries to befriend Clarissa. Clarissa is shy and quiet, so she thinks Clarissa will accept her, and she wants to have a “cool" friend so the rest won’t despise her. This goes awry, and Gwen’s ending is tragic. and she ends up friendless. Poor Gwen. I know lots of people far worse than her but her fate is miserable.
Alicia is far worse. She is a spiteful bully who sees Gwen as a weak target, and wants her way in everything. She is less deceitful and she doesn’t do the underhanded manipulations Gwen does because she’s popular - there is no need for her to destroy friendships on purpose or frame people for crimes they didn’t do, and besides Alicia IS a snob. She thinks she’s better than everyone else because of personality, charm and brilliance.

Human Justice by Charlotte Bronte

This is a devoir written by Charlotte for M. Heger, translated by Jean Inebnit. This translation appears in the Brontë Society Transactions, 1952. Observe, in Villette, Lucy Snowe has to write an essay on Human Justice too.

Moralists of all times, both ancient and modern, have held forth upon the imperfections of the human race. By their telling, there is no gold unmixed with lead; perfection is out of man's reach; in the best institutions of the wisest legislators, flaws are to be found. At times one is impatient at hearing these arid sayings so often repeated; yet the moralists have right on their side; it is easier to scoff at what they say than to disprove it. What can be loftier than justice in this abstract? - But its administration is subject to gross abuse.
Let us take the case of one accused of crime. True justice requires that conviction shall precede punishment, but human justice deems that even mere suspicion permits the imposition of severe penalties. The accused undergoes long imprisonment ere he is summoned before the tribunal that is to decided his fate; if alas, he has already a bent towards learning what vice can teach him, where better can it be developed and perfected? Supposing, on the other hand, that his soul is uncontaminated, what can compare with the sufferings of the virtuous, surrounded by wicked and unfortunate whose condition he is powerless to ameliorate?
But the accused is at last brought before the judge; his trial takes place; the ablest lawyer in the land is charged with the office of accusing him; the King's attorney sets for him the deceitful traps of the law; employs against him all his art, all the tricks of the trade, seeking to entangle and intimidate.  By so doing, he is sometimes the friend of justice; tearing off the mask of vice he shows the man as he really is and assigns the punishment that is his due; but sometimes he is the foe of virtue - these harsh epithets, these bitter invectives, this powerful oratory smirch the unsullied robe of innocence. Allegory says the filth falls off, leaving it unsoiled; reality shows that, not infrequently, innocence succumbs to the unjust attack - yields; and allows herself to be covered with the black mud that is thrown.  But of five charged with crime, three are usually acquitted; is Justice, then, after all, just? Before the gaze of the world she is; in public she functions well. But follow the accused when he leaves the court, accompany him to the home from which, some months before, he was torn. He is perhaps a poor man; during his absence his family has undergone the visitation of hunger, thirst and misery - gruesome guests; he finds both wife and children changed, paler and sadder than before; yet joy rekindles in their hearts when he returns; hopes accompanies him, his presence seems to drive out suffering. He counsels courage and patience, "I will work," he says; "my children shall hunger, my wife grieve, no more." He leaves his home to find work; it takes longer than he expected; he learns that nothing is as it was before him; he is a leper. His innocence is recognised in law; but by the charge brought against him it has been smirched, and he is repulsed by human justice. Driven from the homes of virtue, vice offers a refuge. He may resist her attractions: but he may succumb to them, and upon whom then should we lay the burden of responsibility for his crimes? Should he alone sustain it? or should not the pharisees by whose scorn he was made desperate, assume their share?
And here is the extract from Villette, about the two examiners demanding Lucy writes Human Justice,
"Pious mentors!" thought I. "Pure guides for youth! If `Human Justice' were what she ought to be, you two would scarce hold your present post, or enjoy your present credit".
An idea once seized, I fell to work. "Human Justice" rushed before me in novel guise, a red, random beldame, with arms akimbo. I saw her in her house, the den of confusion: servants called to her for orders or help which she did not give; beggars stood at her door waiting and starving unnoticed; a swarm of children, sick and quarrelsome, crawled round her feet, and yelled in her ears appeals for notice, sympathy, cure, redress. The honest woman cared for none of these things. She had a warm seat of her own by the fire, she had her own solace in a short black pipe, and a bottle of Mrs. Sweeny's soothing syrup; she smoked and she sipped and she enjoyed her paradise, and whenever a cry of the suffering souls about her pierced her ears too keenly—my jolly dame seized the poker or the hearth-brush; if the offender was weak, wronged, and sickly, she effectually settled him; if he was strong, lively, and violent, she only menaced, then plunged her hand in her deep pouch, and flung a liberal shower of sugar-plums.
Such was the sketch of "Human Justice", scratched hurriedly on paper, and placed at the service of Messrs. Boissec and Rochemorte.
They think her work is too good to be by a student, and was written by Paul Emanuel who passed it off as his student's work, hoping to gain credit as a good teacher. This is not true. It is interesting that Human Justice is in "novel guise" - it is more an emotional story, judging from Charlotte's devoirs, than a logical argument along the lines of 18th century philosophers. From the passage, it seems that Human Justice does not exist for those sufferers who need it. "The honest woman" is comfortable and insensitive to the cries of the people, and when they protest too much (to her) she shuts them up. Why an honest woman? Is she the personification of Human Justice? But here's another clue: this dame will persecute a weak offender who dares complain and silence him, but if the protester is strong, lively and violent, she will placate him by rewarding him. Basically only the strong and violent survive, according to Charlotte in this essay. It is an effective way of showing Lucy's own pessimistic and naturalistic (before Naturalism became a movement) views on life and existence, and foreshadows Lucy's own fate. She, weak, unloved and unlovable, is unrewarded and does not gain a high position in society, though she rebels against society. But people like Ginevra, who demand more, get it because she is strong and lively. Especially Mme Beck, a strong, violent woman, gets her way, and so does Mme Walravens. It is like natural selection before Darwin, only Charlotte was a devout Christian and not scientific at all.  Some are meant to be happy and prosper, she darkly intimates, near the end of the book, whereas some are meant to be alone like her. Lucy is unfortunately weak, unconnected and uncharming, and so she gets no share of justice. We can see both devoirs are different, but the unwritten devoir in Villette seems to bear the mark of emotional maturity and existentialism; the first is more conventional.

The Death of Napoleon by Charlotte Bronte

Here is a French devoir written by Charlotte Brontë for her teacher, M. Heger, translated by Margaret Lane. This appears in the Bronte Society Transactions, 1954.

How should one approach this theme? In simple words, or grandiose? That depends on one's conception of Napoleon, or rather, on the ideas of which one is capable. Great orators and writers, who understand politics, and who, possessing minds in some degree on Napoleon's level, can understand and appreciate his military and legislative achievements, may well commemorate his death in he grand and solemn periods of obsequy; but the plain person, of no special talent, cannot emulate the flight of imperial eagles; he prefers to walk beside the young Corsican, soldier of fortune, who to him is always young and a soldier, even when cap and uniform are hidden under crown and royal robes. But this plain person, has he the right to express his views on the life and death of Bonaparte? Can he judge him? Yes: however insignificant, he has the right to form an opinion and even to express it: kings and emperors have no authority to silence that inner voice which all men hear in their hearts, approving or condemning, not only their own deeds, but the deeds of those around them. So mediocrity must not be forbidden to judge genius, thought it does not follow that its judgement will be correct. The distinctive quality of mediocrity is moderation; a precious quality, but cold; the result of gentle temperament, of a happy balance of faculties, God's gift and nature's rather than of strenuous efforts by the self. So, whatever moralists may say, it is no better than Prejudice or Enthusiasm for helping us to form a judgement of extraordinary men and actions. Mediocrity can see the faults of genius, its imprudence, rashness, ambition; but is too cold, too restricted, too egotistical to understand the struggles, the sufferings, the sacrifices. Besides, mediocrity is envious, and sees the very virtues of genius in a false and jaundiced light. Let us then approach with respect that tomb hewn in the rocks of St Helena, and while refusing to bend in adulation before a god of flesh and clay, while maintaining our individual dignity, independent though inferior, take care to cast no word of insult on this tomb, now empty, but once consecrated by the bones of Napoleon.

Napoleon was born in Corsica and died in St Helena; between these two islands lie a vast continent and a mighty ocean. He was born a notary's son and died a captive; between the two states lie a soldier's victorious career, battlefields, a throne, a sea of blood, a Golgotha. His life is like the rainbow: the two ends touching earth, the curved arc spanning heaven. Yet, a mother soothed Napoleon in his cradle, he had brothers and sisters in childhood, he later possessed a wife whom he loved much; but Napoleon on his deathbed lies alone, without mother or father, without wife or child.  Let us consider his achievements, and reflect upon the solitude of his final hour. There he lies, exiled and captive, bound  to the bare rock. He has sinned the sin of Prometheus, and suffers his punishment.  Prometheus wished to become creator and god, and stole fire from Heaven to animate the body he had made; Bonaparte too was ambitious to create, not a man but an empire, and deprived whole nations of being to give life, soul, reality to his enterprise.  Jupiter, angered by the impiety of Prometheus, riveted him alive to the Caucasian peak: Providence, sickened by the greed of Bonaparte, bound him on a lonely Atlantic rock. There, it may be, he suffered all that can be endured by those who, far from home and kin, deprived of the affection of their kind, know the soul's thirst and hunger; and is there thirst more parching, hunger more sharp than this? Even if a stranger's hand would offer help. we must refuse it, for it is charity, not love, which prompts the gesture; it is a sweet illusion, offered for pity, and we must not allow ourselves to be deceived; contempt is charity's brother, and charity herself, though good, is cold.

But in speaking thus, do we not assume in Napoleon a weakness he never knew? Do we not betray our ignorance of the spirit of this great man? Was not total self-sufficient the distinguishing characteristic of his genius? When did he allow himself to be bound by ties of affection? Other  conquerors have been known to hesitate in their glorious career, to halt before some obstacle of love or friendship, to be stayed by a owmn'a hand, called back by the voice of friendshpi; - Napoleon never. He had no need to bind himself, like Ulysses to the mast, nor close his ears with wax; he did not fear the sirens' song, he scorned it; he turned himself to stone and iron, the better to achieve his grand designs. Napoleon saw himself as a nation incarnate; the brothers, sisters, wife and child whom Bonaparte the Corsican allowed himself - not to love, that would be too strong a word, but to consider as men and women - appeared to the eyes of this mightly Frenchman simply as tools, to be used so long as they served to further his designs, and thrown aside when they were no logner of use.

Let us then not approach his tomb with any feeling of pity, nor mark with tears the stone that covers his remains. Let no one call the hand that tore from him wife and child, a tyrant's hand; no! that hand was like his own, powerful, not bloody; he who stretched it forth could read his nature; was his equal, not his superior - such there has never been upon the earth - he was his peer. "Marie Louise is not the wife of Napoleon," said he, sole conqueror whom defeat could not humiliate nor victory make proud: "He is wedded to France; it is France he loves, France from whom I divorce and divide him, since their union has brought forth the ruin of Europe."

Weak and treacherous voices cried out against the man who thus passed sentence. "This is abusing your rights of conquest, this is trampling upon the vanquished! Let England open her arms, let her take her enemy to her breast! England perchance would have hearkened to this counsel, for in every land there are foolish spirits, seduced by flattery and fearful of reproach. But a man came forth to whom fear was quite unknown; who loved his country more than reputation; who was neither dismayed by threats nor won by praise. He stood before the council of the nation, and boldly lifting a brow fearless and noble, cried, "Treason, be silent! for it is treason that counsels you to treat with Bonaparte. I have seen these wars from which Europe now lies prostrate, bleeding like a victim under the sacrificial knife. I am resolved to break the blade that has dealt these deadly blows.  We must put an end to Napoleon Bonaparte. Do not shrink from so hard a word. I have no magnanimity, you say? What you say is indifferent to me; my aim is not to win a hero's reputation, but to find a cure for wounded, weary Europe, whose true interests you neglect, dreaming only of your game. You are weak, but I will help you. Send Bonaparte to St Helena: do not hesitate or reflect, or seek another place; I tell you it is the only one; I have reflected for you; that is his destination. Of Napoleon, man and soldier, I want nothing; he is a royal lion before whom you are but jackals; but Napoleon the emperor, him I will destroy!" He who spoke these words knew well how to keep his promises, and he did, in truth, destroy the power of Napoleon.

I have said he was Napoleon's equal; in genius, yes; in rectitude of character, in purity of aim, he is neither equal nor superior - he is of another species. Napoleon Bonaparte prized his reputation and sought fame; Arthur Wellesley cares for nether the one nor the other. Napoleon set great value on public opinion; for Wellington it was a mere abstraction, a trifle to be blown aside like a bubble by the breath of his will. Napoleon flattered the populace and sought its applause; Wellington treated it roughly; if his own conscience approved, that was enough; other praise galled him. In revenge the mob, which adored Bonaparte, was often angered by the arrogance of Wellington, and gave vent to its rage with owls and grinding of teeth. Then the proud Coriolanus lifted his Roman head, folded his strong arms, and stood alone upon his threshold, awaiting the attack. Alone and fearless he defied the mob in fury, and soon they recognised his greatness, and in shame for their rebellion, came to kiss the master's feet. But the haughty aristocrat disdained their homage as he disdained their hate, and in the London streets, before Apsley House, his ducal home, did not scruple to reject it with contempt.

Despite this pride, however, he was modest; shrank from eulogy, scorning extravagant praise, never spoke of himself, or suffered another to do so in his presence. His character matches in grandeur and in honesty surpasses that of any other hero, past or present. Like Jonah's vine, Napoleon's glory grew in the space of a night, and in a night it withered. Wellington's glory is like one of those ancient oaks which shade the home of his fathers on the banks of Shannon. The oak grows slowly; it must have time, not only to put forth its great branches but to send down powerful roots, roots which will entwine with the solid foundations of that isle of which he is both saviour and defender.

A hundred years from now, perchance, England will know the true worth of her hero; a hundred years, and all Europe will know that Wellington deserves her gratitude.

[Ed: This is interesting, because it is an early specimen of Wellington hero-worship, and because Charlotte praises his modesty as opposed to Napoleon's egotism. Here, Napoleon is shown as a shown, who seeks attention, and this might be interpreted as neurotic and desperate for attention, and Charlotte did seek attention for her writings, in her twenties and early thirties - she wrote to poets for advice, and seemed to think highly of herself and was desperate for praise. She condemns Napoleon for this trait, which has some similarities to herself. Here, Napoleon seems to be a crude attention-seeker, though brave and intelligent, and possibly a Corsican bandit. She cannot condemn his too much, for this is to be read by a Belgian, who would support France. On the other hand, Wellington is portrayed as a true natural gentleman and aristocrat, modest, intelligent, and unconcerned with public opinion. This was the ideal of 19th century nobility, and showed you were of a better class.  Ostentatious attention-seeking was considered vulgar. We can see traces of this sentiment in Jane Eyre and Villette: Mrs Dent, quiet and elegant, is considered better than the ostentatious Ingrams who dress extravagantly, and Paulina Home's light white dress more refined than Ginevra's bright red dress.]

The role of fantasy in the work of the Brontes by Rebecca West

This address was delivered on May 1, 1954, and appears in the Bronte Society Transactions. Rebecca West writes:
Each of us is in a sense the universal man. The mind of every one of us is capable of making all possible decisions and executing all possible actions; but a part of the self, deeply buried and almost inaccessible to argument, refuses to let it exercise this power outside a certain limited range. This restriction determines what is known as character. Out goes Sir Winston Churchill, Charles Peace, Cromwell, Racine and the man next door, and what is left is Mr Smith. In the case of Mrs Smith, she is what is left after there has been ejected Florence Nightingale, Madame de Brinvilliers, Miss Florence Hosburgh, Dame Myra Hess and the woman next door. And Mr Smith knows completely only Mr Smith, and what he notices about other people, and Mrs Smith knows completely only Mrs Smith, and what she notices about other people; and what they notice is usually guess-work.
But there are people who possess a power lacking in the Smiths: the novelists and dramatists. They can say to themselves, "Supposing that I had not the kind of character I have, supposing that I had chosen to take quiet another group of decision and to perform quite another group of actions, how would I have felt, what would I have thought?" They can bring into emotion the psychological mechanism which they have never used for their own purposes, and imagine how it would operate in certain circumstances.  They live as real a life as their own, but with another personality, in a diferent scene; and when this mysterious process is carried out by the artist, it starts into activity a like but fainter process in his audience ... the Brontës also said, "This is what it was like to be Jane Eyre, or Heathcliff, or Catherine Earnshaw," and their readers, through the century that has elapsed since they wrote, have answered,  "Yes, that was what it was like to be Jane Eyre, or Heathcliff, or Catherine Earnshaw."
But some think the Brontës had no right to make that claim, and that we are wrong in assenting to it. and it must be admitted that there are certain features in their works which enable the dissenters to argue a case for rejection. The imaginative process has a deadly enemy in another and easier process, which we call fantasy-building, or day-dreaming.
The artist who is abandoned to the imaginative process tells us the strict truth about the experiences he undergoes within the other personalities which he invades. That is why we believe him.But the day-dreamer, the fantasy-builder, wishes to suppress the truth. He wants to tell a story which will make himself and his readers feel more virtuous and powerful and more beloved than they are, and give us an assurance that the universe is softly cushioned and will do us no harm. It is therefore unlikely that the imaginative process and the fantasy-building process will be carried on by the same person, particularly at the same time.
West says that critics argued that the Brontës were "lonely girls who were given to day-dreams, and their books are simply fairy-stories, and there can be no question of disciplined art about them." Without many pleasures, family deaths and without money or wealth, fantasy would have been the natural recourse.

This reminds me of Coleridge's definition of Fancy and Imagination: Fancy is a weak pallid thing, Imagination is divinely-bestowed.

Naturally they threw their energies into creating an imaginary world, such as many children create, and made themselves Angria and Gondal; unlike those other children they refused to leave it at adolescence ... It is no wonder that Charlotte's novels so often change into fairy-stories, and show us fairy-princes who wave aside beautiful women of great wealthy and high rank and choose as their brides mousey little women ... who also have pressed into their hands such lavish presents as a legacy of twenty thousand pounds or an entire girl's schoo, complete to the potted plants.
It is also true that Charlotte shows something quite unlike the artist's free choice of subject in her obsessional reversion to the scholastic, her determination in every novel that the last shall be first, and the tutor and governess shall be crowned king and queen, qhich gives us Jane Eyre and Edward Crimsworth and Lusy Snowe and Louis Moore. The abandonment to fantasy is so shameless that it tempts the over-fastidious critic to write down the other two sisters also as nothing but day0dreamers ... Not only was the imaginative process which is the heart of the novelist compromised in all of them, they failed in other respects. The charactesr imagined by a novelist have to be bound together into a novel by connective tissues, which has to be supplied by worldly experience and to be shaped by technical accomplishement. The Brontë sisters are supposed to have lacked both.

But West argues that Wuthering Heights must be classed with the best of Dickens, because she wrote the truth. "She is great, not because she was less of a Brontë than her sisters. but because she was more. They must, therefore, all have their title to greatness."

When we analyse Wuthering Heights to find the secret of the essential Brontë genius we find that it is not easy to make this analysis or to formulate its findings ... we readers fail her [Emily.] She attacks a fantasy which dominates most of her readers, indeed she lays hands on two fantasies that are common enough: and what she gives us is so ocmplicated that it taxes our intelligence to its limits. For the book has a triple significance. It is a novel, in which the imaginative process is used with power and honesty, and the truth is told about the characters; it is a critical work of a unique kind, in which a fantasy which was strong in her time, and had been strong through the ages, is set in relation to reality and exposed as a fiction; and it is a poetical work, for it presents an interpretation of the universe.

The opening passages involving Mr Lockwood to many readers seems pointless, but West says Emily was conscious of what she was doing.
Emily Brontë's theme was the conflict between love and hatred in the heart of manl and she was showing this conflict as it declared itself in an isolated group, which was tremporarily destroyed by an individual self-dedicated to destruction, and later raised to life again by love.
 To make this conflict fully visible, Emily Brontë restricts this group to two households only ... the measure of the degradation of this group, and the beauty that was thereby destroyed cannot be showen unless it be contrasted with normal society, in which a balance has been struct between love and hgartred and ther are no such prodigious extremes. This contrast could not be exhibited save by hte introduction of a stranger; and in getting MR Lockwood to tell us the story, as it was narrated to him by Nelly Dean, who stood midway between the group and the outer world, Emily Brontë  was showing a dazzling technical competence.

It once occurred to me Nelly's purpose in the novel was to show the viewpoint of a normal outsider of the strange beings in Wuthering Heights, to illustrate that they are strange. So that we do not over-sympathise which any character, but see it from her point of view. Were we to give it from Catherine's point of view, for example, we would be skewed in our judgement of the plot and character, and Catherine would not seem so selfish. But with Nelly we know their natures and their brutalities. And West does mention this "lens" that is a character who had an overall view of the story but was so detached from it that he could do justice to all the characters.

Lockwood is heartless; he led a girl to suppose he would marry her but will not marry her. Then as soon as he sees Catherine he wants to marry her, unaffected by her hostility, and curious rather than sympathetic towards her.

By this Emily conveyed to her readers that this was how worldlings took love, and that the Wuthering Heights group deserved the attention of the reader for the very reason that they took love in a very different spirit...
It is a novel about love, but many readers are mistaken about the sort of  love with which it deals.

That's true; silly teenage girls thinks Heathcliff/Cathy is sooo romantic; I think it is grotesque and horrible and yet fascinating, just like the Victorians did.  It seems to be about an obsessive love, that is not so sensual as the sign of emotional dependence and immaturity'; it is purer than romantic passion but more warped and eccentric. Catherine and Heathcliff do not seem to grow up much; they cannot adapt to other people for affection (strange as it sounds, because people are rarely like that) and seek each other not only because they love each other, but because they do not like other people very much, or as much. It is a love borne out of attachment, custom, habit, chemistry, and - sad to say - disappointment and desperation. The others are obnoxious; therefore Cathy/Heathcliff is The Only One. This is highly neurotic.

Emily Brontë loved her brother very much, and that may have been her reason, thought she probably did not realise it, for writing a novel about the destructive influence that one sort of love can have upon another. An woman might love her brother so much that she would not be able to leave her childhood behind her and advance into adult life and love a husband or lover. 
We know Emily stuck to Gondal in adulthood, hated the world and people, and was intensely attached to her home and family. Could the love in her novel be a representation of her ideal of love?

But in Emily Brontë's day the idea that quite innocent familt relationships mgiht deter the development of sexual love was not formulated, and the idea of incest exerted a powerful fascination on the imaginative ...she might have written it about the obsessive affection felt by a firl for a brother who was unlike the rest of the family, but she would have compromised her own subject by raising false suspicions in the reader that that affection was incestuous. She therefore represented Heathcliff as an adopted Earnshaw, and Catherine's foster-brother.
There is a case, in fact, of an intense brother-sister relationship, often speculated to be incestuous, but is unlikely to be so: William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Emily Brontë makes only one arresting allusion to the possibility that Catherine and Heathcliff might have married; and that is in the conversation between Catherine and Nelly Dean, which Heathcliff overhears and which sends him into flight from the farm. But even those words do not ring quite true, and they serve the constructional purpose of getting Heathcliff away from Wuthering Heights rather than of exhibiting any emotional bond between the two which would have been appropriate in marriage ... the whole of her [Catherine's] soul meet the reader. In these marvellously explicit declarations she never describes herself as feeling any emotion towards Heathcliff which resembles sexual love....
Indeed she says that she sees no incompatibility between marrying Linton and being as close to Heathcliff as she has always been.
This would explain many things, since she is supposed to be sexless towards Heathcliff.  In fact I always wondered why, despite the fact Isabella married the man she loves, Catherine is relatively cordial to Isabella and doesn't seem jealous of the fact they are married to each other. And Isabella is definitely fine with Catherine: she doesn't see Catherine as a romantic/sexual rival, and she doesn't see her as a potential mistress of Heathcliff: she treats Catherine as an annoying sister who exerts a great influence on Heathcliff. Think of wives who resent their husbands who are closer to their sisters. And Victorian reviewers observed the purity and sexlessness of Catherine Earnshaw towards Heathcliff, and in this case the Victorians may be right.

She reproaches Linton because he objects to Heathcliff's visits, and she reproaches Heathcliff because he will not accept her marriage ... as she knew little of restraint and Heathcliff respected no law, had she been in love with him, she would surely have contemplated an elopement.  She cries out against her pain, but never once does she deine it as the pain suffered by a woman in love with a man who is not her husband. But she defines it again and again as the hell suffered by a woman in the grip of an emotion which cannot come to fruition for abstract and absolute reasons. What she wants is to be with Heathcliff as they were in her childhood, as they were when they walked on the moors. The man Heathcliff is of no use to her; she does not even like him ... She cannot go back, she cannot go forward, she is shut up in limbo with hr obsession. Her mind wanders; when she looks in the mirror the face she sees there does not seem to her to be hers; shje disintegrates; she dies. That is why we accept her death and do not for one moment suspect it as a device of the author to help the story to its climax. We have seen Catherine crucified on an unrealisable passion. 
Heathcliff is a Byronic hero. Anne denounced Byronic heroes, Charlotte celebrated him in Rochester, and tamed him in Paul Emanuel in Louis Moore. Emily slew him. She was sick of him.
Emily allowed the Byronic man power to captivate but almost nothing else. 
Just as he captivated Isabella, but he does not love her, and Isabella is still in love with him who abused her. To a rational audience he is cruel but captivating. Catherine jeers at Isabella saying Heathcliff is horrible and cruel and Isabella is worshipping an ideal. Her love for Heathcliff is thus pure, since she accepts his cruelty, which sounds more like family love than romantic love.
His deeds are not all magnificentl they are mean. As a child he could not hold his own with the Earnshaw children until he was able to blackmail them by threatening to tell tales to their father. It may be that when Heathcliff ran away and made his fortune he lived dangerously ... On his return he makes a very poor show when he confronts his successful rival, Edgar Linton, is knocked down by him, and runs away.  He never bends Catherine to submission; it is her self-engendered passion that subjugates her, though it is his power to captivate that keeps her bound.
I strongly recommend all Wuthering Heights fans to read this article - it speaks more truth about the book than all the romantic bullcrap churned by silly teenagers and movies. All the neuroses in Wuthering Heights is far more profound than the love stories propagated by these deluded so-called fans. As to whether Catherine actually feels sexual love for her husband, or Heathcliff for Isabella I do not know, but their family obsessive love is stronger than any sexual passion they might have for other people. I suppose they are developmentally challenged, just as their creator was challenged in certain areas of life (teaching for example, and talking to the outside world). And being innocent of sexual passion (Emily was never in love) she might have imbued her characters with the same sexlessness.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

"The Homely Web of Truth": Dress as the Mirror of personality in "Jane Eyre" and "Villette" by Jennifer Oldfield

Jennifer Oldfield argues that outward appearance help to create a readily believable vital character, including "physical build, facial characteristics, and style of dress." These are extracts from the Bronte Society of transactions, 1973.

Charlotte it seems was feminine, and even writes about dress, as shown in this letter to Ellen Nussey:
Dear Nell,
My striped dress is not cut cross-ways. I am much obliged to you for transferring the roll of muslin ...
I admire exceedingly the costume you have chosen to appear in the Birstall rout. I think you say pink petticoat, black jacket, and a wreath of roses - beautiful! For a change I would advise a black coat - velvet stock and waistcoat - white pantaloons and smart boots!
It is hard to imagine sensitive high-minded Charlotte occupied with matters of dress. And yet a great deal of material is mentioned in her books.
Texture of dress will always reflect the personality and situation of the wearer. Mrs Reed's gown rustles, made from stif, hard material; the outer trappings of a cruel and unbending authoritarian mind ... She also wears an exaggeratedly wide cap, so much adhered to by Victorian matrons as a signal of status. The petted and pampered daughters, Eliza and Georgian have "thin muslin frocks and scarlet sashes," with hair elaborately ringleted and combed.

Jane Eyre's own uniform shows she is poor and unprivileged, "Serviceable merely, but deny the girls all attractiveness and individuality."

Charlotte was self-conscious of her plain appearance. She writes about her visit to the Opera in London, with the Smiths.

We had no fine, elegant dresses with us, or in the world ... we attired ourselves in the plain, high-made country garments we possessed ... they must have thought us queer, quizzical-looking beings, especially me with my spectacles.
In her novels she is much concerned with appearance: observe Lucy's discomfiture in the pink dress while at the opera in Villette.

On the one hand, it furnished her wit a strong antipathy to over-dressed women. Her ideal was a quiet tastefulness, epitomised in Jane Eyre by Miss Temple, who, thought fashionable in purple dress with Spanish trimming, is in no way ostentatious. The two extremes on either side of this ideal are severe plainness and costly extravagance. They come together most entertainingly in Brocklehurst's harangue against luxury ... He is only halted by the entrance of three ladies "splendidly attired in velvet, silk and furs," and no other than his wife and daughters, The contrast is elaborated by further description of the needless luxury...
Charlotte Brontë's preference for absolute plainness is evident in the heavy irony of this description. She gives Jane an identical taste in the matter as one means of identifying her personality. On leaving Lowood, Jane has only on black stuff travelling dress, partly through choice, but also because she has no money for clothes. She feels keenly the subsequent lack of social status, as if dress is a badge of rank, as indeed it is.
In refuge from obvious social inferiority, Jane makes a principle out of simplicity and neatness. With a pride born of necessity, she lists her wardrobe; the black stuff dress, a black silk one, and a light grey one; "too fine to be worn except on first-rate occasions". It highlights he r common-sense, flavoured with naivety, and helps us to realise Jane's plain appearance, which is vital. Technically, Charlotte Brontë needs to create a certain image, and the terms she uses are chosen with care; "I was in my usual Quaker trim, where there was nothing to retouch - all being too close and plain, braised locks included, to admit of disarrangement - ". The words "trim," "close," "plain" show no sense of true inferiority. Rather the reverse is true, as though plainness is a virtue to treasure, since the simplicity affords no mask of deceit. Jane presents herself squarely, saying to the world, "take me, or leave me, as you wish."
This then is the deeper reason for the reaction against ostentation. Clothes can so easily be a disguiser of true identity, as Blanche Ingramreadily proves. From the first, in Mrs Fairfax's account of her dark beauty, dressed in white, with a splash of amber in her scarf, and in her flower adorned hair, there is the taint of knowing sophistication, linked immediately upon her arrival at Thornfield with lack of integrity. She lights on the scene in full splendour ... at which poor Jane pales ... But artifice is the key to all. None have either natural beauty, nor Jane's courage to face the world in their plainness.
Even plain dress may be a mockery of integrity, depending on the wearer's degree of self-knowledge, as with the grotesque asceticism of Eliza Reed. She is dressed in:
a straight-skirted, black-stuff dress, a starched linen collar, hair combed away from the temples, and the nun-like ornament of a string of ebony beads and a crucifix.
Jane herself is astute enough to realise the treachery of dress. Happiness can shine through a plain dress without assistance, while finery will always be foreign to her nature. She resists the "satin and lace" offered by Rochester, reminding him: "I am you plain, Quakerish governess." The worst form of self-betrayal would be to become thus "an ape in a harlequin's jacket."
Dress thus becomes integrated into the theme of illusion and reality with which is novel is largely concerned. Jane's sense of unreality towards her impending marriage focuses on the pearly wedding gown and transparent veil; the "white dream". The Lowood black frock is reality, the other is pure illusion. The dream's fragility is signified by the act of tearing the veil, performed by the figure who is the secret barrier between Jane and happiness. Jane is a stranger to herself in the white dress, heridentity lost in a dream soon shattered. With the return to reality, she puts on the black dress. She realises thought theough this action and through thought recovers her self-konwledge, along with despair. she is moreh erself in the anxiety over the damage to her black dress after its soaking on the moors than in the gorgeous white one; that familiar image of wish-fulfilment. The satisfaction taken in being neat once more recalls the early Jane. The old cottage bonnet and shawl which she removes on her arrival at Ferndean are as much part of her identity as her quiet, firm manner.
The pattern of contrast btween the unobtrusively plain and the extravagantly ornate is a simple one in Jane Eyre ... It poses in a concrete form the two opposite forces of sincerity and hypocrisy ... However its directness argues some falseness to experience, for the sake of clear pattern. After all the showily-dressed woman may have her own integrity, and this was recognised by Charlotte Brontë.

In Villette, however,
she had gained a closer hold on the complex relation between dress and inner qualities, together with the development of the ability to combine naturalistic description with metaphor. The logic behind this process is to convey a consistent idea about the nature of reality.

In the Professor, Frances is quietly and simply dressed. This theme persists in Jane Eyre and Shirley, but in the latter Charlotte realises brilliance in dress and facial characteristics need not mean shallowness and artificiality.
Dressing for the part again assumes central importance as a means of representing the hypocrisy rife in the world. This time, the crystallisation of the idea comes with the play production. All Lucy's antipathy to seeming other than she is emerges here. "To be dressed like a man did not please, and would not suit me," she declares. It is no mere whim or the fear of ridicule, but a deep sense of self-betrayal. The compromise, described in close detail, may seem an absurd affair, but Lucy's self-respect is salvaged nonetheless.
 In Villette, there is considerable developmjent of the technique in presenting dress. It is a novel concerned with how people dress, and the emphasis is spread more evenly than in Jane Eyre, over all the major characters. The child Polly is instantly recognised each time by her white, spirit-like dress, doll-sized and immaculate, to suit her tiny person. Later, as a young woman. sje is again identified by her close-fitting, white dresses, set against her rich, dark hair. The picture never varies, building up the impression of purity and innocence. Yet the child and the woman ought to present different faces. Paulina seems to lack maturity. White is the absence of colour, and there is a missing factor too in her development, leaving her an unreal figure.
In opposition stands the firm, bright figure of Ginevra Fanshawe. From the stockings she gives Lucy to mend, to the gloves, bouquets and trinkets presented by the mysterious Isidore, she is obsessed by what she must wear to offset her charms. At the banquet she matches Polly's colourlessness with a great splash of deep crimson. She must glitter and dazzle, whether in lilac silk set against her fair curls and white shoulders, or even in her dark blue school dress which highlights by contrast her fairness. Inevitably, Lucy prefers the plain style of the latter to the elegance of the evening dresses. But Ginevra is not content with simple print dresses. Vanity is the invader of her good-natured heart, making her empty-headed and ambitious, though not malicious or deliverately cruel.
Ginevra can profitably be set against Blanche Ingram of Jane Eyre. Both act as foils to similar heroines. But Blanche is malign and hard, her vanity is consciously destructive, her glamour hand-in-hand with duplicity. Ginevra is less of a villainess. Pride has not infected her good aspects so thoroughly, not ostentation so firmly taken root.
 The connection between opulence and internal vacuum is nevertheless insistent. Lucy despises "the confidence of conscious wealth" exuded by the Watsons, fellow passengers on the boat. She knows instinctively that beneath the show is mere cardboard. The ludicrous extreme is shown in Mrs Sweeney, the drunken nurse, whose one claim to fame is the mysteriously acquired and ill-fitting wardrobe of pslendid gowns, whose showpiece is "A real Indian shawl".
Once more the higher the social status of such women, the more pernicious is their influence. Ladies at the concert hall cover their lack of beauty and intelligence with perfect dress, but sit like puppets in a vacant dream. At that climax of unreality, the midnight festival, the women are flower and jewel adorned to the height of artificiality. Outstanding as an example of hollow luxury mingled with true evil is old Mme. Walravens, whose evil mind is weirdly revealed in the gorgeous brocade grown...
The incident is significant, and described therefore in great detail. Notice the oddness of the natural flower design on the stiff material, and the grotesqueness of those skeletal hands weighted down with gold, purple and green gems. To Lucy's drugged but hypersensitive mind, the figure reminds her of "a head severed from its trunk and flung at random on a pile of rich merchandise." The theme is the vanity of riches, and the poverty of soul of those who succumb. Lucy herself is careful to avoid the trap. 
She may watch the folly around her; the bougeouis smoothness of Mme Beck which conceals so well the cunning of her nature, and the insignificance of the schoogirls and mistresses who rely on the services on hair-dresser and curl-paper to prepare for the fray. For the fete day, all the girls wear white dresses with blue sashes; the Virgin's colours, as Lucy ironically notes. Her own courage fails at the vision of being so dressed. The apparently trivial matter becomes an urgent dilemma, sending her in search of some quiet shade of material. She finds a purple-grey crepe and is satisfied; "in this gown of shadow, I felt at home and at ease." The horror or self-betrayal always reaches its climax over choice of dress. Pink to Lucy, is the ultimate in frivolity, against which her nature revolts ...
But convention defeats even Lucy, though she is agonisingly self-conscious throughout the ordeal. A glimpse in a mirror at herself in a pink dress, with black lace mantle does not bring immediate recognitionn. The shock is of seeing herself as others see her; an uncomfortable experience which few can enjoy, least of all the diffident Lucy. Ironically, Ginevra's comment is that Lucy was "dressed, actually, like anybody else." which can hardly serve to raise Lucy's spirits.

[Ed: I notice that as Lucy gains confidence and sees more people, she starts to dress better. Apart from Mrs Bretton's insistence on her wearing the pink dress, which she detests, she later gets a pink dress of her own.]

The reader may begin to feel that Charlotte Brontë's own austerity has hampered any breadth of vision as regards the dress of her characters. Until, unexpectedly, a shift of viewpoint occurs. Concessions to the occasion on Lucy's part are gradually made. She dresses in her best for the theatre visit with Graham, and later risks the dazzle of pink print material, under M. Paul's tyrannous gaze. She guiltily offers the excuse of cheapness and practicality, but the truth is that she is experiencing a growth towards normality, identifying with other young women as her prospects of happiness improve. denial of what is beautiful and feminine in dress is in fact as unnatural as the painted figures who adorn the social heights. This is a great revelation for Lucy, and a new insight from Charlotte Brontë. Neutrality in dress as a harsh form of self-repression is in evidence for the first time. Lucy has an identity which longs to be pretty in a pink dress, instead of staid in grey or brown.  Strong as the link between deception and choice of dress is, the conclusion is no longer direct. Though the plain, emotionally unfulfilled girl is right to wear dull clothes, the blossoming and optimistic woman needs to reveal her light-heartedness in dress. There is no firm standard left, save the character's self-knowledge.
A study of dress in these two novels, which represent the height of Charlotte Brontë's achievement, has shown the exclusively feminine qualities of her novels, which surely ought to have scotched any rumour of male authorship, had contemporary critics taken notice of this kind of detail. Charlotte Brontë is not merely factual for its own sake, delightful as these pictures are. She is enabling us to visualise characters through their dress, so that we can compare them with accepted standards of judgement which still hold good, since apperance never ceases to influence our opinions. She makes a virtue out of an unfailing ability to recapture the finest details of dress, taking a step towards objectivity by providing factually accurate descriptions. More than this, a deliberate pattern emerges whereby dress comes, by implication, to involve the idea of disguise, and finally achieves thematic importance as a realisation of the illusion versus reality opposition; the duality of the world around which so much of her work revolves.
[Ed: Before I read this article, I wrote a series of posts about Lucy Snowe as art critic, which does touch some matters of dress. You can read them here, here and here.

Private and Social Themes in Shirley by Asa Briggs

Here are extracts from this article from the Bronte Society Transactions.
Shirley is an avowedly Yorkshire novel, perhaps the first impressive regional novel in the English language. The landscape is unmistakable one which all Yorkshire folk - all Haworth folk  - know. How different it is from every other landscape in the world ... The descriptions of the exterior of Hollow's mill in the valley ... or the Stillbro' ironworks on the horizon are realistic pointers to the strong contrast between Industry and Nature in the West Riding of the early industrial revolution - and now. The accents too are often outspokenly Yorkshire. Mr Yorke - note the name - often preferred "his native Doric to a more refined vocabulary."
Briggs mentions early reviews of Shirley.
Some of the early reviewers and critics of Shirley challenged Charlotte's presentation of the regional characteristics of Yorkshiremen. They disliked her relative assessment of Northerners and Cockneys. "Taken as they ought to be, the majority of lads and lasses of the West Riding are gentlemen and ladies, every inch of them; it is only against the weak affectation and futile pomposity of a would-be aristocrat they turn mutinous." "This is very possible," GH Lewes commented, in the Edinburgh Review, "but w emust in that case strongly protest against Currer Bell's portraits being understood to be resemblances; for they are, one and all, given to break ou and misbehave themselves upon very small provocation. There is little doubt that in this  connection Charlotte was right and her London critics wrong. As she wrote to Mr Smith in MArch 1850, when Shirley had already been acclaimed in the North and the people of Haworth were drawing lots to take Shirley out of the Mechanics' Institute Library, "While the peopel of the South object to my delineation of Northern life and manners, the people of Yorkshire and Lancashire approve.  They say it is precisely the contrast of rough nature with highly artificial cultivation which forms one of their own characteristics ... The question arises, whether do the London critics, of the old Northern squires understand the matter best." It is significant that Mrs Gaskell did not criticise Charlotte on this score, nor did knowledgeable admirers of Shirley like James Kay Shuttleworth. 
Mrs Gaskell came from a Lancashire village, Knutsford, and Sir James Kay Shuttleworth from Lancashire as well.
Now with all its weaknesses ... it is an important contribution to the literature of regional interpretation ... Before Charlotte sent to Leeds for a file of the Leeds Mercury of 1812, 1813, and 1814, describing the Luddite risings, she had deliberately looked around for "a subject for her next work," yet there is a not of authenticity in what Charlotte says which was the product not of research but of understanding. She was, as Mrs Gaskell noted, anxious to write of "things which she had known and seen; and amongst that number was the West Riding character." There is a difference between Charlotte consulting the old files of The Leeds Mercury and George Eliot consulting the old files of The Times when she wrote Felix Holt and Middlemarch. Charlotte knew more or less what she would find. I do not agree with Margaret Lane when she remarks that "Charlotte's imagination was not one that could be nourished on social history." It is true that like most great novelists she could not live on history alone and that she lacked George Eliot's power of historical and sociological synthesis - George Eliot had the makings of a great historian - but she was familiar with those elements in the social history of the North, which she described and discussed in Shirley and she could relate the Northern social background she knew to the older heroic history and legend which had fascinated her in her childhood - the Wellington theme and the Napoleon theme.  She deliberately set out to make Shirley like a piece of actual life ... Shirley is the nearest Charlotte got to writing a social novel, but it is not, of course, a social novel which falls into the same category as Mrs Gaskell's Mary Barton or North and South ... it is not concerned with one theme but with a bungle of loosely connect ... themes.
Briggs discusses the Luddite background of Shirley.
Charlotte was not alone in choosing a period of time for th setting of her novel which wsa neither historical nor contemporary but lay in a period from twenty to sixty years earlier. In her stimulating survey, The English Novel in the 1840s, Kathleen  Tillotson has sugested that there were two main motives for choosing the recent past as a period to discuss and to describe: "That the past, being past, can be possessed, hovered and brooded over, with the story teller's supposed omniscience; and that the past being not the present, is stable, untouched by the winds and waves which rock the present." ... The story of Shirley begins in 1812, foud years before Charlotte was born, but the main scene of the Luddite disturbances was not far from Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head. 
Briggs went to Rudding Park to inspect documents and discovered parallels between Shirley characters and their real-life counterparts.
There are letters to and from Cartwright, the owner of the Rawfolds factory in Liversedge - within walking distance of Roe Head. He had foreign blood in his vens, spoke French well, was tall with dark eyes and complexion, and lodged in his mill. He had much in common with Robert Moore, though I hasten to add there was a Mrs Cartwright.  There are details of the background and repercussions of the muder of William Horsfall of Marsden on his return from the market on April 28th - he had no Mrs Yorke or a nurse like Mrs Horsfall (interesting choice of names) to restore him to health, and he died two days after the attack on him. 
The Luddite movement ... was largely a protest against the introduction of the machine, but also and in some areas predominantly, it served a a violent form of pressure on employers ... On 24th March 1811, textile mills at Rawdon, eight miles from Leeds, were attacked by a body of armed men, who seized the watchmen, entered the premises and destroyed the machinery ... On the night of Saturday, 11th April, Cartwright's factory was attacked. Cartwright, supported by four of his own workmen and five soldiers, barricaded themselves inside the mill, and met the assailants with a vigorous and sustained discharge of musketry. In the  the course of the engagement, several desperate attempts were made to break down the doors and to force a way into the mill, but none of them proved successful, and after a battle of 20 minutes, during which two of the assailants were killed, and a considerable number wounded, they withdrew in confusion. The bravery displayed by Cartwright in the defence of his premises won the praise of other mill-owners less brave than he was, and a subscription of £3,000 was conferred upon him and his family.
The failure of this attempt spurred the Luddites, led by a man called George Mellor, to try to shoot mill-owners rather than to attack mills and William Horsfall ... was attacked on April 28th. 
There are extracts of threatening letters sent to Sir Joseph Radcliffe, Bt., which appear to be badly spelt. The Rev. Hammond Roberson, the prototype of Mr Helstone in Shirley, supports the manufacturers. He writes to Mr Cartwright of Rawfold Mills.
I am decidedly of opinion that the Troopers in this neighbourhood are too few - That it is of importance to the preservation of order and security that there should be an Intelligent active officer near this place, to keep the Military alert, and to give a prompt direction to their Movements. Such an officer might extent his attention to Dewsbury. ... Were it possible for me to devote my whole time to the military I would do my best.
Briggs admires the way Charlotte handled the Luddite problem
She did not confuse the Luddites and the Chartists. She was peculiarly sensitive to the ambivalent attitude of the mill-owners she was describing, men who opposed the war against Napoleon and the policies of the British Government (symbolised in the Orders-in council) while at the same time they demanded stricter government intervention to suppress machine wrecking and attacks on property ... Charlotte was wise too to distinguish between the courage of men like Moore and the supineness of the manufacturers as a class.
The problem with Shirley, it has been argued, is that she did not offer any solution to the social question.
 There was no obvious answer to the Luddite agitation except more jobs, a fall in the price of food and a rise in the standard of living. ... All that Carhlotte could do was to state the issues as seen both by employers and workers, to measure the social distance between them, and to point to the healing influence of time and experience, the kind of experience that affected Moore ... The same view was stated categorically by john Harrop, a real-life Northern manufacturer ... "I consider the protection of our machinery absolutely necessary for the public good." ... A recognition of the grim necessity of this situation did not prevent Charlotte from sympathising with the distresses of the working population, and the hunger they endured.  She was completely uninfluenced by political economy - the political economy that Harriet Martineau, the admirer of Shirley, so fervently accepted. She concentrated on the human plight of the poor.
Briggs focuses on the tutor-governess theme.
Most reviews of Shirley which appeared in 1948 and 1850 scarcely touched on the Luddite theme at all. The famous hostile Times review ... does not mention the Luddites at all, Lewes's review in the Edinburgh ... only referred the subject once. The Times dwelt on the feminine protests: Lewes, to Charlotte's intense annoyance, concentrated on such problems as "the mental equality of the sexes - question mark" ... Both these themes are treated with eloquence and insight ... When Charlotte talked of the dependence of the private tutor or the governess on his or her master, she explored the implications of "dependence" far more thoroughly than when she turned to the dependence of "hands" or manufacturers.
 And the feminine protests theme:
Shirley's feminine assertiveness speaks for itself: it does not require long speeches. Caroline's speeches by contrast often seem inconsistent with the drawing of her character. The best best and most convincing passages are Charlotte's own, sometimes very greatly satirical. "It is good for women, especially, to be endowed with a soft blindness: to have mild, dim eyes , that never penetrate below the surface of things.
Charlotte sees no true ideal solutions, but exhorts everyone to be resigned with their lot:
It is interesting that Charlotte looks for loopholes rather than expects solutions - except of a romantic kind - in talking both of governesses and tutors on the one hand, and of women on the other. The good works of an "old maid" are deemed inadequate fully to satisfy; the only secape for Louis Moore, before he proposes to Shirley, lies not in society but in nature. When Shirley tells him in one of her provocative and imperious moods, "my roses smell sweet to you, and my trees give you shade," Louis replies, "No caprice can withdraw these pleasure from me: they are mine.

Caroline Helstone's Eyes by JMS Tompkins

I have just returned from Haworth, where I managed to get hold of a few old copies of the Bronte Society Transactions. Here is an extract from an article I always wanted to read. It deals with Charlotte Brontë's changing the eye colour of Caroline Helstone in Shirley from brown to blue. In the beginning she is said to have soft brown eyes. Later on, she is said to be blue-eyed,  a few times.
Ellen Nussey, Charlotte's best friend and possible inspiration for Caroline Helstone. 

Caroline's appearance fits very well with what we know of Ellen's. The pliant, rounded form, the "little Raffaele head" on the slender neck, the abundant, curled, brown hair, the brown eyes, the clear forehead, the gentle expressive face, the modest and pretty dress are what we see in Charlotte's water-colour of her friend as a schoolgirl ... It is not possible, however, to relate all Caroline's character to what we know of Ellen. Certainly, the moral sturdiness, underlying her tremors, was shared with Ellen, also the occasional Yorkshire downrightness; where the likeness disappears is in regard to the intensity of Caroline's nature.  This intensity of feeling and fantasy is revealed in situations which Ellen Nussey never occupied, but which allow the expression of parts of the writer's own experience. Caroline has "loved before she was asked" and she is "disappointed," and during a large part of the book she is expecting, with what justice and endurance she can summon up, to see the union of her friend Shirley and Robert Moore, the man she loves.  This was a situation into which Charlotte Brontë could pour, with necessary changes and developments all that her stay in Brussels and her relations with M. Heger had taught her of herself, as she could pour into Caroline's talks with Shirley her own grandiose and romantic imaginations in her own magniloquent speech. Charlotte herself denied to her husband that Caroline Helstone was a "presentation" of Ellen Nussey, and Ellen Nussey told William Scruton that "as a blind" Charlotte would sometimes form one character out of two living models. It has followed then that critics have usually explained Caroline Helstone as a fusion of Ellen Nussey's appearance with Charlotte Brontë's emotional and imaginative life. Thus Dr Phyllis Bentley writes in The Brontes: "Caroline shares some qualities with Ellen Nussey though her soul is Charlotte's." Caroline's home, a parsonage with old graves under the back kitchen, and her sisterly relation with Shirley (known to be a "representation" of Emily Brontë in happier circumstances) are there to confirm the fusion.
 Tompkins speculates that Caroline might be based on Anne.
Emily Brontë however had another sister, Anne, with whom she was, in Ellen Nussey's language, "entwined" in far closer harmony than either shared with Charlotte. 
Anne Bronte.

Tompkins quotes a Dr Spens.
It seems to me just possible that Louis was an afterthought that her first intention was to give Shirley to Robert Moore and to let Caroline die of a broken heart. But the shadow of the death of Anne which took place in May might well alter her purpose.  Mrs Gaskell tells us that the first chapter written after Anne's death was the 24th - that called The Valley of the Shadow - in hich Caroline goes down to the gates of death, but returns. Now Louis makes his first appearance in the preceding chapter, and up to that point the way has been prepared for the gradual decline of Caroline. It would, I think, have been a greater book, if the author had hardened her heart and gone on. But to use in a work of art the clear impression imprinted by the agony of the death of the prototype would naturally repel the bereaved sister.
However, Tompkins disagrees.
True, the few early references to Louis could have easily been written in; but Mrs Pryor's part is solid and well-developed early in the tale. What would have been her function in such a tragedy? Is it, moreover, strictly true to say that Caroline's "disease" is a broken heart.
So what was the original plot of the novel supposed to be? Janet Spens argues that Louis is an afterthought; I  doubt it, because he is mentioned early in the novel. Robert and Hortense are said to have another brother they haven't seen for some time, and it would be pointless to mention him unless he was meant to play a role. Tompkins suggests that he was inserted later, which might be true, because there is only one mention of him until his appearance 2/3 of the book later, as if it was hurriedly put in.

There is also the strange circumstances of Shirley blushing in Robert's presence and saying nice things about him - enthusiastic things, like a worshipper. While this is later explained by her being in love with his brother it does not seem likely or true to life. And whatever her faults Charlotte would surely have known that, and it would not have occurred to her to write Shirley that way if Shirley had been in love with Louis in the first place. More likely, she had written so much (2/3) of the novel and decided to change the direction and motives of the novel, and feebly explain Shirley's worship of Robert by her secret love for Louis. She couldn't be bothered to re-do the first parts of the novel, because most of it was well- written, and it pained her to go through all the details over and over again.

Tompkins observes there are similarities between Anne and Caroline.
There are the blue eyes seen in Charlotte's miniature of her sister at the age of fourteen, "lovely violet-blue eyes," as Ellen Nussey was to call them in her Reminiscenes of Charlotte Brontë. There is the shyness, marked again and again in Caroline. There is Anne's manner, which George Smith described as "curiously expressive of a wish for protection and encouragement," while Shirley says of Caroline that she "seemed as if she needed some one to take care of her." There is Anne's love of animals reflected in the little mouse that Caroline feeds in her bedroom and the old cat on her footstool. Anne had a "life-long" devotion for Cowper, and Caroline quotes "The Castaway." Anne, too, in her quiet, firm way was like Caroline, a feminist. More significant, perhaps, because somewhat in excess of what the context requires, is the account of Caroline's spiritual distress "At moments she was a Calvinist, and sinking into the gulf of religious despair, she saw darkening over her the doom of reprobation." This and her anguished prayer for faith in expectation of death bring to mind Anne's struggle with Miss Branwell's legacy of gloom. Lastly, and most important, the bond between Anne and Emily may suggest itself as the prototype of that between Caroline and Shirley ... With Shirley she plays imaginative games.
However, Tompkins thinks it is more likely the Caroline is Charlotte.
Charlotte too was shy. Charlotte had earlier suffered religious melancholy and had struggled for faith and self-discipline. Charlotte had played a prolonged, fantastic game, at one time shared with Emily. Charlotte, like all the Brontë family, loved animals. Charlotte, too, was a feminist. As for Cowper, "The Castaway was known to them all.
Besides, the pupil-teacher relationship is definitely Charlotte's cup of tea. It must be a trademark in her fiction, along with Belgian heroes (this is my personal opinion, not Tompkins').

  We must now venture another speculative step. It seems as if Charlotte, having reached her decision and evolved an alternative course for her novel, turned back and rewrote Chapter XXIII "An Evening Out" in which Caroline spends an evening at Hollow's Cottage, for it is here that her eyes are first called blue, and here that Louis Moore arrives at Briarfield. There is an incipient cheerfulness about this chapter, as if the lines of the story were turning upward, that makes the dip of our path into the Valley of the Shadow something of a surprise. Caroline is vigorous, even vivacious, "in light, bright spirits," and her creator seems to betray a little embarrassment in handling her. She is called "glad, simple, and affable in her demeanour," and we are reminded in brackets that what is meant is "(glad for the night, at least)", and that "the Caroline of this evening ... was not ... the Caroline of every day. We perceive, too, that Louis's arrival must mean some rearrangement in the pattern of characters. The dawn has plainly broken before we are plunged into the darkest hour.  It is, taken by itself, a baffling arrangement, most readily understood as the result of the need to start Louis Moore off on his salvage-work as soon as possible. 
 So is it possible that Robert was meant to marry Shirley, and Caroline dies or remain single out of unrequited love? I don't know, but possibly not. Shirley may have been intended to be in love with Robert, but we know that Robert is in love with Caroline. Shirley may have been spared the horrible fate of a loveless marriage, because she is pictured as happy and fortunate, unlike Caroline. Alternately, Shirley may have been meant to be in love with handsome, interesting Robert, and then lose interest in him, and then fall in love with quiet but steady Louis. (After all, Robert says dashing things to her, almost lover-like, and seems to be under her spell - an infatuation on his part. Only Charlotte changed this later). It still doesn't explain the abrupt appearance of Louis Moore, but it might have been contemplated by Charlotte herself. Robert's love for Caroline would render him an unfit husband for happy Shirley.  If this is the case, Charlotte would have introduced a heroine who loves twice earlier than Villette which is where this first happens in her novels.

But there is a counter-argument. Early in the novel Mrs Pryor overhears Shirley whistling a tune and expostulates her and asks her where she learnt that tune. Shirley replies she forgot, it was a long time ago, but she did hear Robert whistling that tune recently. Now it is possible that both Robert and Louis hummed the same tune, since they are brothers, and under Louis' tutelage Shirley heard him whistling that tune years ago. This small exchange hints at Shirley's feelings for Louis, and the subject of this tune is never brought up later.  So this would indicate that Louis' role was thought up early in the novel. Unless it is an insertion, but a small trivial matter like that would not be likely to be inserted later, especially when Charlotte does not bring up the topic later. Possibly Charlotte forgot about it.

A possible explanation is that Louis was meant to be a character early on, but she didn't know how to incorporate him into the novel, and so awkwardly introduced him. We also see that the original plan of the novel was on a grander scale, and if she had been capable, the novel would have been much longer and of better quality. Louis' role might have been among one of those plans, but badly worked out till 2/3 of the novel.

Tompkins thinks it is unlikely that Caroline was death-doomed in the beginning, because she suffers from agonies and desires death several times in the novel, and at the climax of her emotions, which occurs early on, she survives. Instead "Caroline may have been designed for single life." This would mean that Villette's plot, where Lucy remains single, would have been partly used earlier.
Caroline, for all her delicacy, is morally sturdy. She does not submit weakly to disappointment or to her empty life. Her courage varies, but is always renewed. Her reserve, assailed by Moore's self-indulgent spells if kindness, ade possibly by their family relationship, is always re-established. Change too ... plays variously in her struggle, now increasing her burden, now offering her some consolation. She is engaged in a long. dreary effort to accept her life, deprived of the domestic affections she had expected to centre in. Fluctuation is natural to such a condition and Caroline's changes of mood can be accepted as part of the book's original intention. she experiences hours of intense misery, and they cost her health and peace; but they pass, and she rallies. After the initial heavy blow, her disillusionment on the subject of Moore's love, and she is absorbed in unhappy contemplation of a long life of useless spinsterhood, until she visits the two old maids of the village, and resolves that it is "despicable ... to pine sentimentally... to be inert... to grow old doing nothing." Out of her shrinking withdrawal from the eyes of the other girls of the district she is roused by the coming of Shirley and Mrs Pryor and the sympathy established with them. A "new channel" is opened for her thoughts, and the "impetuosity of their rush" is abated. Then she has to watch Shirley and Moore darwing together, and feels "less sanguine than ever in hopeful views of the future: less indulgent to pleasurable retrospections of the past."  The moonlight scene at Fieldhead follows, and is paid for by "racked nights and dismal days." 
Caroline's longing for her mother is obvious early in the novel, and Mrs Pryor comes in early too. Supposing Caroline was meant to be single, is it possible that her yearning for romantic love (Robert) is supplanted by family love (Mrs Pryor?) There are traces near the end of the novel that despite not being with Robert, she is happy because she has found her mother. Was Charlotte intending to stress that family love is superior and more steady that romantic love? This would mean a happy ending - or a semi-happy ending, because she would then be happy with her mother. As the overall tone of Shirley is very complex, both happy and sad, and the characters' motives and temperament both good and bad (there is no one answer), a similarly complex ending might have been in store.
Mrs Pryor nursing Caroline. This is from the 1922 edition of Shirley illustrated by Edmund Dulac.

Tompkins doubts Caroline was meant to die.
Her illness is threatening, but Charlotte Brontë has already made it clear that Caroline's constitution is sound. In Chapter XI she is described as "in that state, when, if her constitution had contained the seeds of consumption, decline or slow fever, those diseases would have been rapidly developed." It did not. "I have good health," she says cheerlessly, when she contemplates her empty life. She gets pale and thin, and her eyes are languid.  "Most people said she was going to die. She never thought so herself: she felt in no dying case."
So the illness chapter might be an exercise in venting her unhappiness over Anne's death. She did not want to kill Caroline, but she had to get off her frustration in some way by writing about a near-death. I doubt that Caroline was initially meant to be near death, but she was meant to go off to the Highlands with Shirley. Shirley goes on holiday as planned, instead of being with Caroline. This is ostensibly to let Mrs Pryor bond with Caroline, but there must be a reason why the Highland holiday is brought in. It is still unlike Shirley to leave her ailing friend alone with Mrs Pryor. It's interesting to think that Charlotte made family love superior to romantic love; her mother, not her beloved, visits her. And Caroline's inability to get on with other young ladies in the district would render her lonely and intense.

We are now in a position to make a fair guess at the original course of the book. Caroline as her creator declared, is a fictitious character, an "abstraction." "Qualities I have seen, loved, and admired, are here and there put in as decorative gems," Charlotte wrote to Ellen Nussey, "to be preserved in that setting." In addition to the gems, some of which come from Anne's treasury, she carries like all Charlotte's heroines, the Brontë stigmata; but her circumstances, in some respects close to those of the Brontë sisters, are in other respects quite different. Her love-story has little likeness to anything we know of Anne, or Charlotte, or Ellen Nussey, except in the nature of the strain it imposes. Where she is like all three is that, early in the book, she faces the prospect of single life, but, unlike them, faces it unsweetened by family affections and without, in her own estimate, the justification of usefulness.  The two old maids, Miss Mann and Miss Ainley, stand at the beginning of her life's journey, and cross her path as she proceeds.  She is forced to consider the small degree of sympathy, respect, or even gratitude that old maids earn. She is quite sure that she is going to join their ranks. Is it not likely that, as Charlotte Brontë first conceived her novel, this is what she would have done?  Spinsterhood lay before the three Brontës and many of their friends.  In Jane Eyre, there had been no room for this preoccupation; in Shirley, as afterwards in Villette, the conditions were there: of the two charming, womanly creatures who stand at the beginning of life, one, already more favoured by fortune, was to be blessed by love.  [This happens in Villette: the fortunate pretty girl gets a husband, the depressive heroine doesn't.] All things were to be given to her, and the other was to do without. She was not to go uncomforted, but the prize in reserve for her was the prize for which she consciously struggled, not the unanticipated bonus of marriage with Robert Moore, but a retrieved serenity and useful activity, and what  was to the Brontës the absolute solace of family love. If this was to have been Caroline's lot, much that now hangs loosely on the story, especially the feminist passages, would have been very much to the purpose, the climax of Mrs Pryor's return would not have been obscured by Robert Moore's change of mind, and the cost of such a prolonged struggle as Caroline waged would not have been abolished, even in her victory.

A whimsical idea occurred to me that Shirley and Robert may have been initially destined for each other, and Caroline for Louis. Shirley is active and vivacious, Robert is active and handsome. Caroline is in the shadows, quiet, passive and reflective, Louis is similar. Their temperaments might then be suited to each other if such pairings took place. Instead of Shirley changing her mind over which suitor is better, it might be Caroline changing her mind over her lover - from being madly in love with Robert, to a quiet steady love with Louis.  This would fit in with Louis' whistling tune early on in the novel, and confirm he was meant to play a role. There are several snags with this theory, however. I cannot imagine Charlotte making her heroine so obviously madly in love with a hero only to give him up for a lesser passion. She would have scorned making a heroine surrender a deep passion for someone she cared less for. Besides, we know that Caroline and Robert get along well, that he is intelligent and educated and capable of appreciating poetry - an indication that he and Caroline are temperamentally suited to each other. He is also in love with her.

A common plot device in Victorian fiction is the quiet heroine is in love with the hero, who loves the lively girl. Quiet girl pines away, and after being disillusioned by the lively girl (or other circumstances) the hero realises what he has missed in the quiet heroine. This has been used in Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, and was surely used in many novels before then. (It's even been used in Dinah Mulock Craik). In David Copperfield, which came out around the time Shirley was written, and later in Little Dorrit.  So Robert's brief (supposed) infatuation with Shirley (he wooes her and seems entranced by her, and yet able to be her superior) might have ended similarly. In this case this would mean he was destined for Caroline. The clumsy plot then would be a problem with the middle rather than the ending of the novel. Despite the depressive chapters there are numerous instances of comical incidents, and tender moments between Caroline and Robert, which hints at a happy ending.

Curiously Shirley plans a holiday with Caroline to Scotland, to cheer her up. This doesn't work out as Caroline falls ill and is cheered up by Mrs Pryor instead. But why mention the holiday in the first place? Why say anything at all? Why not say something else? I suspect that Caroline was meant to go on holiday, or undergo a series of incidents involving the holiday, where she makes discoveries about Shirley/Robert/Louis. Maybe observe the chemistry between Shirley and Louis, or get to know Louis better. (Caroline/Louis ship here. Though I dislike Louis). Since Louis is the tutor of Henry, he might be joining the Keeldar-Sympson party to Scotland. But if this was meant to be the case this was changed so that Louis befriends Mr Hall and goes with him to the Lakes. (Interesting. Charlotte loved Edinburgh and Walter Scott and Burns; she also loved the Lake poets, notably Wordsworth, and wrote to Southey).
What deflected Charlotte Brontë's arm must have been ... the identification of Caroline with Anne in Chapter XXIV. I think it is only here and in the beginning of the succeeding chapter that it wholly takes place. It is the blue-eyed Caroline on her sick-bd that Charlotte longs to console. Both her figments now wore the appearances of her two dead sisters, as well as their qualities. She could not treat one less lovingly that the other. To both of them she allotted the happiness that life ha denied them, and in so doing effaced the likeness.  
Since Caroline becomes more like Anne as time passes, we can accept the theory she is a tribute to the dead Anne. Caroline may originally be meant to be Charlotte's alter-ego, but after Anne's death she became Anne. This may explain the change of ending, if any: it is easier to idealise another person's fate, but Charlotte would have found it harder to idealise her own fate. She knew she would be unhappy and could see no hope for herself, and that is why Lucy remains single in Villette.

I do not really think that Caroline was destined to die or remain single. Several times, before that fateful chapter, not only does Robert show tender affection to her, but Shirley herself observes that Caroline is in love with Robert, and scolds her for not showing affection to Robert. Shirley perceives there is something between them, which is true. She is encouraging their relationship. Robert would still have proposed to Shirley, as he does in the final ending, but whether he would have been refused is not certain. Knowing he and Caroline like each other, Shirley would have realised he would not make a good husband. There is also a section, before Chapter XXIV, where she asks him his opinion of Caroline, and says she seems quiet, sedate, peculiar, but flashes out in fire occasionally. She is defending Caroline.

Despite the fact Shirley is not like Emily at all in character, and Caroline partly Anne, it shows how great Charlotte's genius was: though she could not create characters that were exactly their real-life ocunterparts, she could create believable and vivid characters, though they are different. We think Shirley is a failure because she is not Emily as was meant to be, but she is still vivid and believable - Jane Carlyle thought Shirley was like her, and Charlotte had never met Mrs Carlyle.

There is another way Caroline is like Anne: Caroline is loved by her Sunday-school pupils, as Anne was. One pupil reports that among the sisters, Anne was the nicest. Charlotte was not fond of most children. Caroline is not at ease with any of the young ladies around her age, but she is liked by the younger children, not only her pupils but the Yorke children, who seek friendship with her (Rose, Jessie and Martin). Anne had no close friends outside home, but she was loved by her pupils the Robinson girls, and her only known friend at Roe Head school was a much younger girl, Ann Cook. Charlotte thought of Anne as child-like, and this may have been the reason why younger children liked Anne, the way youngsters like Caroline in the book.