Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Happy birthday Charlotte Bronte!

So, I'm back after a long hiatus! Sorry I didn't post sooner, but I've been busy, uninspired and stuck (with a lot left in drafts.)

Anyway, today is Charlotte Brontë's birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLOTTE!

(You know I would totally go lesbian for you)

Today's post won't be a profound one, but I'll write what I've thought about Charlotte in the meantime:

I like the world of Shirley the best among the novels.  Even though Villette is the most accomplished and complex, and Jane Eyre the most engaging and passionate. It speaks of Yorkshire country life in the early 19th century, and for the first time Charlotte actually looks at society - I don't mean society at large, but the people you see in a small community. Pity Louis Moore had to clog up the book though.

Why I love Charlotte: she is profoundly psychologically complex, compared to both Emily and Anne. Emily was perhaps less judgemental, but she tended to portray her characters as types or extremes. They do not seem as realistic as Charlotte's. Lucy Snowe is a masterly portrait of depression and isolation in a foreign land. Dr John is the Genuine Nice Guy who is nice to you because he's so nice, not because he likes you especially. Unlike Paul Emmanuel and Mr Rochester. Dr John sounds like a perfectly pleasant companion to be with, the sort who can talk to anybody. Of course falling in love with him is another question.

Frances Evans Henri is sweet. Too sweet for the novel she's in. I think The Professor is a study of how you live overseas, how different nationalities are. It's meant to be kinda cosmopolitan, and it tries to portray national characters. Pity she was prejudiced, but seriously certain national stereotypes are true to this day. It is really an intellectual attempt - it attempts to explain society and game theory. Like the refined but undynamic William Crimsworth, the coarse but dynamic Edward. William's unpopularity in Yorkshire makes it hard for us to get why he's a hit in Brussels, but when you see that Brussels was modest and less sophisticated in those days, William's upbringing and education explains a lot. Basically Charlotte was saying if you're refined and not stunning or charming in a sophisticated environment, your life sucks - but without looks or charm, refinement can win you respect in a foreign farmyard. And I like Hunsden's ambiguous character - is he a practical merchant or a refined gentleman? He sneers at the intellectuals and yet invites them over, he claims to be a democrat but he is a snob at heart, and his best friend is the unworldly, aloof and suppsoedly upper-class William Crimsworth. They are frenemies. I'd like to see some gay slash fanfiction about them.

Which brings me to the question: What make sCharlotte Brontë so classic and unique? It's not just the love story, there must be something in the writing. Her prose style is  vigorous in Jane Eyre, refined in Villette - she and Jane Austen and Emily are prose stylists. That could contribute to Classic Classic status. But most of all, it must be the emotional power in her work. She is biased, she gets many characters wrong (a no-no by today's standards, and often criticised in classic literature) and yet she feels so profoundly real. Why is it so?

Because the world she writes is profoundly real. Now when I say the world I don't just mean the physical world. Most excellent authors become classics because they portray an accurate physical world, a society, and realistic characters. Charlotte's real characters are few - not as many as George Eliot, who is generally less judgemental (or tries to be).

In Charlotte's case her world is the world of the mind, of the soul. When I read her books I find myself immersed in another person's existence - the heroine's. Instead of looking at them, I become them as I read, an experience you can't get while watching movies. This brings another dimension to the novel. I don't know about you, but when I read excellent authors (including Jane Austen) I see the setting, the characters, the plot, and feel like I am watching a real scene unfold before me. But when I read Charlotte Brontë I am part of the scene. It is a form of mental acting - imagining I am Jane, or Lucy, or Caroline (the latter I became very adept at inhabiting). I think I became Jane as soon as I read the book for the first time. It is no longer something to watch: it is a new existence. It is world-building in the head - but a very small world - the world of the self. (But I will speak of world-building another day).

I like the two paradoxical contrasting characters, Messrs Helstone and Yorke. I love the bluff Yorkshireman who is Northern at heart, speaks dialect and loves the people, and yet is cultured and speaks perfect French.