Jane, the fox & me

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12369194_10153853284104470_841992597885891402_nThis is a graphic story which deals with a girl confronting with school bullying while seeking safe haven and comfort in Jane Eyre. What I found impressive in this book is this sentence -“Even with my creeping vine of an imagination, I’m always taken off guard by the insults she invents.” Bullying is really a destructive matter; the vileness always comes afresh and painstakingly excruciating as each day starts anew. Thankfully, Jane Eyre, a novel written by Charlotte Brontë, gives the constructive power to purge Hélène from abnegation to a self-fulfilling colourful life.

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While reading the book, I also try figuring out the allusion of the fox. It reminds me of another book called The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Jane, the fox & me underlines that friendship is the soul-saving love apart from oneself. Rochester is left blind, maimed and unkempt and Jane still loves her; even Hélène is sorted into an outcast group  Géraldine gives all she has for the world of justice and appreciates the good side of hers.

Jane, the fox & me is full of poetic words. The beautiful pictures of plantations provide great juxtaposition and standpoint of a girl’s ambivalent mood while she rambles on the journey between bleakness and hope.

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Death and Mr Pickwick (2) Murder, Dream, and Execution

1 7 maria martenReaders of Death and Mr Pickwick can devour bits and bobs of nineteenth-century anecdotes. Around page 200 of the Novel, we are briefly introduced Thomas Kelly, the publisher of Paternoster Row, London, and his sensational installments including An Authentic and Faithful History of the Mysterious Murder of Maria Marten. Many publishing companies had also benefitted greatly from this murder. (Not without mentioning Robert Seymour, of course!)

Talking of the Mysterious Murder of Maria Marten, aka Red Barn Mystery in Polstead, Suffolk, it was the highly speculative murder case committed by William Corder, and Maria was often victimised in melodramatic and picturesque accounts as an ingenuous and country girl version of Amelia Sedley killed by an impoverished man with worst attributes and suchlike. On the contrary, Maria Marten was two years Corder’s senior and infamous for her lecherous affairs with other countrymen of the area with Corder as an impressionable but sparrow-framed young man. Ironically enough, Corder’s aspiration was to be a gentleman-farmer of letters and longing to reside in the literary circles in London.

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But that’s not it – the psychic portent was at the time seen as a matter of fact and unimaginable around the nineteenth century court case. Ann Marten, the stepmother (much younger than Old Marten) of Maria’s,  recounted her dream of witnessing a corpse (Maria Marten) being buried in the floor of the red barn by William Corder, and demanded the ground to be excavated immediately. Maria’s rotten body was really exhumed at the red barn and produced an arrest warrant against William Corder (who, at that time, had already married an well-educated schoolmistress named Kathleen Moore in London and together they set up a school in Ealing). In 1828, the noose was finally tightened at his neck in Bury St Edmunds and nothing in the least heroically about his death in the eyes of thousands of spectators who attended the execution.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. By George Cruikshank
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. By George Cruikshank

After the execution, Corder’s skull was used in phrenological examination (incidentally, phrenology was pseudoscience that Anne Brontë ridiculed in comparison with physiognomy; and Edinburgh Phrenological Society was founded by George Combe, who was Cecilia Siddons’s husband). It was found that the prominent areas which the killer greatly exercised in his lifetime were “secretiveness, acquisitiveness, destructiveness, and imitativeness”; but with little evidence of “benevolence or veneration”.

George Combe lecturing on phrenology to a large mixed audience Credit: Wellcome Library, London. (by George Cruikshank)
George Combe lecturing on phrenology to a large mixed audience. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. (by George Cruikshank)

James Lea was the police constable who investigated the red barn murder and later another notorious and nerve-shredding case of “Spring-heeled Jack”.

Love and Connection with Nature – Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë

Wuthering HeightsIt might seem preposterous to include the criticism by Graham’s Lady’s Magazine (1848) here, nonetheless interesting to get it emblazoned into the heart of readers’ as the prelude in reading Wuthering Heights – it is often interpreted as a maddening and depressing novel it can get. “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” Wuthering Heights, the first and also the last novel by Emily Brontë, published a year before her death of consumption at the age of 30, is categorized as Gothic literature branched off from Romanticism. It is typical to possess a satanic hero lurking around with his fatally fallible character, contriving schemes and darkness materials that expose retributions of deep treachery and violence. It is complete with an ancestral home, high moorland landscape and climatic wilderness as the atmospheric backdrop; the story streams, whispers, and howls along with gale, rain, frost, hail and snow – this is a work in want of emulation! Another suffocating and tantalizing element must be the intricate plots and characters – the names and conflict between two families (though not so tough like vendetta), could be as convoluted as Armadale by Wilkie Collins (calling a bingo with four Allan Armadales in a row!)

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Arrival of Heathcliff
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Linton Family

The most enthralling and unsettling element of Wuthering Heights, to me, is the limitless undying love, however well-intentioned and tormenting (Linton), maddening (Catherine), and vengeful or distorted (Heathcliff) it might be, it is beautiful, irrational, unwrought as well as passionate and descriptive. As a Gothic romance, never have I come across a novel which dissects love on so many levels to make it so rich, so transcendent and immortal that “time” in which is not potent but to be consisting of garden-like facades and properties. One aspect of love touches the notions of Dreams – to Nelly Dean, one of the main narrators of the story, she says that superstitions of dreams often are adhered to dreadful presentiments of fearful catastrophe – but the lingering dream that Catherine Earnshaw conveys could be the concept of her past life, not only be seen as a premonition. Her transformation from vexation to saddening revelation of confession of love conjures up a profound feeling to readers,

“The heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth, and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights.”

From interpretation of dreams, Catherine then dwells into the destined and doomed love reminiscent of Dream of the Red Chamber by CAO Xueqin (Chinese author of the 18th century) – the unity and mutual existence of mankind which stretches beyond you. Although love surrounded by the mortal life of trivialities makes it finite, wandering and tormenting, it is complementary to demonstrate love on a more tangible aspect.

“What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world would have been Heathcliff’s miseries and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”

This love, however, contributes to indisposition and sickness in Catherine and later on ends up with hallucination and illusion. She perceives of Ellen Dean as a witch who tries to separate herself from Heathcliff. On the other hand, death of Catherine embitters Heathcliff’s mind, longing to witness her apparition beyond the grave with his vehemence and paroxysm. “And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!” Near to the end of the story, love and suffering mingles with supernatural notions of “ghoul” and “vampire” with past life, birth, illness, death stretching beyond the grave. Love is dissected and hurled with the hardship of pain, anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.

Linton Heathcliff – self-absorbed moroseness of a confined invalid – “I felt disgusted at the little wretch’s composure, since he was no longer in terror for himself.  The anguish he had exhibited on the moor subsided as soon as ever he entered Wuthering Heights; so I guessed he had been menaced with an awful visitation of wrath if he failed in decoying us there; and, that accomplished, he had no further immediate fears.”

On the other hand, although all characters might be unlikable on an equal footing, readers have the empathy and connection to be sympathetic towards them. They are misers and weaklings on the inside, just like Heathcliff that perceives of Hareton, “I can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself”. Each character is miserable in its self-degradation and over-indulgence, more or less attributable to the notion of carefulness and kindness confined only for themselves. They dispense with “extra-animal” qualities of human virtue by the harmful influences of upbringing, as we can see, maternal and paternal love is not infiltrating in the abode of Wuthering Heights. With this result the house is invaded with a stultifying aura and a sense of “Hell in Epitome” seasoned with Hindley the profligate and alcoholic, sanctimonious Joseph, revengeful Heathcliff, brutish Hareton, and self-piteous Linton Heathcliff. However, I find Catherine Earnshaw and the young Cathy are exceptions of being embroiled themselves with an over-indulgence of selflessness of their own accord, not haughtiness, which somewhat lead to their own destruction, though I’m not sure about that. It is also the antithesis between duty-humanity and pity-charity, in which the elements also echo that of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë profusely.

“The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able.”

In Heathcliff’s case, his uncontrollable paroxysms of passion of love and insults which consumed with himself towards Catherine lead to his vengeful actions filled with tyrannical attributes and wild wickedness. Apart from substitution to the loss of love, his revenge is also product of his persisting emotions and best representation regarding extremity of survival under the roof of Wuthering Heights, as an aloof outsider, which wrought such cruel madness in him. Through this revenge, we also delve into the reality of the disadvantaged and injustice during the time (1771 – 1803), for instance, slave trade, cruelty to animals, servants’ roles, inferiority of women’s status it implies in relation to confinement, and estate tail, which are all evidently taken for granted of the time before the implementation of Married Women’s Property Act.

“Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” – Samuel Johnson

Night is DarkeningAll in all, there are so many ideas and notions conjectured from Wuthering Heights. It is a powerful and thought-provoking novel, which entails religious, psychological and philosophical references with a close look of human nature – it also links to the Universe, Nature, and mortal pursuits in life. The stubbornness in mankind will eventually culminate in a notion of void and emptiness, which is somehow formulaic and lead to the route of realization and enlightenment. It is the unity of emotions with nature. Wuthering Heights is also about the self-discovery and spiritual struggles found in one and each of the characters. It is a delicate examination of love as realistic and serious as earth, purgatory and hell but also descriptive, sepulchral, ethereal, emotional and irrational, found in mortal ground (Hareton and Cathy) and eternity (Heathcliff and Catherine). Volume 2, Chapter 19 is phenomenal in rounding up the theme, so fantastical! To get you into the brooding mood, you can also read some poems by Emily Brontë.

By the way I can’t overlook a reviewer who says Wuthering Heights creates readers and the second half of the novel mirrors the first part of the story. Nicely told!

The Odd Women (1893) by George Gissing (Part 1)

9780199538300(So, as we say in the business; readers who do not wish to learn details of the plot can skip this review at your own wish…)

Regarding my reading experience, the fairer characters in fiction, who step into the stage of maidenhood or living in “single blessedness”, are often portrayed negatively. For instance, Miss Clack, the “Rampant Spinster”, is the subject of ridicule and idleness. Concerning the phenomenon of telescopic philanthropy in The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins, she fanatically helps out with church affairs and a committee called “The Mothers’-Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society”, in which she deals with men’s unmentionables regardless of her own’s proprieties and conducts concerned.

Take a glance of Jane Wilson from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Brontë; while unable to identify with such “vulgar people in the eyes of the world”, she takes lodging in a county town and ends up “doing no good to others but little to herself, spending in her days in fancy-work and scandal” in her ways of “closefisted, cold, uncomfortable gentility”. Others might include Miss Matty and Miss Wade being invented in novels of Cranford and Little Dorrit in 1850s by Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens respectively. Modern fictional characters I have read would be the formidable aunts by P. G. Wodehouse. In other cases, one of the most interesting characters would be Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White (1860), perceived as strong, independent, intelligent, and be capable of anything.

“[T]hough in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more than you can bear. Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result.” In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Graham aka the marriage guru gives wise counsel that marriage is a constitution of “approval and love”.

The Odd Women by George Gissing, on the other hand, places topics of marriage and singletons on whole new perspectives directing to many facets, which definitely will be one of the most devouring and best novels I have read this year.

Wifely Duties

tenant-dueArthur: It is nothing you have done or said; it is something that you are – you are too religious. Now I like a woman to be religious, and I think your piety one of your greatest charms; but then, like all other good things, it may be carried too far. To my thinking, a woman’s religion ought not to lessen her devotion to her earthly lord. She should have enough to purify and etherealise her soul, but not enough to refine away her heart, and raise her above all human sympathies.

(Helen): “And am I above all human sympathies?” said I.

Arthur: No, darling; but you are making more progress towards that saintly condition than I like; for all these two hours I have been thinking of you and wanting to catch your eye, and you were so absorbed in your devotions that you had not even a glance to spare for me – I declare it is enough to make one jealous of one’s Maker – which is very wrong, you know; so don’t excite such wicked passions again, for my soul’s sake. (Chapter XXIII)

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Amish

“The Amish draw on the Bible for their understanding of appropriate gender rules. They recite  the New Testament proclamations, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ (Ephesians 5:22-33) […] 

“Guided by these religious beliefs, the husband, with the help of his wife, takes the lead in providing for spiritual and material welfare of the home. An Amish man is the public face of his family, the spokesperson to the outside world, and he ostensibly makes the final decisions, while his wife remains in the background. Because the public face of Amish life is what the world sees, it is not surprising that the popular image of Amish life is one of ironclad patriarchy.” (p.200)

Charms of Helen Graham – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

9780199207558_450“And there I beheld a tall, lady-like figure, clad in black. Her face was towards me, and there was something in it which, once seen, invited me to look again. Her hair was raven black, and disposed in long glossy ringlets, a style of coiffure rather unusual in those days, but always graceful and becoming; her complexion was clear and pale; her eyes I could not see, for, being bent upon her prayer-book, they were concealed by their drooping lids and long black lashes, but the brows above were expressive and well defined; the forehead was lofty and intellectual, the nose, a perfect aquiline and the features, in general, unexceptionable – only there was a slight hollowness about the cheeks and eyes, and the lips, though finely formed, were a little too thin, a little too firmly compressed, and had something about them that betokened, I thought, no very soft or amiable temper; and I said in my heart – ‘I would rather admire you from this distance, fair lady, than be the partner of your home.'”

The wonderful thing about Victorian literature, to me, would be the missionary and didactic approaches intended by the authors. For instance, Wilkie Collins’s Man and Wife (1870) draws the contemporary readers to the fact that this fiction is regarded to be as real as the world they live in – “This time the fiction is founded on facts, and aspires to afford what help it may towards hastening the reform of certain abuses which have been too long suffered to exist among us unchecked.” In Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it could be said that she unshackles and disburdens herself with this “semi-autobiographical” tale, when she serves as an innocent witness in her brother Branwell’s rakish affairs with the eldest daughter of the Robinson’s family followed with his consequent alcoholism, or being an audience of Mrs. Collins’s. a local curate’s wife, who seeks Brontë’s father for consultation of her husband’s drunken and profligate habits.

Apart from the contrivance of similarities between “drunkenness, gambling, and insanity”, temptations in relation to “precaution, intemperance, and abstinence”, and moral degeneration, it is her mission to debunk the intrinsic viewpoint towards “fairer sex” in different aspects from contemporaries! If we are to evaluate Helen Graham’s functions in her character – Staningley, Grassdale Grove, London, Wildfell Hall – it is a spiritual pilgrimage and stages she has gone through in being enlightened, so as to reach the ultimate goodness, and spread the nobility to others (not being immaculate, but a yogi and guidance). It is, at first, especially poignant with respect of the plot when her son, Little Arthur, in fact, is actually inflicted by his father’s bad habits and deportment, that Helen has to be reticent in delivering her son from the misdeeds, and weaning him from alcohol and perverse persona; but her mystery makes all her past and reasons unknown to the neighborhood, including Mr. Millward and Gilbert. In this post, I want to conclude some points I make regarding this novel which impress me the most, and my mind conjured up an article I read long ago that reading classics arouses greater empathy in you!

Marriage Counsellor for Singletons

In the Preface, Anne is to “warn one rash youth from following in their steps, or preventing one thoughtless girl from falling into the natural error of my heroine”, thereby her book would not be written in vain. Yes, in fact, not only she tries to reflect the evil/angel personified from characters with studies of physiognomy but also emphasizes to restore  the sensible ground of “study, approve, and love” for girls provided with their inborn strength of sensitivity to trivialities, rather than taking the other halves infallibly and impetuously. In some ways, Anne, the Cinderella Brontë, also endeavours to unleash some tension and relinquishes the deep-rooted pressure which tends to be harsh on girls in contemporary days, be it attributable to their relations and whatnot. Take Esther Hargrave’s case, she is quite embittered lest she would ascend to the parlour of old-maidenhood as well as being a “mere cumberer” to her mama and Walter (her brother). To Helen, it is at best when Victorian females implement “patience” – the widely virtue – into good and proper use.

Helen: When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone: there are many, many other things to be considered.  Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection, that though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more than you can bear.  Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result. […] you cannot tell what Providence may have in store for you.  And meantime, remember you have a right to the protection and support of your mother and brother, however they may seem to grudge it. (p. 318)

Marriage Counsellor for Couples

Helen: When you behave well, she can only rejoice with trembling; she has no security, no confidence in your judgment or principles; but is continually dreading the close of such short-lived felicity; when you behave ill, her causes of terror and misery are more than any one can tell but herself.  In patient endurance of evil, she forgets it is our duty to admonish our neighbours of their transgressions.  Since you will mistake her silence for indifference, come with me, and I’ll show you one or two of her letters—no breach of confidence, I hope, since you are her other half.

In Millicent Hargrave’s case, it is Helen’s chance to exhume Hattersley’s insolence to penitence and transgression. Helen points out to him that no one is incorrigible when provided with the right path to reformation. In fact, my eyes are swelled with tears when reading Hattersley finally realises his wrongdoings to his wife and restores himself back to righteousness. On the other hand, regarding wifely duties, husbands often mistaken “submission” for “indifference”. On socially aspect, it is an observation of confinement and condescending nature that should not to be overlooked, but as a harmful prospective in women. Although it is treated as passivity and victim-hood, it should not be seen as piteous, but cowardice. Millicent is too lucky in this case to have Helen defend for her. Penitence should be inborn duties in both sexes, but it is also a feminist point of view to not to permit weak nature of submissive patience override women, and let it asunder.

Limitless Undying Love

Mortal grounds

Gilbert: But, if we may never meet, and never hope to meet again, is it a crime to exchange our thoughts by letter?  May not kindred spirits meet, and mingle in communion, whatever be the fate and circumstances of their earthly tenements?

(Helen) “They may, they may!’” cried she, with a momentary burst of glad enthusiasm. “I thought of that too, Gilbert, but I feared to mention it, because I feared you would not understand my views upon the subject.  I fear it even now – I fear any kind friend would tell us we are both deluding ourselves with the idea of keeping up a spiritual intercourse without hope or prospect of anything further – without fostering vain regrets and hurtful aspirations, and feeding thoughts that should be sternly and pitilessly left to perish of inanition.”

This is the most beautiful part I find in this novel! Love, is actually an act of pertinacity which withstands and disregards time as well as circumstances in its own entirety. Helen is a strong female character to enlighten the males in this novel of various aspects.

Circumstances

(Helen) “If you loved as I do,’ she earnestly replied, ‘you would not have so nearly lost me – these scruples of false delicacy and pride would never thus have troubled you – you would have seen that the greatest worldly distinctions and discrepancies of rank, birth, and fortune are as dust in the balance compared with the unity of accordant thoughts and feelings, and truly loving, sympathising hearts and souls.”

All in all, it definitely will be on the top five novels I have read this year, and I am grateful to Anne Brontë with her passionate, sensual and sensational writings in Agnes Grey, as well as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall that lead me grow fonder with appreciation and think deep in Victorian Literature. It is demonstrably beautiful novel which presents the testimonial of love as well as the strongest and versatile heroine (feminist, mother, wife, lover) in the fiction world.