Tuesday, April 21, 2020

In Charlotte Bronte’s Own Words

Charlotte Bronte

My Father is a Clergyman of limited though competent income, and I am the eldest of his children-He expended quite as much in my education as he could afford in justice to the rest. I thought it therefore my duty when I left school to become a Governess-In that capacity I find enough to occupy my thoughts all day long, and my head and hands too, without having a moment’s time for one dream of the imagination. In the evenings I confess I do think but I never trouble any one else with my thoughts. I carefully avoid any appearance of pre-occupation and eccentricity-which might lead those I live amongst to suspect the nature of my pursuits. 
I have endeavored not only attentively to observe all the duties a woman ought to fulfill, but to feel deeply interested in them-I don’t always succeed, for sometimes when I’m teaching, and sewing I’d far rather be reading and writing; but I try to deny myself-and my father’s approbation has hitherto amply rewarded me for the privation. (Charlotte Bronte letter to Robert Southey, 16 March 1837).

Mademoiselle Rachel Elisabeth Felix (1820/1-1858)
Theatre Actress

Most readers of Charlotte Bronte novels will recognize this name as the real life woman who inspired Charlotte Bronte’s character, Vashti from her novel, Villette. Rachel or Elisa Felix was Charlotte Bronte’s favorite actress between the years 1850-1 as her letters dictate. 

On 7 June 1851 at the St. James Theatre, Charlotte went to see Elisa Felix in the play, Adrienne Lecouvreur of which she originated the role. Later, Sarah Bernhardt would also star in this play as Elisa Felix was her inspiration to become an actress. 
On 21 June 1851, Charlotte Bronte went back to the theatre to see Elisa Felix in Corneille’s Horace. Charlotte wrote the following words...

Mademoiselle Rachel’s Acting transfixed me with wonder, enchained me with interest and thrilled me with horror. The tremendous power with which she expresses the very worst passions in their strongest essence forms an exhibition as exciting as the bullfights of Spain and the gladiatorial combats of old Rome-and not one whit more moral than these poisoned stimulants to popular ferocity.  It is scarcely human nature that she shews you; it is something wilder and worse; the feelings and fury of a fiend. The great gift of Genius she undoubtedly has-but-I fear-she rather abuses than turns it to good account. (Charlotte Bronte letter to James Taylor, 15 November 1851).

Photograveuvre Of Rachel Felix
Paris Musees Collection 

The following description of the character, Vashti is taken from Chapter XXIII Of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Villette

Ihad heard this woman termed 'plain,' and I expected bony harshness and grimness - something large, angular, sallow. What I saw was the shadow of a royal Vashti: a queen, fair as the day once, turned pale now like twilight, and wasted like wax in flame.
For a while - a long while - I thought it was only a woman, though an unique woman, who moved in might and grace before this multitude. By-and-by I recognised my mistake. Behold! I found upon her something neither of woman nor of man: in each of her eyes sat a devil. These evil forces bore her through the tragedy, kept up her feeble strength - for she was but a frail creature; and as the action rose and the stir deepened, how wildly they shook her with their passions of the pit! They wrote HELL on her straight, haughty brow. They tuned her voice to the note of torment. They writhed her regal face to a demoniac mask. Hate, and Murder, and Madness incarnate she stood.

Here are Charlotte Bronte’s thoughts on Jane Austen’s novel Emma:

I have read one of Miss Austen’s works “Emma”-read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable-anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic,poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress.
Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands, and feet. What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study; but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death—this Miss Austen ignores. She no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision, sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless) woman.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

To the Influenza by JM Barrie

To the Influenza by JM Barrie
Written or Published Around October 4, 1892.

The time has come for you to leave this house. Seventeen days ago you foisted yourself upon me, and since then we have been together night and day. You were unwelcome and uninvited, and you made yourself intensely disagreeable. We wrestled, you and I, but you attacked me unawares in the back, and you threw me. Then, like the ungenerous foe that you are, you struck me while I was down. However, your designs have failed. I struggle to my feet and order you to withdraw. Nay, withdraw is too polite a word. Your cab is at the door; get out. But, stop, a word with you before you go.

Most of your hosts, I fancy, run you out of their houses without first saying what they think of you. Their one desire is to be rid of you. Perhaps they are afraid to denounce you to your face. I want, however, to tell you that I have been looking forward to this moment ever since you put me to bed. I said little while I was there, but I thought a good deal, and most of my thoughts were of you. You fancied yourself invisible, but I saw you glaring at me, and I clenched my fists beneath the blankets. I could paint your portrait. You are very tall and stout, with a black beard, and a cruel, unsteady eye, and you have a way of crackling your fingers while you exult in your power. I used to lie watching you as you lolled in my cane-chair. At first it was empty, but I felt that you were in it, and gradually you took shape. I could hear your fingers crackling, and the chair creak as you moved in it. If I sat up in fear, you disappeared, but as soon as I lay back, there you were again. I know now that in a sense you were a creature of my imagination. I have discovered something more. I know why you seemed tall and stout and bearded, and why I heard your fingers crackling.

Fever—one of your dastard weapons—was no doubt what set me drawing portraits, but why did I see you a big man with a black beard? Because long ago, when the world was young, I had a schoolmaster of that appearance. He crackled his fingers too. I had forgotten him utterly. He had gone from me with the love of climbing for crows’ nests—which I once thought would never die—but during some of these seventeen days of thirty-six hours each I suppose I have been a boy again. Yet I had many schoolmasters, all sure at first that they could make something of me, all doleful when they found that I had conscientious scruples against learning. Why do I merge you into him of the crackling fingers? I know. It is because in mediæval times I hated him as I hate you. No others have I loathed with any intensity, but he alone of my masters refused to be reconciled to my favorite method of study, which consisted, I remember (without shame) in glancing at my tasks, as I hopped and skipped to school. Sometimes I hopped and skipped, but did not arrive at school in time to take solid part in lessons, and this grieved the soul of him who wanted to be my instructor. So we differed, as Gladstonian and Conservative on the result of the Parnell Commission, and my teacher, being in office, troubled me not a little. I confess I hated him, and while I sat glumly in his room, whence the better boys had retired, much solace I found in wondering how I would slay him, supposing I had a loaded pistol, a sword, and a hatchet, and he had only one life. I schemed to be a dark, morose pirate of fourteen, so that I might capture him, even at his black-board, and make him walk the plank. I was Judge Lynch, and he was the man at the end of the rope. I charged upon him on horseback, and cut him down. I challenged him to single combat, and then I was Ivanhoe. I even found pleasure in conceiving myself shouting “Crackle-fingers” after him, and then bolting round a corner. You must see now why I pictured you heavy, and dark, and bearded. You are the schoolmaster of my later years. I lay in bed and gloried in the thought that presently I would be up, and fall upon you like a body of cavalry.

What did you think of my doctor? You need not answer, for I know that you disliked him. You and I were foes, and I was getting the worst of it when he walked in and separated the combatants. His entrance was pleasant to me. He showed a contempt for you that perhaps he did not feel, and he used to take your chair. There were days when I wondered at his audacity in doing that, but I liked it, too, and by and by I may tell him why I often asked him to sit there. He was your doctor as well as mine, and every time he said that I was a little better, I knew he meant that you were a little weaker. You knew it, too, for I saw you scowling after he had gone. My doctor is also my friend, and so, when I am well, I say things against him behind his back. Then I see his weaknesses and smile comfortably at them with his other friends—whom I also discuss with him. But while you had me down he was another man. He became, as it were, a foot taller, and I felt that he alone of men had anything to say that was worth listening to. Other friends came to look curiously at me and talk of politics, or Stanley, or on other frivolous topics, but he spoke of my case, which was the great affair. I was not, in my own mind, a patient for whom he was merely doing his best; I was entirely in his hands. I was a business, and it rested with him whether I was to be wound up or carried on as usual. I daresay I tried to be pleasant to him—which is not my way—took his prescriptions as if I rather enjoyed them, and held his thermometer in my mouth as though it were a new kind of pipe. This was diplomacy. I have no real pleasure in being fed with a spoon, nor do I intend in the future to smoke thermometers. But I knew that I must pander to my doctor’s weakness if he was to take my side against you. Now that I am able to snap my fingers at you I am looking forward to sneering once more at him. Just at this moment, however, I would prefer to lay a sword flat upon his shoulders, and say gratefully, “Arise, Sir James.” He has altered the faces of the various visitors who whispered to each other in my presence, and nodded at me and said aloud that I would soon be right again, and then said something else on the other side of the door. He has opened my windows and set the sparrows a-chirping again, and he has turned on the sunshine. Lastly, he has enabled me to call your cab. I am done. Get out.

Book Reviews: on books to be published: Enlightenment by Sarah Perry and The Skeleton Key by Susan Stokes-Chapman

  Book Description  Thomas Hart and Grace Macauley are fellow worshippers at the Bethesda Baptist chapel in the small Essex town of Aldleigh...