Those Women !

 

 

A lot has been said and written about Mr Darcy and Mr Thornton, as no other character has been able to make vibrate the hearts of so many readers, all I dare say, to such an extent like them.These two men have often been considered quite alike, and not without reasons, in fact, I have to say that more than once, Elizabeth Gaskell seems to wink at Austen’s masterpiece in North and South. However, if we have motives to say that the two male protagonists follow quite the same pattern in the narration, the same cannot be affirmed for their wives-to-be, as they feel and act differently. Once overcome the question of prejudices according to the different settings and situations of the novels, Margaret and Elizabeth will eventually marry their chosen partners, of course, but only when we analyze closely those matches, we do understand how different the nature of the two heroines is.

I have already dealt with Miss Bennet in other posts, but I want to reiterate my interpretation having here the chance to make a comparison between characters.
Let’s start. Why does Elizabeth marry Darcy? For love? Maybe. For money? To be sure. Of course you’ll be turning up your nose at this point howling sacrilege and you would feel like reminding me the touching, explanatory letter that Darcy writes to Lizzy after he had been rejected, as the seed from which the flower of their love will grow and blossom and you would be right, but it is a seed and a very small one if compared to the sight of Pemberley. While visiting the grand house of the man she had so proudly refused, Miss Bennet is all of a sudden haunted by a thought, a fastidious fly that buzzes in her head :”I could have been mistress of all this“. That buzz does not seem to be willing to leave her. In fact, from that moment on, that hateful, disdainful, haughty, proud Mr Darcy will magically appear to her under a different, benign light and Miss Bennet will consent to be more yielding and ready to flirt. Would you call it love? Sort of.  But please, don’t get me wrong, I have the highest regard and even envy for those who manage to marry so well, I just wanted to remark that marrying Darcy with his 10.000 a year and half of Derbyshire, Elizabeth improves her station a lot and love must have found its way eventually, I am sure. The path was smooth after all.

When Margaret reunites to Mr Thornton, the latter is no longer a catch, he has lost everything (but his scowl) . Besides, Margaret in the meanwhile has become rich and has inherited Mr Thorton’s mill and house too, thus making him her insolvent tenant. This downfall reminds me of Jane Eyre’s pattern. Thornton like Mr Rochester must face the humiliation of defeat and loss. When  Margaret and Jane come to their rescue, they will do it as independent women, as even Charlotte Bronte endows her heroine with a fortune, a family and connections as well. They embody somehow a new prototype of woman, a modern character who is allowed to choose freely rather than hope to be chosen to secure status or reputation.Of course, in times when still the only way a woman could achieve a dignified and safe place in society was through marriage, an inheritance was that stroke of luck that loosed her laces and set her free. Free to marry even a man even in reduced cinrumstances like Mr Thorton that, at the time being, will have nothing to offer her but his deepest love and……..his mother’s resentment.

 

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The Loss of Innocence

If one the typical characters of Jane Austen’s novels were to leave for any reason
the pampered life of a good, refined but secluded society made of balls, laces,
tittle-tattle, great expectations and shattered dreams to face the world outside,
well, very likely we would be reading one of the novels written by Elizabeth
Gaskell. Margaret Hale, the protagonist of North and South, could be in any way one
of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters : remarkably beautiful, intelligent, well
educated, young and therefore, ready to marry, but the pursue of a good match is
not the central theme here. Her perfect world will be smashed by her father’s sudden
decision to quit the church and move where the “dark satanic mills” have utterly
changed the landscape and the heart of people: the North. In Jane Austen’s books the
North has always been the remote place where the regiment was dislocated and
nothing more. There is never a hint about the profound changes the industrial
revolution was bringing about in the country. The arrival in the Northern town of
Milton will be felt by Margaret and her family as if they had been sunk into a hell
made of noise, dirt and machines. The verdant, peaceful, aristocratic South is only
a painful memory of the heaven they fear to have lost forever.

In the hell of Milton the Thorntons are the most distinguished family, and Mr Thornton is another Mr Darcy, a Darcy of the North, of course: a mill owner whose position has not been secured by breed, but by hard discipline and work .The educated but poor Margaret Hale and the rich but unrefined Mr Thornton are destined to follow the same love pattern of Pride and Prejudice: prejudice and misunderstanding at first, development of affection on both sides with a different degree of awareness, rejected proposal, smoothing of characters to a deserved happy ending. However, the context the two act, is harsher and more tragic than that of Pride and Prejudice. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s world there is pain, desolation, the desperate struggle to survive of the emerging, exploited classes working in mills and the brutal industrial plans of their masters. It is the real world which, nevertheless, allows the growth of genuine, sincere bonds and affections even among members of different classes.There is no time for frivolous deception and seemingly pointless conversation here, there is understanding and mutual support.

Mr Darcy and Mr Thornton share that scowl which actually hides a surprisingly sensitive nature, but Mr Thornton has deeper comprehension of people and himself. If we compare the two proposal scenes, for instance, Mr Darcy has no doubt he will be accepted. He is full of himself, after all, he knows who he is and what a good catch he would be for any girl. Elizabeth’s refusal takes him by surprise. Mr Thornton proposes not only because he is sincerely in love with Margaret, but because he feels bound in honour as Margaret’s coming to his rescue, while he was facing an angry mob, had been generally interpreted as a manifestation of her feelings for him. He knowns she doesn’t love him, that she thinks he is not good enough for her and that he won’t be accepted, even if she is in reduced circumstances. Despite her refusal, he will continue to offer his discreet support to her family in the many times of need.

Margaret’s love for Mr Thornton will grow, despite her initial prejudices, along with the understanding not only of the man but also of the dynamics of that part of the country he embodies. When  Margaret, after a great deal of tragedy, visits the house she was born and bred in the South, the happy and enchanted place of her thoughtless years,  she’ll be unable to revive those emotions that, however, are still vivid in her mind. That heaven like place does not exist any longer, because she’s deeply changed. Life had thrown her into the Blakean world of experience of the North and Helstone represents for her now that innocence she has painfully lost forever.

 

Do you really believe Miss Elizabeth Bennet was in love with Mr Darcy? Noooooo.

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First of all, I would like to start thanking Miss Jane Austen for having conceived the second greatest girlish fantasy soon after Prince Charming: Mr Darcy. But, my dear ladies, it’s time to say it clearly: in the real world Mr Darcy does NOT exist. It’s a sad truth, I admit, but we have to learn to face this harsh reality. Therefore, I would like to study well the character of the lucky one who has succeeded in winning his heart, at least in the fictional world, and marrying for love: Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

pride 4Why her? What is that something that has bewitched Mr Fabulous, a handsome, elegant, generous, trustworthy man with an income of 10 thousand pounds a year? Because, as far as we know, Elizabeth is pretty, but not that pretty, her sister Jane is far more attractive than her, furthermore, she doesn’t seem to possess the necessary accomplishments that a girl required: she cannot draw, she doesn’t speak any languages, well, actually, she plays and sings but “tolerably well“. Last but not least, Lizzy has an embarrassing family that cannot provide her with a decent dowry in order to turn her into a desirable catch, as “last chance man” Mr Collins had predicted.

pride 2So what? This Elizabeth Bennet seems to me a girl just like many others, perhaps a bit more intelligent and witty, that is all. Differently from the other ladies she doesn’t seem to be beguiled by Mr Darcy’s superior rank and wealth. Really? In my opinion she just played hard to get, this is the point. Men like this game, especially if they are convinced to win, but they eventually end up caught in the lady’s trap. Darcy is just one of them. Elizabeth says she is determined to marry for love and not for money, this is commendable, yet I am not persuaded.

pride 5When does she exactly realize that she is in love with Mr Darcy? After having read his explanatory letter? Or when she knows that he had secretly rescued the whole family from disgrace? When? Actually, I have the answer: in a trip to Derbyshire. Elizabeth and her uncle and aunt stop to visit Mr Darcy’s “hut”: Pemberley. Elizabeth seems a kind of unwilling to go, because she is afraid of meeting the man, I know, but when she sees this sort of Buckingham Palace surrounded by woods, ponds, streams she realizes something which I wouldn’t call love, exactly: “ I could have been mistress of all this” she muses sighing. When Mr Darcy unexpectedly shows up after a while, we will see a complete different Miss Bennet: more yielding and ready to flirt. Just like any other girl.

The Price of being Jane Eyre

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There is a passage in Pride and Prejudice that always makes me ponder on how women have changed in time. If they have changed. It’s when Caroline Bingley explains what a woman should do or should be to get the trophy of the “true accomplished woman”, therefore worthy of a great matrimony:

A(n accomplished) woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved “.
images889YC3WA The reaction of the public she is lecturing to is quite interesting: for Mr Darcy this definition is not enough to match his high standards and adds that such a woman should work on the  “improvement of her mind by extensive reading“, Elizabeth asserts that there are just a few women who possess such talents and she doesn’t know any and Mr Bingley……well, he doesn’t really care much. However, if these were the “qualities” required, the draft of the nineteenth century upper class woman is that of a “look at me” kind , whose main concern is the exhibition of her self in order to be admired and hopefully marry the man she thinks to deserve.

Jane Eyre is the first heroine that defies those cultural standards of the nineteenth century, that’s why she bears the stamp of the proto-feminist. She has been brought up to rely on herself only and not on a male figure. Her job as governess makes her independent and she doesn’t seem to be intimidated at all by her master Mr Rochester:

I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use   you have made of your time and experience.”

Jane-Eyre-2011-71-460x250She feels mortified when Mr Rochester wants to lavish her with expensive gifts in occasion of their imminent wedding:” the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation.” and she has the courage to refuse matrimony not once but twice. Therefore Jane represents woman’s awareness of being able to do well in the world thanks to her effort, power, self respect, dignity without all that exhibition of accomplishments required to find the support of a man. The only thing is that I am not totally convinced we have really left behind Caroline Bingley’s phase, but rather Jane’s and Caroline’s phases, co-exist in a modern woman.

Nowadays, in fact,  all these “accomplishments” would be mostly defined as hobbies. I myself used to play the guitar,  I did some karaoke, I love dancing, I speak many languages and I also try to improve my mind ” by extensive reading” , but in addition to this, just like any other woman in the world, I have to work, look after the house and family, take care of old parents, without ignoring the importance of that ” certain something in her air and manner of walking“, hence I try to keep fit and do whatever is possible to be attractive, and for what concerns “ the tone of the voice”, well, it depends on how I feel, when I come back home after a day like this. Don’t know, haven’t you ever been under the impression of being born in the wrong century?

P.S. Mr Run wants everybody to know that he wakes up six o’clock in the morning to go to work and when he comes back home, he goes running, of course, but once back he diligently prepares dinner. He is in charge with the cooking, the ironing and washing as Mrs Run doesn’t seem to possess such “accomplishments” 🙂

Byronic attraction

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Having already warned all the fans of Pride and Prejudice about the risks of believing in the existence of a Mr Darcy in the real world, and having myself very likely married the only man, who can be compared to that fantasy ( ok, I know, maybe I have exaggerated a little , but I have to write that in case Mr Run reads this post), I would like to continue with my action for woman awareness, talking about another dangerous type of man who crowds girls’ dreams. Don’t deny it, “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that women feel that dangerous attraction for a” proud, moody, cynical (man). with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection” just to use Lord Macaulay‘s words. Nowadays such a man would be called a bastard or a jerk, but in the early nineteenth century he was to become a new type of hero, the Byronic hero.

The Byronic hero is somehow, the portrait of Byron himself or rather of what Byron would have liked to appear before the people he knew. From a literary point of view the protagonist of Byron’s epic poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ is considered the first Byronic hero, but this character can be found in almost every other work he wroteThe word hero here is actually deprived of its traditional meaning of a man who distinguishes himself for his courage, nobility, fortitude etc. and becomes the figure who dares rebel, just like Milton‘s Satan, against conventional modes of behavior and thought,  who naturally possesses a magnetical charm but also a great degree of psychological and emotional complexity. In a few words, a lot of troubles.

If we get a list of the character traits and attitudes typically associated to a Byronic hero and we study it accurately, in my opinion Heathcliff  is the most Byronic among his fellow mates that people the pages of the novels and poems of the early nineteenth century.
Let’s discuss some of them one by one:
1. A distaste for social institutions and norms
Heathcliff displays his distaste for society and its conventions from the very beginning, when he receives hastily and coldly his tenant Mr Lockwood. His antagonist is Mr Linton who represents rule, order and stability.
2. An exiled, an outcast, an outlaw
Heathcliff never fully integrates in the adoptive family and is rejected by the Lintons’.
3. Arrogant
If we might interview the characters of the novel I guess everybody  could say something about it.
4.Cynical
Even in this case everybody experiences his cynicism, Catherine included, but Isabel Linton will be the one to pay bitterly for her credulity and ingenuousness
5.Cunning and ability to adapt 
Despite any punishment or social degradation, he succeeds in surviving in any situation. He is quick to understand and grabs any occasion he has, an example is Isabel’s crush on him, to reach his revengeful purposes.
6.Dark attributes not normally associated with a hero.
He is described as a gipsy.
7.Disrespectful of rank and privilege.
Once again the enemy is Mr Linton even because his rank is an appeal for Catherine.
8. Emotionally conflicted,bipolar tendencies or moodiness.
His conflict is between love and hate, which explodes in the necessity of revenge.
9. High level of intelligence and perception.
He seems to know well all the weaknesses of the people that surround him. Jus like when he wins Wuthering Heights taking advantage of Hindley’s addiction to alcohol and game habit. He is never taken by surprise.
10. Mysterious, magnetic, charismatic
We know nothing about his past and real family. We know nothing about what he did in the his  two-year absence from the Heights or how he made his fortune. He appears and disappears.
11. Power of seduction and attraction
Well, the whole novel is about this. Even Lockwood seems to be seduced by the man when he first sees him. “A capital fellow” he defines him.
12.Self destructive behaviour
The power of his love is both destructive and self-destructive
13.Social and sexual dominance
He is socially and sexually the dominant male. He manages to come into possession of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and destroys or humbles all the male figures he comes across.
14.Sophisticated and well-educated
He can’t certainly be defined sophisticated or well-educated, but he has received an education and knows how to behave properly if this fits his schemes. At first glance Heathcliff looks like a gentleman to Lockwood
15.Troubled past
We only know that he is a founder who seems to have suffered.

If we have understood Emily Bronte‘s novel well, the Byronic type is the kind of man who  should be avoided carefully, nevertheless his attractive power is still proof against wisdom or better judgement. I’m sure that in a story of every woman there is a chapter dedicated to her own Byronic hero, a chapter that every now and then she will read to remember that  thrill, that shiver. She will read those pages with the lightness of one who, however, has been able to write other meaningful chapters.

The “I will save you” syndrome

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In the mid-nineteenth century, the only way a woman could achieve a dignified and safe place in society was still through marriage. Girls were carefully brought up to that purpose and if they wanted to marry well, they needed to have many cards in their sleeves in order to reach the goal: beauty, social status, connections, fortune and many “accomplishments” as Caroline Bingley elucidated to Elizabeth Bennet :

quotation-marksA(n accomplished) woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved “.

(Pride and Prejudice  Chapter VIII)

Mr Darcy  will also add to the list :

quotation-marks All this she must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

(Pride and Prejudice  Chapter VIII)

No wonder Charlotte Bronte‘s best known character, Jane Eyre, has often been considered as a feminist forerunner, because she defies all those cultural standards. Plain, reserved, she has neither connections, nor fortune to offer but her determination and dignity. She has been brought up to rely on herself only and not on a male figure. In fact, she refuses matrimony twice (Mr Rochester’s first attempt and John Reeves) or she feels mortified when Mr Rochester wants to lavish her with expensive gifts in occasion of the imminent wedding:

quotation-marks the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation.”

(Jane Eyre  Chapter XXIV)

But what kind of man in Mr Rochester? If Jane cannot be considered a Cinderella type, certainly Edward Rochester is no Prince Charming . He is rude, arrogant, twice her age, sometimes violent and not even particularly handsome as Jane will notice the first time they meet:

quotation-marksmiddle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young , I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked..”
 
(Jane Eyre Chapter XII)
 
Once he is back at Thornfield, he starts toying with Jane’s feeling, he tests and teases her encouraging our heroine to believe he is going to marry a woman of his rank more deserving than her: beautiful Blanche Ingram. He is a liar: he deliberately omits his married status. He is selfish: because he considers bigamy the only reasonable option to ensure HIS happiness. He is definitely unreliable but at the same time he is warm, seductive, passionate,  well….. the kind of man women like, even if we profess the opposite. Women never fall head over heels for the John Reeves of the Edgar lintons that people the real world. We like the fire and inevitably we get burnt. But this suicidal attraction for dangerous men is generated by an impulse or better by a syndrome – the “I will save you syndrome” – which affects each of us with no exception, Charlotte Bronte included. What does it mean? We deliberately fall in the trap of this kind of men, because we are convinced we are good enough to change them and turn them into “better” persons, weakening their strongest and most dangerous drives. That is: we are seduced by the Heathcliff type only to turn him into a more controllable Edgar Linton type, a living oxymoron. We already know, it is impossible, in fact, Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine of Wuthering Heights,  who had already tried to make this experiment, dies tragically before both of them. Charlotte Bronte’s malice is, therefore, clear: she had created a super macho man, one of the strongest male characters of the literature of the age, only to humiliate and destroy him both physically and psychically, without even hiding a certain sadism. So, while he tragically sinks among the ruins of Thornfield, Charlotte  Bronte endows her heroine with a fortune, a family and connections so when she finally makes her homecoming as an independent woman, Mr Rochester and Jane are even. And now that he has become weak and needy because of his blindness (even a little bit too pathetic), she will save him, marrying him and nursing him for the rest of her life. Every woman’s desire…….bah! Only at the end of the novel Charlotte Bronte seems to have mercy upon Mr Rochester (or maybe Jane), making him partially regain his sight:
 quotation-marksHe had the advice of an eminent oculist; and he eventually recovered the sight of that one eye.  He cannot now see very distinctly: he cannot read or write much; but he can find his way without being led by the hand: the sky is no longer a blank to him—the earth no longer a void.  When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were—large, brilliant, and black.  On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.
(Jane Eyre   Chapter  XXXVIII)
Can this be considered a feminist victory? I really don’t think so.

A desperate housewife

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Moll, Pamela, Clarissa, Jane, Elizabeth, Fanny, Catherine, Mary…………well, after having followed all the fortunes and misfortunes of these heroines, one thing is for certain: this marriage business was tiring and frustrating for both the girls and their mothers. Yes, their mothers. These ladies stood between their husbands’ will and their daughters’ whims and tried ,as much as they could, to preserve the precarious emotional balance of their families. Girls could be easily forced to yielding, but what happened if desperation led one of them to choose for the most dreaded resolution: elopement, without the blessing of matrimony? The family was simply ruined. And what could happen if you had five girls to marry and you were under threat of the most chauvinist will which entailed your house, estate, everything you own to the male line? Distressed? Strained? Anxious? I guess so. This is exactly what Mrs Bennet must have felt for a long part of her fictional life, her nerves are in fact very often mentioned in the novel. Luckily she is married to a weak, good-natured husband that allows her to move freely in the attempt of avoiding the possible disgrace embodied by Mr Collins, the future heir. On this purpose she will use every weapon, break every moral rule that stands between her and the target. She lets her younger daughters enjoy the pleasures of society even if the eldest are not married yet, she plans to let Jane stay the night at Netherfield, Mr Bingley’s grand house, sending her on horseback because it’s about to rain, the couples of lovers are always left alone so as to facilitate intimacy and many others more. Not everything worked well, if we consider Lydia’s affair, but at the end of the novel, three of the five girls will end up married and even if one day Mr Bennet died and she had to leave her house, I’m pretty sure Mr Darcy would give her a nice apartment at Pemberley. Maybe.