Wednesday, 7 August 2013

19th century's Charlie Sheen

I've just read this article that has a very interesting view of Arthur Huntingdon:
[Note: AB is, of course, Anne Bronte, CB and EB are therefore Charlotte and Emily, respectively. The author of this article mistakenly wrote the name as Huntington- this has been corrected.] 

"... The characterisation of Huntingdon is something that has met with a great deal of criticism. At the time, many reviewers remarked that the characterisation was unrealistic, sensationalistic and propagandistic…. even today, many critics find Huntingdon too much of a cad to be believed, saying that AB stooped to caricature in order to shove a “just say no” message down the throats of readers. Personally, I didn’t find it hard to believe in Huntingdon, I’ve met many people just like him – men who treat women as disposable playthings, who brag about getting drunk and think that frequently cheating on their spouse somehow makes them more of a man than someone who is faithful….  
Again, the similarities between Huntingdon and Charlie Sheen are quite striking… many of those who read Wildfell Hall found it hard to believe that anyone, born with as many opportunities open to him as Huntingdon, could behave like such an outrageous jerkass, or that someone with a reputation for behaving like an outrageous jerkass would have as much pulling power with women as Huntingdon does… these people ought to check out Sheen’s twitter account. The man was born to a life of privilege most men can only dream of, and has pissed it away in pursuit of hookers and blow. Yet despite his reputation, the man has pulling power,  if only because of his lavish wealth. 
Rich twits with the world at their feet really can destroy their lives, and those of their loved ones, through the senseless pursuit of selfish pleasures – Charlie Sheen proves that this is as relevant and true today as it was in Anne Bronte’s time. 
More striking than Huntingdon’s similarities to Charlie Sheen are his similarities to Heathcliff from EB’s Wuthering Heights and Rochester from CB’s Jane Eyre…. this, I suspect, is the real reason that Charlotte Bronte detested The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall so much, and repeatedly blocked it from being republished – in detailing the relationship between Helen and Huntingdon, AB subverts many of the romantic tropes that her sisters play dead straight…. the “bad boy reformed by the love of a good woman” is something that CB plays straight in Jane Eyre, and is something which AB depicts as a foolish romantic fantasy in Wildfell Hall…. the grandiose, poetic declarations of love from Huntingdon turn out to be just bullshit come-on lines that he uses to get laid, once he’s had his fun, he gets over these women pretty quickly and is on to his next conquest… but the romantic language he uses is very reminiscent of both Rochester and Heathcliff…. it’s interesting that in AB’s work, the men who make puffed up shows of their love turn out to be full of it, whereas the people who make plainspoken, unostentatious displays of affection turn out to be the genuine article. 
Before she marries Huntingdon, Helen makes excuses for her husband-to-be’s past misdeeds because he had a crummy childhood… and her excuses couldn’t help but remind me of the way in which Wuthering Heights fangirls on internet forums try to excuse or justify the cruel and abusive behaviour of Heathcliff, letting him off the hook because he also had a bad childhood…. Heathcliff, this character adored by many readers the world over, is, if you think about it, really just as much of a jerk as Huntingdon, and it’s even harder to like him after you’ve read Wildfell Hall…. I have a feeling that CB might’ve read AB’s work as a coded critique of the romanticised anti-heroes in CB and EB’s work, and this was the reason she chose to suppress it, but that’s just my theory, the truth will probably never be known now.  
Whatever, the character of Huntingdon is a pretty thorough deconstruction of the “Byronic Hero” archetype in romantic fiction… a great many other novels from the era, as well as a great many modern romance novels, would romanticise Huntingdon’s tormented soul… but AB never lets the reader forget that Huntingdon isn’t some glamourous, brooding Don Juan whose fall from grace we should regard with pity. He’s just a tosser, who brings all his troubles on himself and deserves our contempt for it..." 

I don't have any trouble believing in Huntingdon. Such men exist. Charming, 'playboy', superficial, frivolous, self-indulgent, unreliable, irresponsible, thoughtless, insensitive, glib, insincere, selfish, imprudent, treacherous, amoral, abusive...  Charlie Sheen is a good example, I myself know some very similar men, and some guys who as teenagers have shown a potential to become Huntingdons later on. No comment on Rochester because I read "Jane Eyre" while in junior high school and what remains in my memory might not be trustworthy (neither do I trust the film adaptations I've seen over the past few years), but, concerning Heathcliff, I do believe there are such men as Heathcliff even though I don't think I know any in real life (or perhaps have forgotten and just can't think of him/ them, at the moment). Hard, coarse, tortured, savage, aggressive, angry, hateful, vengeful, violent, tempestuous, brutal, obsessive... It should be said, if this hasn't be clear already, I don't like Heathcliff as a person, and for me it's preposterous how some people believe we must like and sympathise with the protagonists (or main characters) in order to thoroughly enjoy and like the book. Heathcliff is not the type of person everyone may encounter in life, while one may know several Huntingdons, but the existence of such a type is not impossible, not everyone is good at heart, some people have a dark heart. 

It's the (gentle)men in Jane Austen's world that I find unrealistic. But well, I'm trying to forget Jane Austen and accept the fact that she has been around for 200 years and will continue to be for a long time ahead and her books will continue to enchant a certain group, not small, of people, to be read and discussed in school and there's nothing I can do about it, and I should accept the existence of 2 separate, mutually exclusive mindsets/ groups/ tendencies and that I, with my introversion and solitude, with my strong and sometimes destructive emotions and wild passions, with my obsession with truth, my observation, experience and recognition of the darkness of life and human nature, and such, belong to the group of admirers of the Brontes, and there exist the Janeists. 

Anyway, I digressed. My thoughts just jump from 1 topic to another. 

This article has some very good points. Now there's another theory about why Charlotte suppressed "Wildfell", which makes sense, or at least I guess Charlotte didn't hate Anne or Anne's work because it's like a mockery of her own works, but perhaps because they're different Charlotte didn't fully recognise and appreciate the book's values and her little sister's talent. Still, to be perfectly honest, I hold no grudge against Charlotte for that. At least she prevented its re-publication, not its publication. 


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