Tuesday, 17 December 2013

"Mansfield park" and "The tenant of Wildfell hall"

1/ In August I made this silly diagram:
(larger size:
to demonstrate how different Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are in (almost) everything, and that Anne is the reconciliation.
Perhaps the fact that I like Anne Bronte, a 'disappointment' to many fans of Charlotte and Emily, has foreshadowed my going against the generally believed rule that one either likes the Brontes or Jane Austen.
Now I like them all, though not to the same degree.

2/ "The tenant of Wildfell hall" can be seen in relation to:
- "Jane Eyre" (Charlotte Bronte)
- "Wuthering heights" (Emily Bronte)
- "A doll's house" (Henrik Ibsen)
- "Mansfield park" (Jane Austen)

3/ An excerpt from "The tenant of Wildfell hall":
"How distinctly I remember our conversation that evening before our departure for town, when we were sitting together over the fire, my uncle having gone to bed with a slight attack of the gout.
‘Helen,’ said she, after a thoughtful silence, ‘do you ever think about marriage?’
‘Yes, aunt, often.’
‘And do you ever contemplate the possibility of being married yourself, or engaged, before the season is over?’
‘Sometimes; but I don’t think it at all likely that I ever shall.’
‘Why so?’
‘Because, I imagine, there must be only a very, very few men in the world that I should like to marry; and of those few, it is ten to one I may never be acquainted with one; or if I should, it is twenty to one he may not happen to be single, or to take a fancy to me.’
‘That is no argument at all.  It may be very true—and I hope is true, that there are very few men whom you would choose to marry, of yourself.  It is not, indeed, to be supposed that you would wish to marry any one till you were asked: a girl’s affections should never be won unsought.  But when they are sought—when the citadel of the heart is fairly besieged—it is apt to surrender sooner than the owner is aware of, and often against her better judgment, and in opposition to all her preconceived ideas of what she could have loved, unless she be extremely careful and discreet.  Now, I want to warn you, Helen, of these things, and to exhort you to be watchful and circumspect from the very commencement of your career, and not to suffer your heart to be stolen from you by the first foolish or unprincipled person that covets the possession of it.—You know, my dear, you are only just eighteen; there is plenty of time before you, and neither your uncle nor I are in any hurry to get you off our hands, and I may venture to say, there will be no lack of suitors; for you can boast a good family, a pretty considerable fortune and expectations, and, I may as well tell you likewise—for, if I don’t, others will—that you have a fair share of beauty besides—and I hope you may never have cause to regret it!’
‘I hope not, aunt; but why should you fear it?’
‘Because, my dear, beauty is that quality which, next to money, is generally the most attractive to the worst kinds of men; and, therefore, it is likely to entail a great deal of trouble on the possessor.’
‘Have you been troubled in that way, aunt?’
‘No, Helen,’ said she, with reproachful gravity, ‘but I know many that have; and some, through carelessness, have been the wretched victims of deceit; and some, through weakness, have fallen into snares and temptations terrible to relate.’
‘Well, I shall be neither careless nor weak.’
‘Remember Peter, Helen!  Don’t boast, but watch.  Keep a guard over your eyes and ears as the inlets of your heart, and over your lips as the outlet, lest they betray you in a moment of unwariness.  Receive, coldly and dispassionately, every attention, till you have ascertained and duly considered the worth of the aspirant; and let your affections be consequent upon approbation alone.  First study; then approve; then love.  Let your eyes be blind to all external attractions, your ears deaf to all the fascinations of flattery and light discourse.—These are nothing—and worse than nothing—snares and wiles of the tempter, to lure the thoughtless to their own destruction.  Principle is the first thing, after all; and next to that, good sense, respectability, and moderate wealth.  If you should marry the handsomest, and most accomplished and superficially agreeable man in the world, you little know the misery that would overwhelm you if, after all, you should find him to be a worthless reprobate, or even an impracticable fool.’
‘But what are all the poor fools and reprobates to do, aunt?  If everybody followed your advice, the world would soon come to an end.’
‘Never fear, my dear! the male fools and reprobates will never want for partners, while there are so many of the other sex to match them; but do you follow my advice.  And this is no subject for jesting, Helen—I am sorry to see you treat the matter in that light way.  Believe me, matrimony is a serious thing.’ And she spoke it so seriously, that one might have fancied she had known it to her cost; but I asked no more impertinent questions, and merely answered,—‘I know it is; and I know there is truth and sense in what you say; but you need not fear me, for I not only should think it wrong to marry a man that was deficient in sense or in principle, but I should never be tempted to do it; for I could not like him, if he were ever so handsome, and ever so charming, in other respects; I should hate him—despise him—pity him—anything but love him.  My affections not only ought to be founded on approbation, but they will and must be so: for, without approving, I cannot love.  It is needless to say, I ought to be able to respect and honour the man I marry, as well as love him, for I cannot love him without.  So set your mind at rest.’
‘I hope it may be so,’ answered she.
‘I know it is so,’ persisted I.
‘You have not been tried yet, Helen—we can but hope,’ said she in her cold, cautious way.
‘I was vexed at her incredulity; but I am not sure her doubts were entirely without sagacity; I fear I have found it much easier to remember her advice than to profit by it;—indeed, I have sometimes been led to question the soundness of her doctrines on those subjects.  Her counsels may be good, as far as they go—in the main points at least;—but there are some things she has overlooked in her calculations.  I wonder if she was ever in love."

Reading this, one can't help thinking of Jane Austen.

Pay attention to this part:
"‘And do you ever contemplate the possibility of being married yourself, or engaged, before the season is over?’
‘Sometimes; but I don’t think it at all likely that I ever shall.’
‘Why so?’
‘Because, I imagine, there must be only a very, very few men in the world that I should like to marry; and of those few, it is ten to one I may never be acquainted with one; or if I should, it is twenty to one he may not happen to be single, or to take a fancy to me.’"

This is reminiscent of a passage from Jane Austen's "Emma":
"She pondered, but could think of nothing. After a mutual silence of some minutes, Harriet thus began again—
'I do so wonder, Miss Woodhouse, that you should not be married, or going to be married! so charming as you are!'
Emma laughed, and replied,
'My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming—one other person at least. And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all.'
'Ah!—so you say; but I cannot believe it.'
'I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted; Mr. Elton, you know, (recollecting herself,) is out of the question: and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it.'
'Dear me!—it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!'
'I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my father's.'"

4/ 1 of the most crucial shortcomings of "The tenant of Wildfell hall" is the structure. I like how Anne Bronte wants to have 2 narrators, a mingling of voices, but to have Helen's diary inside Gilbert's letter (and thus frame the whole novel as a letter) is a very poor choice.

5/ An excerpt from "The tenant of Wildfell hall":
"‘Who was the gentleman you danced with last,’ resumed she, after a pause—‘that was so officious in helping you on with your shawl?’
‘He was not officious at all, aunt: he never attempted to help me till he saw Mr. Boarham coming to do so; and then he stepped laughingly forward and said, “Come, I’ll preserve you from that infliction.”’
‘Who was it, I ask?’ said she, with frigid gravity.
‘It was Mr. Huntingdon, the son of uncle’s old friend.’"

From "Mansfield park":
"Fanny's last feeling in the visit was disappointment: for the shawl which Edmund was quietly taking from the servant to bring and put round her shoulders was seized by Mr. Crawford's quicker hand, and she was obliged to be indebted to his more prominent attention." 

The similarities between these 2 novels, of course, are more than that bit and the word Huntingdon, the name of Helen's husband in "The tenant of Wildfell hall" (1848), which happens to appear on the 1st page of "Mansfield park" (1814). 
There are a lot more. This article is a good analysis:
"Both have a rakish suitor who pursue a moralistic heroine. In "Tenant", Arthur Huntingdon pursues the naïve Helen Lawrence. After their marriage her moralistic strain comes out; she condemns her husband soundly for drinking, swearing, adultering, and raising their son wrongly. In "MP", the rakish Henry Crawford pursues innocent Fanny Price, a prim moralistic girl. Both men, note it, are well-off; both girls do not have fortunes. Crawford flirts with Maria Bertram, and after her mercenary marriage to Mr Rushworth, commits adultery with her, and runs away with her, leaving Fanny Price. Unlike Helen, Fanny refuses Crawford's marriage proposal. Edmund and Fanny marry, after Edmund gets over his first love and Fanny refuses Crawford. Helen and Gilbert marry, after Huntingdon dies and Gilbert gets over his infatuation for Eliza Millward.
But it is startlingly similar. Huntingdon's mistress, Lady Lowborough was the former Miss Arabella Wilmot, who after his marriage to Helen, marries Lord Lowborough, a reformed drunk and rake. He reforms after his marriage to please his wife. Arabella married Lowborough for his money and title, just as Maria married Rushworth. Arabella had trouble getting married early because she was a big flirt. Maria is not old when she marries but it is likely Huntingdon married prudish Helen because he knew Helen would be faithful and look after the children well, and he may have thought Arabella an easy lay to sleep with - someone you don't have a long-term relationship with. He may have thought her unfaithful, as she proves to be with her husband. This may be why Crawford doesn't propose to Maria, which leads her to accept Rushworth. She is a flirt; he doesn't want to commit, he may think she's an easy lay, unlike virtuous Fanny, unattainable and trustworthy. (Also, there were no other girls to flirt with when Fanny's around). Still, he could easily flirt with Fanny without proposing to her. Either Austen made a mistake in his psychology, but Miss Sneyd of Mansfield Park blog says that it is significant Crawford is a plain man. Perhaps he has an inferiority complex with regards to flirtatious women, who may cheat on him. Though he is charming. He knows he will get the second bite of the cherry, so to speak, and the fact Fanny is an unplucked cherry may be a further incentive to pursue her. (Little does he know she is pining away for Edmund). He may be a beta male with alpha charm (a high beta though) and steals women easily. But he is a fun-lover and he likes fun-lovers, and he realises that these fun-loving women may cheat on him or lose interest due to his plain looks. They are experienced and and easily bored and will move on easily. Fanny has strong attachments, she is honest and virtuous and lacks experience, and will never cheat on a man. This may be a hard pill to swallow but those days even rakish men actually liked to marry virtuous women. (Nowadays it is a stigma to be constant to one lover). Maria marries Rushworth when she realises Crawford will never marry her, whereas Fanny, despite knowing she has no chance with Edmund, sticks steadfastly to her love for him and refuses Crawford."

Above all, both shatter the bad boy fantasy:
As written before, Anne Bronte's different from her sisters in that she has enough sense and insight to reject the idea(l) of Byronic heroes, having no illusion that douchbags may be reformed. She and Jane Austen thus have the same stance, though they differ in execution. 
In a way, Anne Bronte pushes the point to the extreme by letting Helen naively marry a self-indulgent, incorrigible man, making her novel more powerful and haunting through the vivid depiction and exploration of Helen's unhappy marriage and tragic life. The novel's also shocking and ahead of its time when Helen leaves her husband* (though not as shocking as "A doll's house", in which Nora slams the door right in her husband's face). 
Helen's attracted to Arthur the way good girls may be drawn to bad guys, teased by them, provoked by them, infuriated with them and drawn even more to them. Having seen his faults, she ignores her aunt's advice because she's an independent, stubborn and proud person who wants to prove herself, and has the illusion that she may change Arthur. Such a thought is not uncommon. On the other side, bad guys may once in a while be attracted to good girls- Helen's not meek and week but pious and from a good family, he teases her, flirts with her and starts liking her. When marrying her, he believes that she's moral and religious enough not to do anything to be frowned upon, and meek enough to let him go out and have fun. A bad guy, instead of marrying a bad girl, is in reality more likely to hook up with bad girls but marry a good girl that stays home and takes care of the family. 
On the other hand Jane Austen, without depicting the unhappy marriage, without dwelling on misery and suffering, makes her point just as strongly, and more masterfully, by 3 things: 1st, Henry Crawford has many colours and layers to him- he's charming, intelligent, gallant and has a good taste, even Fanny has to acknowledge him to be the best actor in the play, he's not pure evil with no redeeming quality like Arthur Huntingdon. 2nd, Fanny, intellectually attracted but morally repulsed by him, declines his proposal even though she hardly has any chance with Edmund (nor with anyone else, it seems). And 3rd, she holds on to her decision and principle even when her refusal is seen as ingratitude and obstinacy, even when everyone and everything is against her. 
Objectively speaking, "Mansfield park" is the greater, more perfect work, with better character development and more complexity, and attention to details and nuances. It all comes down to the question of aesthetic quality in the end- what matters is whether a book is well written or badly written. That is all. 
Nevertheless, I love "The tenant of Wildfell hall" for its merits, and embrace its flaws.

6/ The article "Mansfield Park and Wildfell Hall: Destruction of the "Bad Boy" Fantasy and the Intolerance Thereof" above also makes me think: 
Is the deconstruction of the bad boy fantasy the reason these 2 novels are underrated? 
"Mansfield park", in my opinion, is far superior to "Sense and sensibility" and "Emma", and is perhaps more interesting than "Pride and prejudice", which I haven't read. But it's seldom mentioned. 
"The tenant of Wildfell hall", lacking the originality and intensity of "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering heights", is very good. Flawed, yes, but so is "Jane Eyre". Yet "The tenant of Wildfell hall", sadly, is never mentioned and known to very few people. 

7/ George Moore declared, "Anne had all the qualities of Jane Austen and other qualities"
She has prudence, rationality, thoughtfulness, shrewdness, insight, independence, beautiful writing style and a detached tone. 
More courage, more boldness, more ambition (perhaps less interest in trifles?). 
But she doesn't have what makes Austen Austen: dry wit, irony, humour, subtlety, sharp eye and sharp tongue. 
(Confession: I might like to have a meal with Anne Bronte but wouldn't want to be in the same room with Jane Austen, to be observed by her and secretly laughed at). 

 *: I'm aware, that's not the only shocking part of the novel. The book was, when 1st coming out, criticised for its 'coarse' language, detailed description of alcoholism, debauchery, decadence...

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