Saturday, 25 October 2014

Lucy and Ginevra as friends

Reading that Frédéric feels drawn to a man he should hate (in Sentimental Education), I can't help thinking about Lucy and Ginevra in Villette. Unlike some people on the internet, I neither doubt the existence of Ginevra, nor distrust the friendship between her and Lucy Snowe, different as they are. Charlotte Bronte is seldom praised for psychological insight, and this character is very much like a type, a caricature, but I've personally known a few girls in life who can say shocking, outrageous things with such honesty that one couldn't believe in such remarks were one to find them in books, and with such innocence that one cannot hate these girls. It should be noted, too, that they don't make such remarks for shocking effect or for attention, instead, it seems that they just, without thinking, blurt out things that are genuinely their own views, and somehow, either because of simplicity or naiveté, don't know how others might feel. Concerning the friendship, it's not impossible for 2 persons with very different personalities and levels of intelligence to be friends, so I won't discuss that. But sometimes people may even feel drawn to someone with some trait that is unpleasant or even deplorable and obnoxious, some trait that they expect to detest or perhaps do detest when it's in someone else. For instance, 1 girl I know is a racist, who has said some horrible things that one wouldn't expect to hear anyone utter in a free country- her words are unacceptable, but for whatever reasons, after being shocked at 1st, I didn't feel what I should have felt, only acceptance with a bit pity because she's a product of the society in which she had grown up before coming here. I neither felt disgust nor pushed her away and pretended not to know her. Because I saw that she's not a cruel, mean, bad-natured person? That's hardly sufficient. Then why? I don't know. 
The same with Lucy and Ginevra. Strange, but not impossible.
After all, human beings are complex, self-contradictory and inconsistent. And that is part of the beauty of life. 


  1. I used to disbelieve in the Lucy-Ginevra friendship, until I had such a friendship years ;) OK, maybe that's stretching a point. The girl who played Ginevra to my Lucy was intelligent and accomplished, and there were numerous other differences. Nevertheless, it was remarkably similar to the Lucy/Ginevra friendship. This girl said quite a few racist things, and she used to sneer at my radical politics and ideals. I used to sneer at her snobbish ideals and her pretentious tastes. Our idea of great literature was vastly different. She aimed for high literature, with an intellectual philosophy; I liked good entertainment, and books that showed nature as it is. She thought I expected a lot for someone not terribly good-looking. And I thought her views of the ideal husband was unrealistic. We disagreed on many things, and yet both of us got along well. What I liked about her, was that despite holding horrible views (at least I thought) on certain things, she was not a hypocrite. She was frankly honest about her views and her desires. Many others would have pretended to be more liberal and good-natured, and less materialistic. My friend never denied her materialism. She never pretended to be good either. I think that was why, despite all the disagreements, I couldn't help liking her.

    1. I see what you mean. Hypocrisy, I think, is 1 of the worst traits in a human being. I'm generally straightforward, bordering on rudeness, so I can never get along with phony, affected, artificial people.
      But then everything has both sides and there should always be balance. There are also people (I don't mean your friend) who can act like a bitch (excuse my language), say vulgar/ mean/ rude/ offensive... things, live selfishly/ thoughtlessly, treat others cruelly... and then say that they're being real, being honest, that they don't pretend to be better. That isn't good either.
      You arouse my curiosity though: what are her views of the ideal husband?

    2. I've often noticed that people who say they're nice are often horrid. And people who say they're horrid are rarely vicious at heart (maybe gruff, abrupt or OCD, but not really bad). As for snobbish affected people, I take note of their pretentiousness and put them in my stories. I call that moral justice. My friend said her ideal husband should be reasonably good-looking, well-spoken, rich, sophisticated and intellectual. He should also read several intellectual authors, by which I don't mean Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Goethe, but some affected modernists which I shall not name. There were also other requirements which I can't remember, but it was a very hard list to fulfil.
      About some pretentious people. I'm sure you've seen some noble people who run marathons for charity and go travelling to all places and say how affected they are by the poor. But in real life, they snub anyone who isn't their level. You basically have to be a starving orphan in a Third World to be sympathised with. Are these good or bad people? Life is paradoxical.

    3. Affected modernists. Let me guess, Virginia Woolf? My memory may fail me, but I remember you noting somewhere that you didn't like her.
      Anyhow, that does sound unrealistic. And quite..., how to put it, naive? I can't help imagining a man proposing to her and her taking out her checklist.
      "And people who say they're horrid are rarely vicious at heart (maybe gruff, abrupt or OCD, but not really bad)." I know a man who had little education and was a debt collector and did some bad, illegal things before becoming a well-known pro-democracy blogger. He talks openly about his past and his background, and constantly refers to himself as a scoundrel. "I'm a bad man, I'm a rogue, I'm uneducated, etc, etc." People think, because he says so, he must be good and honest and unhypocritical, but there are other motives: a) people can't dig into his past and use some information against him because he already tells everyone about his background; b) he creates an image of himself as a criminal who reformed and became an activist (like self-advertising of sort); c) he uses it as an excuse, that whenever somebody criticises him or gives him advice, he blocks them beforehand by saying "yeah, true, I'm a bad man, I'm a scoundrel", then they may say some more, and he continues "yeah of course, I'm uneducated, I'm a scoundrel", so that the conversation goes nowhere and he never says sorry nor admit his fault. If he wrongs somebody and fears that they may say something against him, he would go ahead and tell his version 1st, not without adding that he's a bad man, an uneducated man, an unprincipled man, etc. So in reality he acts like he doesn't care, but he cares very much about what others think about him, what others may say about him, and he has a name to keep. I've heard him say "And how would others think about me?" And yet when criticised, he would say "Yeah I don't care, I'm a bad man anyway". He says that 1st so that others can't say that to him.
      This is also a kind of hypocrisy. I may seem to have digressed- what I mean to say is that some people may call themselves bad and tell others so, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're honest, unhypocritical, or that they have self-awareness. Sometimes they say so only as an excuse, or a way of shifting the blame (like "I've already told you I'm a bad person, why don't you avoid me?" kind of thing).
      But of course, as you said, life is paradoxical. We all are inconsistent, usually without knowing it. Some people may firmly believe in what they're preaching, they just don't always act like it, but I'm not sure that in all cases they're hypocritical, or just inconsistent.
      Does it make sense?

    4. Just to be clearer, about that man: I cannot write everything here, but he's not good at heart. I was close to him once, seeing his manners and (part of) his personality as who he was, and I do try not to be too critical and judgemental. Then several incidents occurred and I saw him more clearly, and realised that they were more than just foibles. He's bad at heart.

  2. Nope, it wasn't Virginia Woolf :P Nothing so canon. My feelings about her are ambivalent. I read Night and Day when I was 16 and liked it, but it was her least favourite novel. I did try Mrs Dalloway and a few others but found it lacking interest. But seriously, my friends' taste in books make Woolf sound like Jane Austen, or very entertaining by contrast. At least Virginia Woolf had a style with words (even though I found the plots dull). My friend's favourite authors on the other hand *shudder* are so unpoetical. I think she would find Virginia Woolf boring and conservative. But no doubt she's intellectual - my taste in books tend to be very emotional. I might try to read Mrs dalloway when I have more time and mental energy, just so I can boast I've read "proper" Vriginia Woolf.

    Oh, my! He sounds like a rotter. You seem to have had quite a bit of bad luck with people. Usually, when people warn me they're bad, I take heed. So if I do see their bad points, I don't feel taken aback. But maybe I'm just cynical.

    1. All right, I see what you mean about Virginia Woolf. Have you read Orlando? Her writing is beautiful in it. Generally I prefer Woolf the essayist to Woof the novelist, but I need to read more of her novels.
      Not sure about you, but for me, characters, psychology, visual details, language... go 1st; ideas, politics, social issues, moral lessons, messages, experiments... come later. I guess you've seen my message on tumblr about Russian novels? I think you'll like them.

      About that man, he's a rotter, yeah. Luckily I didn't "lose" anything. Only happened to see what he did to others, what he said about them afterwards and how he justified himself whilst attacking them in public. He didn't know enough about me to go around talking shit so I don't care.
      He's 1 of the people I find "interesting" enough to put into novels. Pity, I can't write.

  3. OMG OMG you like her essays too?! I prefer her essays over her novels as well. She is clear and concise as an essayist, but not too heartless; her essays seem to have more energy than her novels. I haven't read Orlando yet.

    Another good novelist-essayist is Tolkien. "On Fairy-Stories" is original, and if you ask me, more clear and concise than certain parts of LOTR.

    I have a feeling that strong intense novel-writing and clear essay-writing do not often go hand in hand. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I doubt they're that common. I also have a suspicion that highly intellectual novelists may make better essayists. And very good novelists may make poor critics.

    Like you, I vastly prefer character, language, world-building over ideas and issues. Plot comes in high on my list as well. I would rather read an unabashedly silly novel with an entertaining plot than a "character-driven" novel with unbelievable characters. Of course I prefer to have both plot and character. And if a plot is weak, very strong characters can redeem the novel, because these characters build a convincing world. Shirley, for example, to me, is good world-building, even though the plot is weak, because of certain characters and scenes.

    The Professor is weak, because it deals more with issues and themes than plot and character. That being said, Frances Evans Henri is well-drawn. Hunsden is a tad unrealistic but I can see the type Charlotte was trying to draw, and it's a very interesting type, not unlike Hiram Yorke. The Professor was Charlotte's attempt at a grand unified theory of national character, class and bigotry. Although we now blench at her prejudice, there is some truth in what she says, but you have to read it over again to find it.

    Yes, what a pity you can't write about your rotten acquaintance. I do think that awful people deserve to be put into novels. Still, I find that blogging does help improve fiction-writing, because, in an ideal blog, 1) it is expressing yourself 2) you are communicating to an audience, so you learn to make things clear for readers 3) you are (presumably) writing about real things rather than making up characters from scratch, which is why, if you are a good judge of character, it will sound truer, and so it is excellent practice.

    I've answered your question about Russian novelists on tumblr. Do you blog on tumblr? It's a good way to find random things about obscure fandoms, as I'm sure you would have found.

  4. Oh yes I love Woolf's essays, especially how she expresses wonderfully things I have in mind but can't put into words. Take her essay on John Donne, she talked about "the explosion with which he bursts into speech". What a phrase.
    Her essay on the Brontes is good too.
    I haven't read anything by Tolkien, and no, I don't use tumblr. Just too lazy, I guess. Right now even my facebook account is deactivated. To respond to what you wrote on tumblr, Lermontov's not a very familiar name because he's chiefly a poet, often paired with Pushkin, and poetry is harder to translate. And he died too young, barely 27 years old. But he's recognised as 1 of the founding fathers of Russian prose, and he created the character of the superfluous man before the term became "official" and popularised by Turgenev's story.
    About rotten acquaintances, a while ago I wrote a character sketch, and took it down for various reasons. But if you like I can send it to you. Haha.
    Generally after reading a masterpiece I'm paralysed.
    I may get back to the topic of Charlotte Bronte. Won't read The Professor for now- I don't want her to be like Haruki Murakami.

    1. I must check out more of her essays. I've read hers on Austen and the Brontes, of course, but so far my ventures into essay-reading have been more along the lines of Lamb and Hazlitt (now Hazlitt is wonderful - the man has such insight into human nature and society, even though he is very, very splenetic).

      Haha, I don't like Facebook very much now - too superficial for me. I occasionally use it, to get statistics on character-drawing though ;) My Facebook life may be very dull, but my observations are not :P

      Didn't know about Lermontov till recently. It's always Pushkin I hear of. It's hard to read translated poetry more than translated prose. And for some reason the English translations of Latin and Greek poetry I've encountered are better than the English translations of French and German poetry.

      Ooh, I'd be interested in your character sketch. I love guessing people's characters from group photos a friend sends me, and it's very good practice for drawing characters. My email is

      Dear me, what has Charlotte Bronte got to do with Haruki Murakami?! They seem worlds apart. I couldn't make any sense of Kafka on the Shore. Recently a friend (who is not very literary) told me she chose to do a project on him and I was like "What?! Do you even understand him?" She said she got his most comprehensible book (I think it was autobiographical or something) which was his ONLY comprehensible book, because it was somewhat realistic. And I was like "I didn't know Murakami could write straightforward things!"

      About Tolkien. I don't think you'll like his lack of women, and his frankly 2D characters in LOTR. But for someone whose characters are not very realistic, he really illustrates human types and tendencies vividly. It is his intelligent, ambitious and capable characters who are most likely to be corrupted by the Ring. The dummies are trusted because well, they're insular and not very ambitious, and even if they were corrupted, they can't do much harm with the Ring. Which I think is a very valid truth in real life. And the worldbuilding is marvellous. The man had an ear for language and what sounds pleasing. You won't see unnecessary apostrophes in his names.

    2. Sorry I should have been clearer: Charlotte Bronte and Murakami of course are different. The point is that I used to like him a lot, and devoured many of his books, but then after 7 novels, 1 nonfiction book (a memoir of some sort) and 2 or 3 collections of short stories, I couldn't stand him any more, and decided never to touch anything written by Murakami. Ever. After a while he became irritating and frustrating, putting too much of himself in his novels, having the same narrator or main character in every book with the same traits and the same problems (this kind of character resembled the author himself), and all of his characters speak the same way. It's just frustrating.
      Charlotte Bronte's female characters are not the same, but she does have the habit of putting her words in their mouths and letting her indignation distort her prose. Her personality is all over the page. Woolf does make a point about this, and I agree- writers should be a bit detached.
      I'll try to find Tolkien's essays. His fiction, on the other hand, I have to place below many of my priorities. I had something like a shock a few years ago, realising how limited my reading was and how numerous books there were out there that I hadn't read and had to read, and afterwards was determined to focus on serious, classic literature and put away all the reading purely for entertainment. Of course it's a personal choice, people can read other kinds of books, it's none of my business. I only have a kind of reader's anxiety. Let's say, I read Russian literature. So while reading a book by Gogol I'm thinking of the other books by Gogol I haven't read. Then, after getting familiar with 19th century giants like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, Lermontov... I think of the Russian writers of the 20th century I haven't read, like Ivan Bunin, Sholokhov, Brodsky, Platonov... Then I think that I barely know anything about French literature, German literature, Spanish literature, Latin American literature, Chinese literature, Japanese literature... beyond a few books or a few authors. And I get anxious. Know what I mean?
      And it's not like I have to be intellectual, to prove it to anybody. It's my own wish, because the discovery and reading of a masterpiece feels like ecstasy.
      About fb, yeah, I have an on-and-off relationship with it. Still need fb, so I can't leave it forever, but after being there for a while I get sick of it. I wrote about fb here, for instance:
      Thanks for giving me your email address. I'll send you the sketch.