Thursday, 13 August 2015

Barbara Hardy's The Appropriate Form: on the Casaubons and the Chatterleys

In The Appropriate Form, Barbara Hardy makes an interesting comparison between Middlemarch and Lady Chatterley's Lover. I didn't see that before. Edward Casaubon and Clifford Chatterley are both images of impotence and sterility. Will Ladislaw and Mellors are the Outsiders, the Noble savages, the Rescuers.
In the chapter on Middlemarch, Hardy criticises George Eliot for her reticence and depiction of Dorothea's relation with the the shadowy Will, which she calls a psychological and structural flaw. "Ladislaw is presented in terms of sensibility, not sensuality" and in Middlemarch, sensibility acts as a surrogate for sensuality. It is unsatisfying. Hardy also refers to James's complaint about Ladislaw's "insubstantial character".
However, after contrasting George Eliot's reticent treatment of sex with D. H. Lawrence's sexual frankness and discussing its problems, Hardy goes on, in another chapter, to point out Lawrence's deficiencies.
"If George Eliot failed to complete the antithesis required in Middlemarch, Lawrence in his version of the fable made too neat an antithesis. Casaubon is a symbolic cluster, but seen from the inside, created out of compassion, and demanding sympathy."
"is not presented in an entirely unsympathetic way, for Lawrence speaks of the slow effect of his wounds, and feels for him as a hurt man, a victim of war and society. But he rapidly becomes an assembly of symbolic parts [...] We do not feel that he is influenced by his values but that he is his values. All his actions are marked by the same denigratory symbolic features: his theoretical and practical attitude to machines, to class, to 'his' trees, to Connie, to her possible child as 'his' heir, to sex, to culture, and to nature."
He lacks an individuality.
"What the novel leaves out is just what Middlemarch puts in, the sense of the individual which makes the eternal triangle much more than a diagram of value. [...] Sir Clifford's character is so constructed as to make it a virtue for Connie to leave him, and this appears to be a simplified departure from probability. [...] Mellors sneers contemptuously, to Sir Clifford's face, about his impotence. Admittedly, he is injured and goaded, but one would prefer the lover to be at least embarrassed by his rival's impotence. [...] Mellors can hurl insults and Connie feel little conflict because Sir Clifford is conceptually rather than individually constructed and provokes or even demands reactions which would not arise in a comparable human situation."
Hardy compares the 2 books:
"... it is interesting to put him beside Casaubon, a character similar in values but nevertheless endowed with individuality, and an internal presence, to both of which we respond with sympathy, and which make his moral implication all the more frightening. [...] Ladislaw's lack of sexuality makes him less plausible as an individual character and less effective as a carrier of meaning. Sir Clifford is a clear enough thematic character but lacks the particularity which animates the rest of the novel. He is an extreme instance of a novelist's failure to animate the resistant material of strong feeling and confident belief and inform the characters of fiction with particularity and truth."
Again, I agree. That schematism is a weakness. I found myself continually nodding in agreement with Barbara Hardy throughout my reading. Casaubon is a brilliant, vividly depicted and complex character, 1 of the major achievements of Middlemarch and 1 of the greatest characters in literature. Next to him, Clifford seems hollow, without depth, less like a human being and more like a type, a representation of values Lawrence abhors. 
However, I now find it curious that Hardy writes about Lawrence's schematism and Charlotte Bronte's dogmatism (in Jane Eyre), but doesn't discuss George Eliot's moralism and didacticism. 

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