Dear readers, RT for the last several weeks has been exploring 19th century British romantic prose; where else could he possibly find himself, on his 55th birthday, but washed up on the shores of Charlotte Bronte‘s great novel, Jane Eyre?
It goes without saying that this novel is primarily addressed to women, relating as it does the search of a sympathetic and intelligent young lady for the earthly paradise of marriage. “Reader, I married him,” she reports as the novel reaches it conclusion. Few sentences in the English language can have had as widespread an impact on our culture as this one.
But fellow men, take note: we can only wish that we were capable of the profound passion that Mr. Rochester evinces during the novel’s proposal scene. Rochester’s language here reaches the intensity of poetry, as does, in an entirely more feminine way, Jane Eyre’s:
Excerpts from the Proposal Scene, Jane Eyre
“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.
“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”
Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.
“Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”
“You have no faith in me?” “Not a whit.”
“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly.”
“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.” “Why?” “Because I want to read your countenance—turn!” “There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page.
Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed. “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”
“How can I do that? If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”
“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly. Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”
“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”
“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
“Edward—my little wife!”
RT suspects that the need for romance becomes more insistent as we grow older. Perhaps, visual impairment notwithstanding, we grow more clear-sighted as we age. Energy is everything, and what better energy can we hope for than affection? Marriage may not be the only answer; we should remember that we are always falling in love with each other. Passion pursues us right up to the grave, and perhaps beyond it. A better fate is hard to imagine.
Drawing: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte; Evert A. Duyckinck (based on a drawing by George Richmond). 1873. University of Texas; WikiCmns. Public Domain. *
It could be just a fine landscape painted in the colder months in England, but RT feels there’s something prescient or even prophetic about this untitled painting by John Constable. The image, with its loose, impressionistic style, anticipates art that would have been considered avant-garde a half-century after Constable painted it (1811), and its subject is nothing tangible, but rather the mood it creates in the viewer. We see here a movement away from the heroic and romantic concerns of the 18th and 19th centuries towards a direct encounter with nature and experience, the commonplace that is somehow not commonplace. The beauty of humanity and nature are here in balance, a poise we need to encourage in our century. RT
Painting: Study for or detail of a larger painting? John Constable, 1811. WikiCmns; Victoria and Albert Museum. Public Domain.
I simply have to share this; heartbreaking, beautiful!
That people in the first half of the 19th century were no strangers to illness and death is richly illustrated by the antecedents and birth of Queen Victoria of Britain (r. 1837-1901). Born 24 May 1819, she was originally fifth in line of succession to the throne, but in the 18 years that elapsed between birth and coronation, the people nearer the throne than her all died, her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, in 1820 of pneumonia, less than a year after her birth. By 1830, she had become heiress presumptive.
Not that England stagnated during the years prior to Victoria’s coronation: her immediate predecessor, William IV, oversaw an updating of the poor law, the restriction of child labor, and the abolition of slavery in the the British Empire. As if this were not enough, the Reform Act of 1832 was passed by Parliament during his reign. No small achievements, these.
Diminutive, obstinate, and honest, Victoria oversaw the continuing transition of the United Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy even as the British Empire reached the peak of its power. As an adult, she wrote more than 2500 words a day, an achievement any professional writer could admire, and most of her diary survives, a telling account of the Queen’s personal influence during one of the greatest periods of prosperity in human history.
There are no perfect monarchies, and certainly Victoria’s reign produced its share of difficulties, even as the intellectual ferment characterized by the works of Darwin and Marx would go on to shape battle lines in the 20th and 21st centuries. But Victoria helped provide a framework of peaceful political evolution, at least in Britain, the hope that mankind can indeed produce, in the words of Tennyson, “a Parliament of Man.”
The world is working towards a new synthesis, one that is more inclusive, just, and loving. As much as any person in modern history, Victoria has helped set the stage for what may end up being humankind’s ultimate achievement, a prosperous world at peace.
Image: The coronation of Queen Victoria (1838). Author: Edmund Thomas Parris. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
RT has been busy cleaning up the duplex he shares with his mom, translating a difficult but very beautiful Chinese poem, doing laundry, and listening to the fierce wind outside (temps are dropping precipitously–it’s not quite spring yet).
RT notes with distress the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The process of global harmonization that has been moving forward by fits and starts (RT also notes the International Criminal Court’s recent conviction of Germain Katanga on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity) since the creation of the United Nations, is surely filled with moments of dismay.
Why are we still in the game? The universe is only beginning to reveal its wonders (and unexpected happy endings) to us… RT
Photograph: Carbon dioxide ice in the late summer of Mars’s South Pole, part of the permanent polar cap. MRO/HiRISE (7-29-11). NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Cycladic pottery…someone’s tribute to the universal and the beautiful… RT
RT has to say he doesn’t have the faintest idea what this is, but wow! Some worthwhile research is in the offing, he’s willing to wager!
Photo: Scanning electron micrograph of trichome: a leaf hair of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). Author: Heiti Paves. Uploaded as part of the Estonian Science Photo Competition. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.