Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sistahs Bronte!

Romantic Elements & Didactic Realism
I got a thin paperback in the mail today. I'd never read Elizabeth Hardwick. I didn't think I'd ever heard of her and then L Hat reminded me she was one of the founders of The New York Review of Books. That doesn't mean she's all bad. Of course I crudely joke. Even if I had of remembered who Liz Hardwick was I would have forgotten totally about her until a former member of my family told me she was handling the sale of Liz's fabby CPW (that's "Central Park West" in New York City lingua acronym) apartment, where she'd spent many "questionable" years as the wife of old Bob Lowell, the Boston Brahman poet whose family kept jamming down around his already nutty mind--and he and Liz Hardwick, or so I hear, honey, had a very quarrelsome and "sexless" (did I say that?) life together--so anyway, besides the point, but anyway just the same, that's how I came to be curious enough about Elizabeth Hardwick (she lived to be 91 years old in spite of Robert Lowell) to the point that I decided I wanted to peruse some of her writing. So I ordered this thin paperback on the Internet, Seduction & Betrayal, and like I do with any book I get in the mail, I immediately started reading it to see if it would hold any attention whatsoever from me and soon I found I was intrigued more with Miss Hardwick's ("Please, Robert, she doesn't want to be known as Mrs. Lowell") first subject than I was with her writing--she has a loose journalistic style--flavored with enough intellectual posturing to give a nice crust to an otherwise normal good ole Amurican apple pie. Her first essay in this book subtitled Women and Literature being about the Bronte sisters, Anne, Emily, and Charlotte and right off the bat Liz had me crazy for a chance to ponder these strange girls up close! Imagine, three sisters brought up under the rule and eye of a sotted father, a failed writer, who had to survive on a parson's salary while having to raise several children, only 3 girls, the Bronte sisters, and 1 boy, surviving, the boy the worthless son, Branwell, who was notorious enough around Haworth, where they all lived, that Matthew Arnold included a few lines about him in his poem "Haworth Churchyard," a poem they say Arnold wrote in the year of Charlotte's death:

O boy, if here thou sleep'st, sleep well:
On thee too did the Muse
Bright in thy cradle smile;
But some dark shadow came
(I know not what) and interposed.

Old Man Bronte gave up and drank like a fish; however, he lived to the ripe old age of 81--outlived all his kids. The son killed himself with drink and opium, especially after being rebuked in love by another man's wife. The bad poet in him, and Liz Hardwick says he was a total artistic failure as a painter and a poet, is what killed him--an overromantic view of women and their true affections (or affectations). Charlotte Bronte had a very similar kind of romantic involvement in Belgium, where she went with Emily to study French (so they could become teachers back in Yorkshire) with M. Heger and his wife. Charlotte wrote tons of love letters to M. Heger though M. Heger never replied to any of them, tore them to shreds and threw them in the wastebasket, and then totally rejected the young hot Charlotte when she expressed her love for him face-to-face--Emily left Belgium after a year, but Charlotte went back and stayed another year at the Hegers as an English teacher.

Maria Bronte, the mother, died when the girls were in their juvenile years; Maria and Elizabeth, two other Bronte sisters, died of tuberculosis after being sent to the rather deadly campus--bad food, bad sanitation, bad living conditions, no heat in the rooms, and uncleanliness galore--of something called Clergy Daughters's School.

Life was rough around the Bronte's Haworth parsonage for the girls, having a drunken worthless father as their sole support and a drunken, dopehead brother that Emily became strangely protective of and attached to taking care of him until he died in a stupor one night--and Emily then herself gave up to death and died a few weeks after the brother.

The girls being of three different emotions had one thing in common: all three of them had an unceasing urge to write, first to write poems, then to write novels, and by golly all three girls wrote novels and got them published against all odds in those days. Anne wrote Agnes Grey; Charlotte wrote Jane Ayre; and the withdrawn and not so pretty Emily wrote what Elizabeth Hardwick calls one of the great novels of all time, Wuthering Heights, but which the critics of the day panned as a "disagreeable story" and as being too "dismal and gloomy."

I'm sad to say I've never read any of the Bronte gals's books--I've seen Wuthering Heights as a movie and do remember it as haunting, but now, thanks to Elizabeth Hardwick, I quickly have to know more about these English sisters--especially Charlotte who seems to have been the only one who had sex with a man (she got pregnant right before she died of tuberculosis at 39)--she married one of her father's curates.
The girls--Emily, Charlotte, & Anne (I'm guessing)

Paul Bowles Again
I just finished one of the best damn little novels I've ever read, Paul Bowles's short but sourly sweet tale of hidden shadows and ulterior motives and torture, Up Above the World. Ah how gay and free Dr. and Mrs. Slade are as they head off on a second honeymoon by taking a cruise to a fictional Mexicanish country--but soon fate will introduce them to a bothersome biddy of a ballsy bitch, Mrs. Rainmantle, and thus their totally awesome little story begins! And Paul Bowles? Well he's the master of the short story done his way. He reminds me terribly of Somerset Maugham who like Bowles writes books that are simply so well written and told you can't put them down until you finish them. Bowles is writing one of the splendid little mysteries of all time--I exaggerate perhaps, but that's what reading Bowles makes you do.
Paul Bowles in his beloved Tangier.

Enough bookishness.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

I'm rereading some of your Bronte sisters posts as I'm getting deeper into Jane Eyre. She's 18 now, and a governess at Thornfield where she will meet Mr. Rochester and play out a version of Charlotte's romance in Belgium, fiction being largely autobiographical, and sometimes truer than memoir. I see that the Helen Burns character must be modeled on her sisters who died of consumption in a Lowood-like institution. I guess I'm going to have to read the biography that is part of this 4-volume Bronte sisters set that I own. See what you started? Well hell, I'm enjoying it.