(The male equivalent of) Damsel in Distress

“I am not a romantic man, Bob… I never read a line of poetry in my life that was any more to me than so many words and so much jingle; but a feeling has come over me since my wife’s death, that I am like a man standing upon a long low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the rising tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet. It seems to grow nearer and nearer every day, the black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing, gliding towards me, ready to close in above my head when I am least prepared for the end.”

 

George says he “is not a romantic man” and has “never read a line of poetry in [his] life that was any more to [him] than so many words”. In other words, George acknowledges himself as never having experienced emotion on such as deep level as he does now over the loss of his wife.

He proceeds to explain the feeling, “I am like a man standing upon a long low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet.” Perhaps the cliffs frowning down upon him from behind symbolize the moments he neglected to have and take advantage of when his life was behind. Opportunities that now taunt him. Or perhaps they symbolize people in his life, such as his father and law, who he imagines places blame on George for leaving. Whichever the literal symbolization, this analogy shows George’s sense of guilt, a huge contributing factor to the intense gloom he is currently overtaken with.

He then elaborates on the “tide” analogy, saying, “It seems to grow nearer and nearer every day, that black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing, gliding towards me, ready to close in above my head when I am least prepared for the end.” This part of his explanation indicates another huge contributing factor to George’s depressive state: fear. Whether George fears the intensity of the emotional distress that slowly continues to consume him or the recollections of all that he has lost or missed with his wife as a result of his past action that he continues to gain is questionable. I’d assume it’s a mixture of both: truly a recipe for mental darkness and a state of emotional desperation.

A Whole New World: Mr. Rochester’s Enlightenment

During his desperate attempts to keep Jane in Thornfield, Mr. Rochester urges Jane to understand the situation with his wife, Bertha. He explains to Jane,

“I was dazzled, stimulated: my senses were excited; and being ignorant, raw, and inexperienced, I thought I loved her. There is no folly so besotted that the idiotic rivalries of society, the prurience, the rashness, the blindness of youth, will not hurry a man to its commission… I never loved, I never esteemed, I did not even know her. I was not sure of the existence of one virtue in hr nature: I had marked neither modesty, nor benevolence, nor candor, nor refinement in her mind or manners- and I married her!”

Now having learned about his relationship with Bertha, several questions regarding his and Jane’s relationship were raised.

Does Mr. Rochester’s explanation of he and his wife’s marriage help explain his seeming discomfort with his feelings for Jane? He struggles with how to communicate his affections towards Jane throughout the majority of the novel. However, perhaps this is due to the fact that he never felt such affections on such a psychological level with anyone before and is therefore unfamiliar with how to communicate or even identify them.

When Mr. Rochester says he was being “ignorant, raw, and inexperienced”, it seems to me that he is insinuating that perhaps now he is not those things anymore. Is it because of Jane? Is it because he has finally identified his affections for her? We know of no one that he connected with like he does with Jane after Bertha and before he met Jane. Therefore, the only way he could have come to the conclusions he has was from reflecting on his relationship with Jane. If this be the case then Jane has played a substantial role in not only Mr. Rochester’s character development in the novel but in his maturing as well….but that is an entire other blog post in itself. Until then, food for thought.

If only the circumstances were different…

It seems evident that Austen intends for Elinor to be the novel’s heroine. She’s rational, sensible. Unlike her romantic sap of a sister who is dazzled by appearance, pizzaz, and “eye fire”, Elinor’s analyses run deeper. She detects Willoughby’s impulsivity and lack of prudence, whereas her sister Marianne is simply bedazzled by his charm, whit, and handsome looks. However, should Elinor’s sense take her as far as to deem her the heroine over Marianne?

Elinor exemplifies more sense then Marianne. Marianne exemplifies more sensibility than Elinor. Who is to say which characteristic should deem who the heroine is? Is more sense more admirable than more sensibility? In comparing Elinor and Marianne, it seems so, but perhaps a balance is the most admirable. If so, would not both sisters depict the qualities of a heroine just on different ends of the spectrum?

Elinor clearly makes better decisions and is associated with rationality, insight, judgement, and moderation. She is always assertive to propriety and economic practicalities. This is surely why she is Austen’s heroine. Marianne on the other hand makes impulsive judgments. In comparison to Elinor, she seems to make the wrong decisions. However Marianne’s imagination, idealism, assertiveness to beauty and optimism are not necessarily character flaws although in her particular circumstances they lead her astray. If circumstances were different, however, who’s to say Marianne’s sensibility wouldn’t produce a better outcome.

Intuition is power

Maria’s cunningness and surprisingly effective use of her female intuition really grasped my attention while reading this novel. Unlike many of the female characters in the material we’ve read thus far, Maria is not victimized, nor does she seem handicapped by emotion. Although she clearly does not lack intuition, she seems to lack sensibility. Whether this is a good thing or not was a question raised in a previous discussion. In my opinion, I believe it is not and that Maria’s lack of sensibility and the way in which she uses her intuition to manipulate is ethically detrimental.

In an article recently discussed, The Proper Lady, Dr. Johnson is quoted saying, “Nature has given women so much power that the law has wisely given them little.” It was this quote that popped up in my head when considering Maria. I interpret women’s “natural gift” as being their intuition. A sense, or power, in females that with a moral motive can be used to produce or further good (sensibility), but with evil or selfish motive can be used to manipulate or corrupt. Julia’s intuition is motivated by good and thus reflects a virtuous power, or sensibility, where as, on the other hand, Maria’s intuition is motivated by selfish desire and thus produces a manipulative power- one that may effectively get her what she desires but is detrimental ethically. The sad fact however is that regardless of its lack of virtue- it’s power, something that is hard for a female to achieve during the time period. With that said, are there praises in order for Maria or shall we discredit her cunning efforts due to their moral degradation?

“With great power (intuition) comes great responsibility (moral judgment/sensibility)” – Uncle Ben, Spider Man

I’d Rather Befriend Evelina

There is no denying the similarities between Evelina and Pamela. Both are thrust into scenarios that are unfamiliar, forced to adapt and maneuver their way around the norm of a different society. However, the differences between the two, and reasoning for why I’d prefer a friendship with Evelina, are evident when comparing their characters.

Like Pamela, Evelina is virtuous, sweet, and innocent with a side of naivety and ignorance. Yet unlike Pamela who seems to still move gracefully through each plight she encounters, Evelina appears as the “fish out of water”, throwing herself in front of the plight (pun intended) while simultaneously creating a hefty dose of awkwardness for the reader to enjoy…and in my case, relate to.

Pamela may maintain her elegant composure a bit more effectively at times when Evelina does not, however it is Evelina’s blunders that make her so much more relatable and realistic- a characteristic I believe is vital in the heroine. With that being said, when I fall down the stairs (or up the stairs) with a searing hot coffee, it is not the ever so dainty Pamela I would prefer to be walking behind me, but Evelina- the one who I’m sure would sprawl out behind me to break my fall.