WHAT CAN BE SAID ABOUT WHAT IS NOT SAID?

Secrets are obviously themed throughout the bindings of this novel. However, the concealing of information is not always meant to be so evident in narratives like Lady Audley’s Secret. Despite the apparent trigger word located in the book’s title. Could we as readers pick up on such themes if the title was subtler and more ambiguous? Is there a rhetorical intention for applying such a keyword in the title or does Mary Elizabeth Braddon lack the literary creativity to construct a New-York-Times-best-selling-have-to-pick-it-up-catchy-title? Sorry, I don’t know Braddon personally, so I do not know the answer. But we can make some assumptions or educated guesses, right?

Let’s consider the events that have occurred thus far and determine what types of assumptions we can conclude as pointing to the best definitive answer. So the question, once again, is the following:

“Why does Braddon add the word “secret” to the novel’s title?”

Hint: To answer this question, we must see if there are instants in the pages read thus far that show us scenes of some withholding or concealing of information by the characters in the novel.

My Short Answer: There are many examples of concealing information that many characters keep to themselves. I have listed out the following characters that I found “secretive” in some way or another. Take some time to consider what actions or information these characters have possibly hidden. Maybe we found the same or different ones?

  • Lucy
  • Hellen
  • Robert
  • George
  • Mrs. Vincent
  • Mr. Dawson

This girl is on fire…

This is most likely inappropriate and out of line, but I have got to ask. During the scene where Jane finds out that Bertha burned down Thornfield, did anyone else imagine the chorus of Alicia Key’s song ‘Girl On Fire’?

For those who have never heard of the song, it goes:

“This girl is on fire/

This girl is on fire/

She’s walking on fire/

This girl is on fire”

Then the next line that follows is a rhetorical device.

 “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame/

So bright, she can burn your eyes/

Better look the other way.”

Ouch. That’s called irony. Right, Rochester?

Okay, that was a hit below the belt. One more line to quote though. I promise there is something to learn from this song in terms of Bertha’s outburst.

 “Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl.”

Much like the girl on fire, Bertha is a character that Jane and the others know nothing about and the revealing of her existents is shocking and appalling. Personally, I was frustrated to learn about that secret. Just when you thing Rochester is making progress as an honest man…BOOM…he is already married to the girl from The Grudge (2004). While it’s easy for the reader to hate both Rochester and his wife, we should also consider Bertha’s position in this triangle of love. She not only spent her days plagued with insanity, but she also went through it alone. No offense Grace Poole (and her bottle of rum). This could explain why Bertha started the fire and took her life. However, Rochester was looking the other way distracted by Jane and when he looked back…that girl was on fire…as well as the rest of the Thornfield household. Rochester’s hand is lost during this fire, but it was no accident. Bronte wanted the reader to interact with another literary device: symbolism. The loss of Bertha’s life resulted in the amputation of his hand…his hand in marriage. However, he still has another one, right? It also looks like he won’t be finding any love at first sight. Besides the requirement for a love story: What is the point of Jane and Rochester finding each other again? Can we conclude another symbolic meaning Bronte is attempting to challenge with us?

 

Jane Bronte?

Recently, I have adopted a new technique or tool in my critical reading toolbox. I credit this new tool from a class discussion from a few weeks back that explored voice and tone of the writing. So I have made a habit of noting clear signals or changes in the voice or tone of the novel’s plot. I wanted to share one example that seemed very obvious to my eyes as I read it.

 “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

(Jane Eyre – Chapter 12).

Did these lines seem striking to you as well? I could not help but question the shift in tone. Jane goes from her comments on Mrs. Fairfax and Adele to her restlessness, and then we are given this paragraph. It almost seemed to be a feminist rant from Bronte herself that happened to slip into her writing and story plot. What type of commentary does this paragraph provide the reader and what were the intentions of Bronte to include this within such framing? I wonder if this section was an attempt to progress her believes when she originally published under an identity of a male writer.

Assume that this section is commentary from Bronte, what can readers conclude about her view on women in society? Does this transition into other realms like in writing? I felt that Bronte was commenting on the views that women like Jane felt during that period in regards to the bildungsroman. These types of women struggled to develop their knowledge of the world while retaining their roles in society. Something to consider: How can we see this tension progress throughout the novel?

Everything but prudent…

In the first chapter of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen gives the reader some insight into the main storyline characters. One of these is Marianne, the middle child of Mrs. Dashwood. Marianne is described as being “sensible and clever” but is characterized as being “everything but prudent.” Is this a contradiction or an exception? Can someone be sensible but not prudent?

In the context of a person, sensible, according to the Dictionary application on my laptop, is defined as “possessing or displaying prudence.” It does not get more clear and direct as that definition. However, could Marianne’s character be an exception to this definition? Could she have displayed prudence without actually being prudent?

She seems to display some thoughtful rational into the future of her sister Elinor when she tells her mother, “Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broke MY heart, had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility.” (Austen Chapter 2) While this quote seems to depict Marianne thinking in regards of her sister’s future romance, she still does not think into a realistic future for her own romance. When she begins to spend time with Mr. Willoughby, she disregards the future and seems to let her emotions act in the present moment.

This lack of prudence cannot justify her as being a textbook definition of sensible. Perhaps, she is a different type of sensible person that can be sensible outwardly, but lacks the ability to control her own prudence. My Dictionary application states that when the word sensible is used with a preposition such as ‘of’ or ‘to’, then this predicate changes the definition to “able to notice or appreciate; not unaware of”; which changes the meaning of this characterization of Marianne. Now she is being sensible “to” or “of” something or someone, or, in other words, she is able to notice or appreciate something or someone. In this sense, who or what could this relate to in the story? Well, first off, everyone would agree that she does not give Col. Brandon the time of day. However, how can we interpret the ending of the story when Marianne ends up marrying Col. Brandon? Does this symbolize her transition into a prudent mindset as well as shift towards a “sense” characterization like her sister Elinor?

 

Does power exist? (Radcliffe)

In “A Sicilian Romance”, Ann Radcliffe starts this novel off with a sad and gloomy beginning. After the reader learns about the loss of the family’s first mother at an early age, we are set up to feel sad for the children. We are also expected to be resistant towards accepting their father’s new wife that he marries shortly after losing his first wife. His new wife, Maria de Vellorno, seems to be the complete opposite of her predecessor and does not even fill the role of a motherly figure to the two young girls. They hire a lady that is similar to their first mother to fill this void and to educate them on caring for a lady.

Before we lash out at Maria for the many reasons that are set up for us to hate her, we should take some time to explore something “good” she is doing. You may be asking yourself, “What good act can she possibly be doing?” Let’s think back to two novels that presented similar topics: Pamela and Evelina. What topic am I referring to that relates these novels? The answer is simple: gender roles. Or more specifically, the struggle for power among male and female characters. In Pamela and Evelina, we witnessed the male dominance over the lives of both female protagonists. While this novel still follows that trend of male dominance, Maria breaks away from this tendency and uses male dominance in favor of her own influence. Her husband is described as an intense and passionate man, and I like to think of him, through these descriptions, as a hothead. Maria is able to push his buttons and get him started, so she can make him interested into the agendas she secretly plants into his head. It sounds like she is pulling some Inception techniques to gain some power and leverage for herself, without making it obvious to her husband so he continues to think he is on top. Touché, Maria…touché.

The final blow comes in the line that reads, “he thought himself most independent when he was most enslaved” (Radcliffe Chapter 1) He had no clue what was going on behind his back. Or at least in this part of the novel. Let us give an around of applause for the first women in the novel thus far to break the spells of fainting and hiding from the situations that do not please her and create the situations she desires.

‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for Women

“Remember, my dear Evelina, nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman; it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things.” Mr. Villars, 166

This quote frames an interesting perspective about what Evelina’s role is in society as well as the role of young girls around her age. Mr. Villars takes this letter to inform Evelina of the standards that she would be held to while she lived in London. They were expected to be pure and virtuous for the good of attracting a man. In fact, it seems that Evelina’s innocence is what attracts men to her. She must retain this virtue though, because if she were to lose it then she would have no hope of finding a good man for marriage. However, men are not placed in a similar constricting structure. This sounds oddly familiar. Oh that’s right, this is the same theme that we saw in reading Pamela. Expect, here in Evelina, men could still have a bad reputation and it would not even faze them for a second. They act as they wish and do as they please. This is the realism and emphasis on the natural that Evelina’s theme seeks to demonstrate. Surprisingly, this approach gives the story some creditability because modern culture sees this all the time.

George Clooney is one of Hollywood’s biggest bad boys. Many would say he is out of control and cannot be tamed. He is like a dog, and the world is his fire hydrant (you can imagine the rest of that analogy). Would you consider him to be bad? Sure, he is a heart breaker and seems to not be fazed by female emotion (Like Lord Merton). Yet, no one is going to stop going to see his newest movies or endorse his latest charity causes. Society seems to just turn their backs and accept his actions. But the second Kristen Stewart is caught playing tonsil hockey with another man, the whole vampire world comes to a screeching halt and suddenly she is on everyone’s hate list. Where are women held to such a high standard while men are given a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card? Sometimes, men are even praised for these acts.

It’s about time that women are given their own ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card! Women should not be judged on the basis of a separate set of rules compared to men. Since men are not willing to give up these freebie cards, then it is only fair to share these cards with the female population. Don’t mistake my comments. For I am not encouraging the misconduct or abuse of this situation, but rather, I am encouraging that society (men) give some grace whenever a time does come that a women conducts herself in an obscene way. Before we judge the other sex, we should place our own sex into the equation and see how the results would look then. If they were different, then I would act the way that you would if it were your own gender. This is not a perfect way of creating equality, however, it is a fair start.

PAMELA vs. CULTURE

Was Richardson’s Pamela a charge against Culture? And by ‘Culture’ I mean the definition used in “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write” by Joanna Russ. Russ’s definition plainly states that “Culture is male” and her meaning implies that literature is patriarchal. So first we must ask: what role does Pamela serve? Then we can conclude by finding the answer.

In “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write”, Russ argues that female protagonists are limited to a small amount of genres that they can have a real presence. She demonstrates this by listing out various plot summary lines that seem strange because the female protagonist is acting in various unconventional ways. She then states that if you substitute the female protagonist with a male character, then the plot seems less strange or more conventional. Essentially, this strange and unconventional reaction is the indicator for discovering roles and genres where the female protagonist does not belong.

While reading Pamela, I noticed a similar strange and unconventional reaction that I felt towards that story’s plot. Even as a male, I felt uncomfortable with Mr. B’s advances, and I became frustrated with Pamela’s naive and reckless decisions to forgive and forget. In reality, I noticed the complete opposite of these two plot angles. Popular culture dictates that men are usually the reckless and self-absorbed figures and women are typically the persistent and flirty figures. Watch any episode of Jersey Shore on MTV to see this theory in action.

Based on indicator set by Russ, Pamela does not fit in the female protagonist role in the novel. The protagonist role would be better be served by a male along with the gender changing of the entire cast. PamelO would be a servant BOY being seduced by his late Master’s daughter Mrs. B. If the role of Pamela (or PamelO) is a male role or at least the role that belongs to a male protagonist then Richardson is writing with ‘Culture’ and not opposed. If by chance this logic is sound and valid, then perhaps Pamela is just another celebration of the patriarchal Culture that Russ highlights for us. And if that is true, then the methods of reading and techniques for understanding it’s meaning need to be reevaluated.

TOP FIVE LESSONS PAMELA CAN LEARN FROM MILEY CYRUS

As crazy as it sounds, Pamela can learn a thing or two (or five) from Miley Cyrus. Let’s put on our thinking caps and imagine the world where we could sit these two women down and give them both some much needed counseling. I would imagine the counseling session would start off by the group looking at Pamela’s issues first (Since she loves to be the center of conversation). The counselor would ask Miley to provide some “positive” feedback that Pamela could work on. The following would be her top five lessons for Pamela to learn from Miley.

5. Remember where you’re from.  

“I come from this really small town near Nashville, Tennessee, where everything was la-di-da and normal.” -Miley Cyrus

After Mrs.Jervis’ trick on Mr.B backfires, Pamela reveals that she has been struggling with her identity since she has worked there at the estate. She says, “I have been in disguise, indeed, ever since my good lady your mother took me from my poor parents.” This disguise she has come to recognize was blinding her from seeing the happiness and freedom that her poor parents have and she lacks.

4. Speak your mind.   

“It’s my mouth I can say what I want to.” – From “We Can’t Stop”, by Miley Cyrus  

Throughout the plot, Pamela struggles with a tension between her desire to be outspoken and her social obligation to keep her opinions to herself. We find this in Letter 27 to her parents, Pamela says, “what a world we live in…that the men are resisted, than that the women comply. This, I suppose, makes me such a sauce-box and bold-face.”  If Pamela wants to stay virtuous, then she must be vocal with her intentions so the men around her know her expectations of them while around her.

3. Listen to your parents!

“I know that if I like a guy, he better be nice, and above all, my dad has to approve of him!” -Miley Cyrus

SPOILER ALERT: I hear wedding bells in the future…**Cough, Cough** However, I think maybe Pamela should take a moment to consult the advice of her parents. In Letter 8, Pamela’s father advised her begging, “I cannot but renew my cautions on your master’s kindness…Arm yourself, my dear child, for the worst.” If your father is having some doubt about this guy already when he is first hearing about him, then that is not a good sign. Dump him.

2. Go home if it’s not twerkin’ out.

If you missed Miley’s performance at the VMAs, then I can assure you that you didn’t miss much. However, without going into detail, Miley did provide the VMA spectators a prime example of something that was not twerkin’ out. Pamela stays after Mr.B seduces her in the Summer House, shame on him. Pamela stays after Mr.B is hiding in her closet, shame on her! Why are you staying to work on some shirt, quilt, or whatever? You need to get out of that house as soon as possible to keep your “virtue” in tac!

 

1. God will be the ultimate judge, so don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.   

“Remember only God can judge ya, Forget the haters ’cause somebody loves ya” From “We Can’t Stop”, By Miley Cyrus

Pamela, the last piece of advice is something that you should follow if you want to be virtuous. You cannot base your ideal of good moral standards upon what the society believes to be virtuous. You should rather follow the teachings set by God and worry about what he thinks of you and not the people you work with or see in the city.

 

[The following blog post and ideas are not endorsed by Baylor University]