Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6

For something a little different today let's look at a letter from February 6, 1843. Miss Barrett is writing to Mr. Martin an erswhile neighbor from her youthful days at Hope End. All of the letters to Mr. and Mrs. Martin are extremely friendly and chatty. They all enjoyed discussing culture, art, literature, politics and general gossip. This letter is a good example. They are discussing the latest from 'Boz'--otherwise known as Dickens. His latest series, being published monthly, is Martin Chuzzelwit. This is given away by the reference to the 'organ scene'.

"Oh yes! That picture in 'Boz' is beautiful. For my own part, and by a natural womanly contradiction, I have never cared so much in my life for flowers as since being shut out from gardens—unless, indeed, in the happy days of old when I had a garden of my own, and cut it out into a great Hector of Troy, in relievo, with a high heroic box nose and shoeties of columbine. But that was long ago. Now I count the buds of my primrose with a new kind of interest, and you never saw such a primrose! I begin to believe in Ovid, and look for a metamorphosis. The leaves are turning white and springing up as high as corn. Want of air, and of sun, I suppose. I should be loth to think it—want of friendship to me!
Do you know that the royal Boz lives close to us, three doors from Mr. Kenyon in Harley Place? The new numbers appear to me admirable, and full of life and blood—whatever we may say to the thick rouging and extravagance of gesture. There is a beauty, a tenderness, too, in the organ scene, which is worthy of the gilliflowers. But my admiration for 'Boz' fell from its 'sticking place,' I confess, a good furlong, when I read Victor Hugo; and my creed is, that, not in his tenderness, which is as much his own as his humour, but in his serious powerful Jew-trial scenes, he has followed Hugo closely, and never scarcely looked away from 'Les Trois Jours d'un Condamné.'"

Miss Barrett's attitude toward Dickens reflects the World War I era song lyric, "How're we gonna keep em' down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" She read Victor Hugo, Balzac, Dumas and (shhhh...don't mention it in polite society) George Sand in the original French and they made Dickens look second rate to her. 'Les Trois Jours d'un Condamné' refers to the book written by a 17 year old Hugo on a bet. All of her correspondance, for the rest of her life, reflects her love of the 'naughty' French novels. They couldn't publish them fast enough for her.

She still was excited that Dickens lived nearby. But she was a reader and she knew her stuff and was not shy with her opinion--with her friends.

1 comment:

  1. What an impressive woman. It would have been quite an adventure to get to know her. Thankfully with the letters we can get an idea of what she was like.