Friday, February 3, 2012

February 3

Miss Barrett wrote her third letter to Mr. Browning on February 3, 1845. She is still formal but very friendly, showing her eagerness to continue their correspondence in the face of his complaints about writing letters. She lived by letters, refusing to receive her correspondents as visitors but insisting on more letters. A sort of enforced impersonalization that is perhaps even more common today with the anonymous chat rooms of the internet. She could present the best of herself in a letter without having to worry about what Browning, or anyone else, thought about what she looked like. Miss Barrett was very self conscious about her looks. In the letter she wrote to her brother George when she eloped in September 1846 she explained that she thought that Browning would give her up eventually after studying her “ghastly face” long enough. This was not simple modesty, this was a truth stated in a very serious letter. But, obviously Browning saw beyond her “ghastly” appearance. He saw more in her than she saw in herself. This was his gift to her.

But here is the Miss Barrett at the beginning of their lives together presenting herself as she wants the world, and especially Browning, to see:

"For my part, I wonder sometimes—I surprise myself wondering—how without such an object and purpose of life, people find it worth while to live at all. And, for happiness—why, my only idea of happiness, as far as my personal enjoyment is concerned, (but I have been straightened in some respects and in comparison with the majority of livers!) lies deep in poetry and its associations. And then, the escape from pangs of heart and bodily weakness—when you throw off yourself—what you feel to be yourself—into another atmosphere and into other relations where your life may spread its wings out new, and gather on every separate plume a brightness from the sun of the sun!"

Today’s letter is full of wonderful images and pleadings built to capture the imagination of the hero Browning:

“As for me, I have done most of my talking by post of late years—as people shut up in dungeons take up with scrawling mottoes on the walls.”

“And if you will only promise to treat me en bon camarade, without reference to the conventionalities of 'ladies and gentlemen,' taking no thought for your sentences (nor for mine), nor for your blots (nor for mine), nor for your blunt speaking (nor for mine), nor for your badd speling (nor for mine), and if you agree to send me a blotted thought whenever you are in the mind for it, and with as little ceremony and less legibility than you would think it necessary to employ towards your printer—why, then, I am ready to sign and seal the contract, and to rejoice in being 'articled' as your correspondent. Only don't let us have any constraint, any ceremony! Don't be civil to me when you feel rude,—nor loquacious when you incline to silence,—nor yielding in the manners when you are perverse in the mind.”

“You will find me an honest man on the whole, if rather hasty and prejudging, which is a different thing from prejudice at the worst. And we have great sympathies in common, and I am inclined to look up to you in many things, and to learn as much of everything as you will teach me. On the other hand you must prepare yourself to forbear and to forgive—will you? While I throw off the ceremony, I hold the faster to the kindness.”

Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to correspond with such a charming lady?

She works on his ego with gusto:

“…your greatest works are to come. Need I assure you that I shall always hear with the deepest interest every word you will say to me of what you are doing or about to do?”

“Then you spoke of your 'gentle audience' (you began), and I, who know that you have not one but many enthusiastic admirers—the 'fit and few' in the intense meaning—yet not the diffused fame which will come to you presently, wrote on, down the margin of the subject, till I parted from it altogether.”

“Yet I believe that, whatever you may have done, you will do what is greater. It is my faith for you.”

As ever, she throws in her self-deprecating humor to end the letter:

“But this is too much indeed, past all bearing, I suspect. Well, but if I ever write to you again—I mean, if you wish it—it may be in the other extreme of shortness. So do not take me for a born heroine of Richardson, or think that I sin always to this length, else,—you might indeed repent your quotation from Juliet—which I guessed at once—and of course—

I have no joy in this contract to-day!
It is too unadvised, too rash and sudden.”

1 comment:

  1. Not sure of herself in the eyes of others. I understand that. It comes over me sometimes still. I just can't articulate it like Ba.