Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16

We have letters from two separate years to look at today. May 16, 1845 Miss Barrett is trying to defend herself from Browning's accusation that she is mistrustful of him and that is why she will not allow him to visit her. He has been gently applying pressure for months and it looks like he found the right combination of words to push her to consent:

"But how 'mistrustfulness'? And how 'that way?' What have I said or done, I, who am not apt to be mistrustful of anybody and should be a miraculous monster if I began with you! What can I have said, I say to myself again and again.

One thing, at any rate, I have done, 'that way' or this way! I have made what is vulgarly called a 'piece of work' about little; or seemed to make it. Forgive me. I am shy by nature:—and by position and experience, ... by having had my nerves shaken to excess, and by leading a life of such seclusion, ... by these things together and by others besides, I have appeared shy and ungrateful to you. Only not mistrustful. You could not mean to judge me so. Mistrustful people do not write as I write, surely! for wasn't it a Richelieu or Mazarin (or who?) who said that with five lines from anyone's hand, he could take off his head for a corollary? I think so.

Well!—but this is to prove that I am not mistrustful, and to say, that if you care to come to see me you can come; and that it is my gain (as I feel it to be) and not yours, whenever you do come. You will not talk of having come afterwards I know, because although I am 'fast bound' to see one or two persons this summer (besides yourself, whom I receive of choice and willingly) I cannot admit visitors in a general way—and putting the question of health quite aside, it would be unbecoming to lie here on the sofa and make a company-show of an infirmity, and hold a beggar's hat for sympathy. I should blame it in another woman—and the sense of it has had its weight with me sometimes."

She makes a good point about the openness of her letters. A penniless poet could certainly have made a profit by them if he had such an inclination, although there has been nothing in the letters to this point that could have ruined her socially other than her bluntly stated opinions of other writers.

"And if I write all this egotism, ... it is for shame; and because I feel ashamed of having made a fuss about what is not worth it; and because you are extravagant in caring so for a permission, which will be nothing to you afterwards. Not that I am not touched by your caring so at all! I am deeply touched now; and presently, ... I shall understand. Come then. There will be truth and simplicity for you in any case; and a friend. And do not answer this—I do not write it as a fly trap for compliments. Your spider would scorn me for it too much. Also, ... as to the how and when. You are not well now, and it cannot be good for you to do anything but be quiet and keep away that dreadful musical note in the head. I entreat you not to think of coming until that is all put to silence satisfactorily. When it is done, ... you must choose whether you would like best to come with Mr. Kenyon or to come alone—and if you would come alone, you must just tell me on what day, and I will see you on any day unless there should be an unforeseen obstacle, ... any day after two, or before six. And my sister will bring you up-stairs to me; and we will talk; or you will talk; and you will try to be indulgent, and like me as well as you can. If, on the other hand, you would rather come with Mr. Kenyon, you must wait, I imagine, till June,—because he goes away on Monday and is not likely immediately to return—no, on Saturday, to-morrow."

Ha! If she thinks Browning is going to wait until June she is living in a cloud. It is interesting that it was her being ashamed and embarrassed, embarrassed by her shyness, that made her finally give in. He calls her 'kind' a lot in his letters and she invariably denies this, but I think she was kind (kind to other people, rather hard on herself) as much as she hated the epithet.

Now, to jump ahead a year, May 16, 1846 brought Browning's response to the gossip from the long winded Miss Heaton that Browning had been engaged to another woman who had broken it off due to religious scruples but who was now married to another man:

"Then, dearest-dearest, do take Mrs. Jameson's advice-do take care of the results of this fatigue: why should you see any woman that pleases to ask to come? I am certain that some of the men you have refused to admit, would be more considerate--and Miss Heaton must be a kind of fool into the bargain with her inconsiderateness..tho' that is the folly's very self. As for her 'Yorkshire Tragedy,' I hold myself rather aggrieved by it-they used to get up better stories of Lord Byron--,and even I told you, anticipatingly, that I caused that first wife of mine to drown and hang herself..whereas, now, it turns out she did neither, but bade me do both..nay, was not my wife after all! I hope she told Miss Heaton the story in the presence of the husband who had no irreligious scruples. But enough of this pure nonsense...."

So, he took the humor path with a touch of faux high dudgeon and no denial. Well played, young Browning. In the mean time Miss Barrett seems to have forgotten the old girlfriend and writes a late night letter so that he will have something to hold him over the long Sunday. She is considering art:

"Mrs. Jameson..talked..her opinion of the present-age--'That the present age did not, could not, ought not, to express itself by Art,..though the next age would.' She is surprisingly wrong, it appears to me. There is no predominant character in the age, she says, to be so expressed!--there is no unity, to bear expression.
But art is surely, if art is anything, is the expression, not of the characteristics of the age except accidentally..essentially it is the expression of Humanity in the individual being--& unless we are men no longer, I cannot conceive how such an argument as hers can be upheld for a moment. Also it is exasperating to hear such things.
Then I do not believe, for one, that genius in the arts, is a mere reflection of the character of the times. Genius precedes surely, initiates. It is genius which gives an Age its character and imposes its own colour.....But I shall not write any more...."

This belief in the individuality of genius is a recurring theme for EBB. Later, she touches on this same idea when she argues against Socialism, seeing it as a destroyer of the individual genius who must have freedom to follow their particular path of development and must not be regimented by the needs of the state.

No comments:

Post a Comment