Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16

July 16, 1846 we come in on a conversation about Papa Barrett following this exchange, reported by Miss Barrett:

"My aunt (Mrs Hedley) said....—'You are to understand this to be a great honour—for she never lets anybody come here except Mr Kenyon, .. & a few other gentlemen' … (laughing). Said Papa—'Only one other gentleman, indeed. Only Mr Browning, the poet … the man of the pomegranates.' ”

"At dinner my aunt said to Papa .. 'I have not seen Ba all day—and when I went to her room, to my astonishment a gentleman was sitting there'. 'Who was that' said Papa’s eyes to Arabel– 'Mr Browning called here today,' she answered– 'And Ba bowed her head', continued my aunt, 'as if she meant to signify to me that I was not to come in'—— 'Oh,' cried Henrietta, 'that must have been a mistake of yours. Perhaps she meant just the contrary'. 'You should have gone in', Papa said, '& seen the poet.' Now if she really were to do that the next time!—— Yet I did not, you know, make the expelling gesture she thought she saw. Simply I was startled."

Oh dear. Are they to be permitted no privacy? But what is Browning to make of all this?

"I think your Father’s words on those two occasions, very kind,—very! They confuse,—perhaps humble me .. that is not the expression, but it may stay. I dare say he is infinitely kind at bottom. I think so, that is, on my own account,—because, come what will or may, I shall never see otherwise than with your sight. If he could know me, I think he would soon reconcile himself to all of it,—know my heart’s purposes toward you: but that is impossible—and with the sincere will to please him by any exertion or sacrifice in my power, I shall very likely never have the opportunity of picking up a glove he might drop. In old novels, the implacable father is not seldom set upon by a round dozen of ruffians with blacked faces from behind a hedge,—and just as the odds prove too many, suddenly a stranger (to all save the reader) leaps over an adjacent ditch, &c 'Sir, under Providence, I owe you my life!' &c....Absurdity! Yet I would fain .. fain! You understand."

Poor Browning does not seem to have a clue about Mr. Barrett's chief motivation. Barrett does not care that Browning 'the poet' visits his daughter. He probably would 'like' or at least remain benignly neutral regarding Browning the harmless poet, despite his penniless poet state. What Browning fails to register is that Barrett does not have any notion that Browning has any interest in his daughter beyond poetry. If he did know about what was really going on in his daughter's bedroom Browning would be out the door and the bolt thrown. No amount of saving Barrett from masked villains was going to make Browning acceptable as a husband for Miss Barrett. This letter demonstrates the naive side of Browning, the side stuck in the Medieval fairy tale, full of chivalry and knights and their ladies fair.

Miss Barrett tries to explain:

"Dearest, if you feel that, must I not feel it more deeply? Twice or three times lately he has said to me 'my love', and even 'my puss', his old words before he was angry last year, .. & I quite quailed before them as if they were so many knife-strokes. Anything, but his kindness, I can bear now.
Yet I am glad that you feel that .. The difficulty (almost the despair!) has been with me, to make you understand the two ends of truth .. both that he is not stone .. & that he is immoveable as stone. Perhaps only a very peculiar nature could have held so long the position he holds in his family—. His hand would not lie so heavily, without a pulse in it—. Then he is upright—faithful to his conscience. You would respect him, .. & love him perhaps in the end. For me, he might have been king & father over me to the end, if he had thought it worth while to love me openly enough—yet, even so, he should not have let you come too near. And you could not (so) have come too near—for he would have had my confidence from the beginning, & no opportunity would have been permitted to you of proving your affection for me, & I should have thought always what I thought at first– So the nightshade & the eglantine are twisted, twined, one in the other, .. & the little pink roses lean up against the pale poison of the berries .. we cannot tear this from that, let us think of it ever so much!
We must be humble & beseeching afterwards at least, & try to get forgiven—— Poor Papa! I have turned it over & over in my mind, whether it would be less offensive, less shocking to him, if an application were made first——. If I were strong, I think I should incline to it at all risks—but as it is, .. it might .. would, probably, .. take away the power of action from me altogether. We should be separated you see, from that moment, .. hindered from writing .. hindered from meeting .. & I could evade nothing, as I am—not to say that I should have fainting fits at every lifting of his voice—through that inconvenient nervous temperament of mine which has so often made me ashamed of myself. Then .. the positive disobedience might be a greater offence than the unauthorized act—— I shut my eyes in terror sometimes—— May God direct us to the best–
Oh—do not write about this, dearest, dearest!– I throw myself out of it into the pure, sweet, deep thought of you .. which is the love of you always. I am yours .. your own– I never doubt of being yours. I feel too much yours. It is might & right together. You are more to me, beside, than the whole world——
Write nothing of this, dearest of all!—it is of no use. Today .. this morning .. I went out in the carriage, & we drove round the Park,—and Mrs Jameson did not come afterward—— Will she put it off till saturday? I have heard nothing against saturday, by the way, worse than that conjecture of mine.
And I have written you, perhaps a teazing, painful letter .. I, who love you today .. ‘as much as ever'. It is my destiny, I sometimes think, to torment you. And let me say what I will, remember how nothing that I say can mean a doubt—you never shall have reason to reproach me for the falseness of cowardice—that double falseness .. both to me & to you. Only I wish this were Christmas day, & we … even at Salerno .. in the “bad air”! There’s no harm in such a wish—now is there?"

It certainly looks like she has made her decision to go with Browning. At this point she just wants the wrench over with. Her father lost her confidence when he would not give his blessing to her trip to Italy and could offer no reason other than it was against his will. The act of a tyrant rather than a loving father. And yet how painful for her. Her father was a man so feared that she felt the need to protect her siblings, her servants, her friends and her lover from his wrath over her disobedience.

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