Tag Archives: Bronte

1939 – TROUBLE AT MILL

6 Aug

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WYLER’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS

The assertion that a film fails to represent a book or doesn’t do it justice is not a new one and is common, especially when a production purports to accurately portray literary provenance. The process of embellishment or the reimagining of character or plot from canonized literature often leads to a faux representation that viewers accept as a true rendering of the author’s work, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Invariably a director will apply his own interpretation to that which doesn’t require gilding. Although we’ve come to regard film as art we must not delude ourselves that they – just as novels – are written for a market in the hope of profit and not just for aesthetic purposes. Although this may sound cynical let us consider how often we’re regaled with box office receipt figures rather than accounts of artistic merit and directorial accomplishment. Such is the case with the 1939 production of “Wuthering Heights” which although can be forgiven for its technical failings due to its contemporaneous – although surprisingly award winning – cinematic ability, we cannot so easily dismiss the license that was taken by Wyler with Bronte’s novel. The film although claiming to a be “a faithful adaptation” by the New York Times reviewer Frank Nugent is nothing more than a romantic period-piece designed to elicit the most bums-on-seats in order to garner the greatest profit for Sam Goldwyn. Anybody who has read the novel will recognize instantly the flaws in the film and will undoubtedly register a deep dissatisfaction after viewing it.

“Wuthering Heights” although it contains a love story is anything but and instead is a novel of agonizing desperation, revenge and societal machination; the microcosm of a small community who represent the hegemonic traits of larger class culture. Its principal characters are of course flawed and rather than accepting that which will bring them eternal happiness are instead bent on self-aggrandizement and the destruction of those perceived to have done them wrong. The rub of course and the denouement, is the realization that which they have lost was not the fault of others but theirs alone. The character of Heathcliff as we read him in the novel and the visualization of the character in the film are worlds apart and although sharing certain traits are conspicuously different; that which we discover through the mind’s eye thanks to Bronte’s writing is manifestly absent in the visual rendering.

Heathcliff is played by Lawrence Olivier who unfortunately lacks the grit and grime one would associate with such a robust character. In recent years in other productions of the story the character has been played by men more fitting to the role; one thinks of Tom Hardy’s 2009 portrayal which was far more realistic in terms of Bronte’s descriptions. In clipped English tones “Larry” – contrary to the uneducated stable boy Bronte describes – becomes that which he accuses Linton of being; a “whimpering milk sop.” In the film it’s the “pasty faced” Linton (David Niven) who initially seems to portray a man of substance and not Heathcliff and of – continuing in the tradition of class hegemony; at least in the beginning of the film – possessing inner strength.

Bronte paints Heathcliff as an enduring soul, one who despite his once elevated position under the care of old Mr. Earnshaw submits to the despotic behavior of Hindley. He isn’t the self-reflecting, submissive stable hand that Wyler portrays, but a survivor who chooses his own destiny and eventually succeeds in his plan to destroy all who’ve treated him ill. The scene where Heathcliff slaps Cathy is plagiarized from the one in the novel where he attacks Linton when he first meets him as a boy. Successively we’re reminded in the novel how weak Linton is and yet the director chooses to reverse character stereotypes. Perhaps this was done in order to garner sympathy for the leading man who – despite which ever camera angle is chosen – has the cleanest, most carefully manicured hands of any stable hand! 

For obvious run reasons the director chooses not to show the adolescence of the characters but instead portrays them as young adults. The first meetings between Linton, Heathcliff and Cathy occur originally when they’re children. The illusions of grandeur that Cathy decides to adopt are slowly ingrained into her over the years through the obvious wealth and kindness of the residents of Thrushcross and therefore the fabrication of the ball earlier in the film is merely an expedient.  Perhaps a similar simulation of time passing as utilized in “Citizen Cain” would have been more expedient, as the viewer is left struggling to construct a realistic time frame between one incident and another. Here the characters lose significant depth as it’s the experiences they have as children that cement the animosity – particularly in Heathcliff – of their adult years.

The continuous portrayal of Heathcliff and Cathy at Penniston Crag are also beyond the scope of the novel as are their surreal declarations of love. In the novel the relationship is understated to the point where Cathy first expresses her love of Heathcliff to Nelly and not the boy. Again this lends a simpering edge to Heathcliff that is incomparable and completely out of character. Further, Heathcliff’s confession that he tried to escape to America, but instead jumped overboard, is a complete fabrication and deliberately puts the power of the relationship – in the tradition of fin ‘amors – in the hands of Cathy. When Heathcliff leaves the house he disappears into the night to mysteriously return a changed man. There are no thoughts of Cathy in his head only those of revenge. The director turns Heathcliff into an indecisive, when in the novel he proves to be a man of action and self-determination.

“Wuthering Heights” to my mind and also comparable to the writing of its author, is a mean, austere bastioned, stone building that was built to endure the inclement weather of the moors. Instead it’s revealed by the director to be a clean, well lit, orderly home. In my own imagination I envision the rooms as cramped, the house to be in disorder and in general disarray. There’s no impression of a Yorkshire farm house and instead one is cheated of imaginary creation with what is obviously a film set. Contemporary sets, thanks to the shrinkage of technology and the ability to utilize existing locations, offer a more realistic experience to the viewer. Bronte does a fantastic job of visualization in her descriptions and to have read the book and to have visited her location – if only in the mind – was far more satisfying than the faux décor of a Hollywood stage.

Everything in the movie is extraordinarily clean, from the hands of the stable boy to the farm yards themselves. Even the skies above the moor are of a perfect hue offering a surreal experience to the viewer. Rather than the claustrophobia of inclement weather, the sun ridden grasslands of northern England seem boundless juxtaposing the lives of its inhabitants – particularly within the four walls of “Wuthering Heights”- which are rather more limited. Although a willing suspension of belief is necessary to enjoy most films, the advent of realism with the popularity of color film has allowed a director to more accurately portray his own artistic vision. The choice to shoot the movie in black and white was not necessarily a good one as the portrayal of the countryside in color would have added to the depth of the movie. Instead the falling action is over shadowed; creating a shallow and lifeless environment populated by wooden figures. What was also noticeable was the attire of the actors who appear to be dressed in anti-bellum American clothes instead of the more traditional flat-capped country attire of a nineteenth century rural environment.

Because the director has chosen to make the character of Heathcliff weaker than his literary contemporary we are constantly put in a position where we can observe his inner turmoil; to perhaps understand the emotional man behind the perceived rough exterior. In particular the stable scene where Heathcliff thrusts his hands through the window in frustration is particularly poignant. Almost revisiting the sickness of Catherine at Thrushcross, Heathcliff throws himself on to a bed of straw in a dirty old stable, mirroring the frustration of his unrequited love. Rather than a man of fortitude we discover a character that has more in common with Bronte’s Linton than Wyler’s leading man. This scene of pathos fails to garner our sympathy but rather, compounds the obvious weakness of the character and showcases the sickness of love.

In all the movie fails to replicate the written word and would leave any ardent follower of Bronte disappointed and unsatisfied. Even taken outside of the novel, the story line is weak and the characters tin-cut. That it is of any worth at all is as an example in the progression of film history and the diverse representations the novel has endured through the decades. If the story of Heathcliff was based only on Wyler’s movie then he would have been nothing more than a disposable love interest and not the giant of literary history that he is. Written as a Byronic hero, Heathcliff stands head and shoulders above an ill-chosen, ill dressed, poorly accented cast, in what was clearly a studio production of a made for profit motion picture.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS – “ELEMENTARY GOTHIC MY DEAR WATSON”

6 Jun

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“When the sublime is impossible Watson, then only the Gothic is possible”

      Bronte’s novel is everything one would expect from a Victorian Gothic; a third party fireside tail related by a servant who can only reveal that which she believes to be true. This lends the story a mythical quality as the falling action is merely perceived truth, as we never truly see into the minds of the protagonists. Set in a bleak Yorkshire landscape an ancient house, that dates back centuries, is battered by the elements on a wind riven, snow gusted promontory, arousing both the sinister and melancholy. Small enclosed windows allude to ominous shadowed interiors shielded by a stalwart stone construction that has allowed the house to endure the passing of countless seasons. Wuthering Heights is no castle but with a maze of wooden stair cases, dark hallways and locked rooms it is a foreboding location. The atmospherics are enhanced by a room, in which nobody is allowed to sleep, that conceals long forgotten books containing clues to the families strange and dramatic past. To compound the horror and suspense there is the foreshadowing of names penciled into a window frame. From the outset the reader is acquainted with a supernatural dread and an expectation that worse is to follow. This suspicion is confirmed by the appearance of the ghost at the window and perhaps more disturbing, the figure of Heathcliff barging through the door “with candle wax dripping off his fingers” who then pulls open the casement windows to scream insanely at the tempest raging outside. One might be forgiven, that rather than a sedentary Northern English farm house, that one had entered a lunatic asylum. From the uncanny and mysterious, to the downright diabolical, the novel contains it all; including obligatory, incomprehensible yokels. Bronte brilliantly achieves an element of the unheimlich; the ghost at the crossroads, the hanging dog, the sounds of horse’s hooves and unseen riders escaping into the night all margin the immediate and thrill the reader. Could anything be more Gothic? 

         We join Lockwood in what should be a familiar domestic setting but instead find ourselves in an alien and uncanny environment; the novel immediately sets the reader ill at ease. The assumptions made by Lockwood regarding the interfamily relationships presented to him are all incorrect and so, like him, we stare around a room at a group of characters of whom we know absolutely nothing. The rapid confusion of shared and similar names adds to the initial disorientation of both the reader and unwanted guest. Who is who, and why on earth would Lockwood decide that he needed to revisit a house that was initially so inhospitable to strangers? Bronte places her reader at a deliberate disadvantage so that from the outset they are back-footed, causing them to suspect the worst of what is obviously a dysfunctional situation and search for the natural yet nonexistent clues in an attempt to comprehend what is clearly incomprehensible. This oppressive if dynamic suspense is neither welcoming nor does it encourage one to read further and yet, the introductory intrigue is so dense that one is forced to plough through the chapters at a blistering rate in an effort to garner clarity. “Wuthering Heights” is a novel which at every twist and turn reveals or rather conceals yet another hidden truth. Just as Lockwood is eager to hear the fire-side gossip of Nelly Dean, the reader too is on tenterhooks to discover whatever truth she may reveal.

        Thrushcross Park and marriage to its owner gives Cathy the ability to save the man she herself cannot save; a manifestation of true love where one lover cares more for their partner than they do for themselves. Cathy surrenders her own feelings for the benefit of Heathcliff – by marrying Linton a man she doesn’t really care for and who is the antithesis of the childhood friend – who’s been brutally crushed by Earnshaw to the point where only the memory of her erstwhile companion is left. Despite the financial benefits of her union with Edgar she’s optimistic that her elevated position will rescue Heathcliff from his untenable existence. Recognizing that they’re kindred spirits, she realizes that they can never be together as due to the lack of care and education at Wuthering Heights – enjoyed whilst favored by Earnshaw senior – Heathcliff is doomed to a life ignominy and misfortune. It’s only upon his escape and return to the moors that she begins to question her own position.

       Selfish regret and egotistical revenge exhibited by both protagonists late in the novel lend clarity to the true natures of Cathy and Heathcliff. Cathy clearly on a path to self-enrichment has finally bitten off more than she can chew and despite her avarice discovers that her fatal flaw is her love for the Byronic hero Heathcliff. Unfulfilled by material acquisition the objects of her desire – be they physical or emotional – always seems to inflict distress on those supposedly closest to her. After barely a thought to Heathcliff – except the terse explanation that he is now beneath her thanks to his neglected education – her few weeks at Thrushcross awaken her inner narcissist and after sampling the good life abandons everything she allegedly holds dear in order to maintain it. No longer the wild, care-free, moor-roaming child she’s quixotically content to enjoy the confines and luxuries of the grange. Rather than a portrayal of a capricious child we are offered the mind of a devious anti-heroine who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else except herself. Her explication on the notion that marrying Heathcliff would degrade her speaks volumes and yet she is frivolous with her Husband’s affections in her continued correspondence with him. Cathy cares about one thing and that’s Cathy. If anything she mirrors Heathcliff more in later life than she did in her youth as she contends her “lovers” one against the other. Cathy has nothing to lose and everything to gain from their rivalry. Should Heathcliff have killed Linton then Thrushcross would have been hers. Her husband prevailing on the other hand changed nothing. It was only the unforeseen effects of weak constitution coupled with pregnancy and exacerbated by her hysteria that eventually killed her. This mirroring is seen in the Heathcliff’s marriage to Isabella whose only design is to put him one step closer to owning Thrushcross and destroying those – as he’d already done at Wuthering Heights – he considered to have done him ill. One could almost believe that the love they purportedly share for one another is secondary to their ulterior desires. Theirs is a dysfunctional attraction which ultimately destroys the lives of those around them as well as their own.

      The sentiment of nature versus nurture was a key question in Frankenstein: whether or not the creature was truly terrible or made so by circumstance. This applies equally to the Heathcliff character who for all intents was an innocent – foundling child – who receiving the love of old Earnshaw thrived and when abused by Hindley became the black-hearted villain and seminal destructive force in Wuthering Heights. The notion of “other” is ubiquitous as reactions to him despite his physical differences were dependent upon those who both loved and hated him. Instead of analyzing the notion of “other” in Heathcliff, perhaps we should consider the discrepancies in his nurturing. Was it “other” that made him different or the perception of him – as either a blessing or a threat – by those with whom he interacted? Heathcliff is a product of the limited society he enjoyed and therefore judging him a villain by his degree of “otherness” would be mendacious.

      Alternatively one could debate the notion of free will and that by choosing to follow the path he did, is responsible for his own actions. In the vein of Eastern spiritualism one has to experience the darkness in order to appreciate the light. The idea that the consciousness grows form each experience clearly does not appear to apply to Heathcliff and therefore one has to conclude that his lack of humanity is innate. Attempting to perceive Heathcliff as a victim and therefore forgive his indiscretions is disingenuous of the consummate villain that he is.

VICTORIAN POETRY – VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS

3 May

             

Proto-feminism viewed through the poetry of  Bronte and Rossetti

 

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  The social and political upheavals of the nineteenth-century reverberated through all strata of Victorian society. Science and reason were replacing inherent irrationality and religious doctrine. Contemporary revelations in theory and invention drove a forced adaptation to modernity, the tempo and like of which had never before been experienced. A “Brave New Britain” was being forced upon the public whether they desired it or not. What had once been considered self-evident was systematically eroded by the forward march of what some described as progress. London itself was metamorphosing from a medieval city into a modern megalopolis, a Victorian Babylon with the demolition of the old allowing for the creation of the new. The development of the railroads, the introduction of coal-gas, and modern sewers were some of the improvements to which the Victorians had to quickly adapt. Cultural concepts were changing, the old theologies replaced by the new sciences. Ideas that before had been heretically unutterable were now under careful consideration, the old gods replaced by scientific revelation.

               This change was not without comment, and the backlash and resistance to it can be found in the poetry of the day. The polemic was undergoing an identity crisis and for the first time the complainant wasn’t singularly male. The rise of the female voice, a new point of view previously dismissed by the patriarchal society, was an unfamiliar concept. Although much of the female poetry of the era is questionable in its complexity and sophistication, the first of these voices were none the less beginning to emerge.

               Due to disparity in gender equivalency, women were expected to fulfill designated roles and had limited or no access to formal education. Their poetry, although constrained and subject to societal conditioning, was a medium of female expression, and a window on the Victorian era and their role within it. Whether by restraint, geographical location, or social obligation the female voice, although barely audible, was pitched differently than that of their male contemporaries. In particular the poetry of Anne Bronte describes physical and societal isolation, and is more personal in its lament, revealing as it does her desperate position rather than a unified voice for female liberation. Gabriella Rossetti on the other hand, although subjected to patriarchal constraints, provided illumination into female thinking, and offered the spark of optimism that women would eventually be on a par with their male counterparts. Rossetti’s poetry is a chink of light in the oppressive darkness, suggesting a different point of view and an alternative way forward, whereas Bronte’s is a subliminal lament from the shadows.

               By comparing and contrasting the poetry of Anne Bronte and Christina Rossetti it’s possible to analyze the position and perspective of Victorian women towards themselves and their own situations. The poetry of Bronte records the isolated, desperation of women; Rossetti exhibits tentative steps towards equality and the prospect of female assimilation. Although both poets were yoked by societal convention, their dissimilar voices attest to the universality of the female plight and the necessity for change.

               Anne Bronte hailed from Haworth on the Yorkshire Dales, a God-forsaken, windswept, rain- lashed wilderness where the enlightenment of the Victorian age struggled to make its mark. Housed in a vicarage overlooking the church where her didactic father was the pastor, Anne’s daily view was of a grave yard replete with a labyrinth of tomb stones. Confined by weather, parental attitude, and religious duties the metaphor of the grave yard was an all-encompassing idea that featured regularly in her verse. Considering the bleakness of her situation it’s little wonder that she sought solace on the local moors, which by contrast to her living arrangements, and as evidenced in her inspired poetry, was a liberating experience. Her awareness of intrinsic beauty is reminiscent of the earlier Romantics; her attitude towards the sublimity of raw nature juxtaposing the harsh realities of everyday life.

               Anne Bronte describes both the geographical loneliness of her upbringing as well as the societal isolation brought about by inherent attitudes towards Victorian women. Her poetry screams “escapism” her only recourse was to take flight on her poetical imaginings. In “My Soul is Awakened, My Spirit is Souring,” her verse offers what at first appears to be a pastoral Arcadian reflection, but which is actually a lament. The poem is a metaphor for female subjugation, the barren isolated moor of which she writes representative of the female outlook and their muted, universal desire for more. Her imagery is strong, but her message stronger.

               Although the heathland around her appears to be dead there’s an understanding of innate beauty, “The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing/…The bare trees[…] tossing their branches on high.” Her personal realization of unfulfilled ambition and her plaintive regret “I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing, /..The foam of it billows to whirlwinds of spray.” Bronte illustrates unbounded, savage nature, a composition of excitement and tumult that’s obviously not representative of her own experience. There’s an isolated, imaginary omniscience, both with regard to her life experience and her limited world view. Her inspiration is drawn from a finite aspect, and yet she maintains a forlorn desire to be as free as the wind that buffets the granite escarpments of her native Yorkshire, “My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring, and carried aloft on the wings of a breeze.” The recognition that Britain is changing, that the Victorian age is ushering in new ideas and opportunities encapsulated within, “Far above and around me the wild wind is roaring / Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.” Standing alone on a fell-side, and yet aware of world changing events and societal repression, a young woman frustratingly dreams of more. Earth bound and shackled by society, she’s forced to endure the mundane. Even Anne’s imagination is limited in its scope. Simplistically she dreams of anywhere but the heath, or perhaps yearns simply for a fulfilling life. Anne’s plaintive cry is that of sequestered womankind, desperate to be rescued from unrelenting subjugation. A poetical improbability as her poem concludes.

               Christina Rossetti offers a different view of Victorian womanhood, her perspective much broader than that of Anne. An immigrant to Britain she was raised in the hubbub of London and educated by her scholarly father, their home the haunt of exiled intellectuals and artists. Growing up in the city with the luxuries of the capital was a far cry from the bleak and austere moors that were the haunts of Anne, and therefore engendered a completely different view of life. Rossetti witnessed Victorianism in all its affected glory, both the good and the bad, and rather than being subjected to the rural quotidian was the product of an enlightened, urban family. Still, as a woman in Victorian Britain this was not enough to liberate her, and just as in Bronte’s poetry there are similar allusions to oppression and repressed desire. Hers is a voice that although recognizing the limitations of nineteenth century females, projects a desire to change their intolerable position and lack of opportunity.

              “Goblin Market” is probably Rossetti’s most famous poem, an amalgamation of social commentary, repressed passion, and a polemic on the patriarchal system. Dependent upon the reading, one is able to recognize her dissimilar poetical allusions; underlying eroticism gives voice to female desire, the goblin market men to endemic patriarchy, and the richness of literary visualization to a Utopia beyond the reach of her sex.

               The poem begins with a blazon of delicacies, a cornucopia of fruits that are offered by the goblins to the unwary sisters; rich, vibrant alliteration that suggests mouthwatering abundance. Rossetti seems to be showcasing the unattainable, a smorgasbord of earthly delights, “Rare pears and greengages, damsons and bilberries, taste them and try.” In reality the choices offered to women were limited, with the affluent constrained to hopeful fulfilment through marriage, and the lowly to menial labor on the factory floor or the ignominy of prostitution and the status of fallen women. “Goblin Market” provides a dreamscape of opportunity, the experience of the sisters striking the bell necessary to awaken womanhood.

               This allusion offers the briefest glimpse of an alternative social order that was beyond the grasp of ordinary women unless they were prepared to compromise themselves and their bodies. “We must not look on Goblin men, we must not buy their fruits, who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots,” advises the older sister to the younger. Having no money, Laura offers the Goblins exactly that, her most precious asset, the very essence of herself, “She clipp’d a precious golden lock, she dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl, then sucked their fruit globes fair or red.” Acquiescing to the demands of the Goblin men Laura epitomizes stereotypical Victorian women, having no choice but to accept the high price she must pay for a taste of freedom. Rossetti’s imagery of fruit is reminiscent of original sin and an inability to save oneself from temptation or male dominance.

               The sister succumbs to the will of the Goblins and under the influence of their produce falls sick. With only her sister to save her from ignominy and the certain death, an allusion to fallen women and prostitution, a bond of true unity is created. This implication to sisterhood and proto-feminism is buried in what could easily be misconstrued as fairytale-esque. Famous as Rossetti was for her child’s verse “Goblin Market” contains a much stronger message than simply good versus evil; it offers an optimistic rendering of a possible future. The women aren’t just liberated from both the Goblins and death, they’re recognized within the verse as strong independent women – true sisters. Predictably Rossetti ends her poem with a cliché marriage, but then again what else could she do being but Victorian chattel herself?

               Female dependence upon male philanthropy and benefaction is an obvious subject in “Maiden Though Wert Thoughtless Once.” Marriage for many Victorian women was the only possibility for financial and domestic stability hence the emphasis on the Victorian values, chastity and maidenhood. A fallen woman or one who’d strayed in sexual experimentation outside of wedlock was considered, if discovered, a social pariah and therefore doomed. There were few chances or even occupations for women during the period, and given that they weren’t for the most part formerly educated stood little chance of professional success and were therefore constrained to motherhood and matrimony. Bronte put this paradox to verse, describing a salon in which several women are gathered, where the subject of the poem is obviously dressed to impress whilst engaged in a piano recital. Clearly the lady without being too obvious is trying to make an impression, much to the amazement of her associates. “Maiden though were thoughtless once, of beauty and of Grace simple…homely…careless of form and face.” A woman doing her best to attract the attention of a man by wearing and looking her finest, whilst appearing to adhere to that most Victorian of ideals, industriousness. The voice is diminutive but her attitude serious, “They could not read my secret thoughts nor see my throbbing heart.” Intones a living, breathing, sexual human being, a woman with hopes and desires and yet obviously hopeful of the attentions of the man alluded to in the poem. A man approaches known to the subject, “We heard without, approaching steps of one well known to me.” And although she lives in optimism and hopes of male attention shows no outward sign of desperation. Bronte engenders the plight of Victorian women walking a tightrope of wanton chastity in an attempt to be a man’s heart’s desire; quiet desperation and the pretense of aloofness at the realization that her moment has past. Anne’s is a voice, understanding of the game and the societal requirements demanded of her sex. Although not a complaint the poetry imbues hopelessness and despair. The footsteps pass by; her love unrequited. “The anguish of my drooping heart the bitter aching woe.” Anne demonstrates a strategy of “by any means necessary,” including giving her heart to a man who clearly has no designs upon her, who ignores and leaves her to her Northern fate. Bronte declares a feminine position rather than a personal one, and although not offering a solution does highlight the predicament of women. What could women become, she asks, if not solely dependent upon men? Bronte’s voice although subdued is one of audacious awakening, a voice that demonstrates plight rather than optimism in dealing with an impossible situation. Her message depicts a contemporary nineteenth century enigma, one which would’ve been eye opening and quite controversial should the average Victorian have considered the lack of options described within the framework of her poetry.

               “No, Thank You, John” juxtaposes Bronte’s “Maiden.” Rather than the accustomed passive we are offered instead an aggressive stance by a woman who seemingly knows her own mind. Not for Rossetti the demure supplicant, rather the forthright, modern women declaring her position and refusing the charity of marriage. “You know I never loved you John, no fault of mine made me your toast.” Given Victorian female dependence upon male benevolence the poem is understandably ground- breaking. The idea that a woman had more common sense than her male suitor must have been both amusing and eye opening. “But then you’re mad to take offence../ ..use your own common sense.” The poem is a polemic on marriage or rather of marriage upon demand, a visceral attack on the dependence of women upon men. “I’d rather say no to fifty Johns than answer “Yes” to you.” Rossetti lampoons the idea that any woman should sit quietly in the hope of a marriage proposal. She herself had several suitors and although pursued did not marry two of the men to whom she was engaged. Although this seems to indicate a woman with particular requirements, her broken engagements were due to social and religious affinity rather than strength of character. Strong will did not define Rossetti’s romances but her voice in “John” is that of a woman who’s come to understand the value of choice and independence. The imagery is of a persistent, foolish man who doesn’t seem to understand that his attentions are neither solicited nor desired. A high-minded voice is used to admonish the suitor for his stubbornness believing that his inquiries may be welcomed elsewhere. “I dare say Meg or Moll would take pity on you if you asked.” A strange position taken by Rossetti hinting that she alone is an independent spirit, and an admonishment perhaps to fellow females not prepared to resist male hegemony, “Here’s friendship if you like; but love – No, thank you John.” Rossetti makes it very clear who’s in charge and in the traditions of “fin-amors” requites romance and perceived stability.

               Although both poetical voices are different in context they highlight the plight of Victorian women and therefore are invaluable in understanding the complexities of patriarchal dominance. Although one is from the wilderness of Yorkshire and the other from the artistic, societal ranks of the city, it’s the plaintive isolation of an oppressed female voice in both instances which is so important in illuminating the inequity of Victorian gender politics. Without their collected works it would be impossible to survey the extent of female subjugation and missed opportunity. Anne Bronte was an everywoman whereas Christina Rossetti had the good fortune to write from a more privileged position. Despite that, their observances embellished what must have been a ubiquitous feeling of hopelessness, their poetry helping to promote and recognize the universality of the female plight and the necessity for change. Two separate yet distinct voices drawing attention to the injustice of Victorian gender roles.