If you're game to continue the debate...
Posted by Karen R on November 03, 1997 at 14:49:25:
In response to Well.., written by Hil on November 02, 1997 at 23:42:03
Hil: However, I can't accept that our experiences don't influence our thoughts and ideas, and our expressions of those in poetry or whatever. Christabel's experiences with Blanche, whatever they were, would impinge on her world view in some way, and significant or not, would help to make up the outlook of the woman who wrote Christabel's poetry.
I hope I didn't give you that impression. I believe her relationship with Blanche is definitely reflected in her poetry. Of course, how one interprets the poems depends on how one interprets their relationship.
Hil: I quite agree that Byatt wants it to be a mystery, like so much else. And I am quite happy to accept that we will never know for sure. It shouldn't stop us debating opinions though!
Since, I'm only going to be around for a couple of days or so, you won't be subjected to my intransigence on this subject much more. I believe in the case of Christabel and Blanche--they were friends, not lovers. The proof exists. The proof that they were lesbian lovers does not. It is all metaphoric hopefulness. Here goes (you will here no more on the subject...I promise).
In Kate's response, she held Maud up as the one whose views should be considered most reliable. She cites some dialogue between Maud and Bea about the omission of sexual references in Ellen's journal (p.241). Leonora believes it must be there--in the metaphors--and Maud initially agrees that Leonora may have been on to something--the systematic omission of sexual references underlies the bafflement. Bea disagrees ("she was not taught to do scholarship by studying primarily what was omitted").
But here Kate stops. In the next two paragraphs, Maud comes to see this view as "like dirty egg-white." She then tells Bea, "I agree....In fact I do agree. The whole of our scholarship--the whole of our thought--we question everything except the centrality of sexuality." It's not there; our modern, post-Freudian approach is to read in what is not there. After reading a little Leonora on Melusina, Roland found that "he did not like this vision, and yet, a child of his time, found it compelling, somehow guaranteed to be significant....Sexuality was like thick smoked glass; everything took on the same blurred tint through it." (pp.267-8)
Maud's views are constantly changing throughout the book; her eyes are being opened by both Bea and by Roland especially. The discussion Roland and Maud have on their North Yorkshire trip (pp. 275-7) goes straight to this point about metaphors (see myriad interpretations of the "glove"). As Maud and Roland often say: "It fits in beautifully. But it isn't proof."
What is proof then? We have the broaches, the "Friendship" broach that Maud buys for Leonora and that Christabel buys for Blanche. That's all their relationships are, even though the other party may desire more. Per Maud: Leonora is "invasive. An expert in intimacy. She reduces my space. I'm not very good with that sort of thing." (p. 293)
We also have Roland and his vision. He seems to be a better barometer for assessing what is vs. what is not. He has elements of being both a Romantic and a Realist (or maybe he evolves into the later, I don't know.) Early on, he comes to regard Christabel and Ash as lovers. Before reading the letters, "he was already thinking of [her] as Ash's mistress." (p.135) Following all the thought and discussion of how metaphor changes, based on who is reading and when, Roland assesses their dilemma of understanding as being the result of their skepticism toward Romantic Love. "We know we are driven by desire, but we can't see it as they did, can we?...We have to make a real effort of imagination to know what it felt like to be them, here, believing in these things--Love--themselves--that what they did mattered." (p.290)
Does Roland ever say that he believes or feels that Christabel and Blanche were lovers? I haven't found that reference (proof) yet. Please let me know since I will only be around for a couple of days.
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