Even longer... (I'm sorry)
Posted by Helen on May 04, 1998 at 17:43:54:
In response to Oh, don't stop!!!!, written by Laraine on May 04, 1998 at 14:42:32
..you're mentioning Aristotle! Whatever happened to the "those- who-like-Aristotle-are-blockheads"
I didn't say I liked him, did I? ;-)
Well, I think you've managed to explicate the function of tragedy, as defined in Western culture at least.
It's a dirty job, but somebody had to do it ;-)
I agree with your statements, except that I don't believe that Austen's universe proposes the possibility for everyone to make something of their lives. It may be the case for the heroes --but what kind of statement is made with a character such as Charlotte Lucas?
Well, I think that here we run into the problem of the construction of the work of art and its relationship to life. In interpreting a piece, every member of the audience/reader should take the hero's situation and apply it to themselves. The minor characters simply don't have that kind of function. So you can't say, "what statement is made with Charlotte", because we simply aren't supposed to take her on the same level as we take the heroes. Ultimately, in these terms, her life is simply less important. No author, no matter how great their genius, can create a novel where every character is a protagonist, where everyone can be subject to the same degree of interpretation or modelling. But, and it's a very very important but, this is not to say that a "real-life" Charlotte Lucas, reading the novel, should write herself off as not having a choice. If Charlotte were reading P&P, she would have to read it looking at Lizzy as the central character, and learning to emulate her in rejecting Mr. Collins, and therefore having a choice and the possibility in her life of marrying Mr. Darcy, if you follow me...
This is a more subtle form of tragedy…of the self.
I don't think even this is tragedy - it's too grounded in the day-to-day realities of life... a train of novelistic thought which will reach its apex in Arnold Bennet, ie. presenting life as basically grinding people down. It's depressing rather than cathartic.
Although Charlotte is criticized, there is some sympathy (on Austen's part) for her condition, her inability to affect virtue. And now let me go way out on a limb, I think that Austen "heroizes" Charlotte in the form of Fanny Price, in the sense that she rewards the seemingly deficient country girl, incapable in the world's eyes (i.e., Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram, and Mary Crawford) of "making something good of her life". However, let you not think that I imply that Austen is inconsistent with her philosophy! Fanny has constancy of belief, unrelenting in a society that tempts her to do otherwise. In contrast, Charlotte is more easily "converted".
Yes, I agree, Charlotte being rewritten in Fanny is an intriguing idea! But what strikes me about the later novels is that JA begins, IMO, by being rather heartless towards the women who aren't "light and bright and sparkling" in her works, and ends by having more sympathy for the Fannys and Annes of the world. But her sympathy shows not by her saying, "well, you know, we're too hard on them, they can't be expected to behave like the heroines, life can force people to compromise", but by saying "look, these people can behave like the Lizzys and Elinors of the world! They can stand up for themselves and resist the temptation to do wrong!"
Will even you, Helen, listen to my drivel? ;-)
Erin, darling, I'll always listen to your drivel... you drivel better than anyone I know... ;-)
Darcy is very much like a tragic hero--he's just redeemed because he can change. It's what makes him one of the great heroes of literature: he has flaws but he grows to be a better person. He defeats the character flaws; they don't defeat him.
I agree, and would add that the other element (in addition to redemption) that divides the Greek tradition from the Christian is free will. By free will I mean that we are more than what the gods chose to do with us; we are not predestined to succeed or fail; we can make what we chose of our lives--which is what makes Charlotte so interesting.
[snip] Or is it simply true that Charlotte doesn't believe in romantic love, and her choice is not at all unethical? (By this I mean that if she a) doesn't actually find Collins repulsive (again, hard to believe, but who can account for taste?), b) doesn't love him, but doesn't expect to love anyone romantically, and c) looks on marriage as a partnership more than a union (i.e., doesn't expect to find a soul mate so much as a mate), then how can we say she's selling out?)
Well said, Laraine! Darcy's change is IMO one of the best-handled in literature - so many people make sudden volte-faces which are not really credible but even though JA doesn't show us the processes by which he changes, he is still believable. But as for Charlotte, I would say that just because she thinks that there is nothing wrong with what she's doing, that doesn't mean that she is right! If there is an absolute set of values in the world (and I think JA thinks there is one) then it doesn't matter how Charlotte justifies herself, she's still wrong. And even if she doesn't end up a wreck in her life, she has made the worst possible choice: she has ruled out for herself the possibility of happiness.
- Driveling along ;-p Erin 23:12:56 5/04/98 (0)
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