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Saturday, September 02, 2006

G. K. Chesterton on Charlotte Bronte

I did not know that G. K. Chesterton had an opinion of Charlotte, but thanks to this blog about Mr. Chesterton and his friends, I do. And, I really must beg to differ with him!

From an article on the 'folly' of female education:

It will then be answered, not without a sneer, "And what wouldyou prefer? Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female,with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in water colors,dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp, writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens? Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes."I solidly prefer it to the new female education, for this reason,that I can see in it an intellectual design, while there isnone in the other. I am by no means sure that even in pointof practical fact that elegant female would not have been more than a match for most of the inelegant females. I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man.

More than one statement in this paragraph baffles me! Firstly, what is supposed to be contrasted here? The 'elegant female' vs. 'inelegant'? From what I gather from the rest of the article, I'm not sure this is quite flattering to Miss Austen either. Somehow he, along with many others, miss Charlotte's satire entirely. I personally find it more penetrating than Austen's. But it is a matter of style, not strength, or sagacity. But what really confuses me is what on earth he means by their descriptions of men. What value is placed on such descriptions? Is that the test of a female mind? Nevermind that Charlotte was perfectly able to do so.


mysticgypsy said...

This is very disturbing. More than merely dismissing the talents of Bronte and Eliot, this article is a pointed attack on the intellectual adavancement of women.

"that the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors."

And what law determines that it should be the WOMAN who must be this 'somebody'? Why must the woman give up her talents so that the MEN can become artists and 'perish'? Is not allowing the woman to persish if she should wish, even if that might be by being an artist, a violation of her rights?

"and the new woman comes from nothing and nowhere."

And the 'old' woman does not?

"To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman--she understands. To say what she understands is beyond me;"

How can he DARE say that he understands at all? How can a man presume to understand truths that ONLY a woman can understand? Why should a man make a woman understand herself?

"[the elegant female] was maintaining the prime truth of woman"

Who is he to know what the 'prime truth of woman' is?

Who decides what this prime truth is?

Articles like these that advocate for the suppression of women's intellectual advancement is just another attempt at conceiving a male-dominated hegemony.

Brontëana said...

The article was full of such statements. They don't hold up well to close reading, do they? It looks like he had no intention of examining his preconceptions before offering opinions or prescribing standards of gendered education!

Who decides what the prime truth is?

Apparently he does. ;)