Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Day Late & A Dollar Short

“The following entry applies to Thursday, Februrary 17.  Yesterday entailed illness and doctors visits, but enough of that!”

Yesterday I neglected Ranciere's The Politics of Literature in favor of Edgar Harden's two volume collection of Thackeray's hereto unpublished letters--I felt that Bill Thack (as he sometimes dubbed himself) and I needed to reconnect.  In scanning for relevant letters and journal entries I found maybe a dozen gems and made it through 500+ pages, which still doesn't count for one of the volumes!  Afterwards, Grandma and I cashed in a "Groupon" from Craig (our Valentine's Day gift) and went to Mama's on the Hill (Italian restaurant in downtown St. Louis).  Appetizers were divine, salad was interesting, main course subpar, but as always we shared sparkling conversation when I wasn't fixated on Blue scratching up the interior of my new-used car...

We got home with just enough time to Skype my brother in Japan and watch Cary Grant in Father Goose.  He's truly one of the few Hollywood stars who managed to be drop-dead sexy at 60+! As much as women gush about present-day Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, they kind of give me the nursing home vibe… but Cary certainly has it going on…

But back to Bill Thack’s letters: several years ago I wrote a paper shredding the false stories in his biographies surrounding Jane Brookfield.  As I mentioned before, Thackeray’s frail Irish wife, Isabelle, went mad shortly after the birth of their third child and had to be permanently institutionalized, a huge drain on both his heart and his wallet.  And as he was a good Victorian man (supposedly with a pesky VD to remind him of his youthful dalliances with French prostitutes) he could never “date” or remarry as Isabelle was living.  Thus, when he met his old friend, William Brookfield’s, wife Jane (ten years his junior, 5”9, beautiful from a literary family) he was smitten.  That much the biographies have correct! But if you pick up any Thackerayan biography it will tell how Thackeray and Jane were innocently in love her husband came between them like a tyrant and forbid them to continue their friendship.  For my aforementioned paper, I read ALL of Thackeray’s published letters to Jane AND all of her published letters from throughout her lifetime.  It’s true she and William were woefully unhappy, despite finally conceiving children after 10 years of marriage, but the truth is she was a notorious flirt.  Her husband was a clergyman, and not a wildly successful one, plus 10-15 years older.  She found him severe and often dull and thus used her sharp mind and lovely face to garner attention from male company.  She’s the perfect Victorian hypocrite, never consummating anything and refusing to be in the company of “scandalous women” like Caroline Lamb who stepped out on their abusive husbands, and surely would never give George Eliot (Marion Evans) the time of day.

But back to Thackeray—their letters became too familiar, and in a judgmental 19th century society, William Brookfield was right to call a halt to their gushing letters and Thackeray’s “innocent” proclamations of love.  And I’m fully convinced that Thackeray believed her husband was an abusive ogre he wanted to save Jane from, while she wasn’t attracted to the 6”4 grey-haired paunchy author, but LOVED his celebrity, and for this reason alone encouraged the flirtation.   Biographies will have you believe it was true love cast asunder, but in the new volume of letters I’m reading, Thackeray himself said “[Brookfield] acted like a man.” Still, though he mentions in one letter he can’t bare the idea she played him like a “fool,” he writes the following note to Kate Perry (not the “Fireworks” version): “Kiss her: tell her that in giving that frightful lecture my only thought was to see her; that all week (except Wednesday) I prowled around her house hoping to see her—that near or far I am only hers and always hers.  Console the dear friend and believe in all my gratitude…” (Letters & Private Papers I: 430).   I get too wound up reading such lines, getting indignant that this coquette hurt my “dear friend” Bill Thack, so deeply, but I guess that’s why I know this story all too well…

But ‘what does this have to do with Susan’s dissertation?’ my father asks.  ‘Not much!’ she responds.  Save I’ve had a bit of a break through with his letters composed in French—and God bless Edgar Harden for translating them! Just as he confessed his “stalking” habits to Kate Perry in French, I found a similarly revealing letter composed to a French journal that tore apart the Irish Sketchbook—only in French does he seem uninhibited enough to stand by his anti-Catholic, anti-Irish rants, instead of hiding beneath the veil of his narrator.  In my opinion, this blows many of the postcolonialist assertions out of the water, but more on this tomorrow… today I finished these invaluable unpublished letters!

**Laptop is dying, no editing of the blog today! **

1 comment:

  1. Make that Caroline Norton, not Caroline Lamb! Wrong 18th/19th century scandal!