Sunday, July 14, 2013

for five minutes I held it

But in these Shirley pages there are other details that have nothing to do with entering and exiting, eg, "a silver pen, a crimson berry or two of ripe fruit on a green leaf." I look until I begin to doubt: I might be wrong, there might be no entering and exiting, it might be me, only me, entering and exiting stuck my mind maybe and not the author's -- why then not hers but mine: why mine? Dilemma, doubt, hands clutched.

Assume, imagining, that some earlier experience had primed me for it; was it the situation in the book itself that put the idea of erotic enterings and exitings in my head, the two evasive love-mutes coming closer but still hesitating, Shirley and her tutor, those two ripe fruits framed on their green leaf, they are on the verge of holding hands, and so I misread a chapter that had a totally normal number of innings and outings occurring, and thought these ins and outs were significant when really they had been happening at the same rate for the past two hundred pages. Nothing material has changed, only the surge of energy that came before the chapter; the flavour changed, of that surge: call that a theory but I doubt the theory too and honestly imagine that it is completely wrong and my first idea was right, namely, that enterings and exitings had come genuinely into the story for the first prominant time.

A pretty seal, a silver pen, a crimson berry or two of ripe fruit on a green leaf, a small, clean, delicate glove -- these trifles at once decorate and disarrange the stand they strew. Order forbids details in a picture -- she puts them tidily away; but details give charm.

Detail is excessiveness in this formulation, the presence of a detail is the sign of excessivity and wildness, the regular movement of the world is stopped up or diverted, maybe for a moment or maybe forever, until even the little detail of the hand-holding is wild in thought when it finally occurs, and on the surface it is not a romantic hand-hold -- his brother has been hurt and she is being sympathetic -- but the author electrifies the detail of that quick lay; the point was this electrification. "It lay like a snowflake," thinks the tutor, "it thrilled like lightning."

A thousand times I have longed to possess that hand -- to have it in mine. I have possessed it; for five minutes I held it. Her fingers and mine can never be strangers more. Having met once they must meet again.

The detail can't be revoked, the author says: the action is final, destiny has been pushed in a concrete direction, and with this small gesture a new explosive future has been triggered. And a degree of intensity in Brontë coming from this reminder, which happens over and over again in different ways throughout Shirley, that actions in her books do not happen, they are committed. The book has been written as if every movement is a fatal sacrifice to the future. I'm suggesting, then, that Shirley mimics the irrevocable forces that create a universe.


  1. I think to myself, I bet what Pykk's got to say about Shirley is clever and interesting and I really ought to read Shirley, but I've never really wanted to, but I should so that I can enjoy her perceptive remarks, but the stumbling block is Shirley itself - yet how can I enjoy what Pykk has to say unless I get through it? Oh, woe, dilemma - do I HAVE to? And of course Pykk, being a very reasonable person, will say, no, of course you don't have to, and then I'll feel guilty and lazy and stumble off miserably into the night. There is actually no solution - except to read Shirley. But by the time I get around to that, after I've procrastinated lengthily by writing comments on Pykk's blog about how I can't read Shirley, Pykk will have moved on to some other book, and I probably won't have read that one either, but will have been intending to, but somehow will always have not been quite able to face it - and on and on it goes until the end of eternity, my readerly laziness in the face of her readerly courage.

    1. This is a bad time to point out that Kevin N. at Interpolations has asked me to write about Beckett, isn't it? Just a bad moment ... Shirley -- I think it depends how much you want to read Charlotte Bronte. If nothing else by Bronte has done much for you then this probably won't either, and if you like Bronte then you'll probably like this. It's different to Jane Eyre and Villette in that it doesn't have their first-person narration and it deals more explicitly and broadly with social upheaval, which puts it closer to something like Gaskell's North and South, but the intolerant and proud Romantic ideas are still there, and the intense way of noting berries on leaves or rain on trees, or anything else, which Gaskell doesn't have.

  2. I share zmkc's dilemma. I ought to read Shirley. I ought to...

    All of my ideas about the ingenuity of Villette and Jane Eyre come from the narration.

    I have enjoyed your posts, at least.

  3. There are no oughts, I swear, though the ruthless way she fades her main character almost completely out of the story might interest you. It's the reverse of M. Paul Emanuel's action in Villette. At first he's not there, then by the end of the book he's crushing the rest of the characters out of the way. He seeps in and floods everything. Shirley's original main character unfloods herself and gives the book to Shirley. You're going along as normal and all of a sudden you realise you haven't heard her name for the past five pages.