18/05/2011

THE LOVER - FAULKS ON FICTION PART II

The focus of this second issue of Faulks on fiction is  the figure of the lover in  novels. Great characters are discussed and  analysed, starting with  Mr Darcy and Heathcliff.
 In the introduction Faulks says: 
“For centuries the language of love was verse , from the chivalry of courtly love, with crusading knights and lonely maidens to Shakespeare’s  star-crossed lovers. The passion was real, but the settings were not. So where did we really learn about  love? In the pages of novels. Much of what we understand of love comes  from the lives of great fictional lovers. But there’s a problem here. In celebrating the power and passion of love, novelists overlooked its frailty, its tendency to fail. Romantic fiction gives us happy endings, but the reality is seldom like that. A proper novel takes you inside the heads of people  going  through a real crisis and real emotional  choices and many of us appraise our own experience of love in the light of these fictional characters. It was in fact the psychological novel which told us the truth about love and its power to transform".

JANE AUSTEN’S MR DARCY

Here’s Sebastian Faulks’s portrayal of one of the most widely popular and best loved fictional lovers. Remember: this is HIS point of view!




At the turn of the 19th century , the man in love stories fell into two broad categories: they are either predators, rakes bent on seducing women, or they were respectable husband material. It was Jane Austen who had the radical idea of fusing these two types into one.  A flawed and dangerous man who was nevertheless still very much worth marrying : Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Darcy gallopped into view in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second novel in 1813. If Darcy were writing his  “Lonely Hearts” profile, he would put : tall, dark, handsome and very rich. Good sense of humor wouldn’t really apply and neither would some judgement . But on first impressions, he  is almost irresistible. Women are drawn to him, though he seems indifferent to them. His good looks and money are obviously attractive and in Jane Austen’s world, the game of love is also a  game of social advancement. For a clever middle-class girl like Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy represents a means of bettering herself, of escaping from her vulgar family  with their shortage of cash. Shame then about the second impressions.
 Darcy is a man of few words, and most  of them rude. He and Elizabeth are awkward with each other, but there is clearly a spark between them. After Darcy and Elizabeth  have sized each other up, the novel become a battle of wits. This duel culminates in probably the most awkward proposal of marriage of the history of British novel. To our great pleasure Elizabeth stands up for herself and her family and sends this impossible man on his way.
So what is it with Mr Darcy? He's conceited, snobbish, up himself, humorless, charmless, graceless and bungling. He's really an appalling man. But the hot thing is, he's never been short of admirers.


Darcy is a lover who needs to be saved from himself. But, perhaps, his moods are not entirely his fault. The witness of all the characters who know him best are that he is not only rude but that he suffers from chronic low spirits, perhaps from something clinical. Re-reading Pride and Prejudice, Faulks became convinced that Darcy is not just repressed, he is  depressed. He is not the first depressive character to feature in a novel, but he is almost certainly the first to be a romantic lead. And, in Elizabeth, Darcy sees a lifelong supply of vitality. 

In response to Elizabeth's love a new and gentler Darcy emerges  from the gloom. Darcy has been sufficiently redeemed by Elizabeth's love, that he is in the end worthy of her.

(see the clip I've cut out of this episode - Faulks on Mr Darcy)


EMILY  BRONTE'S HEATHCLIFF 

According to Faulks, Emily Bronte created a lover as untamed as any woman could dream of. He says that "Where Darcy fought to contain his feelings, Heathcliff is a lover out of control" . Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights , was a dangerous and shocking book that you couldn't be seen reading in polite society. One critic said, "It's a story of semi-savage love" and another one said, "My advice is to burn Wuthering Heights"
Heathcliff and Catherine have grown up as children of nature, they run wild, safe in their own private world. Witnessing their love for each other we all start to hope that he,  like Darcy,  can be tamed. But Catherine can't do for Heathcliff what Elizabeth did for Darcy. She can't mould him, anymore than she's made him. He is  the elemental fire and she must deal with him as best as she can. 
Passion in this book is not to make people happy, it's something completely other than that. It's really primal, it's a force that connect two beings like rocks to the trees. It's a kind of love that you usually don't read about in romance, it's that kind of union that makes two people alive, so that life apart is absolutely impossible for them. But to escape the destructive power of Heathcliff's passion, Catherine marries a local squire, Linton. Heathcliff feels abandoned. Even more so, when Catherine falls critically ill. When she dies, he will desperately shout: "I cannot live without my life, I cannot live without my soul". 
Wuthering Heights is a deeply disturbing novel. While love is the making of Mr Darcy, love is the damnation of Heathcliff. But what Jane Austen and Emily Bronte have both hit on is the dynamic of love.


... AND MANY OTHERS ...

In this episode Sebastian Faulks analyses also the tragedy of Tess of the D'Urbevilles with the help of images and clips from the latest BBC series. According to Faulks, the tragedy of Hardy's heroine is that the society of the time kept her experiences of love and sex apart.
Then,  he introduces a revolutionary book that, at the beginning of the 20th century, will bring them together: 1929 D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. For the first time love and sex appeared together on the same page and at the same time. Sexual passion in the novels tended to be a short term, destructive thing. Here we see sexual love between these two people honestly, frankly described as potentially what makes their relationship and what brings happiness to them. And that's rather a radical idea.
Another lover and and another love story discussed in this episode are Bendrix and The End of the Affair by Graham Green. In Bendrix, we do feel the wretched shortness of human life and the way that time and chance conspire against men and women's hope of finding happiness through one another. All culture is for it, all our experience is against it.

The most modern lovers ananlysed are Anna, the protagonist of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and Nick Guest, the hero of The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.
In the first one,  there is a new law about the lover and love seen not as uplifting but as some kind of affliction. We've had a deranged lover before, like Heathcliff, but at least he knew who he loved. Anna, the protagonist of Doris Lessing's novel , seems to have no idea at all.
As for The Line of Beauty, some people simply read it as a gay novel, some instead as a political comment on the Thatcher years, but to Faulks it is a comedy of manners. For a start, he says,  it's very funny, but it  also reminds him of  Jane Austen: there's a lot of courtship, there's dance, there's a desperate search for the ideal other. Nick is a real romantic.
This second part of Faulks on Fiction about The Lover is extremely interesting to me. My favourite sections are those dedicated to the 19th century lovers - Darcy, Heathcliff and Tess - but each analysis or  comparison was definitely intriguing. If you love books, literature and period drama/TV adaptations , I really hope you get a chance to watch this series, if you haven't yet. 

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, MG? It is quite clear that this guy - as many male readers - is jealous of Mr Darcy's appeal, in spite of his massive faults. :-P
Poor soul, I pity him... and I'll never watch any of his tv shows ;)
That said, thank you for having chosen Colin's image for the "conceited, snobbish, up himself, humorless, charmless, graceless, bungling [and] appalling" Darcy: to me, he's the one and only :D
Oh, lovely new dress for your blog, too :)
xx K/V

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@K/V
I didn't choose Colin, the fact is that Mr Faulks's show is full of clips from P&P 1995: the Meryton Ball, the first proposal (the most awkward in the history of the British novel! Not that he is wrong in this!) and others. Have you seen the video? I guess you haven't. :P
Thanks for your comment. Glad you like my flying books. CU soon!

mesmered said...

Darcy, Darcy, Darcy! And yet I decided last week, that I so preferred Mr.Knightly as a man to be admired, flirted with and netted!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@mesmered
Darcy, Darcy, Darcy! I know. I too decided few years ago that Captain Wentworth was the one I most admire among Austen heroes. Then, actually, none of the Austen heroes is first in my heart. The one I definitely admire among the literary male protagonists is Gaskell's Thornton. Well, I think that's no surprise.
Thank you, Prue. I hope everything's going to be back to the usual soon. Hugs.