What then are the situations, from the representation of which, though accurate, no poetical enjoyment can be derived? They are those in which the suffering finds no vent in action; in which a continuous state of mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope, or resistance; in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done. In such situations there is inevitably something morbid. In the description of them something monotonous. When they occur in actual fife, they are painful, not tragic; the representation of them in poetry is painful also.
-- Matthew Arnold, Preface to the First Edition of Poems ( 1853)
You say that [ Lucy Snowe ] may be thought morbid and weak, unless the history of her fife be more fully given. I consider that she is both morbid and weak at times; her character sets up no pretensions to unmixed strength, and anybody living her life would necessarily become morbid. It was no impetus of healthy feeling which urged her to the confessional for instance; it was the semi-delirium of solitary grief and sickness. If, however, the book does not express all this, there must be a great fault somewhere.
-- Charlotte Brontë, letter to W. S. Williams, November 6, 1852
Matthew Arnold might have been describing Villette instead of Empedocles on Etna when he posited the incompatibility of poetical enjoyment with the representation of a situation "in which a continuous state of mental suffering is prolonged" and "in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done." Writing on "Haworth Churchyard," Arnold's elegy for Brontë, Kathleen Tillotson connects his finding Villette so repellent to his disowning his own poem.1 His assertion that Brontë's mind contained nothing but hunger, rebellion, and rage is far better known than his colder criticism of Brontë: in a letter to Arthur Hugh Clough:
Miss Brontë has written a hideous undelightful convulsed constricted novel--what does Thackeray say to it. It is one of the most utterly disagree
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Publication information: Book title: Charlotte Bronte and Defensive Conduct:The Author and the Body at Risk. Contributors: Janet Gezari - Author. Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press. Place of publication: Philadelphia. Publication year: 1992. Page number: 143.
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