Women-Writers of the Nineteenth Century

By Marjory A. Bald | Go to book overview

IV
PATHOS

IT is interesting to consider which faculty came first to Mrs Gaskell -- compassion or humour. It will probably be acknowledged that her compassion was at first more evident, though it needed to grow side by side with humour before it could attain to its perfection of delicacy and insight.

Mary Barton shows us Mrs Gaskell's pathos as yet undisciplined by humour. It is genuine, no doubt, but how dreadfully overpowering! When Ruskin wrote to congratulate her on Cranford, he said, "You're fond of killing nice people"; but here it is not only the "nice people" who are killed off. Death comes back and back to the story. It is like an overhanging scourge. -- Mrs Gaskell's treatment of bereavement is often singularly beautiful. John Barton's "groping hand fell on the piled-up tea things" which his wife had left aside, and this simple action "touched the source of tears." -- "He was reminded of one of the daily little actions which acquire such power when they have been performed for the last time by one we love." -- Further on in the story we have to stand by death-beds. We notice how gently Mrs Gaskell handles the superstition of those watching over the dying twins, and trying not to "wish" them; she looks on with a mind free from disdain or impertinent curiosity. -- The passing of Davenport is infinitely more heart-rending. We see more of the physical aspect of death, and for a moment we are reminded of Tolstoi's resolute mind to shirk nothing of the grim truth. But Mrs Gaskell never remains shrinking over the physical horror; she follows it up with some spiritual beauty or tenderness:

The flesh was sunk, the features prominent, bony and rigid. The fearful clay-colour of death was over all. But the eyes were open and sensitive, though the films of the grave were setting upon them.

It is that one word "sensitive" which transmutes terror into

-122-

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Women-Writers of the Nineteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Jane Austen 1775-1817 1
  • I - The Utilisation of Small Resources 1
  • II - Elements of Her Appeal -- Cheerfulness And Moderation 9
  • III - The Study of Human Temperament 17
  • The Brontes 28
  • I - General Introduction. Family Characteristics 28
  • II - Anne Bronte, 1820-1849 35
  • III - Charlotte Bronte, 1816-1855 38
  • IV - Emily Bronte, 1818-1848 77
  • Mrs E. C. Gaskell 1810-1865 100
  • I - Introductory 100
  • II - Atmosphere and Setting 103
  • III - Humour 107
  • IV - Pathos 122
  • V - The Woman's Point of View 136
  • VI - The Social Problem 145
  • VII - Moral Theory or Moral Effect 151
  • George Eliot 1819-1880 162
  • I - Introductory 162
  • II - The Expression of Temperament 166
  • III - The Impersonal Artist 184
  • Mrs Browning 209
  • I - The Negative Approach 209
  • II - The Positive Approach 221
  • Christina Rossetti 1830-1894 233
  • I - Personal Experience Reflected On Her Poetry 233
  • II - Sources 239
  • III - Symbol, Allegory, and Dream 254
  • IV - Emotional Quality 260
  • V - General Considerations 267
  • Conclusion 275
  • Index 285
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