Women-Writers of the Nineteenth Century

By Marjory A. Bald | Go to book overview

VII
MORAL THEORY OR MORAL EFFECT

MRS GASKELL always disclaimed any attempts after elaborate theories. Like Lamb she was not given to judging "systemwise" of things, but fastened upon particulars. This tendency appeared even in her discussion of character. In writing her Life of Charlotte Bronte she made it clear that she had no intention of giving psychological expositions. Quite early in the book she wrote:

I do not pretend to be able to harmonize points of character, and account for them, and bring all into one consistent and intelligible whole. The family with whom I have now to do shot their roots down deeper than I can penetrate. I cannot measure them, much less is it for me to judge them.

She concluded her book in the same strain. -- "If my readers find that I have not said enough, I have said too much. I cannot measure or judge of such a character as hers. I cannot map out vices, and virtues, and debateable land."

If this were the case with the psychology of human experience, still more did it apply to its underlying philosophy. Mrs Gaskell ended Libbie Marsh's Three Eras with a sly reference to having heard "in the year 1811, I think" -- well, she was born in 1810 -- of a deaf old lady, living by herself, and possessing the "amiable peculiarity" of reading the moral, concluding sentence of a story. From the very beginning Mrs Gaskell had rather a suspicion of avowedly "moral" tales. As she developed further, she seemed to imply that the moral of a story should be something seen and felt, but not expressed or heard in spoken words. At first she used direct religious phraseology entirely free from any trace of cant. Alice Wilson spoke openly of her religion; yet Job Legh expressed almost as much in an occasional phrase. He remembered how he had last seen the childless mother, quietly wiping her eyes, and preparing her husband's breakfast. "But," he added, "I shall know her in heaven."

-151-

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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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