Now a bluestocking was a 19th-century term for a female bookworm - not readers light novels like Catherine Morland, but serious earnest purveyors of literature in the likes of Molly Gibson, Fanny Price, and of course, our dear Caroline Helstone (whom I suspect is a great reader of poetry, though she is not accomplished or well-educated). Real-life bluestockings include Sara Coleridge, daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and possibly Mary Lamb, sister of Charles Lamb, who helped to write Tales from Shakespeare (Charles acknowledged her contribution was better than his).
Elective affinities are something like animal magnetism - the latter is mentioned in The Professor, as the chemistry which binds people to certain people. It is mentioned in Goethe though I haven't read the book. This sort of thing plays a big part in Charlotte's novels.
Several contemporary references which seem irrelevant to the story. Humphry Davy was a well-known chemist of the Romantic era and a friend of Coleridge. He also wrote poetry. Anne Lister was a landowner with masculine traits - she was a lesbian in fact and very independent. She once impersonated a man to marry her longtime lover, Ann Walker. Now that is amazing.
Robert Herrick was a poet I believe of the 18th century, who wrote something about Cherry Ripe and about doing things while you still can. He was notorious about writing poems about somebody called Julia - quite lascivious pieces too. To give you an example of his repertoire, here is one of them. No wonder Mrs Pryor won't speak of him much. Tee hee hee. :)
A chance comment from a fellow-blogger who intially mistook our Mr Donne for John Donne the poet prompted me to put in a little something about the poet.
Caroline Helstone to Shirley Keeldar, July 1812
My dearest friend,
How farest thou in the land of Poesy? Mrs Pryor is looking after me very well here, and as you know I have recovered steadily under her ministrations. I feel very blessed now - that I am loved by someone I do esteem. My uncle, as you well know, is a worthy man but he cannot sympathise with us women, Shirley - he understands not the passions we suffer in silence. Now with lively ladies he can crack witty jokes, but were we to be grave and solemn, he knows not what to do with us. Why, it is not feminine. I shall soon take pride in being a bluestocking, though I should not like to be as masculine as Miss Anne Lister whom they call "Gentleman Jack," whom Uncle was speaking of the other day.
I ought to be writing to you more gleeful gossip but as I am confined to my bed little gets to my ears now - besides as you know I have little inclination to chatter. I often fancy you pink and plump in the Lakes, in conversation with the most agreeable society - and I can't help envying you - I can't entertain others the way you do. Mrs Pryor and I have had conversations on the subject - on elective affinities, I believe it is called. Each of us have a certain natural affinity with certain persons - with others, we are nothing to them, and they nothing to us. It is not so much pride of wealth and station I think as a natural element - what it is I do not know. Mr Hall mentioned it once - he thinks chemistry will reveal in time. But I have no head for science, and what he said of Humphry Davy went over my head.
Now Mrs Pryor and I share elective affinities, supposing the phenomenon exists, and I believe it does. You will be glad to know William Farren is flourishing in his new work as gardener. He comes here to tend to my plants - I still cannot walk as I used to, but uncle carries me to the garden and we have a fine time talking about botany and nature. I tried talking Wordsworth with William but he has no ear for poetry - men are not like us, Shirley! They have no heart for poetry - and those who do I believe are of a more sensitive, refined, feminine nature. But he is a naturalist which is just as good - if we both, thou and I, are the visionaries of nature, then William is the man of science. I wish I could call him philosopher but he is so straightforward about everything. I rather like his hard-minded practicality - it does much good to my fancies. I need more of the real - less of the fancy, as Mrs Pryor urges. She thinks it is unwholesome to dream of mermaids. I think it is a delight and a sorrow at once - a delight to think of new worlds, new sights, new doings, but sorrowful, for I know it can never be an escape. Your poetical mermaid is no tender nurse or sister - she destroys those she sees with the power of fascination. But I am wandering as usual.
I have forgotten to mention Mr Donne's indisposition. Did I tell you that Mr Sweeting is confined to his bed with influenza? So he has got Donne and Malone to replace his duties. They do not make a good effort out of it - Donne will beg, he has come round several times to extort from us. Why, he gave me a nosegay with a sentimental poem on it! To ingratiate himself into our good graces, I have no doubt, so that he might ruin us. I thought the poem sounded familiar - so Mrs Pryor had a look at it, and she says it is by Herrick, who I understand writes in the most odious taste about some lady called Julia. She will not show me the Julia poems, however, for it is not fit to be seen by young ladies. I wonder what it is - I suspect it is the grosser idea of love our Briarfield society aspires to. If it is, I scorn to exalt it. But about Donne's indisposition. He has made himself a perfect nuisance at the Wynnes' that old Mr Wynne beat him up with a stick and he walks with a limp. Malone told uncle, who had a good laugh at Donne's expense. I think it most amusing that he should share a name with the poet who wrote so feelingly about how we cannot be islands. Donne was not entirely correct, however, for Miss Ainley proves the exception. But for the most he is right - how many of us can live alone? I feel so contented to be cared for I scarcely wish to become well.
To employ a vulgarism, Malone came a-wooing again shortly after your departure, but after that he has ceased to bother us, thank goodness. He often spends his time at the Sykes' - no doubt because Donne is there to talk nonsense with him. Let them denounce Yorkshire in the Sykes' home - I don't care. Mrs Sykes is not a bad woman but I am aware she wishes to be elevated in society - she thinks London is better than us. She is not as horrid as Donne so I shall not condemn her. One can accept this feeling in ladies - we are all brought up to think what is right, what is refined in society, and therefore her yearnings for London fashions are natural. Donne is no lady, nor is he a gentleman, and he has a profession to occupy himself with - he has no right to express such trivial thoughts. Mrs Sykes has not travelled much or seen the world - I could forgive her. But Donne knows the world - he is part of it.
Word has it that our curates are a-wooing at the Sykes'. Uncle had a scornful laugh at their expense - you know how he views marriage, and he thinks them complete fools. I don't disagree with him this time - their mercenary sentiment deserves such censure. We (at least Uncle and I) think they intend to ask Miss Harriet's hand in marriage, for she is the prettiest and the most stately of the sisters. Mrs Pryor doubts it - if they do, she says they will not succeed, for Harriet is not likely to look upon them with much esteem. She reminds Mrs Pryor of Miss Hardman, a former pupil of hers. "Miss Harriet Sykes is of a haughty nature," she observed calmly. "Their livings and their manner would not satisfy the ladylike delicacies in her. I should say Miss Hannah would be more likely to receive their suit."
"Indeed, why not? She is less refined than Harriet, less fastidious - as long as they are willing to lavish her with flattery I don't see why not. She is also very voluble - gentlemen often are well-disposed to such ladies."
Yes, so long as they are charming and silly. Were I to be voluble all eyes would be on me, fearing I would be a bluestocking. It is this elective affinity they speak of.
"But I doubt Hannah would be disposed to Malone - he cannot speak to ladies well."
"Perhaps she would not be averse to Mr Donne, my dear."
"Miss Mary teaches in the Sunday-school - would she not be a suitable candidate?"
"I doubt, my dear, that Miss Mary's gravity would endear her to them," observed Mrs Pryor. "She is serious-minded - Mr Donne and Mr Malone do not care for that sort of thing."
You know very well, Shirley, contemptuous though it looks to put it to paper, Malone's former regard for me - or I should say his practicality - for he thought I am heiress to a small fortune - surely is proof that he does not simply neglect grave ladies with fortune. I put this to Mrs Pryor, who sighed, "Why, my dear, how shall I put it? You are like a child - that trait is admired among certain gentlemen."
Sometimes I do wish I were not so like a child, that others could see me as I am - but any other sort of character does not put me in a favourable light. I must smile and enact youthfulness to please - I wish I could be taken seriously.
By the way John Sykes has come to deliver a nosegay. Mrs Pryor thinks he will turn my head but I assure you he won't. To be honest I was surprised - I thought he had forgotten all about me - you know he never calls on us, though when we go visiting and we both happen to be at the same place he will try to flatter in that patronising, grovelling manner of his. No, though life should destine me to be an old maid, I shall never encourage John Sykes.
Mrs Pryor is convinced that Donne and Malone are aiming for the hand of Dora Sykes! So rumours say. I hope it is not true: Mr Sweeting is in love with her, and it would be most unkind in them to betray their friend. Sweeting is worth a hundred of them. Uncle has caught Mr Malone walking with a nosegay in the direction of Whinbury - perhaps it is true after all.
Malone is boisterous and rude - Nunnely is not pleased with him. He has been most dismissive of Mr Hall's sexton, who is most offended.
I gather they had a disagreement about managing the church affairs. Now Malone and Donne are helping to manage the parish funds of Nunnely. Donne will certainly increase its value.
Uncle has received a letter from a Mr Bronte of Thornton, Bradford. He is campaigning against the Luddites. Oh I do hope these riots will come to an end!
Write, dear Shirley, and tell me precisely what you think.
Believe me to be