So, my dreams of endless MLA postmorteming have to be put on hold: January’s shaping up to be an insanely busy month, as panic before orals– for which I have yet to set a date but I must soon soon soon–sets in.
This morning, I finished reading Dinah Maria Mulock Craik’s John Halifax, Gentleman, and since I read the whole thing off Lorraine, I didn’t take any notes. (Lorraine’s an Eee PC which if you configure to rotate the PDF image and switch to full screen, makes a darn good ebook reader. I suppose I could take notes [that’s what the keyboard’s for!] but most of my notes in paper books are just underlines and circles anyway. I digress. I love my computer.)
Here, we have our answer to the question that’s no doubt keeping every Victorianist up at night: what could be gayer than Charlotte Yonge? Yes, my friends, Craik manages to outgay our favourite Tractarian novelist. It’s first-person narrated by one Phineas Fletcher, who’s somewhere between gimpy and disabled. He’s more disabled when he’s in young, and that’s when he’s more in love with the eponymous hero, who arrives in the mean streets of Norton Bury as a–not a “beggar-boy,” for, good protobourgeois that he is, he would rather starve than accept any unearned cash payment. John’s the son of some “Guy Halifax, Gentleman,” whom Craik seems to have forgotten about by the novel’s end, and self-helps his way into gentlemanhood. Once he gets married about a third of the way through, Phineas gets demoted to “Uncle,” and the novel’s cringemaking goodygoodyness is redeemed only by the occasional glimpse of the gay.
But what a gay it is! Phineas fawns over John’s muscles, as he finds excuses to be lifted in his arms, and rescued. John, in return, gets to experience pedagogue crush as Phineas teaches him how to read. Phineas calls him “David”–although Jonathan never calls Phineas “Jonathan,” for some reason–and yes, dear reader, Phineas makes sure you remember that D + J’s love “surpassed the love of women.”
What’s weird about this book is that if in Victorian novels you usually turn from books by male authors with boring female characters to books by female authors with less boring female characters, I can’t think of a novel with more boring female characters than JHG. Perhaps something Kirk/Spock-y is going on? I.e. straight girl fantasizing about gay man as a way to access desire of male bodies?
But enough of the gay, it’s Time Time! Lots of time passes in the book–fifty years or so? We get to follow Phineas and John from the time they’re pubescent to, well, I won’t spoil things. Craik is very careful in saying what Major Historical Developments are contemporary with whatever’s happening at that moment: steam power (JH heroically puts people out of work); Napoleonic Wars; Catholic Emancipation; the Reform Bill. I’ve got to pack up and go, so I’ll just drop my sound bite: we get this pre mid-Victorian Bildung both in nation and individual.