POPA ADRIANA MARIA
BRITISH CULTURAL STUDIES
The Real Charlotte is considered the most important work of Edith Oenone Somerville and Martin Ross ( by her real name Violet Martin). It is a novel that attempts to analyze with great complexity the relation that can be established between language, culture and imperialism in the late XIX- th century.
Irish literature is deeply rooted in Celtic mythology and in many cases it describes with accuracy the sufferings and hardships of the Irish people over the course of their history. Based on a strong oral tradition, Irish literature cultivates a narrative style that is both exaggerated and absurd, a sense of wonder in face of nature, wit and humor associated with satire and irony and the intense use of wordplay.
The original interplay between two languages resulted in a distinctive and very musical dialect of Hibero-English which adds much flavour to the language spoken in novels.
The novel is about a plain 40 years old woman -Charlotte Mullen- who tries to acquire a position in society and whose principal victim is her pretty young cousin Francie Fitzpatrick.
There is in the novel a strange use of grotesque merged with Romantic conventions and a sort of social realism which describes with accuracy the details of social life in Ireland.
The novel is remarkable because it presents the changes that were made in the social life, in fact, it is a vivid picture of Ireland life that presents colorful and minutely the rising of the Irish middle class.
The authors prove a caustic comic wit but no sentimental appraisal of human nature.
The main character Charlotte Mullen was compared to is one of Honore de Balzac 's characters namely Cousin Bette and this comparison is very suitable as long as both characters try hard to climb the social ladder.
The novel deals at a profound level with the way Anglo Irish tradition faced modernization.
Charlotte is a genuine and brilliant nowadays Mephistopheles, a grotesque heroine but also a symbolic figure for the 1890's Ireland. She is a plain woman marked by the fact that she is not attractive at all.
The society she lives in demands her to be attractive as to get married and acquire a place in the social life. In fact she wants to marry the man she loves named Roddy Lambert but she is twice refused and, eventually, she wants to get revenge.
The novel can be easily compared with a Greek tragedy in the way the main character cannot fight her own fate, cannot accomplish her destiny.
Aristotle's model of tragedy defined some hermeneutic strategies that referred to functions such as mimesis, representation, catharsis (imaginative identification with the hero, within his purgation) and anagnoresis (the self -knowledge acquired but only as a consequence of a tragedy, a catastrophe). Later Freud used the same term to acknowledge the therapeutic effect that two discourses that encounter each other have in psychoanalysis. This point of view concerning two kinds of discourses, one built on free associations, and the other full of floating attention for one's purpose was the base of theatre and the genre of tragedy.
In the Aristotelian model three were the causes of catastrophe: hybris (defined as tragic excess, lack of measure or judgment) hamartia( tragic error) anagnoresis (self -knowledge as a consequence of the tragic catastrophe).
In the novel marriage is a central concept: the heroine has to get married because otherwise she is rejected by the society she lives in, she becomes a pariah situated in a very humiliating posture. Her tragedies are that she cannot marry the man she loves and that she cannot marry at all. So she is not considered socially acceptable .She has the fate of a Greek heroine who cannot defeat, nor control her own destiny . There is nothing she can do as to be accepted in the society she lives in because she does not have attributes of such a nature to make her desirable.
In such unjust societies the female condition imposes attractiveness to the male gaze and nothing she can do will ever make her what she wants to be , get the man she loves. No doubt she is a tragic heroine.
In fact, Charlotte is not that repellent: she is talented, ambitious, well real and very persuasive but all these do not give her the power that Fanny has through beauty, Lucy through money, Pamela through aristocratic birth, Lambert through profession. Because he is the agent of Dysart family (an aristocratic family of the local major landowners)he is , after all socially acceptable. Christophe and Pamela, lord and lady Dysart make a bright spot in the landscape of the anti-intellectual society they live in .They do not have the intuition of the real nature that Charlotte has but they are sarcastic with her and consider her rather a buffoon.
Charlotte is a sort of Teiresias who has the gift of knowledge but not the possibility to act heroically. Charlotte has the gift of knowledge: she reads all the time , has a relative prosperity and some independence but she cannot escape the limitations of a woman unrelated to her moral selfhood.
None of those surrounding her realizes her true nature but Norry the Boat, her domestic.
The authors are very realistic in the way they present the society of their times in which marriage is no longer an affective process and does not have anything to do with love. Marriage is rather a dynastic or economic matter.
Charlotte felt in love with a man that indeed expressed his love for her but she is rejected twice: once because she did not have the required dowry, the second time because she was not that pretty as Francie was. So, she decided to take revenge : she promised to help Lambert when he was in need for money, but then she refuses to do anything to help him.
In the end Francie dies, she is the sacrificed character but the real tragic belongs to Charlotte.
After Lambert married Lucy, Charlotte continues to hope that the man she loves will be hers because Lucy had a fragile constitution and, eventually, she dies but Lambert never marries Charlotte. Only engages her in illusions and lies , destroying her life in the worst manner possible, because Lambert is a negative character very egotistic and weak. He is a sort of moral murder for Charlotte . Lambert indulges her into an inexistent love, he makes her hope , dream but never intends to marry her . He is a villain but the society they live in is the perfect background for such an illusionary idyll.
This kind of society that promotes a false morality, stupidity and false values is the ideal ground in which the seed of this vulgar love is to sprout.
The narrative voice is ironic and satiric in perceiving the moeurs of pretentiousness of moral isolation and in describing the emptiness of living in such a society.
Roddy Lambert has an anti heroic attitude and makes Charlotte his victim but she is not a superior human being: in her turn she victimizes Francie.
Charlotte is guilty of hamartia( she did the tragic mistake to believe in Lambert's love) and anagnoresis ( she unfolds and discovers her true nature through suffering).
Her psychological transformation, her moral decay is precisely described by the authors and the moment of the climax of her degradation, her immense hatred for Francie is very well captured in the novel.
But Charlotte is the master of dissimulation and her main tool of dissimulation is language. She masters the dissimulative language and she has a capacity to foresee and influence the events ( like the archaic Irish or Greek Wise Women figure) to provoke despair and damage to the others. She is a monstrous leviathan but she is also a victim of her society: an unjust society that has a fear for women in position of economic and social power.
Charlotte is an intelligent and determinate woman labeled as unmarriageable by society due to the mobility and destabilization that it has.
Her real power is the way she manipulates language: block the other in order to control and dominate him. Her philosophy of discourse is similar to that of imperialism.
In the novel there is a dialogic relation between language and nationalism, a multiplicity of different dialects and discourses based on the fluid nature of the used language: Hibero-English.
It is the novel of the typical Irish Big House Culture: the conflict between ancient customs and modernization, the house whose walls offer protection and privilege, the Irish farm house, the nest of family, the promoter of family values.
Ireland is described in process of acquiring its identity, fragmented, distortional, continually becoming in a sort of Gaelic revival or newly formed Irish Renaissance
Sean Mc Mahon stated: the particular interest of the works of Somerville and Ross is that they catch whole system in full bloom before the winds of nationalism and the late awakened English liberal conscience scattered the petals. (1968:122)
The narrative is decentred and it aims at an exploration very minute of human consciousness and identity.
The book was written in a manner called heteroglossia, defined as a dialogic relationship between different ideologies language and ideas. It emphasizes the idea that neither language nor culture is unitary we may speak about the fact that cultures are included in one another and that no language is pure or single. We may say that cultures and languages are hybrid, heterogenous , different but unmonolithic.
The book was written in an idiomatic style .The Irish language is the language of peasant and servants but it is complex in that rediscovery of the unique connection between Irish heritage and English language.
Language is very important in the novel and the characters can be defined by the way they talk: for example, the episode when Francie meets her former lover Hawkins and she talks with a newly acquired English accent as to emphasize her superiority and to keep distance. Francie adopts cultural stereotypes as a cultural subterfuge and it breaks up to address Hawkins as an individual.
Many times in the novel there is a code switching between idiomatic speech and dialects.
The novel belongs to aesthetic modernity also referred to as the cult of the new, the cult of an undefined future. It deals with a revolt against norms and traditions and has some hedonistic motives such as unlimited self realization, the necessity of authentic self experience, subjectivism of hyper stimulated sensitivity
The novel talks about the lack of social identification, narcissism and an altered attitude towards work, achievement .It proves that culture only mediates the process of modernization.
In fact cultural modernity has its own aporias independent of social organization or other values or norms cultivated in society.
The novel is a brilliant attempt to define Irish national identity and culture in a period of great changes.
Charlotte Mullen is a very complex character, very subtle analyzed from many points of view and made a symbol of her age.
Bull, J., (1968) Other Ireland : a Consideration of The Real Charlotte by Somerville and Ross in Eire -Ireland a Journal of British Studies
Mc Clellan, A., Dialectic , Gender and Colonialism in The Real Charlotte , Plymouth State University
Ryan, A., Tragic Heroines and Wise Women in the Novels of Somerville and Ross, Cork University College