Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hetty’s Love of Arthur: Externalisation of Her Day-dreaming Desires

Loamshire-Hayslope world is a sheltered world, an earthly paradise. It is a rich, fertile and beautiful world, where nature is generous and abundant. In this beautiful and fertile world, the kittenish Hetty has lived a sheltered life, entirely free from the cares and worries which are the common lot of humanity.
Occasional rebukes from her loving aunt, Mrs. Poyser are the only ‘rubs’ and ‘crosses’ that she has ever experienced. The result has been that she has grown up without maturity. The process of maturity is a process of continuous contact with the misery and wretchedness of life, but poor Hetty has known no such contacts, she has had no experience of sorrow and suffering. The result has been that though grown-up so far as years go, she has remained a wilful child, without any experience of real life, yet required to act in a responsible and mature way in an adult world.
Living such a sheltered life, she has remained childish and immature, unable to reason, to think, and to fore-see the consequences of her own actions. This is more true of her emotional life which may be likened to the day-dreams of a child, having no experience or knowledge of hard-reality. It is a dream world, a world, of fantasy in which she lives and moves. In a fantasy, the rules of logic and probability do not operate, and the imagination works unhampered by any such laws, and utterly regardless of truth and reality. Thus as soon as Arthur pays his attention to Hetty, her imagination is excited and her emotions stirred, and she dreams of the kind of life she would lead, and the finery she would wear after her marriage with Arthur. She at once sees herself as a grand lady, gorgeous and majestic like Mrs. Irwine, and driving in a splendid carriage.
In the chapter entitled ‘Hetty’s World’ the novelist gives us a detailed account of her emotional fantasies. She constantly thought of Arthur and the admiring glances she had cast upon her. Comments the novelist, “Bright admiring glances from a handsome young gentleman, with white hands, a gold chain, occasional regimentals, and wealth and grandeur immeasurable—those were the warm rays that set poor Hetty’s heart vibrating and playing its little foolish tunes over and over again. She knew that she had a number of admirers, Adam being the most valued of them all. But she could never think of marrying Adam because he did not come up to the lovers and gallants of her emotional fantasies; he could no more stir in her the emotions that make the sweet intoxication of young love, than the mere picture of the sun can stir the spring sap in the subtle fibres of the plant. She saw him as he was—a poor man, with old parents to keep, who would not be able, for a long while to come, to give her even such luxuries as she shared in her uncle’s house.” And Hetty’s dreams were all of luxuries: “to sit in a carpeted parlour, and always wear white stockings: to have some large beautiful earings, such as were in the fashion; to have Nottingham lace round the top of her gown, and something to make her handkerchief smell nice, like Miss Lydia Donnithorne’s when she drew it out at church, and not to be obliged to get up early or be scolded by anybody. She thought, if Adam had been rich and could have given her these things, she would have loved him well enough to marry him.”
The admiring glances from Arthur’s eyes intoxicated her, and she moved about and worked, lost in the world of dreams, oblivious of the reality around her: “A new influence had come over Hetty—vague, atmospheric, shaping itself into no self-confessed hopes or prospects, but producing a pleasant narcotic effect, making her tread the ground and go about her work in a sort of dream, unconscious of weight or effort, and showing her all things through a soft, liquid veil, as if she were living not in this solid world of brick and stone, but in a beautified world, such as the sun lights up for us in the waters. The poor child no more conceived at present the idea that the young Squire could ever be her lover, than a Baker’s pretty daughter in the crowd, whom a young emperor distinguishes by an imperial but an admiring smile, conceives that she shall be made empress. But the Baker’s daughter goes home and dreams of the handsome young emperor, and perhaps weighs the flour amiss while she is thinking what a heavenly lot it must be to have him for a husband: and so poor Hetty had got a face and a presence haunting her waking and sleeping dreams; bright soft glances had penetrated her, and suffused her life with a strange happy languor. Since then, her inward life had consisted of little else than living through in memory the looks and words Arthur had directed towards her—of little else than recalling the sensations with which she heard his voice outside the house, and saw him enter, and became conscious that his eyes were fixed on her, and then became conscious that a tall figure, looking down on her with eyes that seemed to touch her, was coming nearer in clothes of beautiful texture, with an odour like that of a flower-garden borne on the evening breeze. Hetty was quite uneducated—a simple farmer’s girl, to whom a gentleman with a white hand was dazzling as an Olympian god.”
The admiration of Arthur is like a strong wine that goes to her head and transports her to a world of fantasy. Her excited imagination makes her conjure fantasy dreams, the part of Chapter XV which takes place in her bed-room, is nothing but a long drawn out fantasy, not emotional fantasy alone, but also a fantasy as far as the physical actions and movements are concerned. She moved about in a world of fantasy, lost in her dreams and heightened and excited by her recent meeting with Arthur in the woods. She took out her mirror and, looked into it, smiling, and turning her head on one side, for a minute, then laid it down and took out her brush and comb from an upper drawer. She was going to let down her hair, and make herself look like that picture of a lady in Miss Lydia Donnithorne’s dressing room. It was soon done, and the dark hyacinthine curves fell on her neck. It was not heavy, massive, merely rippling hair, but soft and silken, running at every opportunity into delicate rings. But she pushed it all backward to look like the picture, and form a dark curtain, throwing into relief her round white neck. Then she put down her brush and comb and looked at herself, folding her arms before her, still like the picture. Even the old mooted glass couldn’t help sending back a lovely image, nonetheless lovely even though Hetty’s stays were not of white satin—such as I feel sure heroines must generally wear—but of a dark greenish cotton texture.
And Hetty looked at herself to-night with quite a different sensation from what she had ever felt before; there was an invisible spectator whose eyes rested on her like morning on the flowers. His soft voice was saying over and over again those pretty things she had heard in the wood; his arm was round her, and the delicate rose-scent of his hair was with her still. The vainest woman is never thoroughly conscious of her own beauty till she is loved by the man who sets her own passion vibrating in return.
She dreams that a day would soon come when she would marry Arthur, when she would be a grand lady, “and ride in her coach, and dress for dinner in a brocaded silk, with feathers in her hair, and her dress sweeping the ground, like Miss Lydia and Lady Dacey, when she saw them going into the dining-room one evening, as she peeped through the little round window in the lobby; only she should not be old and ugly like Miss Lydia, or of the same thickness like Lady Dacey, but very pretty with her hair done in a great many different ways, and sometimes in a pink dress, and sometimes in a white one—she didn’t know which she liked best; and Marry Burge and everybody would perhaps see her going out in her carriage—or rather, they would hear of it: it was impossible to imagine these things happening at Hayslope in sight of her aunt. At the thought of all this splendour, Hetty got up from her chair, and in doing so caught the little red-framed glass with the edge of her scarf, so that it fell with a bang on the floor; but she was too eagerly occupied with her vision to care about picking it up; and after a momentary start, began to pace with a pigeon-like stateliness backwards and forwards along her room, in her coloured stays and coloured skirt, and the old black lace scarf around her shoulders, and the great glass ear-rings in her ears.”
It is an enchanted world in which Hetty lives and moves, at least emotionally. Says George Creeger, “Even her love of Arthur is tinged with the same quality, in him she finds, for a brief time at least, the objectification of her day-dreaming desires, but these in turn are a projection in fantasy of her own ego, sexually translated. What she loves in him is not so much Arthur as her own self—as she wishes it to be.”
Her emotional life is, in fact, a continuous fantasy, as George Eliot suggests with recurring dream and day-dream imagery. That Hetty is forever taking holiday in dreams of pleasure, from her workaday life is partly accounted for in socio-logical terms: all the business of life was managed for her; which in turn is only another way of saying that the Laomshire world (so sheltered and sheltering world) has for personalities like those of Hetty and Arthur, which lack energy and will, the fatal power of keeping them forever children. “Much of the tragedy—or catastrophe—of both Hetty and Arthur springs from the fact that they are wilful children performing adult actions in an age which is not golden.” When the fantasy breaks and the dream is shattered on the receipt of Arthur’s letter, she is dazed and bewildered and heart-rending tragedy is the result.

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