A modest proposal

About three weeks ago I received my first (serious) proposal of marriage. To my great relief it was very unromantic, consisting of only four words, but it did make me think about great literary proposals and betrothals, so I’ve collected some of my favourites here. Please add to them if you think of any others!  (I said yes, by the way.)

from Much Ado About Nothing

Benedick. A miracle! here's our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take thee for pity.
Beatrice. I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield upon great  persuasion; and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.
Benedick. Peace! I will stop your mouth.

from Persuasion – Captain Wentworth’s letter.

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W. I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

from Jane Eyre. There are two proposal scenes in Jane Eyre, both magnificent but both very long. You can read the first one here and the second here.

from The Importance of Being Earnest

Jack. Gwendolen, I must get christened at once—I mean we must get married at once. There is no time to be lost.
Gwendolen. Married, Mr. Worthing?
Jack. [Astounded.] Well… surely. You know that I love you, and you led me to believe, Miss Fairfax, that you were not absolutely indifferent to me.
Gwendolen. I adore you. But you haven’t proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on.
Jack. Well… may I propose to you now?
Gwendolen. I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to spare you any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you.
Jack. Gwendolen!
Gwendolen. Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?
Jack. You know what I have got to say to you.
Gwendolen. Yes, but you don’t say it.
Jack. Gwendolen, will you marry me? [Goes on his knees.]
Gwendolen. Of course I will, darling. How long you have been about it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to propose.

If you want to read the rest of this one, you can find it here.

from The Pickwick Papers (my favourite). Mr Pickwick is contemplating employing a manservant (Sam Weller), but his landlady Mrs Bardell misinterprets him.

'Mrs. Bardell,' said Mr. Pickwick, at the expiration of a few minutes.

'Sir,' said Mrs. Bardell again.

'Do you think it a much greater expense to keep two people, than to keep one?'

'La, Mr. Pickwick,' said Mrs. Bardell, colouring up to the very border of her cap, as she fancied she observed a species of matrimonial twinkle in the eyes of her lodger; 'La, Mr. Pickwick, what a question!'

'Well, but do you?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. […]

Mrs. Bardell could only reply by a look.  She had long worshipped Mr. Pickwick at a distance, but here she was, all at once, raised to a pinnacle to which her wildest and most extravagant hopes had never dared to aspire.  Mr. Pickwick was going to propose--a deliberate plan, too--sent her little boy to the Borough, to get him out of the way--how thoughtful--how considerate! […]

'And your little boy--' said Mr. Pickwick […] will have a companion,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, 'a lively one, who'll teach him, I'll be bound, more tricks in a week than he would ever learn in a year.'  And Mr. Pickwick smiled placidly.

'Oh, you dear--' said Mrs. Bardell.

Mr. Pickwick started.

'Oh, you kind, good, playful dear,' said Mrs. Bardell; and without more ado, she rose from her chair, and flung her arms round Mr. Pickwick's neck, with a cataract of tears and a chorus of sobs.

'Bless my soul,' cried the astonished Mr. Pickwick; 'Mrs Bardell, my good woman--dear me, what a situation—pray consider.--Mrs. Bardell, don't--if anybody should come--'

'Oh, let them come,' exclaimed Mrs. Bardell frantically; 'I'll never leave you --dear, kind, good soul;' and, with these words, Mrs. Bardell clung the tighter.

I highly recommend reading the entire scene, which you can find here.

Eyre(s) apparent

Musing upon Jane Eyre led me to muse upon some of the ‘intertextualities’ (for want of a smaller word) that the novel has attracted since it was first published in 1847. Of course the most famous is Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea; and at this point I have to confess that I read post-colonial texts because I ought to not because I want to.  Is that a horrible thing to say? Part of me cherishes a fondness still for dear old snobby, wry, admittedly quite brutally repressive Englishness. In a writer like Bronte, I slide over the racist traces with a kind of tender diffidence; there are much less forgivable writers, whose racism, sexism or other failings are not atoned for by largeness of heart, beauty and poetry. 

Then there's Jasper Fforde. I thought The Eyre Affair had some interesting ideas, but on the whole I found it shoddy. One can't build a whole novel, much less a parallel world, on one slender conceit.

And then there's this gorgeous sketch from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie:

Customer: Did you write this?
Shopkeep: Jane Eyre. No, that was Charlotte Bronte.
C: Right. Well I'd like to see her then please.
S: I'm afraid she's no longer with us.
C: Oh? Indeed? I can hardly say I'm surprised.

Watch the whole thing here.

Eyre up there

I've just devoured Jane Eyre. Late last year, Nick mentioned that he was enjoying it, and I think I suggested that having devoured it as an adolescent, I hadn't bothered to return to it. I felt what I had relished as a fifteen-year-old would seem tawdry or overblown to me now. However, something made me pick it up last week, and I only put it down this morning.  

My enjoyment is somewhat qualified; my taste doesn't really run as far into faery as all that. So some of the purple passages are a little too purple for me, but you can't beat this one for sheer seat-gripping emotional intensity, and for cataracts of eloquence on the subject of love. I doubt any modern romance could rival Jane's first confession to her Reader that she, the insignificant slip of a governess, loves Rochester, her Byronic master:

“I feel akin to him, - I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him...Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have, gathers impulsively round him. [Though] we are for ever sundered - yet, while I breathe and think I must love him.”

And here she is giving him a serve:

“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?...Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? - You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.”

Finally, when they are reunited, and he questions her ability to love him, blind and lamed as he is:

“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value - to press my lips to what I love - to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice?”

I feel ashamed that I didn't think this book would stand up to rereading; I'd be surprised if anything new could stand up to this book.