Hi, this is a fanfic of a lesser-known novel by Charlotte Bronte called Shirley. I've tagged Jane Eyre so it's easier to find. The story is set in 1811-12, the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the Luddite Riots. Enjoy!
Louis Moore was certainly a different sort of man from what one generally saw in the district. Apart from his foreignness (he was born and bred in Belgium, and though he had spent some years at school in England he was still distinctly foreign even if his speech was pure and correct), he had the air of one who was not typical - not particularly attached to any group. You could not see the Belgian merchant, no, not even the Belgian schoolmaster in his countenance, but neither had he the bluff ease or that unusual sort of reserve you saw in the educated Englishman. He seemed distant often: to think rather than say was his habit. Caroline saw a fellow-creature of silence and was encouraged. With voluble, assured persons she felt constrained: with a shy person she was at her most confident. Gradually she sought his company and conversation.
But he was reserved. He did not seem eager for her smiles - she was disappointed. Robert no longer being hers, befriending one who was dear tgo him would have been a consolence for his absence. Hortense was a very good woman undoubtedly, but Louis had intellect - some of the mental hardness she esteemed in his brother
Thus it came as a surprise to her when Mr Hall enumerated the virtues of Louis Moore: namely, his excellent conversation.
"But he scarcely says a word," Caroline protested.
"I have found him witty and well-spoken. Louis is well-read - well-thought too. I have not seen the likes of such a man in Briarfield. Mind you," said Mr Hall, musing, "he is not the man to shine in company: he is better for personal conversations. You take after him, Caroline. Now Robert Moore is different altogether. He is more practical; Louis more bookish. I say nothing against Robert but one can't converse with him on books and reviews."
"Ah! you do not know him,' thought Caroline, recollecting the time they had read Shakespeare together. "Since you say so, Mr Hall, I must have done my cousin an injustice."
"You have, Caroline, you have."
"Only it is strange: Shirley Keeldar has taken effort to include him, and she has always failed. I don't think she likes him much - and you know how kind she is."
"She doesn't know him, otherwise she would not do him an injustice."
Caroline would have liked to see Shirley more often, but the presence of the Sympsons cooled her nerve, constrained her tongue. The Miss Sympsons were of the sort to awe her: elegant and cultivated, they could have nothing in common with the shy, unworldly Rector's daughter. So she stayed away from Fieldhead, to the disappointment of Shirley and Mrs Pryor. perhaps the latter understood Caroline's better than most, being of a taciturn nature herself, but did not venture to remark.
Her days being lonely, she would spend her time at Hollow's Cottage. Though Robert could not grace the house with his presence, at least she could talk - Hortense being more voluble than her uncle. Not seldom did Louis come over, his afternoon duties being done. Mr and Mrs Sympspson were no tyrants, though they might not be sympathetic.
Usually both ladies would be sewing for Miss Ainley's charity - mittens, scarves and hats. Caroline was not fond of sewing but sedentary hanits had given her a powerful conscience. Had she been lively and social she would not have thought of it, being too absorbed in pleasure. Now, any pain was easier to bear than the pain of loneliness and heartbreak.
Today, however, Hortense had decided that Caroline's progress in her studies was too slow to be neglected, and so assigned her to study Corneille and Racine. Oh, those dreary dramatists! Caroline suppressed a ywan,. and assumed an air of attention, while Hortense went to the kitchen to supervise the cooking.
"Mon Dieu!" cried Hortense Moore, with more effect to drama than fury, "what have you done, you stupid girl?" The stupid girl being Sarah, who had overboiled the harricot beans.
"Come, Hortense, what is the matter?" said a voice at the door. Caroline looked up: it was Louis Moore. He carried a nosegay with him - brilliant, rather like the heiress of Fieldhead. Hortense lunged into a passion against Sarah's unrefined notions of cooking, but tthen the sight of the flowers recalled her to the present. "Are they from Fieldhead, brother?"
"They are - Miss Keeldar has kindly requested me to give them to you personally."
"Ah!" said Hortense, knowingly, "are they for me, or for someone else?" the someone else, it was implied, being Robert. The whole of Briarfield parish was rife with the rumours that Miss Keeldar was in love with her tenant mill-owner. Caroline hid her face, not wishing them to discern the anguish that filled her every time someone mentioned the possibility of a match between Shirley and Robert.
Louis had caught sight of Caroline's work on the table, and bent over her. "What are you reading, Caroline?"
"I have been teaching Caroline Corneille and Racine, brother," answered Hortense, eager that her contribution should not go unnoticed.
"It is heavy reading, is it not?" he said to Caroline, who could not suppress a smile. "Never mind, they are all very well in their way. What does Hortense usually teach you?"
"French, sewing and arithmetic."
"Is that all?" When she nodded, he said, "Why, you must learn something more contemporary = French dramatists are good in their way, but there is so much in out time to see and read about."
"Do you think so. Louis?"
"I do. Why we are singularly fortunate that out time is a golden age for poetry."
"Oh, I do agree! I am fond of Cowper and Burns."
"The poets you speak of are fairly old, cousin - of the last century."
"But does their antiquity matter? When they are true, sincere, and express their thoughts simply - I would rather read them than any artificial turner of verse."
"We now have Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Scott. You must try Wordsworth - particularly his Prelude. You have not read the Lyrical Ballads?"
"I have not."
"I am sure you will like them, Caroline - he depicts the countryside as it is - true and unfurnished by style."
"What about Coleridge?"
"He is mystical, fathomless - but considered a genius - far more so than Wordsworth. He is not so realistic as Wordsworth, however - he tends to envision strange scenes in strange lands, amidst witchcraft and sorcery."
"Oh! That would suit Shirley," cried Caroline, "she is fond of talking about mermaids and such. By the way, Louis, was she so whimsical as a child?"
"She was." Caroline hoped that he would say more, but he did not. Perhaps he did not care for Shirley. How could it be so, when that girl charmed nearly every sympathetic soul she met? Someone of Louis' intelligence and penetration, she felt, would appreciate Shirley's qualities.
"It is strange Shirley never told me what a great reader of modern poetry you are," she went on.
"I am not accustomed to discussing our literary preferences in the schoolroom," said Louis. "The schoolroom, you know, is an entirely different atmosphere from a parlour."
"Still," thought Caroline, "Shirley is frank and informal. Is this what they speak of - elective affinities?" Aloud, she said, "What do you say of Byron? Shirley has read part of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and she raves over it. I have yet to procure a copy, however."
A smile formed on Louis Moore's lips. "I see you are initiated into the Byromania craze, cousin."
"Oh no," said Caroline, "I have not read his poetry yet. But he seems to be exceedingly popular."
"I often think popularity is not a guarantee of the worth of work." Caroline had often echoed these sentiments, and heartily agreed with her cousin.
"That is true, but what is your personal opinion of Byron?"
"He is overrated."
"Overrated!" cried Caroline, surprised, because she trusted Shirley's taste in poetry, which was akin to hers.
"It relies on sensation rather than reflection," said Louis, "not at all intellectual or tasteful. Besides, the author is clearly an egotist. Every page of that work is stamped with the author's personality in the form of the hero - and everyone else is unrealistic and undeveloped. No doubt Byron has an ear for rhythm, but rhythm is not everything. "
Caroline would have spoken, but in came Hortense with a dish of cherries which had a curious smell around it. This owed its existence to Sarah's insistence on cooking it in sugar instead of treacle, according to Mademoiselle Moore's grandmother. Ordinarily she would have criticised the maid to the others, but seeing that Caroline instead of paying attention to her book was rapt in interest by Louis' conversation, stopped. "What are you talking about?"
"We were speaking of Byron's poetry, Hortense," said Louis.
"Oh, do not speak to me of that name, brother! His works are positively wicked - not at all the sort of thing I would like a young girl to read," she added, looking at Caroline. "One would think, judging from his poetry, that all the author is interested in is passion."
"There is nothing wrong in feeling passion," Caroline protested.
"You have yet to see the world, Cary. Believe me, passion is overrated."
"And that is your real objection to Byron, cousin. If you don't like passion in poetry, Louis, I am afraid I will not think very well of Wordsworth whom you heartily recommend."
"On the contrary: my main objection to Byron is that he is merely passion. There is no solid intellect, no philosophy to admire, not even ordinary realism - which you will find in Wordsworth. And he is far from dispassionate: I would gladly trade the entirety of Childe Harold for one passage of Wordsworth. His passion, I think, is more restrained - harder to appreciate, but more satisfying. Wordsworth is not an author to be read aloud to ardent youths - he must be read in the silence of a room."
"The introspective wanderer seems to appeal to you," observed Caroline. She could not help thinking that Louis himself was one too.
"That is the spirit of our age, Caroline."
"Ours must be a dreary age, then."
"I beg to differ. The introspective wanderer is no dull subject for poetry. The public tends to commemorate authors of sensational adventures - but what is neglected is the mental aspect. The introspective wanderer affords the opportunity to dwell on deeper thoughts, particularly as they pertain to the author's own experiences. Why, Cowper's Castaway is clearly a case of the lone wanderer."
"That is true - and I am fond of that poem - but don't you think that this subject is painful and narrow? When there is but one person how many sides can we see? Does it not exclude the views of others?"
"There is an advantage, however. You cannot underrate the benefits of solitude. Only when there is solitude can there be democracy." Caroline raised her eyes at this: still he held his gaze at some unfathomable distance - he spoke more to himself than to her at that moment. "Does not the majority often shun the individual? Within a crowd, he dies unheard. But when he speaks alone, to please no audience but himself - then you have originality. That is how I would describe Wordsworth - his books do not sell well, but he remain true to his instincts."
"I agree with all you say, Louis, but then you underrate passion I think."
"And why is not Byron a visionary? He may not express all your high ideals, but then is it not visionary to imagine strange lands, rife with adventure and passion? And why is not passion visionary? It is so uncommon and so often mocked, its eccentricity is certain to become something exalted."
Further attempts to argue failed to dissuade Caroline or Louis. They parted, however, on good terms, and Louis promised to show Caroline a copy of the Edinburgh Review when it was next due.
"Do the Sympsons subscribe to it?" she asked, surprised, for she doubted he could afford it, and the Sympsons did not appear to be intellectually inclined.
"No, but Mr Hall does."
So he knew something of Mr Hall she never did. When she was alone in her room at the Rectory, she said to herself, "Strange! To think that I could never discuss passion with Robert without embarrassment - and yet I am at ease discussing this with Louis. Yet I like Robert more, and feel easier in his presence."