In Hartly House, Calcutta, we travel through the letters of the life events of the somewhat childish Sophia. Her letters entail descriptions of the new world upon her palm, India, and one that is quite different from accustoms of her homeland in England. But before the reader gets’ further entranced into her political observations of Warren Hastings, or into her promises of refusing to marry, or even her descriptions of lifestyle, there is a noticeable aspect of language that seems to set this novel in a certain light.
Sophia, in not a way that is unusual, is indeed paying homage to English literature by the mere descriptions she drops in her narrative. For example, take this passage from the beginning of Letter IV,
“Tis raging noon and vertical the sun,
Darts on the head direct its forceful beams;
O’er heaven and earth, far as the ranging eye,
Can sweep a dazzling deluge range’
Thompson certainly passed a certain part of his life under this meridian, so applicable are the above lines to my current situation…”
To begin, this passage is simply the beginning lines of a longer poem depicting the beauties of the sun in a very stylistic manner. One could brutally say that Thompson’s cited poem, A Summer Noon, is simply as its title says. But it was in the previous letter that she first cited the “vertical suns” as she described the manor of the estate in which she was at. The point being, she had the education, wealth (also clearly noted by the end of Letter III), and luxury to envision the world in this perfumed manner. This is the point I am getting at.
One could drop passages of respectable English works in a kind of way that serves the purpose of showing off, which certainly it did attest to the authors’ knowledge and education. But by being someone educated, they certainly must have had wealth or have been in a class above those which did not. This is a kind of person, and the kind of people, that we study. They are the kind of people whose minds drift in the meanderings of the English language compared to French, or study philosophical ideas, or simply, like Sophia, view the world in a perfumed manner. A kind of false world, one could say, made up of ideas and ideals.
For example, Soren Kierkegaard is a well-known philosopher often accredited with the beginning of the study of existentialism. Seen in biographies of the man, and even in his own journal, he was a wealthy sort who had the opportunity to ruminate on the ideas which aroused him. Not to say this is bad. What is bad however, is diminishing those who do not have the opportunities, or luxury, to lose themselves in these thoughts- those who in English literature are considered incapable of grasping nobler thoughts. Rather, they are those who must focus on the immediacy of life. Not to say these are dirt poor people, but average people like you and me. People who have to worry about surviving, or family matters, not those who are always comfortable enough to soak in their thoughts. This is not something that has ended with time, it is something that persists even today. Though today we are more likely to be exposed to ideas, and texts that would of otherwise been closed off to us, the immediacy remains. Can I afford to ruminate on how to become a more authentic self, how to view life ironically, how to see my horizon in a golden hue, all the while my mother suffers with the weight of financial worries?
So indeed while Sophia drops references here and there, and the one quoted above is simply a description that she uses to allude to her life, it in fact brings up the ideas of how we view life. Some have no choice to view it in a matter of fact way, while others have not only been reared to think of life with a glossy texture, but have the ability to think about the abstract matters of life. The things that aren’t matter of fact, important yes, but certainly developing more comfortably on a bed of roses opposed to wood or iron. Reality isn’t as soft as petals.
Not to say that a balance is impossible, but it is certainly hard.