Her fairest virtues fly from public sight.
Domestic worth, that shuns too strong a light.
Sophia Goldsborne is using a quote by George Lyttelton, the 1st Baron Lyttelton, a member of Parliament and the Royal Society. It is unknown where the exact quote came from, like was it from an interview or from one of his works? Anyway, Sophia is using this quote to help explain her point to Arabella. Before she brings this quote up she says “…for we are taught to believe, that a woman’s noblest station is retreat…” (58). I believe that she is saying that the quote by George has been a stereotype set upon women. That not only are women hidden from “public sight”, they are nothing but “domestic worth”, in other words, just housewives. It could also mean that Sophia, herself, is becoming a young adult in the world despite her being only 16. And she doesn’t want to just be some housewife, she’s too good for that! She goes on to say “…Indostan is the land of vivacity, rather than that of sentiment” (58). Indostan, also known as Hindustan, is a geographic term for the Northern part of India. I believe what Sophia is trying to say here is that Calcutta is a place that is very animated and lively whereas Europe is this place that is affected by many (tragic) events. All in all, Sophia is trying to rub it in Arabella’s face that she’s in Calcutta living the life. In fact, it sounds like she enjoys her stay in Calcutta as it is “the land of vivacity” and she doesn’t want to just be a housewife in such a lively place.
On a side note, I did more research on George and found out that he was a supporter of Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, and had a poem based on him by James Thomson. All of which do have a presence in Sophia’s letters. She has referenced Pope in Letter XIL:
They ask no angel’s wings, no seraph’s fire
But think, admitted to their native sky
Their faithful dog shall bear them company
By using this quote, she is admiring the people there. She goes on to describe these traits that make them look like Saints, where they would never do anything offensive or hurtful. And because of that, she would love to learn more about their values and traditions. It raises her curiosity of the Indian culture. In addition to that, she misquotes Pope entirely. And this is where it shows her ignorance and arrogance. Ignorance in misquoting, and arrogance in labeling all foreigners “they” and superiority in “native sky”. In Pope’s original passage, he uses “equal sky”. Thus, highlighting her weird usage of these references of literary works. In a sense, she might be misunderstanding the works or just doubt of her own knowledge in this foreign land. Whatever it may be, Sophia represents everything the English is: arrogant.
However, because of her interest in learning more–it could also mean she is working another angle here.
Hear me out on this, Gibbes might be using Sophia as a representation of the English language. Sophia is interested in learning more about the tradition and culture of India, but yet she compares them to the Greek. In my understanding, the Greeks once held knowledge that was very important but are now gone from relevancy. Also on page 7, she refers to the Greek god Apollo.
…though I cannot, like Mr. Apollo, lay aside my rays, that your optics shall be enabled to contemplate, however brilliant, the dazzling objects I gradually open on your view
She refers to Apollo as “Mr. Apollo,” but why? It may be to make her sound sophisticated to impress Arabella to see how much knowledge she has attained but Apollo is the God of Science, Music, etc., his presence in this quote may imply that she either knows Apollo personally because of how she addresses him or that maybe she believes that she is Apollo herself. To be able to say something like “I gradually open on your view” sounds like Sophia is lowering herself just to talk to Arabella. Again, shows how Sophia could be a representation of the English language: it’s ready to expand because of its amazing value it has behind the language (the Enlightenment, literary classics, etc.).
But is it also a foreshadowing of what is to come for India? I mean think about it, according to the lecture on Monday, this was written before Macaulay went on his conquest to impose English education on Indian land. Once she has “learned” all these things; what is to stop her from imposing her own culture and tradition on them? I mean, she juggles between admiring her own roots but also the things around her. As stated on page 58: “At the back of the Writers’ Building is the Calcutta Theatre…it equals the most splendid European exhibition” (58). To me, it sounds like she is impressed by the things around her but at the same time, she’s trying to play it safe by expressing her love for her European roots. And once she has completely settled down, what is stopping her from changing her mindset to Macaulay’s.
Last week, we read about how Macaulay compared the English language to Sanscrit and Arabic.
“…I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England”
-Thomas Babington Macaulay, 11
Sure, what they [Macaulay and scholars] learn there was good and all but in comparison to the English language? Not a contest. It’s like comparing Charles Barkley to Michael Jordan (one is a multiple time all-star but the other is a champion, MVP, and a multiple time all-star. Well, this is what the English were probably thinking). Goldsborne incorporates many English literary works here and there which makes me think that she’s trying to promote the English language as much as possible. Thus, showing the status of the English language. Domestically, it’s amazing. But should it be spread throughout the world? Maybe. But this book tells me that this is the very foundation of what Macaulay is preaching. Again, “Her fairest virtues fly from public sight. Domestic worth, that shuns too strong a light” (58). This could potentially stand for the English language as well. The English language might not be available worldwide for “public sight” but is too valuable to just be at home (in England). And now this goes back to how valuable the English language really is, it has literary works from Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, etc., yet it isn’t for the world to see. Not only that, but also Sophia’s characterisitcs of being ignorance and arrogance, it promotes the mindset of British power. And that, is what Macaulay is fighting for, to spread the language internationally because of this represenation.
- Christopher Luong