Sunday, November 23, 2014

Defence Against the Dark Arts Part VII: Charlotte Brontë’s Martin Yorke

Of all the characters in all the Brontë sisters’ novels, Martin Yorke, who appears in Charlotte Brontë’s socio-historical novel Shirley, is my favourite.

Shirley is set in rural Yorkshire in 1811/12 against a background of industrial unrest, of violent opposition to the introduction of machinery in the local textile industry. Charlotte Brontë intended Shirley to be a counterpoint to her first novel, Jane Eyre, which was considered to be melodramatic and unrealistic. Shirley was to be political, significant, true to life and, in her own words, “real, cool and solid, as unromantic as a Monday morning.”

Similarly, Martin Yorke is far from being a dominant, dangerous, glamorous, smouldering, rugged romantic hero like the demonic duo of Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Martin is nobody’s fantasy ideal man: he is a funny, greedy, clever, mischievous schoolboy who in my opinion is worth more than both those bad Byronic boyos put together.

Martin Yorke is only a minor character in Shirley, but the scenes I most enjoy in the book are the ones that he appears in. His antics and sayings remind me not only of Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky, but also of people I have known in real life. Charlotte Brontë modelled him on the brother of a close friend of hers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Three Hostages: a sinister scenario

I was very young when I first read John Buchan’s thriller The Three Hostages, an adventure story that features Richard Hannay and contains a fascinating mystery to be solved.

At the time, certain expressions that would now be considered ‘politically incorrect’ and offensive did not register, nor did I see anything particularly noteworthy in the horrific mental state of the hostages and the unpleasant, alien conditions in which they were forced to live. At the time, the clues to the hiding places of the hostages and the challenge of finding and freeing them were the most gripping aspects of the story. The details of life as lived by privileged, well-connected people were very interesting too. I found the book exciting and informative. I envied Richard Hannay: I wanted that sort of action and lifestyle for myself.

Now, after many years of investigating unseen influences, it is the references to magic, wizards and the stealing of souls, the discussions of psychology and the subconscious mind and the descriptions of hypnotism and mind control that are for me the most significant aspects of the book. As his friend and colleague Sandy Arbuthnot says to Richard Hannay:

“…the compulsion of spirit by spirit.  That, I have always believed, is to-day, and ever has been, the true magic.

There is a lot of general information in The Three Hostages about the sinister and unethical practices mentioned above, and about the attributes, abilities and personality of the kind of man who would make use of them.

Now, what holds my attention above everything else is the effect that these practices have when applied to the hostages, also the details of hostages’ lives while in captivity.  Much of this has relevance to the real world; some of it is also very familiar to me. The resemblances that I can see and the connections that I can make to my own life are very painful to dwell on.