|Surrounded by beauty near Haworth, England,|
Charlotte Bronte's hometown.
Warning: The following post contains spoilers about Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley. Read on at your own risk!
In Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley, heroine Caroline Helstone takes a moonlight walk with her friend Shirley. The next day, Caroline Helstone falls ill. As her condition worsens, Shirley's former governess, Mrs Pryor, insists upon sitting at Caroline's bedside. She remains at her side night and day.
At one point, it seems as though Caroline can get no worse. Food elicits no interest, and Caroline lacks even the will to live. In desperation, Mrs Pryor decides to share a long-held secret: she is Caroline's mother!
Mrs Pryor explains that she gave up her daughter because her father treated her so dreadfully. While working as a governess, presumably in another rich family's home, before she worked for Shirley's parents, she met James Helstone, an incredibly handsome man who swept her off her feet. Only after she married him, and he began to mistreat her, did she discover his terrible nature.
After her husband's death, Mrs Pryor decided to entrust her daughter to her brother-in-law's care. Reverend Matthewston Helstone was an upright man of god: he could care for her daughter, and perhaps curb her daughter's evil inclinations. For Caroline was a beautiful baby, and having experienced such cruelty at his father's hands, she cannot help but believe that along with his outward beauty, Caroline has inherited her father's cruelty and evil tendencies.
Like the classic Greeks, who believed virtue the companion of beauty, Mrs Pryor believed that James' outward appearance signified compassion, sensitivity, and a host of other issues. This supposedly link traumatized her greatly. Had Caroline been ugly, Mrs Pryor would have flown to her side. Instead, her uncle sent her an image of young Caroline, and her daughter looked so beautiful that she stayed away.
Finally, Shirley's decision to move to the family estate near Rev Helstone's parsonage gave her a dilemma. Ultimately, because of her love for Shirley, who also has no parents, she agrees to accompany her. She believes that age, and her old maid clothes, give her the ability to pass herself off as an outsider. And in this, she is proven correct. No one notices a similarity with Caroline in her features. Mrs Pryor is merely an old maid, a former governess, strict, silent, and meant to be ignored.
Only after months of observation, and assessing the true state of Caroline's heart, does she come clean with her daughter, beg her to forgive her for her abandonment, and ask if they can have any future relationship together. One wonders if she ever would have, had Caroline not fallen so gravely ill. After all, it cannot be easy to explain why you abandoned an infant.
What do you think? Is there a link between one's inner and outward beauty? Might the reverse be more likely, that those who take such great pains to enhance their appearance do so to hide their degenerate natures?
Or does any relationship between the two exist?