Looking for the moral

The story is told. I think I now see the judicious reader putting on his spectacles to look for the moral. It would be an insult to his sagacity to offer directions. I only say, God speed him in the quest!

I have noticed that many bloggers post apposite quotes from time to time on their blogs. Stuff from a book they’ve read. Something a writer in the public eye has written or said in an interview. Sometimes they post a collection of quotes they’ve liked, rather as compilers of commonplace books used to do in olden days.

Commonplace books? If you didn’t know they were, maybe still are, a bit like literary scrapbooks but without the cutting and pasting. (At least one hopes not — it would be awful to imagine books being vandalised in such a way, rather as dealers remove prints from vintage books to frame and sell to people who want to add cachet to their mock Tudor semi-detached homes.)

Anyway, I digress.

The quote above is from a book I’ve been dipping into and reading the background of, hoping to get into it in the not too distant future. My copy is 666 pages long, but I’ve cheated a bit by quoting the end. Having read the wonderfully funny opening (which is also beautifully written) I wondered if the humour had persevered till the end, and was gratified that it did. Published at a time when novels were expected to be morally improving, this was possibly the author’s riposte to criticisms of an earlier novel.

It may also be a challenge to readers to think for themselves and not to expect to be provided with a simple explanation of the novel’s purpose, if purpose there be. It’s teasing too. Is there a moral to be had? The advice given suggests ambiguity.

Before I reveal the source of this quote, let me make an observation. As some of you know, I’m mildly interested in spam — its nuisance value, its puerile nature, above all its pointlessness in respect of blogs. A recent check (I do check in case the odd genuine comment gets misdirected) revealed the usual clutch of suspects: Viagra, branded clothing imitations, gambling sites, bitcoin, cheap wigs for heaven’s sake!

Anyway, the two posts that have overwhelmingly been targeted, for no reason I can ascertain, are my reviews of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley. Why these two in particular is puzzling; all I can think is that they have been randomly chosen to go on a circulating list for spammers, who then give it all they’ve got. Though they reckon without WordPress’s spam filter, Akismet, which traps them in its virtual net before digesting them. That’s kismet for you.

These two posts have been recently joined by a new kid on the block. Step forward the vintage postcard of the former lighthouse at Delfzijl which I included in my review of Georges Simenon’s Maigret in Holland. It appears that the spammers are expecting a response from an image in a media library. Which they’re never going to get.

Is there a moral in this sorry saga? Is it that, however stupid spammers are, there’s always someone stupider (or at least not internet savvy, and that’s been me in the past) who will fall for the ruse by clicking on that link, responding to that illiterate message or reaching for that Cyrillic dictionary?

And now that quote. It’s from Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, the final paragraph. This was Charlotte’s second published novel (after Jane Eyre) and appeared in 1849. This was just after a tumultuous year in Europe, the so-called Year of Revolutions, and reveals some of Charlotte’s social awareness, perhaps after so many of those revolts failed.

But as I said her writing also reveals her humorous side, apparent right from the novel’s opening through to the end. Charles Kingsley was to reveal a similarly cheeky approach to Victorian sententiousness in his The Water-Babies (1862-3) when he included this couplet:

Come read me my riddle, each good little man:
If you cannot read it, no grown-up folk can.

I’m now taking off my spectacles, and I suggest you do too.

34 thoughts on “Looking for the moral

  1. I don’t associate any of the Brontes with humour – in fact, it seems their most famous books are devoid of so much as a wry smile – so this is interesting to see. And spammers – such an irritation. Have you been the victim of this rash of bogus Outlook followers that’s hit WordPress? Such a pointless waste of blog space. Hope you enjoy Shirley when you get round to reading it

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, and we’re not the only ones, Lynn (though mine were solely for my Pendragonry WordPress site). But WP assures me that even though we might get the initial email follow notification those phantom followers are blocked by Akismet, the proof being that these email followers don’t appear on our WP dashboards.

      Those wry smiles. I found Ann’s Agnes Grey quite witty in some of her observations after all the initial misery, and having read extracts from some of Charlotte’s correspondence I also found she could be quite witty at times. I’m certainly looking forward to Shirley now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I stalked a WP forum that said they were dealing with it. I just found it irritating that I thought I was getting a slew of new followers and it’s only spammers!

        I confess, I’ve only read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and both are pretty serious – Wuthering Heights being a little po faced as I recall. I should throw my Bronte net wider.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Now you have me at a disadvantage, Lynn, as I decided to start with the more obscure Brontë titles! I’ll work up to these two — and see if I can find anything faintly amusing in them! 🙂


      1. You’ve had some on your pages too? That’s just too bad. Can’t believe how so much wasted effort must be put into this pointless practice, I think I get more spam comments than genuine ones.


  2. elmediat

    The ones that are getting me lately are “What?” posts. They will hit every comment with “what”. Some of your comments received the response. They all end up in spam, but the sheer number combines with context to create a bizarre picture of the questioner. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t had these, Joseph, thank goodness, they must be as irritating as the stage many children go through where every response to your answer to an obscure question is a persistent ‘Why?’ (“Why does that man have hair in his ears?” Because *mumble* *mumble* “Why?”) And, yes, kids are bizarre too. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. elmediat

        The kids at least have a context that makes sense. I can not decide if the spammers are trying to sound shocked, confused, or very hard of hearing. The multiple whats reminded me of the old silent film comedies, where some old fellow with a long beard & ear horn keeps repeating the question.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Talking of Charles Kingsley, we’ve just visited Clovelly, a village in Devon very much associated with him. Nearby is Westward Ho! where Kipling went to school (rather charmingly they have commemorated him by picking out the first few lines of “If..”in granite stones on the promanade. Finally we walked for a day on the Tarka Trail, so North Devon is rich in literary associations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lovely part of the world, Ruth, though I haven’t visited it for decades now — North Cornwall has appealed more in the recent past. Wonder if Kipling read Kingsley’s Westward Ho! , after which the village was named?


  4. I knew, I er knew the quote but simply couldn’t remember where it was from. I have read Shirley a couple of times (I got a copy as a birthday present long ago, I think the year I graduated)–quite liked it–I don’t remember too much of it now except that there was lots of Shakespeare and that Shirley herself is quite a character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had a copy for a year or two, but was persuaded to look at it in a little more detail (preparatory to a proper read) after Jeannette Ng’s Under a Pendulum Sun included a character with a similar name to Caroline Helstone. I’m expecting good things of it now!


    1. It is a fierce humour, Lynden, rather like angry stand-ups of leftish political views, and not a comfy British sitcom, as far as I can work out. The opening has this:

      “Of late years an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good. […] If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken… ”

      That metaphorical slamming of the door in our faces — a curate in novels frequently signified a potential love interest — is not what I expected from Charlotte, but then I’d only read her uneven ‘The Professor’ before now; I’m saving ‘Jane Eyre’ for now…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I must mention here one of the my favourite books which shows perceptions of the feelings of women way ahead of its time. It is Villette, Charlotte Bronte’s last book and a dark and strange masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I intend, at some time in the future, to read Villette, but not just yet. It’s not long since I read The Professor, the novel Charlotte first touted unsuccessfully for publication and which is a version of Villette but with a male instead of a female protagonist.

      From your description what didn’t quite ring true for me in that first version (the protagonist was just too ideal a male specimen, sensitive and morally upright) seems to have been put right in the second.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. earthbalm

    Love this post so just have to share it Chris. I couldn’t tell you why I like it and I don’t really want to figure it out. Sometimes, to know is to spoil.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Looking for the moral — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  8. I’m really interested in quotations. Ever since I was about 11 and my Grandfather gave me a beautiful hard backed notebook for Christmas I’ve collected them. I have always struggled with the world of words despite having an insatiable hunger for good books. It’s like language itself is foreign to me. The quotations really help with this word difficulty because, in other people’s quotes, I find a way into my own voice, my own heart. I still collect quotations even today, but only those ones which open my eyes to something I have already known but could never describe. It’s very freeing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really interesting, Jo, and wonderful too, I imagine, for you.

      That feeling that language is somehow foreign is one that many of us autists seem to have. Though I’m not myself dyslexic (though two of our kids have it, one more severely than the other) I find myself frequently stopping in the middle of a sentence to think what a word actually means, especially in that context, and often go into a reverie. It’s especially awkward when it happens in an actual conversation! That’s why I like taking time with reading books, savouring words, phrases, considering what their intent is.

      Being on the spectrum for me means I’m always trying to understand how people tick, because it’s a bit of a mystery, and books are a non-threatening way into that. Maybe that’s how it works for you too?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It is absolutely like that for me too! I love books which explain a person’s inner thoughts, dialogue and motivations because that’s my number one way to learn how people work. Without books people would just be black boxes with inputs and outputs I can see and “mysterious workings” on the inside.

    In terms of words in conversation I don’t often get stopped by that. I think this is mainly because I teach children with Speech and Language difficulties so the speech I work with daily is very simple. However I get caught and have to stop when I see a pattern in something, it could be verbal, but most often it’s something I can see in the world or imagine in my head. It feels like suddenly seeing a piece of a puzzle you’ve been looking for for ages and having to put it in its place straight away before I forget where it is.

    I don’t have dyslexia but I do have auditory processing issues so reading is the closest I get to feeling like a native with language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Patterns — it’s what we’re always looking for, isn’t it? I know pattern-seeking is inbuilt in higher organisms, but it’s exactly that finding the piece of the puzzle you mention that usually distracts me too. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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