Saturday, August 16, 2008

Framed stories in Gaskell's Lady Ludlow

I just finished the part of My Lady Ludlow in which LL attempts to explain why the lower classes shouldn't be taught to read. Her reason hinges in her distintion between honor and discretion--she discovered that Harry Gregson had been taught to read when he is sent to deliver a written message to her, loses the paper, but can communicate the message because he has read it. This prompts her to relate a very long story about Monsieur de Crequy (aka Clement), a French aristocrat who escaped France with his mother but returned to save his cousin, with whom he was in love. Their doom is sealed when a French peasant boy reads a critical communication between the two and essentially turns them in to be guillotined. Back to honor and discretion and Harry the close of the story of the French aristocrats, LL says that while Harry might be taught to be discreet (i.e., not repeat private messages that he might have occasion to read), he could never be taught honor because that is an innate quality of the upper class.

The interesting thing about this book is that the narrator speaks of LL with deep affection and respect and reports her very archaic and conservative views on class, etc. without damning them, though it's clear that she doesn't agree with them. Again, Gaskell is able to present a character through the eyes of another character with respect and affection and pity for the narrowness of her opinion. She's almost patronizing in her portrayal of LL, which is ironic as LL is herself so patronizing to the world and society at large.

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