Hannah the Anti-Romantic...or Is She?
While Bernard dominates the first scene in which we meet Hannah, she definitely shows that she's someone not to be messed with:
HANNAH: Bernard. You did say Bernard, didn't you?
BERNARD: I did.
HANNAH: I'm putting my shoes on again.
BERNARD: Oh. You're not going to go out?
HANNAH: No, I'm going to kick you in the balls. (1.1)
Hannah has a no-nonsense attitude. She makes it clear that, while she may be more reserved than Bernard, she's not above threatening testicular violence when she thinks it's called for. It soon becomes clear that Hannah's preference for straightforwardness over emotionalism (as in Bernard's smarmy flattery) is what attracted her to Sidley Park in the first place.
HANNAH: The whole Romantic sham, Bernard! It's what happened to the Enlightenment, isn't it? A century of intellectual rigour turned in on itself. A mind in chaos suspected of genius. In a setting of cheap thrills and false emotion. The history of the garden says it all, beautifully. There's an engraving of Sidley Park in 1730 that makes you want to weep. Paradise in the age of reason. By 1760 everything had gone – the topiary, pools and terraces, fountains, an avenue of limes – the whole sublime geometry was ploughed under by Capability Brown. The grass went from the doorstep to the horizon and the best box hedge in Derbyshire was dug up for the ha-ha so that the fools could pretend they were living in God's countryside. And then Richard Noakes came in to bring God up to date. By the time he'd finished it looked like this (the sketch book). The decline from thinking to feeling, you see. (1.2)
While Hannah's speech says pretty clearly that in a thinking vs. feeling death match, she'd back thinking any time, Bernard is more suspicious of her motives, replying that she seems "quite sentimental over geometry" (1.2). Are there any words or phrases in Hannah's speech that suggest her attitude actually is more sentimental than it seems at first? Or is Bernard just trying to cut her down a notch?
These questions come up again later when Bernard hits on Hannah and she shoots him down.
HANNAH: What the hell is it with you people? Chaps sometimes wanted to marry me, and I don't know a worse bargain. Available sex against not being allowed to fart in bed. What do you mean the right book?
BERNARD: It takes a romantic to make a heroine out of Caroline Lamb. You were cut out for Byron. (2.5)
There's nothing less romantic than fart jokes, and yet Bernard continues to believe Hannah is a romantic. Is Hannah's rejection of sentimentality a pose, as Bernard seems to think it is? Or is he just trying to razz her? If it is a pose, why might she be acting that way, and what does her behavior mean for the play's larger conflicts between rationalism and romanticism? (If you'd like more info on those larger conflicts, check out "Classicism vs. Romanticism" over in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory.")
Dreaming the Impossible Dream: Romantic or Just Stupid?
Hannah has another is-she-romantic-or-isn't-she moment when she weighs in after the Great Bernard-Valentine Triviality Smackdown:
HANNAH: It's all trivial – your grouse, my hermit, Bernard's Byron. Comparing what we're looking for misses the point. It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. That's why you can't believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final. (2.7)
On the one hand, that's a statement that makes Eeyore look like Little Orphan Annie: we're all doomed to failure, we'll never really gain the knowledge we seek, truth and certainty are illusions. But on the other hand, what is more romantic than setting out on a quest and giving it your all even though it's doomed to failure? Is there a rational justification for that attitude?
At the end of the play, Hannah partners with Gus to join Septimus and Thomasina in waltzing the curtain down – a gesture that could be read as romantic, though she resists at first. How does putting her in this final four affect the play's ongoing dialogue between rationalism and romanticism? Does the tension between these two viewpoints played out through Hannah's character get resolved? Why or why not?