I met Norah Colvin some months ago in the Blogging Universe. She is an enthusiastic teacher, writer, and an informative and supportive blogger. Please look up her thought-provoking blog. We usually bump into each other writing Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch.
Yesterday, Norah asked me a question, which has triggered this post.
It is quite an interesting thing to take characters from a well-known book and place them into a different situation with other characters. You’ve probably shared it elsewhere, but I wonder why you chose to do this rather than introduce totally new characters.
There are three answers to this question: The long answer, for those who want to get to know me better. The intermediate answer, for those who want a concise, non-rambling reply, and the short answer, for those who really busy and have no time for nonsense!
The Long answer is especially for Norah, because I know that when she asks a question, she wants and deserves a proper answer!
When I started dabbling with writing novels, many years ago, I realized I kept writing about myself and people who were close to me, but I didn’t want to do that, so I stopped writing novels and wrote diaries instead.
More recently, I decided I needed to express my creativity by writing a novel, but I wanted to make sure I wrote about other ‘invented’ people, not myself, or anyone I knew personally. I was teaching Postcolonial Literature at the time to Undergraduates. One of the topics we dealt with was related to 20th century writers ‘writing back’ to ‘colonial’ or 19th century writers. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, were on the agenda. I became fascinated with the topic. I have written a chapter in an academic book titled: Sexuality and Gender relations in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea (I’ll be writing a post on that soon).Please don’t even think of buying it. It is ridiculously priced. If anyone wants to read my article, just let me know.
There are other posts on this blog related to the madwoman in the attic and postcolonial and feminist literary criticism which you may like to have a look at, if you are interested in the topic. Madwoman in the Attic Part I and Madwoman in the Attic Part II
When I started my three-part sequel to Jane Eyre, my plan was to expose Rochester as a tyrant and revindicate Bertha Mason as his victim. I am sure that Jane Eyre would have become another victim, given a few years, which is what happens in my novel.
I also wanted to make sure that amends would be made, so Bertha’s daughter (my creation) would be reinstated, and Jane would find happiness and lasting love, with another man (my creation). That’s what I set out to do and what I’ve accomplished with The Eyre Hall Trilogy (the final instalment, book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, is well on its way!).
The Eyre Hall Trilogy is meant as a tribute to Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Robert Browning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Thomas de Quincey, C. S. Forrester, Daphne du Maurier, Jean Rhys, George Elliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, and so many more 19th and 20th century authors whose works are firmly lodged in my literary mind.
Their works and literary personas are interwoven in my novel as characters and events. For example, I have used some of Charlotte Bronte’s characters, reinventing them a generation later.
Most of the characters I have invented are based on characters created by other writers, or they are based on real writers’ lives. In some instances I’ve changed their names. For example, Robert Browning is the inspiration for Mr. Greenwood. Jenny Rosset is based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem Jenny. The portrayal of the use and abuse of opium is based on de Quincey’s Diary of an Opium Eater. Jane’s first novel is based on Rebecca.
Michael is a complex character who is a mixture of characters. He has part of Hornblower by C. S. Forester, ‘Pip’ in Great Expectations, and Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Charles Dickens appears as a character in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. Dr. Carter has learnt his techniques of criminal investigation from Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. Annette Mason and her background are based on Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Jane quotes Lord Tennyson. I could go on, but I’ll let you look out for more influences.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t pick this up. I’ve created an intertextual and diachronic mélange in my mind, which I have translated into a trilogy. I don’t want my readers to analyse my literary influences and background. I want readers to enjoy an exciting and mysterious, Victorian, gothic romance.
Finally, I’ll admit it, Norah. I’m an irreverent, daring, and provocative writer who looks to her favourite writers for inspiration. Please don’t be mad at me, I’ve done it because I love all these wonderful writers, and I can’t get them out of my mind or my writing.
How many versions are there of Anthony and Cleopatra? Romeo and Juliet? Troilus and Cressida? Shakespeare’s weren’t the first, either. Most writers look to historical, literary and mythological characters for inspiration. I’m not the first, and I’m sure I won’t be the last writer to use ‘real’ or ‘fictional’ characters from other sources.
“What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” Eugene Delacroix
There’s always more to a great work of art than meets the eye. Rereadings, reinterpretations, and rewritings are enriching and pay tribute to the original works and authors.
I’ve written a post about sequels, prequels, reinterpretations, rewritings, and writing back, which deals with this topic in greater depth.
So, what do you think about ‘used’ characters, is it OK to reuse them?