I’ve had a special and personal interest in Victorian Literature since I was about 12, when my teacher, Sister Catherine, used to read aloud to us, mostly Victorian novels, which I grew to love. She introduced me to the Victorians. I vividly remember listening to The Moonstone, David Copperfield, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. I can still hear her soft sibilant voice tell us all those wonderful stories, which made us laugh and cry. I wrote a post about Sister Catherine some time ago.
I write historical fiction because I love travelling in time and space. I’m not interested in purposefully (I’m afraid I can’t control my subconscious) writing about myself or my contemporaries, at the moment. I prefer to lose myself in other places and eras. I’m especially obsessed with Victorian times and writers, because they have become my beacon in the sea of words and ideas I need to express.
I am fascinated by novels such as Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Silas Marner, Persuasion, Tess of the d’Urbevilles, The Woman in White, etc. My inspiration and ideas come mainly from 19th and 20th century writers, especially the Victorians. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is a tribute to my Victorian ‘Masters’ who introduced me to the pleasure of reading and taught me the craft of writing. Many of these writers and their literary creations appear throughout my trilogy.
History is continuous, and understanding can only occur in retrospect. We need to stand back and expose the prejudice and injustices of the past in order to understand the present and move forward. This can only occur in retrospect. If you take a step back from a problem you have a better angle. You can now see the whole picture. It’s happened and it’s over. You can understand it better.
We congratulate ourselves because we have a fairer education system and more freedom of choice, gender equality, but I’m asking readers to walk in Victorian shoes, to understand our literary grandfathers and where we come from. How we fought to gain these social advances and why the struggle is ongoing.
Which writers have influenced me?
My most important influence is Charlotte Bronte. Her literary creations, Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Richard Mason, and Bertha Mason have come to life once more, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre ended. I have also brought to life the original setting and recreated a new residence for the Rochester family, after Thornfield Hall was burnt down, Eyre Hall.
Charles Dickens appears as a character in my novel. I have read many of his novels, letters, and biographies, so I have enjoyed recreating his voice and opinions in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. Charles Dickens’ London is also present in my recreation, and I have used many old maps of London, pictures and photographs of the time, to inspire me and take me around the city.
Robert Browning also appears, after his wife Elizabeth Barret Browning died, as Mr. Greenwood, Adele’s suitor. I read Thomas de Quincy’s detailed account of his opium addiction in Confessions of an Opium Eater, in order to write about the use and effects of opium at the time.
Jenny Rosset is based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s long poem, Jenny, about a Victorian prostitute. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson is referred to. Michael Kirkpatrick is partly a combination of Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth and Thomas Hardy’s Gabriel Oak.
The characters in the Eyre Hall Trilogy read and discuss novels such as, Treasure Island, Persuasion, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Silas Marner, and Wuthering Heights, among others. They also read and quote poems by Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Anne Bronte, and Robert Browning.
In my final volume, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, makes special reference to Maria or the Wrongs of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein by her daughter, Mary Shelley, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by R. L. Stevenson, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, among others.
What are my aims in writing neo-Victorian novels?
I had four objectives when I decided to write The Eyre Hall Trilogy:
Firstly, my aim was to expose Rochester as a tyrant and revindicate Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic, as his victim. I am sure that Jane Eyre would have become another victim, given a few years, which is what is disclosed in my novel.
Secondly, I 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, worthier man (my creation).
Thirdly, I’ll admit I’m an irreverent, daring, and provocative writer, who looks to her favourite writers for inspiration. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is meant as a tribute to many Victorian (and some 20th century) authors, which I have already named.
Finally, I aim to write novels that will entertain readers and transport them to another time and place, to a pre-digital and pre-electronic age, where our great-great grandparents lived and loved, just as intensely as we do today, in spite of not having lightbulbs, cars, phones or tablets.
If my readers are encouraged to read or reread the classics, that would be an extra bonus!
I’ve written a previous article about writing prequels and sequels here: https://lucciagray.com/2014/11/08/sequels-prequels-reinterpretations-rewritings-and-writing-back/
How have I approached neo-Victorian fiction?
I’ve used the following literary strategies:
Intertextuality: A literary device that creates an ‘interrelationship between texts’. I’ve included texts, plots, characters, from other novels in my novels.
My most important sources are the characters, plot and setting in the prequel Wide Sargasso Sea as well as Jane Eyre.
Metafiction: Literature talking about literature.
Charles Dickens discusses the process of writing with Jane, inviting the reader to think about literature and the process of literary creation. Jane also talks about the books she writes and her writing process.
Postcolonialism: Writing back to the ‘Empire’ and traditional Victorian writers.
I’ve done this by paying attention to the secondary or marginalized characters who would have been ignored at the time, such as the servants and the prostitute.
I’ve read between the lines of Charlotte Bronte’s unreliable narrator: a young, naïve woman who is in love, and looked below the surface for hidden meanings.
Feminism: Empower Jane to move on without/in spite of Mr. Rochester and I’ve made an attempt to reinstate Bertha Antoinette Mason.
What’s my writing process like?
At this point, I ought to tell you that before I sit down and write, I have ‘seen’ the scene in my mind and heard the characters interacting. I usually jot down a few ideas and do lots of research which includes finding pictures and specific information, too.
The Eyre Hall trilogy is character driven. I plan a simple, loose plot outline, basically three parts and thirty chapters, and let the characters interact and move the plot forward. I need to know what my characters want, how they feel, what they’re wearing, looking at, thinking about, and doing, before I write. I learn more about them as I listen to them and watch them interact.
I’m overjoyed when readers recognize my sources, and I love it when they say they’re going to reread the original Victorian novels I mention, this isn’t my main aim. I’d like my readers to walk in Victorian shoes, to understand our literary grandfathers and grandmothers and where we come from.
My objective is to write novels that will entertain all types of readers and transport them to another time and place, where there were no light bulbs, phones, fridges, malls, emails, mobiles, planes, or cars; to the world where our great-great grandparents lived and loved just as intensely as we do today.
Are you interested in reading and reviewing my novels? I’d love to hear from you!