Letter P #AtoZChallenge #JaneEyre the Prequel

This post is part of this year’s April Challenge to write a post a day. I’ve chosen to write about my greatest literary passion: Jane Eyre. I’m going to tell you about the Prequel to Jane Eyre written almost a century after Jane Eyre was published.

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Wide Sargasso Sea, the Prequel to Jane Eyre

Although my main inspiration in writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy was Jane Eyre, its prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea, written over a hundred years later by Jean Rhys, has been almost equally responsible. Both novels are complimentary and it is their combined stories, which have led to my sequel, The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

I read Wide Sargasso Sea, about thirty years after reading Jane Eyre. This short, but intense novel, which was written in the 1960s, tells the story of Bertha Mason in three parts: her childhood, before she met Mr. Rochester, their first meeting and arranged marriage and first four years of matrimony, and finally her death at Thornfield Hall.

After reading Wide Sargasso Sea, it’s impossible not to reread Jane Eyre with new insight and perspective.

Jean Rhys was born in Dominica, an island of the British West Indies to a Welsh doctor and a third-generation Creole of Scots ancestry. She must have understood Bertha Mason’s feeling of alienation in England herself, as she says in this eloquent quote:

Rhys quote

Rhys’ novel tells the formerly untold story of Bertha Antoinette Mason from her birth in Jamaica to her death at Thornfield Hall.

Antoinette who was silenced, imprisoned, and abused in Jane Eyre, is given a voice and a life, a real life, in Wide Sargasso Sea; a life Charlotte Bronte insinuated but never told. In Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette tells Rochester; “there is always the other side, always”, and that is the story Rhys weaves in Part One which Antoinette narrates.

Edward Rochester narrates Part Two and is shown up as the shady, unscrupulous character he became in Jane Eyre. His elder brother was to inherit the Rochester Estate, so his father arranged a marriage to a rich Jamaican heiress for Edward, his second son, or the ‘spare’. Rochester disliked Jamaica and although his wife was beautiful, he was not aware that she was Creole, and it displeased him, especially after marrying her and disposing of her generous dowry.

When he inherited the Rochester Estate due to both his brother and father’s sudden deaths, he decided it was time to return to England. That was when he locked Bertha away in a windowless, cold and damp attic, claimed he was unmarried and went gallivanting to France, as he himself admits to Jane.

The Third and Final Part is told once more by Antoinette, who not surprisingly, after ten years in an attic, has become the ‘madwoman in the attic’. She supposedly burns Thornfield Hall, endangering the lives of the rest of the occupants, and commits suicide.

Gilbert and Gubar’s seminal study on feminist literary criticism, Madwoman in the Attic, was written in honour of Bertha Mason. I’ve written several posts on this topic in previous posts on this blog:

My fascination with these two novels escalated when I taught Postcolonial Literature to undergraduates at the University of Córdoba. One of the topics on the syllabus was a comparison of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, and that really sparked classroom discussion and my imagination. The idea of reinstating the first Mrs. Rochester, Bertha Mason, had been nagging at me for a long time, until I decided to reinstate Bertha Mason by bringing her daughter to life and back to the Rochester Estate in my Sequel to Jane Eyre, The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

 

Is Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall a Standalone #Novel or The Second Volume of a Trilogy?

I’d like to start by answering a previous question. Many people ask me if it’s necessary to have read Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea before reading the novels in the Eyre Hall Trilogy, and I always tell them it isn’t necessary.

It’s true that some of the characters in my novels originally appeared in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. However, many other characters are original to The Eyre Hall Trilogy, never having appeared in Jane Eyre.

Similarly, some of the plot lines are taken from ‘the spaces’ which Charlotte Bronte and Jean Rhys left in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, but most of the suspense and intrigue has been devised by my own overactive imagination.

The original plots and characters in both novels are partly present in my own, but there is enough back story by means of flashbacks and conversations to enable readers to remember or be acquainted with the characters and stories.

Some readers have said they read or reread Jane Eyre after reading All Hallows at Eyre Hall, and I love hearing it, but that’s purely a matter of choice. I personally believe authentic Victorian fiction, with its relatively slow pace, heavy reliance on telling instead of showing, and detailed descriptions, is often hard going for contemporary readers.

You may like to read my post on prequels, sequels, reinterpretations, rewriting and writing back, for more information about how I have combined both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, making both novels the backstory to The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

Coming back to our original question, is Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall a standalone or part of a trilogy? Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall is both a standalone novel and part of a trilogy.

I hope it will be read by readers who have already read All Hallows at Eyre Hall, but it can also be read without having read the first volume. I actually gave it to several beta readers, who had not read All Hallows, and they told me they considered it as a complete novel on its own.

That said, readers of Twelfth Night who have not read All Hallows may want to read the backstory with more detail and decide to read it afterwards. That’s fine, too, but again, not necessary.

Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall has various plot lines, which start in Chapter I and end in Chapter XXXIII. Some of these events have their origin in All Hallows, others in Jane Eyre, or Wide Sargasso Sea, and others are unique to Twelfth Night. In any case, there is sufficient information for the reader to have a complete reading experience.

Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall is a novel for readers who enjoy historical novels including adventure, mystery, and romance. The novel starts during a storm on the Atlantic Ocean in November, and moves back to Eyre Hall, the country estate where the extended Eyre-Rochester family live, for Christmas. Part of the action will also take us to Victorian London, and finally across the ocean once more to Jamaica. A myriad of diverse characters will entertain the reader with their unique first person accounts of events. There are several unconventional romances, murders, kidnappings, and lots of suspense, right up to the last page!

Some of the characters first appear in Jane Eyre, and others are unique to Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. I have included the folowing ‘Cast of Characters’ at the beginning of Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, to enhance the reading experience.

Meet the Cast in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall

Characters initially in Jane Eyre:
Jane Eyre, Richard Mason, Leah, Admiral Fitzjames (he was captain in Jane Eyre), Mrs. Diana Fitzjames (who was Miss Diana Rivers in Jane Eyre), Celine and Adele Varens, Mr. Briggs, Dr. Carter, Bertha Mason, and Mr. Rochester.

Characters of my own creation in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall:
John Eyre Rochester, Michael and Susan Kirkpatrick, Annette Mason, ‘young’ Dr. Carter, Captain Carrington, Mr. William Greenwood, Dante Greenwood, Mr. Smythe, Nell Rosset, Jenny Rosset, Phoebe, Simon, Beth, Daisy, Fred, Cook, Joseph, Christy, and Isaac das Junot.

Character sketches

Jane Eyre is no longer a nineteen-year-old, penniless governess. She is a wealthy woman in her early forties, who promotes education and social welfare, writes novels, and manages the Rochester estate. She was married to Mr. Rochester for 21 years and has one son, John Eyre Rochester, although she had several miscarriages and a stillborn daughter. After her husband’s death, Jane was blackmailed into marrying Mr. Mason and abandoned by the man she loved.

Richard Mason was Mr. Rochester’s brother-in-law. His sister, Bertha Mason, was Rochester’s first mad wife.

Annette Mason was born in Thornfield Hall while her mother, Bertha Mason, was married to Edward Rochester and locked in his attic. Her uncle, Richard Mason, took Annette back with him to Jamaica, where she was brought up in a convent, as an orphan, supervised by her uncle. She returned to England to claim her birthright when Mr. Rochester was on his deathbed. She is now living at Eyre Hall as Jane’s ward.

Michael Kirkpatrick used to be Jane’s valet, but he left Eyre Hall and joined the Royal Navy when Jane accepted Mr. Mason’s proposal.

Captain Carrington is Michael’s captain on board the HMS Princess Helena. He was also captain to Admiral Fitzjames, who is married to Jane’s cousin, Diana.

Adele Varens was Mr. Rochester’s ward. Jane Eyre was first employed at Thornfield Hall as her governess. Her mother, Céline Varens, was Mr. Rochester’s mistress in France. Adele is engaged to the widowed poet, Mr. Greenwood. They have been living in Venice for the past year with Mr. Greenwood’s son, Dante. Susan Kirkpatrick, Michael’s sister, has accompanied Adele as her maid and companion.

Mr. Briggs was a solicitor who had been dealing with the Eyre-Rochester family’s affairs, and Mr. Smythe is his new employee.

‘Young’ Dr. Carter is Dr. Carter’s son. He has taken over his father’s practice in the area.

Mrs. Leah is the housekeeper at Eyre Hall. She used to work as a maid at Thornfield Hall before Jane Eyre arrived.

Nell is a ten-year-old girl who is Jane’s companion throughout her illness. Her mother, Jenny Rosset, is a seamstress at Eyre Hall.

Simon, Beth, Daisy, Christy, Fred, Cook and Joseph are also servants at Eyre Hall.

Isaac das Junot is a sin-eater. He is a sinister character who appears when there is a death at Eyre Hall.

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I hope readers who have read All Hallows and/or Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall will be interested enough in the extended Eyre-Mason-Rochester family, to want to read Midsummer at Eyre Hall (due in spring 2016), which will end this trilogy, because it will mark the end of an era at Eyre Hall. However, ends also lead to new beginnings, and Midsummer at Eyre Hall will open the door to the start of another stage in this family saga.

Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall is on a Kindle Countdown Deal at a special reduced price 0.99 until the 26th of November. It’s also free to download on KindleUnlimited

Richard Mason: The Villain in Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and All Hallows at Eyre Hall

Richard Mason is a fascinating character, created by Charlotte Bronte, for her novel Jane Eyre, and taken up a century later in the prequel written by Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. Mason reappears in All Hallows at Eyre Hall, the sequel to both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as one of the main characters. 

This article will take a closer look at this pivotal character, drawn by Charlotte Bronte in the 19th sentury, developed by Jean Rhys in the 20th century, and reiterpreted by Luccia Gray in the 21st century.

Jane Eyre

Mason makes two brief appearances, which are essential for the plot of Jane Eyre. Mason’s character is only briefly sketched; nevertheless the reader is able to identify him in his specific and crucial role as both villain and foil to Rochester.

A simplified approach to these four characters may lead us to the conclusion that both Mason and Bertha could be interpreted as antagonists to Jane and Rochester. Jane is plain, good and pure, as opposed to Bertha, who is, or was, dazzling, wicked and sexual, whereas Rochester is unattractive, strong and honest, in contrast to Mason, who is good-looking, cowardly and deceitful.

However my interpretation of the novel is far from simplistic and aims to contribute to the unveiling the subtext of Jane Eyre; what was really meant (connotation), not was actually said (denotation). Bertha deserves, and therefore will be the subject of another article, because on this occasion I want to focus all attention on Richard Mason’s character and role in the novel.

Mason first appears in the novel arriving at a lively, guest-filled Thornfield Hall in a horse drawn carriage, claiming to be an old friend, while Mr. Rochester is out riding:

“The post-chaise stopped; the driver rang the door-bell, and a gentleman alighted attired in travelling garb; but it was not Mr. Rochester; it was a tall, fashionable-looking man, a stranger.”

At first, Jane is somewhat impressed by the newcomer:

“His manner was polite; his accent, in speaking, struck me as being somewhat unusual,—not precisely foreign, but still not altogether English: his age might be about Mr. Rochester’s,—between thirty and forty; his complexion was singularly sallow: otherwise he was a fine-looking man, at first sight especially.”

However it took her only seconds to realize there was something untrustworthy about him:

“On closer examination, you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that failed to please. His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life—at least so I thought.

The guests at Thornfield Hall were impressed with the visitor. According to the ladies gathered he was attractive, using adjectives such as: “a beautiful man,” and, “a love of a creature,” some “adored” him and referred to “his pretty little mouth, and nice nose,” and others said he was “ideal” and “charming.” However Jane decides that he is repulsive:

“But I liked his physiognomy even less than before: it struck me as being at the same time unsettled and inanimate. His eye wandered, and had no meaning in its wandering: this gave him an odd look, such as I never remembered to have seen. For a handsome and not an unamiable looking man, he repelled me exceedingly: there was no power in that smooth-skinned face of a full oval shape: no firmness in that aquiline nose and small cherry mouth; there was no thought on the low, even forehead; no command in that blank, brown eye.”

Two paragraphs later, comparing him to Mr. Rochester, she has framed him as the villain by comparing Mason to a falcon and Rochester to a sheep:

“I compared him with Mr. Rochester. I think (with deference be it spoken) the contrast could not be much greater between a sleek gander and a fierce falcon: between a meek sheep and the rough-coated keen eyed dog, its guardian.”

Shortly after, Rochester returns disguised as an old gipsy who wishes to tell the guests their fortune. After the farce, which Jane discovers easily, she tells him that he has a visitor and he reacts with horror:

“His name is Mason, sir; and he comes from the West Indies; from Spanish Town, in Jamaica, I think.”

Mr. Rochester was standing near me; he had taken my hand, as if to lead me to a chair. As I spoke he gave my wrist a convulsive grip; the smile on his lips froze: apparently a spasm caught his breath.”

He lets her know immediately that Mason is a big problem for him:

“Jane, I’ve got a blow; I’ve got a blow, Jane!” He staggered. “Oh, lean on me, sir.”

However the two men converse alone together and she hears them bid each other good might amiably, as if they had reached some kind of gentlemanly agreement.

Later, in the middle of the night, Jane and all the guests hear a terrible howl coming from the third storey crying for help. It comes from the room directly above hers, where we later discover Bertha has been hidden for eleven years. Everyone wakes up and leaves their rooms in fright. The worried and curious guests are sent back to bed while Rochester asks Jane to follow him upstairs:

“Mr. Rochester held the candle over him; I recognised in his pale and seemingly lifeless face—the stranger, Mason: I saw too that his linen on one side, and one arm, was almost soaked in blood.”

He then left her alone with him while he went to fetch Dr.Carter:

“I shall have to leave you in this room with this gentleman, for an hour, or perhaps two hours: you will sponge the blood as I do when it returns: if he feels faint, you will put the glass of water on that stand to his lips, and your salts to his nose. You will not speak to him on any pretext—and—Richard, it will be at the peril of your life if you speak to her: open your lips—agitate yourself—and I’ll not answer for the consequences.”

The Jane did not know at the time who or what had attacked Richard, but we will find out it was his sister, Bertha Mason, who had bitten him and attacked him with a knife. Rochester eventually returns with Dr. Carter who carries him away from Thornfield Hall to cure his wounds.

(In the first chapter of All Hallows at Eyre Hall, Mr. Mason refers to this incident and reminds Jane of the noises she heard that night, disclosing a shocking secret which lay behind the closed door and was only partially disclosed in Jane Eyre).

Mason’s second and last appearance occurs three months later, when Mr. Briggs, a London solicitor interrupts the wedding by accusing Mr. Rochester of attempted bigamy. Rochester denies being married, denying the authenticity of the marriage certificate, and later suggesting that if he ever had a wife she was not living, until Mason intervenes by answering the vicar’s question:

Then addressing Mason, he inquired gently, “Are you aware, sir, whether or not this gentleman’s

wife is still living?”

“Courage,” urged the lawyer, “speak out.”

“She is now living at Thornfield Hall,” said Mason, in more articulate tones: “I saw her there last April. I am her brother.”

That is when they all return to Thornfield hall and discover the cruel secret in the attic.

Following the discovery, Rochester tried to convince Jane that he was tricked into marrying a mad Creole, by his own father as well as her father and her brother. Jane believes him, as many readers have done in the last hundred and fifty years, but in any case, Jane leaves because, tricked or not, mad or not, Bertha Antoinette Mason is his legal wife; she is Mrs. Bertha Rochester.

 

Wide Sargasso Sea

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys expands on the story of Bertha and Richard Mason, who plays a major role in this novel, too. We learn that Richard and Bertha are not blood relations. Richard was Mr. Jonas Mason’s son by his first marriage, and she was her mother, Antoinetta’s, daughter by her first marriage. When they married, they had no children. Bertha’s mother was a Creole, although her father and Richard’s father were both English.

Rochester tells Jane his marriage to Bertha had been arranged by their respective fathers and in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester writes a letter to his father informing him that the transaction has been conducted according to their plans:

“All is well and has gone according to your plans and wishes. I dealt of course with Richard Mason. His father died soon after I left for the West Indies as you probably know. He is a good fellow, hospitable and friendly; he seemed to become attached to me and trusted me completely.”

Wide Sargasso Sea confirms the information Rochester tells Jane after Bertha’s discovery in Jane Eyre in another letter to his father:

Dear Father. The thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition. No provision made for her (that must be seen to). I have a modest competence now I will never be a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the son you love. No begging letters, no mean requests. None of the furtive shabby manoeuvres of a younger son. I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain? The girl is thought to be beautiful, she is beautiful. And yet…

In Wide Sargasso Sea, it is Rochester who convinces Mason of his honesty. Rochester is awarded the thirty thousand pound dowry, and when her father dies she inherits a great deal of money, which also goes to Rochester because he is her husband. When Bertha’s aunt Cora suggests she should be protected legally, Richard answers:

“You are talking about an honourable gentleman, not a rascal,” Richard said. “I am not in a position to make conditions, as you know very well. She is damn lucky to get him, all things considered. Why should I insist on a lawyer’s settlement when I trust him? I would trust him with my life,” he went on in an affected voice.”

So, in Jane Eyre, Richard Mason is protecting his sister. Rochester was given a great deal of money in exchange for the wedding, and he pledged to love her in sickness and in health. He is naturally looking after his sister’s interests.

But there are many unanswered questions. Why did Mason return to see his sister in April? Did he visit his sister frequently? Did he know how about her living conditions? What did he talk to Rochester about? What was their secret agreement which is not fully disclosed in Jane Eyre? All Hallows at Eyre Hall holds the answers to these enigmatic questions.

 

All Hallows at Eyre Hall 

Mason does not appear in  All Hallows at Eyre Hall by chance. There is a specific and unexpected reason for Richard Mason’s presence at Eyre Hall. Richard Mason has some disquieting news for Jane Rochester which will turn her world upside down, once more. She will find out exactly what happened the night Bertha attacked her brother. We will discover why she attacked him and what those strange animal noises and squeals coming from the attic were all about.

Bertha’s presence was only one of the secrets at Thornfield Hall, and although both secrets were conveniently removed before Jane and Rochester married, Bertha’s shadow will haunt Jane once more twenty-three years after that fateful night.

Richard Mason was a villain in Jane Eyre because he interrupted Jane and Rochester’s wedding, but in all honesty, he simply reminded Rochester that he was already married to his sister for whose hand he had received a great deal of money. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Richard is the gullible and careless older brother who neglected to look after his sister’s financial well-being, allowing Rochester control over all her funds and finally take her to England, out of her family’s reach. Mason does not do any of the things villains do in either novel; he is not seen to kill anyone, deceive anyone, steal from anyone, abuse anyone, etc. He is more an irresponsible coward than a villain.

On the other hand, in All Hallows at Eyre Hall, Richard Mason is finally given his true role as villain in the style of Count Fosco in The Woman in White. He is a scheming manipulator who has his own selfish ulterior motives. Mason will finally be allowed to play a major role as a really nasty piece of work. He has become a more ambitious, vicious, and clever schemer. You are going to love this villain!

However, I must warn you, there is another, unexpected villain in All Hallows At Eyre Hall, and he is even worse than Shakespeare’s greatest villain, Richard III. He murders, plots and schemes, even helpless children and his family are included amongst his victims, and his name is not Richard Mason.