Days of Yore #SoCS

This post is written in response to Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday (SoCS) prompt

Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “your, you’re or yore” Use it in your post as a noun or a verb… or a name! Enjoy!

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Days of Yore

We all have our own days of yore. They start when we’re still children.

As soon as we’re old enough to have memories we can recall the days of yore.

Even so, the word yore has a distant sound to it, as if it refers to things which happened long before our own memories began.

The days of yore refer to the memories of others who have died generations before us. So why do they belong to us, too?

Perhaps their recollections are still alive in our collective unconscious. Don’t we all remember and re-imagine the same things?

Isn’t storytelling and all forms of literature a way of recalling and passing on events of the days of yore?

The big bad wolf, the fierce dragon, the handsome prince, the wicked stepmother, the Trojan Horse, the pairs of animals in Noah’s Arc, King Arthur’s Round Table, etc. Someone must have seen and recalled them of yore and passed on the memory, because, don’t we remember them as if we’d seen them ourselves?

The problem is, it’s like Chinese whispers, as the stories are passed down over generations they gradually change; they transform into something else, something later generations can relate to…

They say the legend of the mad woman confined to an attic was told to Charlotte Bronte on a visit to a local country house in her youth. Years later she recreated the legend in Bertha Mason, who became the catalyst in Jane Eyre and most famous secondary character in literary history.

I also shared Miss Bronte’s memories of the days of yore and remembered the story of the screams on the third floor and imagined that a baby was crying in that windowless attic, a baby who returned as a young woman to claim her birthright by her father’s deathbed: Annette Mason in The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

It happened of yore, but I remember it so well, don’t you?

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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.

 

The Moon in Jane Eyre Part Two: At Thornfield Hall

The Moon in Jane’s Arrival At Thornfield Hall and First Encounters with Mr. Rochester.

This post is a continuation of a previous post on The Moon in Jane Eyre Part One: At Gateshead and Lowood which has been a very popular with readers interested in Jane Eyre.

The moon makes many symbolic and significant appearances at Thornfield Hall, so this post will also come in two parts. This first part refers to Jane’s arrival at Thornfield hall and her first encounters with Mr. Rochester. The rest of her stay at Thornfield Hall will be covered in another post.

The Third Storey and The Attic at Thornfield Hall 

The moon makes its first appearance the day after Jane’s arrival at Thornfield Hall. In the evening, once her first class with Adele was over, Mrs. Fairfax offered to show her around the house. The tour ended in the mysterious and uncanny third storey, which was devoid of the moonlight:

All these relics gave to the third storey of Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory. I liked the hush, the gloom, the quaintness of these retreats in the day; but I by no means coveted a night’s repose on one of those wide and heavy beds: shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old English hangings crusted with thick work, portraying effigies of strange flowers, and
stranger birds, and strangest human beings,— all which would have looked strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight. If there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall, this would be its haunt.’
‘So I think: you have no ghost, then?’
‘None that I ever heard of,’ returned Mrs. Fairfax, smiling.
‘Nor any traditions of one? no legends or ghost stories?’
‘I believe not.”

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Jane and Mrs. Fairfax continue their tour to the attic, which Jane describes as black as a vault. They walk up a very narrow staircase and then with the help of a ladder through a trap-door to the roof of the hall and a view of the surrounding countryside, which Bertha is denied.

Bertha’s room was described as ‘windowless’ and the rest of the upper floor was dark and gloomy, probably due to small windows and heavy curtains. The moon, which has been a positive omen in Jane’s life, lighting her way in dark moments, and announcing the appearance of positive characters, is denied to Bertha who must live concealed in absolute darkness.

Notice also the lies Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane when she claims there are no legends of ghosts, yet all the servants are aware of Grace Poole’s secret charge in the attic and the strange noises, which they all hear on occasions.

The lack of moon in this instance indicates a moral as well as physical darkness, as it encloses falsehood, as well as captivity and concealment.

Mr. Rochester’s Arrival

Jane arrived at Thornfield Hall in October. The following months passed by tranquilly, as Jane taught Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ‘ward’. One afternoon in January, Jane volunteered to take a letter to Hay, which was two miles away, for Mrs. Fairfax, because she thought it would be a pleasant winter afternoon walk. On her way, she sat on a style and observed Thornfield, and the surrounding countryside as she watched the rising moon. Jane tells us:

I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank crimson and clear behind them. I then turned eastward. On the hill-top above me sat the rising moon; pale yet as a cloud, but brightening momentarily, she looked over Hay, which, half lost in trees, sent up a blue smoke from its few chimneys: it was yet a mile distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its thin murmurs of life.

The rising moon is heralding a singular event. A few minutes later, Mr. Rochester fell off his horse on the causeway. She describes their first meeting thus:

‘If you are hurt, and want help, sir, I can fetch someone either from Thornfield Hall or from Hay.’
‘Thank you: I shall do: I have no broken bones,—only a sprain;’ and again he stood up and tried his foot, but the result extorted an involuntary ‘Ugh!’
Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest.

 

Moon phases

The moon is not yet full, but it is ‘waxing’ or in the first quarter growing into a full moon, indicating the initial moments of a great event. After describing him in great detail, he asks her what she was doing on the causeway. There follows an important quote regarding the moon. Jane herself admits it is a positive omen, which assists her as she walks at night, and metaphorically through her own, uncertain life. It is also significant that the mood is shining directly on Thornfield Hall, signaling it out as a safe place for her.

He looked at me when I said this; he had hardly turned his eyes in my direction before.
‘I should think you ought to be at home yourself,’ said he, ‘if you have a home in this neighbourhood: where do you come from?’
‘From just below; and I am not at all afraid of being out late when it is moonlight: I will run over to Hay for you with pleasure, if you wish it: indeed, I am going there to post a letter.’
‘You live just below—do you mean at that house with the battlements?’ pointing to Thornfield Hall, on which the moon cast a hoary gleam, bringing it out distinct and pale from the woods that, by contrast with the western sky, now seemed one mass of shadow.
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Whose house is it?’
‘Mr. Rochester’s.’
‘Do you know Mr. Rochester?’
‘No, I have never seen him.’
‘He is not resident, then?’
‘No.’
‘Can you tell me where he is?’
‘I cannot.’

Rochester horse

Jane herself describes the moon as an element of security. It is her home, the place where she feels safe, which, at the moment, is Thornfield Hall. The moon lights her path, showing her the way to her errand and back home. It has also enabled her to scrutinise Mr. Rochester carefully, pointing out to her a person who will have a great influence on her life. We saw in part one, that Miss Temple was introduced to Jane in a similar way.

On her way back from posting the letter, she lingers at the gates of Thornfield Hall before entering. She watches the moon and the stars in awe, aware that something of great importance has occurred, although she is not yet able to fathom what has happened.

I lingered at the gates; I lingered on the lawn; I paced backwards and forwards on the pavement; the shutters of the glass door were closed; I could not see into the interior; and both my eyes and spirit seemed drawn from the gloomy house—from the grey-hollow filled with rayless cells, as it appeared to me—to that sky expanded before me,—a blue sea absolved from taint of cloud; the moon ascending it in solemn march; her orb seeming to look up as she left the hill-tops, from behind which she had come, far and farther below her, and aspired to the zenith, midnight dark in its fathomless depth and measureless distance; and for those trembling stars that followed her course; they made my heart tremble, my veins glow when I viewed them.
Little things recall us to earth; the clock struck in the hall; that sufficed; I turned from moon and stars, opened a side-door, and went in.

She soon realizes that the man she met was her employer. The following day, Mrs. Fairfax informs her that Mr. Rochester requires her presence for tea in the drawing-room. Mr. Rochester makes the usual inquiries an employer might make about her family, past life, and how she came to work at his house.

The conversation then takes a strange turn and he accuses her of being a witch and using magic, with the help of her ‘people’ and the moonlight, to throw him off his horse in their first meeting the previous day. She tells him jokingly there are no such beings in England any more.

‘I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?’
‘For whom, sir?’
‘For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?’
I shook my head. ‘The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago,’ said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. ‘And not even in Hay Lane, or the fields about it, could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more.’

He also asks her to play the piano and show him her drawings, and comments on one of them in particular:

These eyes in the Evening Star you must have seen in a dream. How could you make them look so clear, and yet not at all brilliant? for the planet above quells their rays. And what meaning is that in their solemn depth? And who taught you to paint wind. There is a high gale in that sky, and on this hill-top. Where did you see Latmos? For that is Latmos. There! put the drawings away!’

The second painting he examines belongs to a Greek legend. It portrays the evening star and a hill with a woman’s bust rising into the sky, which he immediately identifies as Selena was a goddess of Greek mythology associated with the moon and even regarded as the personification of the moon. He asks Jane, “Where did you see Latmos? For that is Latmos.”

Selena is commonly depicted with a crescent moon, as in this picture, often accompanied by stars; or a lunar disc.

 

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The Moon-goddess Selene or Luna accompanied by the Dioscuri, or Phosphoros (the Morning Star) and Hesperos (the Evening Star). Marble altar, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. From Italy.

In Greek legend Latmos, or more correctly Mt Latmos, is where the goddess Selene first saw and fell in love with Endymion, vowing to protect him for ever. He tells her to leave him, as soon as he realizes that he has associated her with the goddess. It is interesting that Jane, herself, does not make this association. It is his own fear of the emotions she has stirred in him that makes him practically throw the three women out of the room.

It is interesting to notice how Mr. Rochester has a contrasting view of the moon to Jane’s. He fears the moon and considers it a negative omen. Mr. Rochester associates the moon with female love or lust, which he fears, and witchcraft, which he also associates with love spells. The reader is aware that he is a tormented man, and that this torment is due to unfavourable experiences with women. We have no proof yet, but it seems he does not want to fall prey to another woman brought to him by the moon. He probably also associates the moon with his wife’s lunacy, but of course, at this point, the reader is not yet aware of any of these events.

In part three we will learn more about why Mr. Rochester considers the moon as a negative omen.

 

Madwoman in the Attic (Part II)

The madwoman in the attic has been reivindicated by both postcolonialists and feminists as a symbol of patriarchal oppression and social injustice. According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in her influential essay, Three women’s texts and a critique of imperialism, it is impossible to approach nineteenth-century British literature without bearing in mind that Imperialism, constituted “a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English.”

Spivak belongs to the so-called second-wave of feminist theoreticians writing mainly in the 1970s and 80s comprised by authors such as Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Kate Millet, whose Sexual Politics (1970) is the best known work of this period. Gilbert and Gubar’s work reviewed in my previous post was written within this time frame, as was Elaine Showalter’s influential and inspiring work on women novelists in A Literature of Their Own (1978), more recently revised in her article, Twenty Years on: “A Literature of Their Own” Revisited
Their views can be summarized in Barbara Johnson’s famous quote, “the question of gender is a question of language.” The feminist approach is based on the assumption that that gender difference is located in and transferred through language. And subsequently, the language used to transmit culture through literature, was high on their targets for criticism. However, Feminist Literary Criticism was soon to join forces with Postcolonial Criticism. Spivak was one of the first academics who related to the rise of feminisms among women of color in the area of Postcolonial Studies by examining the effects of political independence upon subaltern, or subproletarian women, in third world countries.

In the above mentioned article, Spivak has taken Charlotte Bronte´s novel and Jean Rhys’s 1960s ‘writing back’ or reinterpretation of the events prior to Jane Eyre’s appearance at Thornfield Hall, as her starting point for a literary reinterpretation of Patriarchy and Colonialism in their diverse representations of ‘the mad Creole’ (in Rochester’s words).

Firstly, I would like make it clear, as Spivak did herself, that this is in no way a criticism of the author, Charlotte Bronte, whose intentions we cannot fully gauge, but of the characters she recreated and we are free to reinterpret. In any case, it is my opinion, that Bronte was well aware of Rochester’s lack of character; after all she portrayed him in with all his faults. She was however subtle enough to show him through the ‘blind’ eyes of his beloved Jane Eyre, but that does not mean that her eyes are truthful. Jane is not a reliable narrator with respect to Rochester: she is a woman blindly in love. The reader, on the other hand need not be blindly in love with him, too. Although many have succumbed to his spell, Rochester is the real villain in Jane Eyre.

The figure of Bertha Mason is, according to Spivak, produced by the rise of imperialism. She is a white Jamaican Creole, who is portrayed both by Jane and Rochester (through Jane’s reinterpretation of Rochester’s words), on the frontier between the human and the animal. This is Jane’s famous description of her when she first saw her in her prison-attic at Thornfield Hall, after the interrupted wedding to Rochester:

“The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognized well that purple face,—those bloated features.”

Rochester’s description of her is no less pejorative. He refers to her as: “The lunatic is both cunning and malignant;”, and “What a pigmy intellect she had, and what giant propensities!”, and “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations? Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard!—”

Forty years after Jane Eyre was published, Jean Rhys, was born on the Caribbean Island of Dominica, where she read the novel as a child, she was moved by Bertha Mason: “I thought I’d try to write her a life.” Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1965, is Bertha’s life from her childhood to her death.

Spivak’s essay reminds us that in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Narcissus’ madness is disclosed when he recognizes his other as his self: “iste ego sum.” in WSS Bertha Antoinette sees her other self in the mirror: “I went into the hall again with the tall candle in my hand. It was then that I saw her — the ghost. The woman with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her” (WSS, p. 154). The gilt frame encloses a mirror in whose reflection bertha sees her other self. But who is this other self? Is it Bertha or is it Jane Eyre? After this dream vision, Bertha finally understands her mission at Thornfield Hall: “now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do” (WSS, pp. 155-56), and she burns down the house and takes her life, ironically so that her other self (Jane Eyre) can become the heroine of Bronte’s novel and marry Mr. Rochester.

Bertha was originally created in Jane Eyre as a secondary, yet essential character within the novel. Any reinterpretation of this character must be based on surfacing the subtext of the original novel. That is, of unearthing the subtleties of her story. Bertha never speaks, she was metaphorically gagged, until Jean Rhys wrote her story and reminded us that everyone has the right to be heard albeit belatedly, in the 20th century, in spite of being denied a voice in the 19th century. Bertha cannot move or be seen, because she is literally confined in a windowless room. Unseen and Unheard. She is an invisible, voiceless, and imprisoned human being, and yet in spite of this Rochester has been hailed as the hero of the novel for over 160 years!

Well, it’s time to question Bertha’s madness and listen to what she had to say. It’s time to see her, hear her, and let her have a life! Jean Rhys started the ball rolling with her prequel WSS, and I’ve picked up the ball and kept it rolling with a sequel. My novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, (to be published very shortly on Amazon. There’s a preview on another page on this blog!), takes up the story twenty-three years after Bertha’s death. However, she is powerfully present throughout my novel, from page one. I have given Bertha a very strong voice. I’ve given her a daughter to speak up for her and claim her dues, and I’ve also reconciled her with Jane Eyre Rochester, who has grown up and out of love, so she can see Bertha as she really was, not as Rochester wanted her to be seen.