#WWWBlogs ‘Why I wrote a sequel to #JaneEyre’ Part I #HistoricalFiction ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’

Seven years ago, in 2013, I started writing The Eyre Hall trilogy, which took me four years to complete. Book One, All Hallows at Eyre Hall takes up the story of Jane Eyre twenty-two years after her marriage, while Rochester is on his deathbed, and we find out what has been happening at Eyre Hall, the house Jane Eyre built, after Thornfield Hall burnt down.

When I first read Jane Eyre, I was fascinated by Jane’s character and fortitude. She was an orphan who grew up in a hostile family, with her cruel Aunt Reed and her spiteful cousins.

Jane later survived physical and emotional hardships, such as sickness, malnutrition, and humiliation, at Lowood Institution, yet she was determined and intelligent enough to eventually become a teacher there.

At eighteen, she decided she had outgrown Lowood. She wanted to see the world, but she was still a poor orphan, and yet she had the resoluteness and optimism to apply for a job as a governess in order to gain further independence.

Why I'm Quitting This Teaching Bullshit to Become a Governess - McSweeney's Internet Tendency

I was naturally overjoyed when her life improved and she, seemingly, found true love in Mr. Rochester, and I was devastated to learn that not only was he already married, but that he had imprisoned his, supposedly, mad wife in his windowless attic at Thornfield Hall, in the care of the drunken Grace Poole.

Jane’s hardships started anew. In chapter XXVII, after the interruption of her marriage and Bertha Antoinette Mason’s discovery in the attic, Jane told Rochester that she was leaving, and what did Rochester do? He offered her a love nest in France:

You shall be Mrs. Rochester—both virtually and nominally. I shall keep only to you so long as you and I live. You shall go to a place I have in the south of France: a whitewashed villa on the shores of the Mediterranean. There you shall live a happy, and guarded, and most innocent life. Never fear that I wish to lure you into error—to make you my mistress.

Jane saw through his deception and rejected the offer of living with him in France, because she knew she would become the very person he said she would not become, his mistress.

So, the following dawn, she escaped from Thornfield.

Jane found herself alone and penniless once again. She was soon forced to beg for a job and shelter. I was overjoyed that she found three generous people who took her in, days later (she was in a deplorable state by then) Mary, Diana, and St. John, who were her cousins, as yet unknown to her.

I was relieved that she didn’t accept St. John’s proposal of marriage and travel as missionaries to India, because she didn’t love him. A few months later, when she was informed that she had inherited her Uncle John’s fortune and decided to share it with her cousins, it was obvious that her life was on the mend.

I was mesmerised when she finally travelled back to Thornfield Hall, because she had heard Mr. Rochester call her across the Moors on a moonlit night. When she discovered Thornfield had been burnt down, I was devastated, until I found out it had been burnt down by Bertha, who had died in the fire.

I sighed in relief because I knew Jane would be rewarded with a happy ending, and she was. ‘Reader, I married him,” she told us, and I thought ‘At last! What a relief’.

I fell in love with Rochester, too. I was about fourteen at the time. Jane was blind because she was nineteen and in love, and I was blind because I was young enough to believe Jane’s happiness would be eternal.

Twenty years later, a friend and English Teacher from Denmark, Anne, suggested I read Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, and that’s when I understood that every story has two sides. I started wondering what kind of a man Rochester really was, and if Jane’s happiness would have lasted.

Sixteen years later, as a College Professor, preparing my classes on Postcolonial Literature in English at the University of Cordoba, I realized there was a counter narrative in which the colonial cultures wrote their way back into world history, which the dominant Europeans had written.

One of the topics we discussed in class was a comparison of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, which tells the story of Bertha Antoinette Mason, Rochester’s ‘mad’ wife who was locked in his attic. Bertha who was dehumaised, voiceless and constrained in Jane Eyre, was given a voice, a background and a personality in Wide Sargasso Sea.

As a result of further investigations into these two novels, I wrote the chapter titled ‘Sexuality and Gender Relationships in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea’ in the Book, Identities on the Move: Contemporary Representations of New Sexualities and Gender Identities, published by Lexington Books, in 2014, when I was writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

The chapter discusses sexuality and gender relations in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea based on a comparative character analysis of Jane Eyre, Bertha Antoinette Mason, and Edward Rochester.

I don’t know why, it’s ridiculously expensive, but if anyone would like to you can read the article it’s on ScribdYou can also read the chapter on Google Books.

If you’re not on Scribd or if  you can’t access Google books and you’d like to read it, just let me know in the comments and I’ll send you a copy.

Jane was only nineteen when the main events occurred, and ten years older when Jane Eyre An Autobiography was written. The last few paragraphs of Jane Eyre, where she moves the story on a few years, are a couple of rushed and imprecise paragraphs. We are told that Rochester recovers his eye-sight and is able to hold his first-born son in his arms. It’s an open ended story, because the rest of their marriage is open to discussion.

That’s when I realized that Orson Wells had the key to a happy ending: ‘If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story.’

Charlotte Bronte stopped where she thought best, but Jane Eyre, like all works of art belong to the beholder, and readers are free to reinterpret any work of art. I am neither the first nor the last to do so.

I’ve written a post about this called sequels, prequels, reinterpretations, rewritings, and writing back, which deals with this topic in greater depth. Here is my post on writing sequels, prequels, reinterpretations, rewritings and writing-back.

I also agree with Derrida that ‘there is nothing outside the text’.

Everything I have written is based on the spaces between the lines of the text of Jane Eyre. 

I’ve created an intertextual and diachronic mélange in my mind, which I have translated into a trilogy. More on intertextuality in this post.

Those were the literary, philisophical and emotional reasons which led me to write a sequel to Jane Eyre.

Part 2, which deals with my specific objectives in writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy, is already live.

Meanwhile! Important news! Freebie over the Halloween weekend!

Book One of The Eyre Hall Trilogy, (International link follows) All Hallows at Eyre Hall will be free for the first time on kindle deals to coincide with Halloween, from 29th October to the 2nd November.

Make sure you download your copy!

 

 

 

Why Read Neo-Victorian Novels Instead of real Victorian Novels?

In this post, which is a follow-up to yesterday’s post which proposes a description and definition of what neo-Victorian fiction is, I’d like to discuss what’s the point of reading neo-Victorian novels in the first place. Why not read the real thing?

I hope that many of my readers have read or will read some real Victorian fiction at some point in their lives, because it’s like taking a walk in the past in a guided tour by some of the most privileged minds of the times. Who could let that opportunity slip by?

On the other hand, I’m well aware that most readers aren’t going to read ‘real’ Victorian fiction, which was written 200 years ago, and these are some of the reasons why:  

Victorian novels are too long for modern tastes and often dwell generously on details which will often exasperate the modern, and often impatient reader. It takes a lot of dedication to read a dense, three volume novel, when you have tons of things to do and need to wind down after a hard day at work, after coping with a family and daily chores.

Contemporary novels are shorter and use economical prose. There are hundreds of articles and editors telling writers, for example, to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, something no-one ever told Victorian writers! Many of us try to follow Vonnegut’s maxim:Time quote

 

These are our maxims today, and it’s what most readers want. Tell me your story as efficiently and beautifully as possible, but don’t waste my time. Show me what you want me to see, don’t tell me. None of this fits in with Victorian writing style, so it’s understandably tough for a modern reader.

 

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Victorian novels were naturally written for a Victorian audience. They knew what they ate, how they obtained their products, what they wore, what their routines were like, why they used candles and lived amidst shadows and darkness, how a message could take a month to arrive, and how a 50 mile journey would take a whole day by horse and carriage, or over two  hours by steam train. All these, and plenty more facts, are so obvious, they’re ignored, and the modern reader can easily get lost, bored, or frustrated.  

Neo-Victorian writers have to make sure, subtly, that modern readers understand and appreciate that life was slow, dark, extremely tough, and unsafe. A badly healed cut, a flu, or a hungry thief could kill you, not to mention cholera, smallpox, or rampant venereal diseases. Clothes were so heavy and complex to put on, due to the laces, strings, ribbons, and layers, that time and help were needed to get dressed. That there were no antibiotics, dentists, electric lights, or bathrooms, and that most people, including children worked from dusk to dawn, and ate plenty of stale bread and drank watered down ale.

Life was hard, look at these pictures of Dickens and Lord Tennyson in their twenties and in their fifties! Check out any other prominent Victorians and you’ll see how old and tired they looked in their forties and fifties.

 

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Finally, the contemporary writer has one great and undeniable advantage over the Victorians themselves. They had a lack of perspective of their own times that we have gained over the past 200 years. We can observe them in hindsight in their glory and their misery. We can stand back and understand and appreciate their struggle and their message in the bigger picture and transmit a more global, albeit biased, picture of their lives.

The obvious disadvantage is that we will be comparing them to us, which is unfair and biased, we must look at them from a distance, but we must make sure we are walking in their shoes as we do so.

In summary, reading Victorian fiction is like watching a black and white movie or photo, like the one above, it has a unique beauty, attraction, and value, but too much of it can tire a modern audience.

The pace, style, and richness of language are often unappealing to a contemporary audience, because it has become fixed, whereas neo-Victorian prose is alive and adapted to the taste and needs of a modern audience.

Do you read Victorian fiction? If so why?

Can you think of other reasons why contemporary readers struggle with Victorian fiction?

Have you read neo-Victorian fiction?

I’d love to know what you think.

 

Book Review: ‘An Independent Woman’, by Frances Evesham

When I chose An independent woman to read and review for Rosie’s Review Team, I was thrilled even before I started reading it, because when I read the blurb I realized it’s my favourite type of book. I enjoy reading neo-Victorian novels, so although I’m easy to please with this genre, it’s also not easy to surprise me with something new.

Well, I’m glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised, because I found an entertaining, moving, exciting, and romantic novel, set in Victorian England, which I would highly recommend.

The novel is beautifully written with prose that flows smoothly, enticing the reader to turn the pages. There are just enough descriptive elements to submerge the reader comfortably in Victorian England, moving effortlessly from foggy, filthy London, to the tranquil countryside.

Philomena’s intriguing character keeps the reader connected to the story, feeling for her plight from the first sentence, as she creeps up the twisted stairs and flees from London, to the last line.

I loved the first chapters, when she was disguised as a young boy in order to escape from London, and her ‘chance’ arrival at the country estate on Christmas Eve after a fateful train accident.

We also feel we get to know the other characters such as the mysterious Lord Thatcham, his mother, the demanding Dowager Lady Thatcham, her frivolous yet charming daughter, Selena, and the kind Mrs. Rivers and Mrs. Bramble. There’s naturally a despicable villain, who causes havoc, and whose real motives are not revealed until the end, keeping the plot moving forward with mysterious twists and surprises.

It has many gothic elements which will remind readers of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Oliver Twist, three of my favourite novels. Firstly, the mansion where the action takes place, Thatcham Hall, becomes a character, with its servants’ quarters, main living areas, bedrooms, and the dark, forbidden wings. The reader will also find a gloomy widower, a wife deceased in unclear circumstances, a rich and lonely child, an exploited and abused child, and a well-read governess, among others, all leading to an eventful and enjoyable read.

Frances Evesham shows expert knowledge of Victorian England, which she transmits wrapped up in an enjoyable parcel of mystery, action, and romance.

All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray: A Review

I have been complimented with another favorable review of my novel by fellow writer, Noelle Granger, which I would like to share with you all. It’s great to get positive reviews, but especially motivating when they come from other authors. Noelle has an inspiring blog called ‘SaylingAway’, which I hope you’ll all check out, too!

SaylingAway

I must be honest and tell you that I am always suspicious of books that are a spin off from a classic read. This time, however, I was completely in the wrong. All Hallows at Eyre Hall kept me tightly bound to my reading of it and constantly entertained with its twists and turns.

I was never a great fan of the original Jane Eyre. I thought she was wimpy and colorless and Edward Rochester pusillanimous. Now, more than twenty years later, Jane has a backbone and Edward is still spineless, whining, and morally corrupt. But now Jane is fully cognizant of his failings and no longer loves him. The book begins with Edward on his deathbed and I thought, At last, Jane is free and can live her own life. Richard Mason returns, brother of Bertha, Edward’s first, mad wife, who lived locked on the top floor of…

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“Reader, I married him.”

The Last chapter of Jane Eyre begins with these four words, “Reader, I married him.” As if with marriage the narrator wished to close the story which started when Jane was a ten year old orphan living unhappily with her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed, and spiteful cousins; Georgina, Eliza, and John. She later went through the deprivations and severity of Brocklhurst boarding school where she trained and later worked as a teacher. When she was eighteen, she applied for a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall where she met and fell in love with Mr. Rochester, who almost dishonoured her by preparing a bigamous marriage. He was already legally married to Bertha Mason, whom he had imprisoned in his attic. Bertha committed suicide and Jane and Rochester were finally able to celebrate a lawful wedding.

It was a Victorian convention to end novels in this way, indicating that virtue led to the stability and happiness which marriage represented. The problem here is that Mr. Rochester was neither virtuous nor stable, and every reader is aware of that. Whether you believe that this was the end of the story of Jane Eyre is, of course, up to the reader. This is what the narrator, Jane Eyre, a romantic and innocent twenty-year-old, thought would happen. But how reliable a narrator is Jane, the young, naïve woman who is blindly in love with Edward Rochester?

Readers have seen Edward Rochester through Jane Eyre’s eyes. She loved him in spite of his lies, and there were many of them. Rochester always denied being Adele’s father, and he insisted that he was unmarried, even in a church, as Richard Mason accused him of being betrothed to his sister. He blames everyone else for his problems; his father, his brother, Richard Mason, his first wife, and he even accuses Jane of bewitching him into loving her. Rochester is innocent in his own eyes, and he convinces Jane of his guiltlessness; this does not mean he convinces the reader. Readers make their own decisions.

Rochester is bad-tempered, conceited and aggressive. He tries to humiliate Jane when she first arrives at Thornfield and teases her mercilessly with Blanche Ingram and his other guests. He reminds her constantly that she is not attractive, “You—poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are.” (Chapter XXIII) He even threatens Jane with these words, ““Jane, I am not a gentle-tempered man—you forget that: I am not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs, and—beware!” As a result of his violence she is forced to ask for God’s help, “I did what human beings do instinctively when they are driven to utter extremity—looked for aid to one higher than man: the words “God help me!” burst involuntarily from my lips.” (Chapter XXVII) 

Jane does not finally tame him. He is rendered physically passive after the accident due to partial blindness and a stumped arm, and emotionally sunk because he has lost the two women who were sustaining his vanity and ego. When Jane finally returns, he recovers his physical and emotional strength because he is now someone’s unconditional “master” once more. The question is: how long will Jane be able to continue with the idyllic life she imagines she will lead for the rest of her days?

We can ask ourselves some questions in order to foresee how their relationship may well develop: Will Jane be content to spend the rest of her life as a recluse at Ferdean? Will Rochester be content to do the same after he recovers his sight and his health? What will happen once they have a family? Will Rochester relinquish his central role in her life in favour of a child or children? Are they really well suited? Do they have the same outlook on life? Does he have any consideration for his servants? Orphans? People in difficulty? Has he any religious beliefs as she does? Does she like hunting and inconsequential social gatherings? Their conversation was lively while they were flirting, but now the conquest has been made and mundane daily matters will take over how will “sir” react? How will the gentry of the area take to Jane? There is a large age-difference between them, what will happen when Rochester dies and she is still relatively young?

Jane is the narrator and protagonist of Jane Eyre, but the novel ends when she is still a very young woman who has a whole life ahead of her. Jane Eyre is one of the greatest characters in literary history; her life cannot end with marriage to an egotistical and dishonest member of the Victorian gentry. I wanted more. Jane Eyre, the impressionable young bride, deserves a life of her own, so I imagined Jane Rochester, the woman, and wrote her story, twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward Rochester in, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Continue reading ““Reader, I married him.””