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.

P

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

Characters, New and Used

2 days to book launch

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.

Norah’s question.

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!

Long 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.

Identities on the move cover

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.

You pierce my soul

From Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s, Peruasion.

 

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.

Rossetti by William Holm Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

rossetti dante gabriel jenny B20096 77

The first page of his poem, Jenny.

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.

Eyre Hall  Trilogy

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.

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Intermediate answer.

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.

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Short answer.

Why not?

 

Kandisnky quote

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So, what do you think about ‘used’ characters, is it OK to reuse them?

Sequels, Prequels, Reinterpretations, Rewritings, and Writing Back…

When I am asked what my novel’s about, I reply briefly, “It’s a Victorian Gothic Romance, which takes place around All Hallows, at Eyre Hall, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre married Edward Rochester.” A typical reaction, before reading the novel, is:

“Oh, so it’s a sequel / follow-up / spin-off of the original?”

The answer is easy, “Yes, it is”, but also complex, “it’s much more than that.

Sequel, follow-up, or spin-off, are synonyms, that is they all refer to a work of literature, film, theatre, television, music, or game that continues the story of, or expands upon, an earlier work. Sequels usually portray the same fictional universe; setting, characters, and events, at a later date.

Although All Hallows at Eyre Hall is presented as the ‘Breathtaking Sequel to Jane Eyre’, it is also the sequel of Wide Sargasso Sea, because it is based on both novels. That is to say, I have taken the characters and events in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as my fictional reality, and the basis of my novel. The characters and events portrayed in both novels, come to life, once again, in a fictional blend, in my novel.

Just to remind you, although Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1966, it is the fictional prequel to Jane Eyre, which tells the story of Bertha, Rochester’s first wife, and infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’.

In this sense, All Hallows at Eyre Hall is a sequel because it does portray a continuation of the original universe. Some of the characters are still present, some have died, and there are some new characters. The pre-existing characters are not exactly the same, because twenty-two years have passed, and fictional characters, as all people, evolve over time. The location is the same, although the specific setting has changed from Thornfield Hall, which was burnt down, to Eyre Hall, the mansion Mrs. Rochester rebuilt with the inheritance she received from her uncle, John Eyre.

Once readers have actually read it, they realize it’s not a typical sequel, and they say:

“Oh, you’ve reinterpreted / rewritten the original story.”
“Oh, you’ve written back to Charlotte Bronte.”

Well, that’s true, too. I’ve (irreverently, according to some), done all three. I am aware that my novel may disappoint some readers who had fallen in love with Edward Rochester, as Jane did. Unfortunately, I simply point out that Jane is in love with Rochester, and she is therefore an unreliable, or at least biased, narrator. On the other hand,  she gives me all the background information I use in my novel to expose Rochester as the villain he always was. This does not mean Jane and Rochester’s love story was a fake. It is one of the greatest literary love stories of all time, but that doesn’t mean they were perfect, or flawless characters.

I have reinterpreted Jane Eyre, based on reading between and closely into the lines Charlotte Bronte wrote. Jean Rhys, a Creole herself, was the first to ‘write back’ to Charlotte Bronte from a postcolonial perspective. Rhys gave voiceless, mad, imprisoned Bertha, the freedom, voice, and life, which Jane Eyre had denied her.

By incorporating Rhys’s thesis into my novel, I am indulging in the same rebellious literary trend. Moreover, I have also added to Rhys’s theories, by incorporating more subplots, which I picked up from spaces I found in the original. I can’t go into greater detail without including spoilers, but I have based my recreation on facts I found in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre is is the origin of this magnificent literary creation. It is the reason why Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, and both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, are the reason why I wrote All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Looking at the three novels, which form a trilogy in my literary imagination, they are complimentary, although they can stand on their own. Each novel can be read independently, however, as they are all part of the same story, of Jane Eyre’s story, if the three have been read (not necessarily consecutively), the reader will enjoy the experience even more.

So, have I written a sequel to Jane Eyre?

Yes, I have. I’ve written a sequel to both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, based on a close reading and subsequent reinterpretation of the characters and events portrayed in both novels. I’ve then used my own creative license, to imagine events twenty-two years after Jane’s marriage. My aim has been to reconcile both works of art. Jane and Bertha, both Mrs. Rochesters will come face to face, and over time, as my trilogy progresses, Bertha will be reinstated and the wrongs she suffered will be repaired. How? It’s all in the Eyre Hall Trilogy

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.

 

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.