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