August is the period when I am freest to travel and consequently for this month I chose to read 'A Room with a View' by E.M. Forster. Set at the beginning of the 20th century this is the love story between young, middle class Lucy Honeychurch and the unconventional George Emerson and the battle against personal, societal and familial prejudices and preconceptions.
I have a personal connection with this story as E.M. Forster went to school in Tonbridge, a neighbouring town to Tunbridge Wells, where I grew up. Tonbridge boarding school has a theatre dedicated to the author. Charlotte Bartlett, cousin and chaperone to Lucy on her trip to Florence, lives in Tunbrdige Wells that is described as a 'narrow world' and every time Charlotte referred to her town slightly apologetically, the generalization made me smile. Growing up in Tunbridge Wells I was familiar with the phrase 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'. Tunbridge Wells is an affluent town in the region of Kent (the 'Garden of England'), previously a popular tourist destination for wealthy Londoners coming to drink its therapeutic waters. In fact the town was once so popular that Queen Victoria herself gave it the prefix 'Royal', an honour reserved for only very few towns. So Tunbridge Wells is a place where you can live a sheltered life and its inhabitants do not have a lot to complain about but they do love complaining if something does not live up to their standards or how things 'should' be. Being British and wanting to avoid direct confrontation at all costs, a resident might write to the local newspaper or even in extreme cases to The Times., signing off as 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.'
I have lived in Italy for 15 years now so the stereotypes and comments on Italy and the Italians also amused me. There are the typical Italian charicatures like the womanizers, romantics and fools but Italy is also referred to as a free and fluid environment without rigid class structure. It is true that being abroad away from the usual constraints and rules of your community can make you feel liberated. No one knows you or expects anything from you so you can be and do what you want. It is not that social conventions do not exist it's just that they are harder for an outsider to perceive. Social status in Italy is very much attached to your appearance and what you have. In England we generally do not attach so much importance to our clothes and more to education, career, language, accent and comportment.
'A Room with a View' is all about prejudice, misconception and the changing societies. Lucy enjoys the company of the Emersons in Florence despite her first impression of them as being unconventional or down-market. I think we could refer to them as 'nouveau-riche'. When George Emerson makes a move on Lucy, Charlotte is shocked because that is not the way a young man should behave and the cousins even feel compelled to leave town. In Rome Lucy meets Cecil who is wealthy, highly-educated, cultured and well-travelled: on paper everything Lucy should want in a husband. Lucy's family consent to their engagement: the only problem is no one likes him! Lucy believes she has everything under control until the Emersons move to her area of England and two worlds collide. When Lucy breaks off her engagement, even the stalwart Charlotte has a change of heart and avoids opposing Lucy getter closer to George. The decision the couple takes at the end of the novel is unconventional but there is a hint that also Lucy's other family members will come round.
The theme of a room with a view is repeated throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story Charlotte complains loudly about the lack of view in her and Lucy's rooms in the pension and the Emersons (who do have a view) offer to change rooms with the ladies. The significance of George offering Lucy a room with a view becomes clear later when Lucy admits that she always pictures Cecil in a room with no view. For me 'no view' means no future, no perspectives with Cecil and in contrast with George Lucy has opened up her horizons and sees an alternative ahead.
For me the novel's main message is that even the best laid plans go wrong. We may like to think we can control every aspect of our lives but then life happens.
'Everything is fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate - flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us . we settle nothing - .'
In September I will be reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I chose to read this novel this month because this time last year I read Sherlock Holmes so I decided to read a crime novel again this year. I love crime novels and Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White' is one of my favourite novels. I will be posting some quotes as I read on Instagram and Fcaebook so please follow me and read along!
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I chose to read The Scarlett Letter to mark American Independence Day, the fourth of July, but despite thefact that it was written in 1850, Hawthorne’s novel is actually set in the 17th century, when America was not yet America but rather a settlement for British pilgrims. The description of the British settlers at the beginning of the novel is far from flattering and rather humourous at times, as the townswomen are gathered in the square to lay judgement on a woman found guilty of adultery and giving birth to a bastard child. The punishments they propose as far more barbaric and medieval than the actual sentencing: the woman must stand carrying a baby in front of the baying crowd for three hours to face her shame and thereafter wear the letter ‘A’ embroidered onto her clothes as a constant reminder of her sin and warning to others. She will not say who the father is. In the crowd lurks her husband, thought missing at see, who has been living with the native Indians and fatefully returns that very day. Roger Chillingworth, the husband, visits his estranged wife in prison demanding to know who the father is. She refuses to reveal the father’s identity and he vows to find out and makes her promise that she will not tell anyone that he is in fact her husband. The mother and child live on the edge of society. Hester Pyrnne, the mother, is a beautiful woman and her daughter, Pearl, is unruly and confident. The child is seen as the embodiment of the mother’s sin, to the point that it is thought she might be a demon child, something that even her mother comes to fear. The church elders suggest that Pearl would be better off being taken care by someone else but one young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, persuades the others to let Pearl stay in her mother’s care. Hester bears her punishment with humility and quietly continues about her life, working as a dressmaker even for the most respected members of the society. Meanwhile Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth establishes himself as the town surgeon. Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister grows gradually sicker and sicker suffering from some unknown malady. As both men live alone, the townspeople decide it would be a good idea for the two to move in together and become friends so that the minister will have a doctor naerby should he need one. Roger Chillingworth has no intention of making friends but is more interested in undercovering the Arthur as the father to his wife’s baby. Understanding her husband’s intentions, Hester warns Arthur and the two decide to go away as a family with Pearl to start a new life. However, the guilt that has been building up in the minister becomes too much and he climbs onto the scaffold where Hester stood years ago and admits his guilt, before dying in Hester’s arms. Roger dies only days after forgivingly leaving an inheritance to Pearl which she uses to move back to England with her mother. Years later Hester returns to the town and goes back to her old life, even taking up wearing the letter A on her chest as before. She is buried next to the minister in a patch marked ‘A’.
The style of writing could be considered a little bit heavy at times but the reader must remember that although the book was written in 1850 it was set two hundred before, so Hawthorne uses slightly old or archaic language and style to give the story an old world feel. There are some passages where Hawthorne goes off the main story and these are a little bit boring so I skipped through those to make the story more dynamic. I enjoyed the occasional elements of humour and I did like the way the narrator includes the reader, pointing out some details: I found it quite charming. There is a lot of imagery and I particularly enjoyed the implication that Pearl is some sort of devil child. There is one scene when Hester and Arthur meet in the forest. While Pearl is playing by a brook her reflection in the water seems to take on a life of its own. I know that Hawthorne was a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and as I am too, this idea appeals to me greatly.
'Just where she had paused the brook chanced to form a pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. This image, so nearly identical with the living Pearl, seemed to communicate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood, looking so steadfastly at them through the dim medium of the forest-gloom; herself, meanwhile, all glorified with a ray of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy. In the brook beneath stood another child,--another and the same,--with likewise its ray of golden light. Hester felt herself, in some indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl; as if the child, in her lonely ramble through the forest, had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to return to it.'
There are some really interesting issues to think about and the first of them is the townspeople’s apparent lack of interest in uncovering the father. It’s the original sin all over again, it’s always the woman’s fault. In a way the actual scarlet letter is unnecessary as the child Pearl is the scarlet letter, a constant reminder of what happened. We don’t have details of the encounter that lead to Pearl’s conception but it was certainly consensual. Hester faces her guilt admirably if not apologetically but Dimmingsdale is a coward, he keeps his silence for years. His guilt eats away at his conscience and actually makes him physically sick. His ‘confession’ doesn’t redeem him either as Hawthorne admits that even those who witnessed it were unclear about the real meaning. Dimmingsdale never actually says ‘I am the father’ he talks cryptically about sharing guilt. Some say he actually has a sign A on his chest, as if he had branded himself, and some say there was nothing there. So even in the end he can’t be clear. Strangely it is ‘baddy’ Chillingworth who makes good in the end, making Pearl his heir and thus acknowledging her innocence in the whole situation. Perhaps his gesture indicates that his intentions were basically good, to avenge the man who wronged his wife. After all the upset Hester finally decides to return to the site of her crime, like a reoffending criminal who finds comfort and structure inside the prison walls. Times heals all wounds as Hester’s good conduct causes the townspeople to completely change their minds about her and the letter A she wears comes to have positive connotations. Finally Hester is buried near the minister but the reasons for this are not clear: are they both recognized as good people? Has their relationship been accepted or forgotten?
So I recommend The Scarlet Letter for the great idea on which it is based. Although the language can be a bit heavy at times, and Hawthorne does go on a bit sometimes it is worth sticking with as there are some really thought provoking quotes like this one
'If truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom.'
What is your scarlet letter?
This month I have read Martin Eden, my first Jack London novel. It is the semi-autobiographical tale of Martin Eden, a sailor just returned from the sea. He meets Ruth Morse, a beautiful girl from a wealthy, middle class family. The meeting arouses Martin's ambition and he aspires to move in her circles, discuss intellectual subjects and achieve wealth and status through the most direct means he can imagine, as a writer. In his struggle to become a writer he learns a lot about himself, his friends and family and about the real cost of success. I would describe Jack London's style as real and warm. All the time I was reading the novel I felt like Ruth sheltered in Martin's strong arms. The best way for me to review this book is through the words of the author himself.
1 - Chapter 7 - He had fainted but once in his life, and he thought he was going to faint again. He could scarcely breathe, and his heart was pounding the blood up into his throat and suffocating him.
This is just one example of how Jack London is able to put across feeling so that it almost seems you are there. It gives real warmth to the novel. I particularly love the way the relationship between Ruth and Martin develops. Martin falls in love with Ruth at first sight but Ruth's attraction is more physical, more of an awakening.
2 - Chapter 4 - He held up his hand, rubbing the ball of the thumb over the calloused palm and gazing at the dirt that was ingrained in the flesh itself and which no brush could scrub away. How different was her palm! He thrilled deliciously at the remembrance. Like a rose-petal, he thought; cool and soft as a snowflake.
Here Martin is contemplating his hand and it becomes a symbol of his history and class and the contrast between his hand and that of Ruth is the contrast between their two worlds. I love the fact that Jack London dedicated two pages to this reflection. It sets the tone for the novel that allows time and space for the characters to develop and tells me that character development is more important than action.
3 - Chapter 24 - because she could not shape him to live in her pigeonhole, which was the only one she knew.
This idea of pigeonholing, or putting people or things into restrictive categories, is repeated in the novel with reference to Ruth's designs on Martin. It is always easier for us to understand by matching to similiar things we already know. You would not want to be considered a two-dimensional object so why do that to others? Ruth hopes to shape Martin into the man she wants him to be. For me this is evidence of her immmaturity despite her being older than Martin. In my experience, situations may change and people can adapt to situations but they don't really change in the sense of who they basically are. We are all complicated, it's difficult to comprehend and that is why we must have tolerance.
4 - Chapter 44 - There was no justice in it, no merit on his part. He was no different. All the work he had done was even at that time work performed.
For me this is one of the most important quotes of the novel. When Martin was struggling, everyone told him he should find a job and judged him for his scrawny or unkempt appearance. Then, suddenly, when others, in the form of journalists and publishing houses, approved him, this somehow 'allowed' others to recognise him as good. This raises a very important question: does a person have merit for his or her intransic r do these first need to be validated by wider society? Martin rightly confirms that at his time of difficulty he was already the same person and the work for which he was later praised had already been done. In this era of social media we all seek approval and confirmation. Who has the right to judge us?
5 - Chapter 42 - He had traveled far, too far to go back. Their mode of life, which had once been his, was now distasteful to him. He was disappointed in it all. He had developed into an alien. As the steam beer had tasted raw, so their companionship seemed raw to him. He was too far removed. Too many thousands of opened books yawned between them and him. He had exiled himself.
I can see myself in this experience. I have lived abroad for most of my adult life with the result that I don't feel completely at home anywhere. I don't find anywhere distasteful but when I am in England I realise that I have developed Italian characterìstics and behaviours while in Italy I always stand out physically and my core values and principals are different. This has both advantages and disadvantages: every day is a learning experience, I have a big insight into the differences and similarities in human nature between cultures but at the same time I will always be an outsider, no matter how long I live here.
6 - Chapter 37 - I dreamed in my innocence that the persons who sat in the high places, who lived in fine houses and had educations and bank accounts, were worth while!
I have found that I can have an idea of how something will be that is different from how it is in reality. I think this is normal, our knowledge is limited to our personal experience. Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true!
I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on Martin Eden.
Next month, June 2019, I will be reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hidgson Burnett. Check out the BOOKS section of my website for copies in different formats. I hope you will read along with me. I will share my thoughts and favourite quotes on Instagram and on my Facebook Page throughout the month. I will be back with another review at the end of June!
Persuasion, Jane Austen's last published novel, tells the love story of Anne Elliot and Federick Wentworth. They courted in their youth but family pressures and prejudices meant that they never actually got together. Seven years later, when Federick has become naval Captain Wentworth, their paths cross again and their friendship is rekindled. Anne is 27, which was quite old to be unmarried at the time but just like buses, when you have been waiting for a long time for one to arrive, two come along at once, another suitor presents himself in the form of William Elliot, Anne's cousin.
Persuasion is obviously a reccurrent theme in the novel, in various different forms, from family, as when Lady Russell convinces Anne not to marry Federick, to self-persuasion, as when Anne's sister Mary repeatedly tells herself she is sick. But in the end, will Anne be persuaded again by her cousin's interest or is she now mature enough to listen to her own heart?
Jane Austen is what I would consider summer reading. I am a teacher so for 9 months of the year I am quite taken up with work. So at this time of year a book has to really reach out and grab my attention, otherwise my mind wanders to my work. In the summer instead I am freer to daydream and get cught up in the atmosphere of the book. I by no means mean to criticize, in fact the best part of Jane Austen's work is her understatement and subtlety, which is the epitamy of Englishness.
Jane Austen was a realist in the sense that she observed real behaviour in the society of her day. I don't think she wanted to write 'literature', as compared to Wuthering Heights, written 30 years later, the language is incredibly modern for today's reader. There are lots of phrasal verbs and the dialogue, which is plentiful, is really authentic, you can hear the character's speaking. Perhaps that is why her books make such appealing films, Her realistic use of dialogue reminds me of Agatha Christie. In fact Agatha Christie and Jane Austen were both great observers of human characteristics. What strikes me most is the way Jane Austen zooms in on the slightest gestures or moves raising them to maximum importance. For example there is a moment in Chapter 12 when Anne and William Elliot first meet. The description of even the quickest glance, that the others present may not be aware of, is touching.
"When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman,
at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back,
and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him;
and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her
with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of.
She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features,
having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind
which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye
which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman,
(completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly.
Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which
shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,
a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, "That man is struck with you,
and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again."
Later on in the same chapter, discussing how to deal with Louisa's fall, there is an exchange between Anne and Federick, which is also full of meaningful looks.
"You will stay, I am sure; you will stay and nurse her;" cried he, turning to her and speaking with a glow, and yet a gentleness, which seemed almost restoring the past. She coloured deeply, and he recollected himself and moved away."
I love the description of William Elliot's emotions in Chapter 15 here when he is introduced to Anne by her father Sir Walter, who is unaware they are already acquainted.
"He looked completely astonished, but not more astonished than pleased; his eyes brightened!"
And I always love understatement.
"Anne could not have supposed it possible that her first evening in Camden Place could have passed so well!"
Have I persauded you to read Persuasion? I would love to hear what you particularly like about it.
Next month I will be reading Martin Eden by Jack London about a young man's struggle to become a writer. I will be sharing my thoughts on Instagram and Facebook so don't forget to check it out!
No time for reading?
Many people tell me that they would like to read more but just don't have the time. I used to try to suggest ways of integrating reading into everyday life: read on the bus, a page a day, try an audiobook. These suggestions are all valid, particularly audiobooks, but I never followed my own advice. In the end, It's not about finding time it's about making time. Either you read or you don't. It's a choice.
Two years ago I didn't read at all. My aunt, a librarian, always asked me 'Have you read so and so?' to which I replied 'No, I can't.' I just had no time. Chores and commitments got in the way. If I ever sat down to read one of two things happened: either I fell asleep or my mind started wandering to something more important I should have been doing. Had I turned off the gas? Shouldn't I be marking those tests? What was there for dinner? When was that doctor's appointment? How selfish I was to just sit there when there were a million and one other things to be done! Nevertheless, as I went about my everyday life, I somehow found the time to listen to or watch, countless pointless YouTube videos: I have always been fascinated with other people's lives.
On the other hand, when I could read with my students I felt I was allowed and how it moved me! How exciting to read the Pit and the Pendulum: that moment is a snapshot in my mind as is listening to my Skype student reading The Little Prince!
Thanks to Lost in Classics I gave myself the permission to read. I changed my way of thinking. Reading is never a waste of time. It's ok to blot out the world for a while. The world can wait. I am worth it. I can take my time to sit, be, reflect. It is important for my well being. I don't meditate, I read., sharing the experiences of who have gone through it all before me. I can travel without leaving my house. I can experience things I may never do myself.This is my way of connecting with the universe. It helps me to put my own concerns in perspective. When I am out in public I often cling on to my bag for comfort or reassurance and when I am particularly involved in a book I carry it around with me, squeeze it in my hands, flick through the pages with my fingers. It's like a stress ball but I feel in it also a connection to the characters, their words and thoughts . And then comes that magical moment when an author's words jump out of the page at you as if they contained a message left just for you. In the books I have read this year I have found phrases that have inspired me to be a stronger, more resilient person.
I choose to spend my time on material that will teach me something. That way I always have something to mull over. Today through technology we talk with people we may never actually meet. Reading is like doing the same thing without limits of time.
Why do you read?
'What had befallen the night?' Analysing the proposal scene in different film adaptations of Jane Eyre
When looking into ways to be creative when working with classic novels, I came across the idea of watching a short clip from a film and comparing it to the book. Period dramas and adaptations can really bring a book to life but of course each director puts his own take. There have been many different versions of Jane Eyre over the years and one of the key moments of the novel is the proposal scene, so I thought it could be fun to look at each version and discuss its good and bad points.
Orson makes a great Rochester but Joan Fontaine is anything but plain, and she does not seem young enough. In the original version Jane sees herself as hidden from Rochester at first but he somehow detects her presence. There is no idea that she is upset at the beginning but I suppose it leads on more directly to her thoughts of leaving Thornfield. Rochester seems very hard on Jane when he tells her she must leave, while in the original the tone of his voice is left open to our interpretation. In this scene as an older man he is playing with her. His declaration of love and admission that he will marry Blanche however is very close to the original as is Jane's statement of being similar to him, although she does not say that they are equal and neither does she declare herself a free human being: another sign of the times? At no time do they even kiss. The setting is obviously of its time (it looks like a studio set) but the time and weather are in consonance with the original text. The lightening striking the tree is perhaps a little dramatic but it puts across the idea of the weather, or maybe the Gods, disaproving of the relationship.
I haven't seen this version but they seem to jump from Mason being attacked to the proposal. Hasn't Jane been to see her aunt? The scene appears to take place in the morning. Rochester doesn't declare himself and does not agree that he and Jane are equal. Jane does not declare herself as free. Jane does express her doubts when Rochester proposes. He does ask God to forgive him. George Scott makes a good Rochester but Susannah York is anything but plain and looks too old. I guess they do put across the main elements of the story but I miss the old language of the book.
Despite the fact that again Jane looks too old (she is supposed to be barely 18 afrer all) this scene is over all very true to the original. The scene is set at night and starts when Jane and Rochester are already together. I like the shot looking down through the trees it sets the scene well as Bronte pays a lot of attention to the scents, the smells, the shade and the wildlife in her description. When Rochester mentions Jane's leaving he associates it, as in keeping with her role as governess, with Adele going to school. Again here Rochester speaks very coldly apparently wthout regard for Jane's feelings. However, he sounds frankly insincere when he talks of the connection between them, I am not feeling it. The speech is reported almost entirely verbatim, including the part about being equal. And then he kisses her as in the book. After she also says the part about not being a bird, which is one of the keys quotes of the novel and should not be left out. Interestingly the scene also includes some of Jane's thoughts , which adds another dimension to the scene and reminds us that it is told from Jane's recollection. Thunder sounds just before Rochester assures himself that everything will be okay and again more strongly so when he has finished. It thunders more as they walk off. I love this inclusion of the idea of nature disapproving the match.
This film skips too quickly over Rochester's very deep declaration to focus more on Jane, in fact her most important quotes are all there and follow the original very closely, and there are whole chunks of dialogue from the book. They have kept in the nightingale singing and it's a good idea for a film as it adds dramatic effect and allows Jane time to pluck up courage before speaking and gives more weight to her speech. At first she is sitting but she stands up to talk as if it gives her more confidence and perhaps puts her on the same level as Rochester. There is no hint of rain or a storm and and so the scene lacks that part of the atmosphere.
This is the first film version I ever saw and I was living in France at the time so I like the fact that Charlotte Gainsbourg was in it but seeing it again I must say that she is too French to be Jane. There is great attention to detail in some parts, Rochester is smoking a cigar at the beginning, but the song of the cicadas doesn't ring true in England. They also modernise the language too much. Rochester's declaration is nearly complete but then Jane largely brushes over her part. The dialogue goes back and forth messily. Jane says she was treated as an equal, not that her and Rochester are equal, and in fact it is Rochester that affirms they are equal...that's not right! He does kiss her here and it is correctly him kissing her but then Jane kisses Rochester, the bold woman!
Definitely not night and no hint of bad weather. Physically the pairing of actors is quite good, Jane looks much younger and innocent but he might be a little too overpowering. He is very direct about Jane going to Ireland. I don't think that he should have said 'This might sound silly' or 'no, it's ridiculous' when making his declaration. It is not meant to be silly and there is no hint in the book that it is. It isn't right to say 'bleeding inwardly for each other' either. In the book Rochester is referring only to himself, otherwise the line about Jane forgetting him has no sense. I do like the way he takes her hand. Rochester should confirm that Jane and he are equal but he doesn't. The bird quote is missing and there is no hint that Jane doesn't believe Rochester at first. This last part is important because it gives the idea that perhaps all is not clear for her. I also think it is wrong for Rochester to say that he has loved Jane since the first moment he saw her. I don't remember anything like that in the novel. Surely he became attracted to her through their chats and the feeling grew as they got to know each other. Most importantly, Rochester does not excuse himself for his actions in front of God. The kiss is very passionate although all in all Rochester seems unfeeling, he is over confident and shows no sign of regret.
Generally in these films they can't seem to agree what season it is nor what time of day. This is definitely wrong, it's too sunny and I think the weather is important in this scene. I like that they are walking when Rochester declares himself, he can speak more confidently if she is not facing him. The important parts use the original dialogue and I think that's right, these are key moments. If it ain't broke don't fix it! The only thing missing here, and maybe it comes later, is Rochester's defiance to God. If they had kept that and the weather, it would have been perfect!
What do you think? Which of these versions do you prefer? You can find the proposal scene from the 2006 BBC miniseries here. Why not try to cmpare it to the book and write your comments below. I look forward to reading your thoughts!
This month I am trying to think more creatively because I believe that using language creatively could be the answer to better assimilating it. As Jane Eyre is narrated completely by Jane, I thought it would be insightful to consider the story from the point of view of the other characters. The most intriguing chracter is Bertha, Edward Rochester's mad first wife. All we know about her comes from Rochester's account and of course as he has just been found out as a bigamist, he's hardly going to big her up. Victorians defined madness very differently to us. Taking inspiration from the story told by Rochester in Chapter 27, I thought of the moment in Chapter 25 when Bertha Mason takes Jane's veil, holds it up, throws it over her own head and turns to the mirror before tearing the veil in two. What is she thinking as she gazes into the mirror? Here is my interpretation.
'Who is that woman staring back at me from the mirror? She has my thick black hair but she looks old, her face is wrinkled and her eyes are red and bloodshot. She wears a veil like mine on my wedding day. I was beautiful once. Heads turned as I walked through the town. When I came out at the age of sixteen, I always had a line of suitors at balls. How I danced, how I laughed! A kiss on the hand, brief exchanges of pleasantries and jokes. As long as the party lasted, I was the darling of the ball. But the party was always over all too soon. In everyday life the same exuberance I had shown the night before became unexplicably inappropriate. A drink or a touch too far and people started to point. Rumours flew. I was going the same way as my poor mother before me.
I have always been an awkward burden to bear, an inconvenient, embarassing problem to sort out. 'What are we to do with Bertha?' I am too much, difficult, I always say or do the wrong thing. I don't mean it but I can't seem to do anything right. A match had to be found as soon as possible. Preferably someone ignorant of my reputation and family history. A point in my favour was that I had my own money. Could that entice some poor unfortunate fool? If my family moved quickly we could be married before he asked himself too many questions.
We were caught up in a whirlwind of excitement, but in the end I was too much to handle. We came from two different worlds. I sought refuge in the arms of other men; they never stayed long. And then the doctors came and I found a degree of peace in their poisonous potions. But they left me confused and angry. Would no one hear my cry for help? I fear not. My soul was crushed when they tore me away from my homeland and everything I had known. No one asked me my opinion on the matter. A mad woman cannot make her own decisions. And so I go on half awake, half in dream-like state from which I awake at times. I laugh remembering the parties of my youth and weep profusely missing my family, my friends, my land. I cannot go out but the grey dreary view I glimpse through the window of my prison room is in stark contrast with my bright Jamaican island. I adopted violent language and behaviour to shake a reaction out of my husband but it seemed his mind had already been made made up. I long to feel again, any feeling good or bad. That's why I cut myself to prove that I can feel. How could my own brother allow this to happen? As soon as I saw him the rage erupted in me and I stabbed him with the same knife in the hope of awakening something in him.
Grace Poole escapes from our prison at night with a drug-induced trip and whenever lucidity allows me I escape too and roam the gloomy corridors. At times I go to Edward's room and look at him as he sleeps. He never really wanted to marry me. How could he, he never knew me, never really gave me a chance.
I curse the day I ever wore this veil. This veil that wraps around my head like a noose, I will be rid of it!'
What do you think of my monologue? For me it has been a great way of gaining greater understanding of and empathy for the characters.Why not try it yourself? Write something as Mrs Reed, Jane's uncle Mr Eyre, Mr St John, Adele or her mother. I would be happy to read it.
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.