Asunder

In chapter twenty-five, Jane seems to suffer from another mental breakdown as she waits for Mr. Rochester to return to Thornshead from his business the night before their wedding. The imagery is very telling of Jane’s inner struggle with self-identity and how to relate to the coming change.

As Jane goes out into the weather, she seeks the walnut tree that is split down the middle. The tree is dead, but still in one piece at the base. This imagery plays well on the context of Jane’s inner feelings. She feels dead inside and without hope of a fruitful future. She seems torn asunder like the tree, unsure of whom she will become. The thought of Mrs. Rochester is as dead to her as the past versions of herself that seem to change with each setting.

In contrast, Jane gathers apples fell by the strong winds. She separates the good ones and places them in the storehouse. Jane wishes to gather all of her best memories and keep them safely stored. The others are wishfully tossed out.

Then, there is the blood moon. Could the author be hinting at the moment to come when Jane loses her virginity? It is a fleeting moment and well placed in the context of the unchanging wind, bending the trees without relief. She sees the wedding dress like a wraith in the closet. The idea that she refuses to label her trunks for their transfer to London affirms her disbelief of happiness.

“…I would wait to be assured she had come into the world alive, before I assigned to her all that property.” Property could also be symbolic of her commitment within her own character.

The madness of her impatience drives her out into the weather. The same can be said of her personality. She is driven into the madness of disbelief and uncertainty of her world as real or imagined. When she meets Mr. Rochester on the road, she seems overly gushing with the welcomed reception.

The following conversation between Jane and Rochester almost seems authentic. The description in my mind’s eye finds the exorbitant feelings of happiness a bit higher than I could imagine after a fiancé finds his bride-to-be on the road in the middle of a storm.

I am not sure of Mr. Rochester’s reaction to her story of the ‘vampire.’ Is he genuinely alarmed at the possibility of an encounter with the undead creature? He tells her to sleep with Adele and lock the door from the inside. But yet, he dismisses her descriptions with a believable version of her half-dream as the presence of Ms. Poole.

When will she wake up? Who will she wake up as?

The Mystery of The Trapped Queen

“‘—soothe him; save him; love him: tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?’ ”

 In the penultimate scene in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, we see Jane take control of her life and of her circumstances. The action being that despite her love for him, and despite her forgiveness of him, she resolves in her heart that she will not marry Rochester because she believes that the marriage will not save her. For the audience, this is a rallying moment for Jane, leading us to cheer and clap for her. But in that moment, the one to thank for her resolve is none other than Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged and insane wife.

We learn in Chapter 26 and 27 that Bertha was married to Rochester strictly for money, despite the two loving each other. However, her family’s propensity for psychological problems led her to be insane. She was forced away from the world and given no contact with anyone, save for Mason and Rochester. Bertha’s condition has deteriorated to the point where she even attacks Mason, rips Jane’s wedding veil, and screams and howls in terror. In Jane’s descriptions, she says “whether [Bertha] was a beast of a human being, one could not tell.”

If certain circumstances in Jane’s life went differently, could this be where she was headed?

We have already determined that Jane harbors anger in her heart due to her isolation from the rest of the family. In the beginning of the novel, Jane separates herself from her cousins and talks about Mrs. Reed disdain for her (a fact unfortunately confirmed on the latter’s deathbed). Then, even when she gets a chance to go to school and get away from her family, she is still isolated and hidden at Lowood thanks to Mr. Brocklehurst. One key difference at this point is that she had Helen and Ms. Temple to confide to, which changed Jane’s personality for the better. If she didn’t have those two, then Jane’s transition eight years later into a calmer and vibrant young woman would not have happened.

But think of Bertha in this context: without that contact, without that chance to be rehabilitated, she had nothing else to do but harbor her hatred toward her husband and her brother – and even towards Jane herself. Her isolation went unbroken for years while her “husband” went on every trip he took to find himself a new wife. No one got to Bertha before she became this way and unfortunately, no one cared.

In the eyes of an interpreter, Bertha can be Jane’s darker being. She can be the one who Jane would have been if not for the love and support that she received later on. It is why Jane’s message to herself about “taking care of herself” is so important: she is no longer trapped by the whims and wills of others. She no longer lets her isolation control her and become her. Instead, Jane is determined to make it on her own no matter what. Jane has that choice, whereas Bertha does not. Jane is not only leaving behind her isolation, she is leaving behind her past and moving forward into her bright future with her words:

“…Still indomitable was the reply – ‘I care for myself.’”

Jane Eyre and the Macabre

It’s difficult to pin down Jane Eyre. I mean that both in reference to the character and to the book itself. Jane Eyre (the person) straddles the line of servant and victorian noble, while Jane Eyre (the book) straddles genres. It’s part Gothic, part Romance, part fictional autobiography. The book can not seem to decide what it wants to be, just like the main character. Clever, Brontë, I see what you did there.
Now, it is very apparent how the romantic and autobiographic elements play into the narrative. The entirety of the novel is written as an autobiographical tale from Jane’s perspective and a large part of the novel is dedicated to her romance with Mr. Rochester. Personally, however, I am much more interested in how Brontë incorporated the gothic elements into her story. Partially because it is still to early in the year for me to funnel my macabre fascination into halloween decorating, but mostly because I have just recently completed Wuthering Heights, written by none other than Charlotte Bronte’s own sister, Emily. I have had an ongoing fascination regarding why Jane Eyre became so popular while Wuthering Heights withered in comparison. The two were written and released very close together and many people believed at the beginning that they had been written by the same person. Now, this topic is a very complicated one and so deserves it’s own full discussion, but I do think it had something to do with the differing in application of gothic elements. Wuthering Heights, of course, was much more heavy-handed in it’s use of all things dark and spooky, but I argue that Charlotte is the more creative of the two in regards to how she incorporates it into other elements of the narrative.
Charlotte Bonte is fantastic at using imagery to set a mood. She brings you in and makes you sit in the tension of the world she has painted. Part of this is the limited first person perspective — we are learning at the same time as Jane, and so whenever she feels uneasy, we also feel the tension. The most obvious example is the scene at the end of chapter twenty where Jane is left with an injured Mason as the mysterious figure that attacked him is just next door. Jane is left with what seems only a single lit candle. She describes the room as a terrified person would, seeing Mason himself as “eyes now shut,  now opening, now wandering through the room, now fixed on me, and ever glazed with the dulness of horror”. Now, I know from that description that I would not want those eyes looking anywhere near me. She continues about the room, turning particular care onto the image of Christ and the twelve apostles. She goes about, describing some in detail and others not, as the light flickers in and away from their faces, describing Judas’s face in particular as “[growing] out of the panel and seemed gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor — of Satan himself — in his subordinate’s form”. Now, I highly doubt that Judas is literally about to jump out and get her, but the thing making noise in the next room just might. She is terrified, and so we the audience are also terrified. It is very effective.
I really enjoy how Charlotte uses the gothic is to subtly undercut romantic ideals. For example: Rochester, the main male love interest, meets the heroine as he rides in on a horse. Pretty classic romance there, except that his entrance does not excite nor entice the ever wary Jane. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the first image she (and we) get is that of his dog — a great spectre of a beast that she at first mistakes as an evil spirit. When Rochester does appear shortly thereafter, it is his voice and not his appearance that reaches her first. Then the valiant steed proceeds to buck its rider onto the ground, breaking Rochester’s leg in the process. The scene up to this point is rather eerie — we don’t know what to make of Rochester or his hellhound, but we can assume that he holds some importance on account of his grandiose entrance. Then he hits the ground and the spell is immediately broken. The scene thereafter is actually pretty mundane: the conversation they have is based firmly at the task at hand, although the manner in which he speaks to Jane is very telling of his character. This pretty much sums up Rochester’s interactions with Jane — equal parts mysterious and mundane. The fact that he can so seamlessly transition between normal and near psychotic behavior so quickly and easily left me uneasy, and I have spent much of the novel wondering if Rochester was going to pull a page out of The Shining and attempt to hack our heroine to bits for discovering his secret in the attic. I know he won’t, simply because Jane must still be alive to write this ‘autobiography’ later in life, but the idea still leaves my stomach turning every time he enters the scene.

Choosing Souls Over Social Silhouettes

The Victorian Era, in which Jane and Rochester dwell, can rightly be understood as a period that underlined and accentuated the inequality between men and women, primarily through assigned gender roles. Within this milieu, Jane abjures the social silhouettes of the time in both actions and speech, primarily through her relationship with Mr. Rochester himself. Consequently, both characters, and their relationship with one another, become anomalies.
A few days into her position as governess at Thornfield, Jane pauses to consider the nature of her role and the disposition of the other women inhabitants. While she commends the goodness she sees in them, she expresses a longing for a “more vivid kind of goodness,” which she outlines in the following lines (178). Restless in nature, she opposes the notion that “women are supposed to be very calm generally,” insisting instead that they “feel just as men feel”, and thus “must have action” (178). Through these internal reflections, we first glimpse Jane’s inner struggle with the gender roles from which she feels so estranged.
As her relationship with Rochester develops, Jane continues disputing those social gender convictions. In the orchard scene, before Rochester avows his love for her, Jane, believing her master to be toying with her affections, rebukes him, “I have as much should as you, —and full as much heart!… I am not talking to you now through medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh: —it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,— as we are!” (338). To such a declaration, Rochester consents, repeated her words and calling her his “equal” and his “likeness” (339).
From this foundation, their courtship takes a novel course, for not only did they view each other entirely as equals, but in many cases Rochester proves the one subdued. Concerning her own struggle between passion and reason, Jane often expresses her ardent desire for self-mastery, voicing frustration when this becomes unattainable and her emotions predominate. She carries this devotion to self-control and self-autonomy into her relationship with Rochester, and to such a stance he concedes. Rochester then, in response to Jane’s independence and self-discipline, allows himself to be the subdued one. The day after the proposal, he notes to Jane the peculiarity of her character, that he “has never met [her] likeness” and yet accedes that she “master[s]” him (345). In the same conversion, Jane teases him regarding his fondness of feeing “conquered, and how pleasant overpersuasion is to [him]” (347). Such a description would have characterized women in this time, but never a man in relation to a woman. Finally, the night following their would-be wedding, as Jane weeps earnestly before him, Rochester, unable to see his beloved so rent, entreats her to solace, “his softened voice announce[ing] that he [is] subdued” (393).
With their affection for one another built entirely upon a mutual understanding of equality, Jane and Rochester, freed from the social ideologies of gender hierarchy, exhibit a love for one another born of admiration for each other’s very souls. And it is out of love for Rochester’s soul that Jane rallies her will to depart from him.

The Secret Identity of Jane Eyre

The secret identity of Jane Eyre

By Megan McAllister

 

Jane Eyre is a narrative of her own autobiography as she calls it. As the reader we got to watch her grow up as she matured from childhood into adulthood searching herself and the world around her for her identity. At one point in the novel she states that, “I had given in allegiance to duty and order; I was quiet; I believed I was content; to the eyes of others, usually even to my own, I appeared a disciplined and subdued character.” This quote comes from chapter during a time of disruptive transitions in Jane’s life. She has just lost one of the only people in her life that we have seen not be cruel to her. It is obvious that Jane admires Miss Temple deeply and is saddened by her moving off with her husband This quote speaks to Jane’s self-identification of herself as a now eighteen-year-old. For the first time she is off sort of on her own without anyone to guide her. She seems more self-assured and confident than she was as a child who had just lost her only friend to Typhus. She is also more subdued and quiet as she herself writes. This is a great contrast between the incident where she screamed at her aunt and now a school teacher. She obviously is in a good state mentally and emotionally since she was able to overcome to events of her traumatic and horrific childhood. However, I’m not convinced she is as well put together as she may seem. In that same paragraph as her previous quote is another that reveals a startling discovery about her supposed identity. She writes, “From the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me. I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits: more harmonious thoughts: what seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind.” This quote reveals that Jane found her identity in Miss Temple. Her feelings towards Lowood which before seemed a sign of maturity and forgiveness are now revealed to only be caused by her relationship and feelings toward Miss Temple. She got her nature and habits from her as well. Miss Temple was more than simply a mentor she was someone who Jane strived to be like and embody. Jane was not concerned with being her own person because no one had liked her as a child for who she was; because of this she succumbs to the temptation of trying to copy others and be like others. This is proven further in a later chapter when she discusses goodness. She writes, “ I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele.” This statement made in chapter 12 proves even more that Jane defines who she wants to be and what she takes her identity in by others and not herself.

 

 

Timshel

The character of Jane Eyre is a unique and fascinating literary figure. In the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, Jane is still trying to overcome her childish fears associated with Mrs. Reed’s treatment of her. Much wrong has been done in her life, and she goes into great detail describing it in trying to cope with it. But there are two occasions when she tells her story to two separate characters: Helen and Ms. Temple.

In her telling the story to Helen, Jane explains that she was “bitter and truculent when excited” and she “spoke as I felt, without resolve or softening.” Jane craves the validation: the sense that she is not alone in her pain and in her vengeance towards Mrs. Reed as she is unforgivable. But instead, Helen delivers a touching and intimate answer:

“Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

Why would Brontë have Helen say this? In my mind, Brontë is taking the idea of forgiveness and putting it in context with both the audience and with Jane herself. Jane is looking for validation in her unforgiving nature towards Mrs. Reed from the rest of the world and is asking people whether or not she deserves it. From Helen’s viewpoint, she asks the valid question: why can just she not forgive her past and accept her life as it stands?

In retrospect, Jane actually tries to do so. When she relays the same story again to Ms. Temple later in the opening chapters, Jane gives us her insight into how she told the story this time:

“I resolved, in the depth of my heart, that I would be most moderate…my language was more subdued than it generally was…mindful of Helen’s warnings against the indulgence of resentment…thus, restrained and simplified, it sounded more credible.”

In this passage, Jane is far more accepting, far more “moderate.” She is not just lashing out as she was before with Helen. Now, she holds back her resentment, and she makes herself far more believable. This does not discredit what tragedies she has endured, but it means that the pain of enduring them is no longer her muse. In this sense, Jane is choosing, in part, to forgive.

My favorite novel is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, a sprawling tale that encompasses most of Steinbeck’s real life family history mixed with the fictional patriarchal history of the Trask Family. The result becomes a Cain and Abel retelling, which has one of the characters recite that story. In the middle, he pauses when he sees that the command from God to Cain changes depending on the translation. In some cases, it says, “thou shalt,” but in others it says, “thou mayest.” The latter means that humanity has the ability to forgive oneself for their sins or, in the case of Jane Eyre, forgive the sins of others. If we choose to forgive, as Helen advised, then we can finally be happy and just enjoy life as it was intended. Forgiveness breeds a special type of happiness and a relief that the sins and the choices of others are no longer bond to you. That places Jane Eyre in a far more modern context than most, and makes the audience, and Jane herself, wonder: “can I truly forgive those that have trespassed against me?”

No Break Brontë – Jane Eyre

“Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case.” (p. 129) No breaks for the underdog. That is the sum of my conclusion on both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The prose is exacting of a dismal and depressing sort. My mind is turned in awful ways that I think I should reject the assignment given to me by my betters. The author’s influence reaches deeply, even now, into my choice of words that I scrawl here, heavy laden in their gothic style as it were.

What possesses an author to delve into such a dismal story? The psychological dystopia displayed in the Brontë’s works must certainly be taxing on the author. Was it so commonplace in their time to spin dramatic webs as they did, comparative to our modern forms of entertainment, or were the authors’ works of a caliber that sets them apart from commonplace literature?

Despite the answer to the above questions, one thing is certain; the protagonist of Brontë is beaten down in a heavy-handed dose of undue ire. With Jane Eyre as main character and narrator, the reader is dredged through abuse and wrongful conclusions under the circumstances. Or, might the circumstances revealed to the reader be skewed by the main character’s bias as the chosen narrator?

There are hints of circumstantial forgery in such passages as when Jane is stricken with a book by John. It seems as though the whole picture is not given a fair interpretation. What would possess John to simply stick out his tongue at Jane? Any answer would still need justification as to why would he continue to do so for ‘two or three minutes?’ I have three children of my own and one thing I have learned, actions are typically solicited and met with reactions of some sort.

The reaction Jane has when John comes over and picks her up by her hair seems to be a lashing out that causes him injury. Jane was apparently unaware of exactly what her hands did. In several places Jane exclaims that the actions seemed unlike her, as if someone else were speaking, and inward reflections hint at her true feelings of shame for her actions or thoughts. On page 73, Jane sits reflecting on her actions and among them reveals a trait of self-doubt.

The rest of the story may yield further insight, but I have reason to believe that Jane is not as much the victim as the narration bares witness.

Sequels of Suffering

The opening scenes of Jane Eyre offer an interesting commentary regarding the discourse of nature verses nurture, a query that also imbues the narrative of Wuthering Heights. Like Hindley and Heathcliffe, Jane was raised under the heavy hand of physical and emotional abuse. She, too, experienced bitter estrangement and pure disdain from family members. Yet while Hindley and Healthcliffe suffered under one or two abusers, Jane received such treatment from the whole house. Mrs. Reed, as well as her children and (often) the servants, regarded her a a scape-goat and impressed in her the idea that she was both wicked and “not worthy of notice” (85).

While similar treatment warped and perverted Heathcliffe and Hindley, despite the fact that they were shown love by other household members, it seems for Jane to establish a deeper sense of and thirst for justice.  Wuthering Heights ushers the reader to justify the antagonist’s actions due to their oppression, but Jane proves an anomaly within this schema. If Emily’s Bronte attempts to warrant the effects of abuse on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Charlotte presents an illustration of a women (who would have then been understood as the weaker gender) remaining reputable under persecution. Instead of losing her moral compass, as seems to be the effect of despotism on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Jane’s conscious preserves her and affirms the injustice of her situation as she suffers silently. It seems that nature, namely the sincere sense of right and wrong that all humanity innately knows, prevails over the abusive nurture that Jane experienced at Gateshead. This observation does not neglect the reality and intensity of Hindley and Heathcliffe’s suffering nor the undeniable impact of nurture on children. Yet it demonstrates that, despite oppression, it is possible for the oppressor to maintain their sense of justice and their longing for goodness.

Later on, Helen demonstrates another example of how abuse does not necessarily always bring about the debasement of the abused. This character presents a stark contrast to the Earnshaw boys, for her very oppression actually refines her virtue and integrity, rather than simply preserving it. She responds by forgiving sincerely, again and again, and by returning good for evil. One evening near the fire, after Jane has described her sufferings at Gateshead, Jane advises her new friend: “Would you not be happier if you tried to forget [Mrs. Reed’s] severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in ursine animosity, or registering wrongs” (120). Helen views suffering, an experience to which she is not unaccustomed at Lowood, as an opportunity for patient endurance and a means of sanctification. Perhaps it would have proven interesting to witness a conversations between Heathcliffe, Hindley, and Helen, the latter of whom would calmly, sympathetically entreat her fellow-sufferers just as she did Jane by the fire that night: “It is far better to endure patiently… than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you” (117). For the men of Withering Heights, Helen would have offered timely counsel.

The Good with the Bad

Sometimes, the darkest of tragedies has the brightest reawakening. We often think that our lives are defined by our tragedies. In a sense, they are. But with every dark day comes a day filled with light. That is inherent in two particular scenes from Allison Case’s novel Nelly Dean.

In Chapter 12 of the novel, we see the unfortunate death of Nelly and Hindley’s baby after Nelly’s mother gives her a purgative from Elspeth. In a harrowing scene, Nelly gives birth to a dead child that is only the size of her palm. Stricken by grief with the secret and the death, Nelly takes the child out to the garden and buries it.

“I crawled a little distance away, wrapped the cloak tightly around me, lay down in the heather, and sobbed. Even through my pain and grief, I felt sleep hovering near. I knew I should get up and go to the house…but I was past caring. I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.”

With this passage and scene, Case explains Nelly’s virtual stoicism in Wuthering Heights – including why she keeps her distance and why she does not do anything more than what a servant’s job is supposed to do. Her grief prevented her from moving forward and from accepting love from anyone else. This is a common response to tragedy; we shut people out in order to keep ourselves intact. The moment someone comes in to tell us how to feel, it becomes a case of what you’re doing instead of how you are feeling. Unlike the parent book, Wuthering Heights, this places Nelly Dean right in a modern context with modern responses to tragic events. In addition to the response to tragedy, Allison Case gives us a modern sensibility to another major event: the birth of Hareton, the son of Hindley and Frances.

Hindley eventually moved on by returning from his trip with Frances in tow. With a rift between him and Nelly, Hindley eventually slept with Frances and the two conceived a child. After Frances is diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis), Nelly is asked to be the child’s nurse. In a slightly humorous scene, Nelly describes her experiences being Hareton’s nurse, saying:

“I don’t know how I can describe to you what that first week or two was like. He was with me both day and night, and I never had more than a couple of hours when he did not need my care, so of course I slept but little.”

A little later, she visits Elspeth, the “witch,” and brings Hareton with her. As she changes him, Nelly describes her words to him:

“I chattered and crooned to him an ever-lengthening string of pet names: my bonnie nurseling, my wee little laddie, my beautiful boy…Hareton, my little hare, my leveret, my love.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

The irony is that Nelly would have taken care of a child like this anyway and that in another world, he too would have also been called Hareton. The blessing for her is that she is virtually Hareton’s mother, and it’s touching to see that Nelly’s love and affection did not die with the loss of her child. For the readers, Nelly Dean reaches all the way into the modern age to show us that there is light at the end of every dark tunnel. Nelly lost a child and lost her love for Hindley, but ultimately gained it back in the form of his second son. Sometimes, you have to take the good with the bad and take the light with the darkness.

 

High Strung

High Strung

Why would Nelly Dean torture herself to stay at Wuthering Heights?

Of the characters in Nelly Dean beyond those in Bronte’s novel, I believe Nelly’s mother is most influential. The nature of the other characters’ interactions with Nelly is better displayed in this context. Where Bronte’s narrator ventures across the gothic evils of the characters and their contrivances, Case takes a higher road to the same effect.

Case’s novel has humor well placed to lighten the otherwise darker picture formerly painted in Wuthering Heights. After the sobering truth Hindley spoke about his drinking problem, Nelly was saddened. Then, Hindley chases her down. “ ‘Hey, Nelly,’ he cried, ‘remember this?’ Then he stretched his face into a solemn scowl and began sawing at an imaginary fiddle while his legs danced wildly beneath him, as he had done on that long-ago night. I laughed and clapped.” (p. 442) The effect creates a realistic longing any half-hearted human should have to bring joy to those around an individual despite his/her own problems. It is a reminder to remember the good times we have with friends and loved ones after they have passed.

Then, there is the tension, the largest difference in the two novels. As Nelly seemed like the rock that forded the storms in Bronte’s story, she was battered and shipwrecked against her own fortitude in Case’s version.

I find fault in Case’s novel at the start when Nelly’s mother speaks with Mr. Earnshaw in his office while Nelly listened. Her mother’s stammer at the word of Heathcliff to be treated as a blood relative gave me the immediate inclination that she had an affair with Earnshaw, with Nelly as the result. Which, in the end is true, and the reason for Nelly’s abuse at the hand of her ‘father.’ This seemed neatly packaged for Nelly’s mother being blood relations in a distant past relative.

I cannot say that I saw the end coming, though. In both books, the troubles begin with the arrival of Heathcliff. And, both have a happy ending for the main character that the narrator follows; in Bronte’s novel, Hareton marries Cathy, and in Case’s novel, Nelly is finally married and happy. The award for the largest twist and out of left field ending is certainly to Case’s Nelly Dean.

Nelly was strung along through the whole story, thinking she was a servant housekeeper, undeserving of Hindley. She threw herself into caring for the children that came along and finally collapsed in the end. Bodkin calling her illness the lifting of the weight of the world from her shoulders, like Atlas holds. That was certainly another light moment, but I felt it slightly contrived for her to go off on vacation, certainly well deserved goes without saying.

All told, I certainly enjoyed this novel and the more modern language compared to Wuthering Heights.

Nelly and the Falcon

 At the end of chapter seventeen, Nelly walks into the house after speaking with Bodkin to find everyone in a tizzy about a loosed falcon in the living room. We don’t know much else — who brought it in or how it otherwise got into its current predicament. There is not even a description of the falcon itself. We only see the family’s and then Nelly’s reaction to its presence. Almost immediately I connected this hawk with Nelly herself and the relationships she holds with the rest of the family.
    Nelly herself thinks on the hawk later, after the debacle has concluded. She thinks on it in relation to the family she serves, believing it “a good figure for any of the three of them”. As a reader, however, I am drawn make comparisons between the loosed bird and the main character. She, of course, does not indulge my thought spirals, using the whole event to reach the (rather obvious) conclusion “’I am not like them’”. Honestly, Nelly, we figured that out about ten chapters ago, but okay! Glad that you are on board with us. Just after this declaration, however, Case drops hints that Nelly understands her predicament on a deeper level. She phrases herself as having “bruised [her] wings on those ancient beams a few times”, but believes now that se has learned better from it. It is the same lesson that her mother has been trying to drill into her skull since she was four — she is not like the Earnshaws, to any mess that they make for themselves is therefore not hers to clean. The lesson that she actually learns, however, is that she is their tamed bird to keep and give attention to at their own enjoyment. No matter how much the Earnshaws mistreat and manipulate her, she no longer has the ability to tear herself away.
    This is depressing, partially because I really enjoy Nelly as a character. She is brave, sensible, reliable, and genuinely cares for others. I often find myself pulled aside from the book by my own thoughts and fantasies about her escape from Wuthering Heights. I imagined that she would flitter away to work with her mother or in some other town, find herself a loving (and preferably rich (and definitely not Hindley)) husband, and create a home and hearth of her own. Then I remember this is Wuthering Heights, and no one here gets a happy ending. She could achieve so much of only she would leave the residents of Wuthering Heights to drown in their own cesspool. But she can’t, and this is her fatal flaw. The moment she falls for Hindley she becomes another captured victim of the mire. Her wings will never carry her farther than her feet, nor will she experience life outside of the small cage she has constructed.
    The most depressing aspect of Nelly’s ‘caging’ is that she has willfully constructed and stayed inside her provincial gave despite multiple efforts by others to make her leave. This most notably comes in the form of her mother, ironically the same person who originally deposited her there in the first place. When Nelly is a child, her mother repeatedly warms Nelly against placing herself as an equal to the Earnshaws This is an effort on her part to keep Nelly from becoming too emotionally attached for proper work. As an adult, she outright asks Nelly to abandon the Earnshaw house and come work with her. All in all, she is trying to keep Nelly from putting her own stake in with the Earnshaws. Chapter four is entirely consumed with a story from Nelly’s mother warning against the dangers of wishing. This, unfortunately, is the very hole that Nelly falls into — she wishes to marry Hindley against all practicalities, she wishes that Hindley and his father will get along, she wishes that Hindley could be a more responsible adult and master, and one by one her wishes fall to the wayside, harming nor helping anyone but Nelly herself.
    In effect, Nelly lives up to the words of Hindley, becoming “a permanent fixture” in spite of everything that should lead her to be the contrary. For such a sensible character, it is her soft heart that eventually causes her downfall.

A Desire Disguised

The strange narrative of Nelly Dean poses an interesting question, “What comprises a duty?” Who and what determines its parameters? Is it subjective to the one upon whom it is placed?  Most would say no. Yet, the justification for all of Nelly’s undertakings bank upon duty’s subjectivity to the one upon whom it is placed.

From a young age, Nelly’s mother instills in her a devotion to duty and a caution towards pursuing desire when duty crosses it. As the novel continues, Nelly, fearful of the farmer’s tale that forewarns the danger of desire, extends the framework of her duty as servant of Wuthering Heights to encompass her deepest wishes and, in doing so, quiets her conscience.

Nelly’s understanding of her duty can be summarized as such: to save the Earnshaws from themselves. This responsibility, and her adoption of it, issues originally from Mr. Earnshaw’s sincere remark in his belief that she  was “born to be the salvation of [the] house” (105). Nelly, in turn, banks her life upon this statement. Henceforth, she endeavored to save them, and from that salvation to attain her heart’s yearnings: the love of Hindley. Upon discovering that he is returning with a wife, Nelly walks the moors to clear her head and choose a course of action. Resolving to stay her post, Nelly “tells herself “that [her] prior good influence with [Hindley] and [Heathcliffe] made it [her] duty to stay and bring about peace between them” (237). She later discerns that “in truth it was compounded in equal parts of selfish interest and pride” (237).

As time goes on, contemplations and conversations continue to reveal the latent desires that drive Nelly’s understanding of her duty to Wuthering Heights. When Mr. Earnshaw was dying, Nelly admits her dream of delivering him, through her committed care, from his illness in order to win his approval and thus earn the right to Hindley’s hand in marriage. Later, she likewise acknowledges her initial supposition that, if Hareton embraced her as his mother, Hindley would follow suit and embrace her as his wife.

Several characters challenge her notion of duty, beginning with Heathcliffe, who, as a child, furious at Nelly’s nursing of Heathcliffe, asserted, “it’s all very well to say you were only doing your duty, Nelly,… but you half killed yourself to save him” (110). Likewise, Bodkin urges her to remember that she is not “obliged to keep working” at Wuthering Heights, to which she simply responds of her affection for the residents and their need of her (117).

Nelly’s undertaking to bind Hareton to herself through Elspeth’s means prove telling portent of her muddling of duty for desire. Though her endeavor to sustain his life is honorable, her duty as a servant did not necessarily warrant her actions at Pennington Crag. Instead, they were driven by her deepest wishes, which in turn imbued her view of her role in at Wuthering Heights.

In the end, Nelly concedes what drove her all those years, for what she had wanted “more than anything, was to be one of the Earnshaw’s to be truly a member of their family (447).

Shelf Life

How long can cares be put on hold?

When someone encounters a problem, a choice must be made in dealing with the circumstances. Within the setting of Nelly Dean is a class system that dictates social expectations. Case, the author, despite those delineations of character portrayal, generates an authentic language and disposition within the society of Wuthering Heights that plays out the dramatic tension of such an arrangement as this.

The ebb and flow of dramatic tension is interspersed in differing ways in the text, and in my opinion, more effectively than Bronte’s story. One such example is Nelly hiding from her father. Nelly’s mother finally comes straight out and addresses Nelly’s fear with him and encourages both parties to make amends. This setup is certainly paid off with the show of affection to Nelly and the subsequent death of her father before she arrives to see him. As a reader, I felt satisfied to find the payoff come sooner than later, or not at all. I certainly did not get that sense of satisfaction while reading Wuthering Heights.

The tension of Nelly’s relationship with her mom builds up as Nelly subjectively edits what is read to Mrs. Earnshaw and written in reply to Nelly. The payoff comes soon enough as Mary arrives to visit Mrs. Earshaw in her last days. Which, pleasantly, leads into more dramatic tension between the kids as Mrs. Earnshaw tells the story of Mary coming to Wuthering Heights to nurse Hindley.

The issue of Nelly and Hindley’s secret pregnancy is left in preservation “on the shelf” for too long. The dramatic tension creates a true linear plot of Hindley’s absence, Nelly’s miscarriage, and the shocking introduction of Francis as Hindley returns.

Another point is when Nelly said she came to regret what happened in the fairy cave. That was a bit of a shock to me, but it led directly to the payoff of the tension when Hindley catches on that she is pregnant.

Overall, I believe the Nelly Dean novel uses this literary device in an effective manor. If Wuthering Heights points of dramatic tension were items on a shelf, reading the book would be like picking up random items that may or may not make sense and some that are ‘unlabeled.’ In my opinion, Case effectively makes the plot points stay within the “shelf life” of the story unlike the long and drawn out novel by Bronte.

Hindley of the Post Modern

In the early chapters of Nelly Dean, we are introduced to the character of Hindley, the oldest living son of the Earnshaws and therefore the heir to all they own. This, obviously, is the same Hindley from Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. To call him the same person, however, would be quite the stretch. In Nelly Dean, the character of Hindley is expanded in ways that were originally left to the reader’s imaginings.
A large difference is that we experience Hindley before Heathcliff interrupts the family dynamic. We witnessed this in Wuthering Heights, but only briefly. Here we see a Hindley that is much more open, imaginative, with a wild streak very similar to his sister. When reading these passages, the most burning question in my mind is thus: why does Alison Case feel the need to explain and expand Hindley, who in the original text is a pernicious and violent man, into a character that we can empathize with in this way? The most obvious answer is that she wants us to better understand why Hindley behaves the way he does. But why do we need to understand Hindley or his phycological nuances? To me, this is an example of the social differences from the gothic-romantic nineteenth century to the post-modern twenty-first. Post modern media, books and otherwise, often attempt to persuade the reader in the favor of unlikable characters by explaining their behaviors as being the result of childhood trauma or mistreatment. Hindley, with his insecure attachment to his father, the loss of his older brother, and the invasion of another, younger child into his home (who very clearly is his father’s favorite, despite not actually being his child) fits into this category quite nicely. There is also evidence that Hindley could be diagnosed with ADHD, with his extreme energy, violent tendencies, and inability to “keep his mind to a schoolroom task for five minutes together”(Chapter 5). It makes sense that Bronte did not expand on these ideas because, frankly, people during that time did not generally understand the nuanced nature of the human psyche. It wasn’t until much later in the eighteenth century that the study of psychology rose to scientific respectability.
Alison Case, however, absolutely had these developments available to her, having lived and written in the twenty-first century. In short, the Hindley that we see here is one built for the modern reader. We as modern readers and writers like to analyze how a character came to be as they are, and if they happen to be deeply-troubled and a bit traumatized, all the better. Trauma and PTSD have become a narrative short-hand for characters with a troubled mind. So it makes sense to create characters or in this case, recreate. This Hindley, therefore could be considered a completely different character, written for a post-modern interpretation.

Forget Everything You Think You Know

The 2016 Marvel Studios movie Doctor Strange has a scene where Baron Mordo tells Dr. Strange to “forget everything you think you know.” In his case, he means the world, but in Allison Case’s case, this quote is much more applicable. In Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean functions as the servant who tells the story, becoming little more than a plot device in Bronte’s narrative. Here, Nelly is far more involved…in more ways than one. From the opening lines, we see that there is a new connection that she shares with Mr. Hindley Earnshaw. Take this passage for example:

            “And I’ll not say he didn’t love her. But sometimes, if I was by, and her back to me, in the midst of his fussing he would send me a long, keen look, as if all this show was for my benefit.”

 It’s no secret that Allison Case is pushing Hindley and Nelly together romantically. The question is tied to the reason why.

We could always assume that this book was intended for a modern audience, particularly a modern audience that may have never read Wuthering Heights. They would not have had that connection to the original story and would have found themselves saying, “So what?” if Case had just went with the original narrative. Practically, it seems like a smart move for Case. But I think it’s more than just a smart move – I think it’s the reason Nelly chose to stay.

In the context of Nelly Dean, a storm forces Hindley and Nelly to go to a cave to seek shelter. In a tender scene, Nelly and Hindley spend the night together in the same cave that they visited as children. The narrative comes full circle where Nelly’s childhood innocence from her earlier playtime in the cave is replaced by her path to adulthood from her night with Hindley – and the same goes for Hindley as well. In the end, she confesses all of this to Lockwood reading her letter:

“Do I need to tell you what happened next? Remember that we were frightened and cold and far from home. And I loved him. Yes, there on our heathery bed in that little earthen chamber, roofed with stone and curtained by falling rain, I loved him with all my heart.”

 Love is a powerful motivator in keeping someone tied to a certain place. It is a metaphor for the inability of a person to move on from someone or something. We see in the opening chapters that eventually the teenage romance breaks down, despite their seeming love for each other. Because of that, Nelly Dean positions itself as an interesting exploration of what happens when you find love in circumstance and not in truth. Nelly and Hindley were raised together, played together, and did not leave Wuthering Heights for most of their childhood. It was only a matter of time before they fell in love. But I don’t think that Case would say that this is a particularly good thing. In fact, it seems that now Nelly is much more in line with the other family members who chose to stay at Wuthering Heights in Bronte’s novel. Instead of just being “the servant,” Nelly is painted as a jilted lover who is sworn by duty to serve the family because of their kindness towards her and her love for Hindley. In this, Nelly is very much a tortured soul just like the rest of them.