…if you are a big Charlotte Brontë fan. Part of the reason I started writing a book with Jane Eyre as the protagonist is because I had spent so much time re-reading Brontë’s books for my own entertainment that I already knew a ridiculous amount about them. So while I was at work on The Hour of Fatality, I tried to work in a few details that ‘fit’ with Brontë and her books.
At one point in my story, a character is perusing Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. This is the same book that Jane Eyre is reading in her cottage in Morton before St. John Rivers pays her a most important visit. Incidentally, this is the same book that Gilbert, (with much inner trembling), gives to Mrs. Graham in Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that the Brontës were big fans of Scott, so I had fun working the title into the story.
When Mr. Barnett tells Jane about his past, he explains that he used to live in Villette. This is a fictional city that Brontë invented for her novel by the same name, but I decided to include it in my mystery. If all goes well, Villette and its cast may make a future appearance in Jane’s life!
In the later part of The Hour of Fatality, Jane writes a letter to a friend of Mr. Rochester’s by the name of Mr. Hunsden. This is actually an eccentric gentleman in Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, The Professor. He helps the hero, William Crimsworth, to find a job and a place in Belgium. Since Jane is in need of some information about Villette, in Belgium, he seemed like the perfect person to apply to! I originally intended this incident to have a more significant bearing on the story, but as sometimes happens, the story wound up moving in a different direction once I was actually writing it. But I couldn’t resist leaving Hunsden in, even if he never makes an actual appearance.
Part of the fun and challenge of writing historical fiction requires using details that seem like every day things, when in fact they are lost to us today as common knowledge. Writing a book deliberately based on another author’s work called for an even more deliberate drawing from a specific fictional world. Most of those kinds of details in The Hour of Fatality were chosen to serve the story itself, but I enjoyed writing in a few things that made the whole novel feel more like Brontë’s own literary world.
I’m happy to say that I finished this story by December! I enjoy short stories, and I’m delighted to complete this at the right time of year. (More or less.) It took a bit longer than I thought, but because it was written longhand in two different notebooks and a handful of loose leaf pages, (my usual mode of writing, alas), I wasn’t sure how long it would be. As it turned out to be nearly 20 pages, I feel better about how long it took to type up and edit:)
If you do download it for free, it would be lovely if you left a review on Amazon later on. But this was mostly written for the fun of it, and as a gift for those of you who enjoyed THE HOUR OF FATALITY.
As always, I love reader feedback, and I hope that you enjoy joining Jane in another mystery.
Progress is slowly happening on Jane Rochester’s next mystery.
Here’s a little of what’s to come.
The high distant moor, burnished with the tawny hues of the end of summer, reached to the horizon’s edge. Six-and-thirty hours in the carriage had brought us here, to a quiet down overlooking the village of Morton. Twice we had stopped for the night at an inn, but Adele was not so hardened a traveller as to persevere gladly within the confines of a carriage for hours on end, and I thought it best to spend the last of the daylight out in the open.
“What is this place?” My husband inquired.
“A priory, long since fallen into decay. It is only stones and rubble now.”
“A romantic ruin.”
“I attempted to paint it once, but the weather turned ill and I abandoned the effort. Perhaps I will try again one day.”
Adele was our ward, a young girl of nine or so, an orphan. She ran through the grass with delight, while Mr. Rochester stood beside me, one hand resting on his new cane while his arm wrapped round my shoulder. This was a lonely spot, reader, untenanted by anyone but rabbits in the afternoon light. I remembered, however, that we were not so far from a cottage or two, perched on the edge of the moor, and cottagers sometimes set snares for the presently unseen rabbits.
“Adele,” I called. “Don’t stray too far. Adele?” She could not hear me, for she was singing to herself in a boisterous voice. She had already traversed much of the slope.
“Go after her, Janet. I’ll come to no harm.” I kissed my husband’s cheek and made my way down the hillside, while he remained behind. I stopped my descent once to look back at him. He had left his hat in the carriage and his raven hair tossed in the wind. The light of the sinking sun touched his face and bronzed his cheek. The set of his features appeared chiseled from stone. I could not tell if he were contentedly enjoying the evening air, or stoically enduring the enforced passivity of his blindness. For a brief moment, I nearly turned back to him, but remembering my purpose, I continued down the hill. I would later come to regret that I did not go back.
Mr. Rochester sighed only once after Jane left him. It was so dull waiting for others and he had never supported dullness well. He had certainly learned to accept it, but could not always do so without the bitter taint of regret. In the failing light he discerned little, but his acute hearing detected the sound of the horses grazing and the mild breeze swaying the heather about. He gradually became aware of another sound, a curious murmur, like that of an injured animal. He thought of a mother bird trying to lead away its predator by pretending its wing was broken, calling out mournfully as it dragged its wing in the dirt.
But there was something about this sound that was not quite that of a mere creature, as if…as if there were words mixed up in its complaint. He turned, and the sound increased in volume. By feeling the ground with his cane he was able to move up the hill. He might have called the coach driver, or simply waited for Jane. But there was something in the evening air, in the fresh wind from the open moor that enlivened him, and made him long for the independence of movement he had once taken for granted.
It was easy enough at first, for a path of sorts led him in the right direction. There were stones mixed up in the beaten path that crunched beneath his boots, otherwise his slow creep up the hillside was silent, but for the murmuring noise. The sound of it increased and he became more convinced that it was human in origin. A child, perhaps, or a woman. The wind blew stronger, bearing the earthy scent of heather, informing him that he must be near the summit of the hill. His boot knocked against a stone on the right. He pivoted to the left, and the sudden movement sent a spray of stones ahead of him. The result was a curious pittery plunk that made him pause. There was water alongside him, but this could be no puddle at ground level. He kicked deliberately and the noise recurred once more. The stones were falling off an edge of some kind. The hollowness that only comes from an enclosed space sounded almost simultaneously. Not very deep then, but below ground level, and undoubtedly damp within.
He was distracted from this discovery by a long wail from nearby. He lifted his chin and called out, “Who’s there?”
The wailing stopped instantly, and the throaty voice of a man answered, “Who are you? What do you want here?”
“I want to know who’s crying like that.”
“It’s none o’ your damned business, I’ll have you know.”
“Keep a civil tongue, man.”
“Oh? And you’ll make me, will you?”
“I am not come to address myself to you. I want to know who’s crying out, like Hagar in the wilderness. What’s happening here?”
“There’s nothing happening here.”
“Let me hear the girl say so for herself.”
He waited. The man repeated his words. Mr. Rochester had long since borne witness to the many shades of the human heart in his travels. He knew perfectly well there was no use reasoning with this belligerent fellow. But if the girl could summon the courage to help herself…he might be of some use to her.
“Come now, if you are in trouble, come at once. I have a carriage and driver at the bottom of the hill. I’ll have you out of this for good and all. Come at once, I say, and you’ll never suffer this creature near you again if you so choose.”
A pause, and then the sound of movement, followed by a heavy blow, a swift cry, and a man’s angry oath.
“Who do you think you are, you blackguard, talking rot to my wife? You’ve got no business coming here and I’ll make sure you don’t forget it.”
Another cry from the woman. “Let him alone!” but the heavy footsteps of a man’s approach spoke plainly that whatever wickedness the stranger contemplated, there was no one there to stop him. Mr. Rochester could neither see his enemy, nor run away from him. He planted his cane firmly against the ground, and waited.
So I started writing this novel, oh, 6 years ago? Maybe? I’ve lost track of a lot of things over the last decade or so:) A couple of readers gave me some very positive feedback, but I felt uncertain about the book and let it languish on my hard drive.
However, after preparing The Hour of Fatality for publication, I came to realize that I was being too hard on this novel. It was time to lay perfectionism aside and send it out into the world. So, the story of Anna and Mark will be available at last, in its entirety.
This book was a bit of a stretch to write to be honest. It touches on a lot of things I have no personal experience with, and yet it draws on people I have known and thought a lot about. So this book is close to my heart. One of these days I’ll type it all out and share it here.
But for now, here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
Anna tied her apron around her waist and went through the swinging kitchen door to the dining room. Chuck treated her the same as the other wait staff; maybe he even spoke to her less. He talked with Monique for twenty minutes at a time during the slow after lunch hours, gossiping about their families, their kids, their plans for their off days.
If he tried to gossip with Anna, she’d have nothing to say: no kids, no family. She had no life here, except the existence she was trying to maintain. Preserving the outward appearance of an ordinary young woman already felt like wearing a mask that didn’t fit her face. The whole cumbersome thing could slip and fall away, her carefully constructed life disintegrating and leaving her in the hell hole she had come from.
And sometimes that was the only thing she wanted.
She took a quick look around the empty dining room and went behind the marble-topped bar. She had started waitressing at Powell’s on the Pier last August. It was full of tourists then, people who flocked to the ocean for a respite from the Texas heat. The restaurant itself was suspended over the ocean, held up by three-foot thick pilings. If you stood close to the tinted windows, you could look straight down at the water rushing up the beach. Children loved it. Their fingerprints routinely decorated the glass.
The winter brought a less colorful crowd. Retirees who lived here year round would become regulars, enjoying the view and the quiet atmosphere denied them in the summer. Business people stopped in for meetings over Caesar salad and shrimp scampi. She preferred the winter.
She had never been a waitress before this. Just having a regular job, like everybody else in the world, was still a novelty sometimes. She was surprised to find how much she liked to be useful to somebody. It gave her a satisfying sense of purpose she had never known before. The best wait staff, Chuck said, were the ones that were always there when the customer needed them, and never noticed the rest of the time. It was easy, once she got the hang of it, to drift quietly by, only catching a customer’s eye if they were looking for her.
She learned to be a waitress before she ever came to Galveston. It was Jeff who taught her, at the Halfway House in Houston. Jeff was in charge of the kitchen. He was a big man with thick arms and a blunt nose, dark black skin and white teeth that glowed in his face. He had a smile for everyone, and at first, she disliked him for it. She preferred to be left alone. She was still too raw then, too unsure of what her life was turning into. But one afternoon, when she was sitting alone at the plastic table, pushing her bland green beans around her plate, he invited her into the kitchen.
“Come on in, Anna. Come see the other side.”
Since the only alternative was to sit in the lounge doing nothing, she joined him in the kitchen. “You just gotta’ go with the beat, Anna girl. You see?”
Jeff was always playing music in the kitchen of the Halfway House, on a little radio with a tinny sound: R&B, old school hip-hop, blues. This was how he taught her to help in the kitchen.
“You take the food, put on a fake smile, walk through the door, serve ’em up. If they give you grief, you keep that smile until you git back into the kitchen. You give the next plate your dirty look, and head back out the door.”
She missed him sometimes when she was working at Powell’s on the Pier. She liked the people she worked with well enough, but there was no one here like Jeff.
She waited on the older couple who came in for tuna sandwiches and coffee, and when she was done with the coffee pots, she went around the room to wipe the spots from the tablecloths. She always enjoyed this time of day, when the dining room was quiet. The sunlight flashed on the brass trimmings in the room, and the tablecloths glowed white. It was a soothing place to be at the end of a long lunch rush. She crossed to the far side of the dining room. She had thought it was empty, but as she pushed in the chairs, she heard a man’s voice from around the corner.
“Your family has sure produced some un-photogenic men over the years, but I think you’re the worst.”
She looked around the corner at an extremely short man with curly gray hair and a camera pressed to his eye. She moved to the next table to wipe up the crumbs that had been missed earlier. Now she was able to see the subject of the photograph. A tall man in an oxford shirt and blue coat sat solitary at the table. Almost thirty maybe, and not noticeably attractive at first glance, especially with his forehead wrinkled in irritation. He was looking down at his spotless plate and she peeked at him again. He had honey brown eyes, and a gentle mouth.
The table was set before him but his plate was empty. She watched as he smiled at the camera. Oh. Shorty was right. It wasn’t a smile. It was a goofy smirk.
“No good,” Shorty said. “Try again.”
All he got was a sulky expression that made the man’s face look sullen and dark. “I don’t like having my picture taken.”
“It’s not like the pictures were my idea.”
“Yes, I know.” He picked up his fork and pricked his flawlessly folded napkin with it. “I’ve been living in the jungle for the last three years. Nobody needs to pretend to smile there.”
“You’re back in civilization now, Mark. Smiling is the price you have to pay.”
Her work brought her around the corner and into the same part of the room as Mark and his photographer. She was just about finished, except for the crumpled napkin under the table by the window. She was trying to decide the best moment to duck behind them and snatch it away, when the photographer addressed her.
“Excuse me, ma’am, you don’t mind if I take your picture, do you?”
He was smiling at her in a professional way. He was weighing her up. She felt uncomfortably on display, and wished he would look at something else.
“You want to help us out here for a minute? My name’s Pete Fellows. Photographer. Just pretend to take his order, give him someone to talk to. I gotta’ get this guy to act natural for a photograph.”
“Oh. Um – ” This is what normal people do; they get their picture taken. She looked at the man seated at the table. He was still stabbing his napkin. She waited until he looked up. She would know her answer from the way he looked at her. His eyebrows were crowded together in tense embarrassment, but he smiled at her and shrugged his shoulders at the same time. His eyes were kindness and awkwardness in equal parts.
“You wanna’ help?” he said. “I’m really no good at this. But it’s worth a try.”
“I’m not much of an actor.”
“Stand right here.” The photographer stepped aside and waved his hand towards a spot by the table. “Just be yourself. Pretend to take his order.”
She took her notepad from her apron pocket and poised her pen. “Good afternoon, sir. Would you like the wine list today?”
“No, thank you.” Mark frowned.
“Smile, sweetheart,” Shorty said.
Wait staff have to smile. Happy waitresses get happy little tip dollars in their pockets at the end of the night, so she put on her automatic smile. When Mark looked up at her, there was no more stupid, put-on smirk. It was a real smile.
Click. Flash. “Bee-yoo-ti-ful. Do it again.”
“Ah, would you like to try the imaginary fettuccine? Or would you prefer the non-existent shrimp platter?”
“I think I’ll take the fictitious steak,” Mark said, and he laughed. “Hey, I made a joke. You’re good, you know that? I never make jokes.”
“You’re a winner, sweetheart,” Pete said.
He had been taking pictures the whole time. “Come on outside with us. I need to get some shots on the pier.”
“Oh – ” She looked uneasily over her shoulder at the door to the kitchen.
“Well, she can’t come if she still has work to do.”
Pete rolled his eyes. “You’re practically her boss. Of course she can come.”
It occurred to her for the first time that this man bore a strong resemblance to the portrait by the entrance. He looked just like Jacob Powell, the restaurant’s owner, minus the white eyebrows and deep set wrinkles. He had a pleasant face, old Powell’s dark features softened by diffidence. He seemed ill at ease in his blazer, but his broad shoulders filled out the coat without difficulty.
“Not exactly her boss. But I don’t suppose Chuck will complain.” He turned his eyes her way. “Well, if you don’t mind. This is a lot easier with someone else.”
“It shouldn’t take more than half an hour,” Pete said, in a conciliating voice.
Anna thought about saying no. She was used to playing the part of a waitress, but she wasn’t sure what kind of role she would play elsewhere. Mark stood up. He towered over her.
He made a funny grimace, scrunching up his face, but then he smiled. “Only if you want to. I’m Mark Powell by the way.”
She searched her mind for a convincing excuse, but she didn’t really have one. Maybe this was a safe time to say yes to somebody. That’s what normal people did, wasn’t it? She was supposed to be living a normal life. She had never really had one, and she wasn’t always sure how it was supposed to work, but it probably wasn’t normal to refuse the business owner’s polite and not too inconvenient request. Besides, her shift was technically over.
That is the working title for the next Jane Rochester Mystery – assuming it ever gets written. This has proved to be a busy year for me and writing has moved to the back burner, but I do have a nice mystery planned out, with some characters I look forward to spending time with.
For this story I decided to bring Jane back to Moor House, where she lived for several months with her cousins before reuniting with Mr. Rochester. I am a small town girl myself, and I’ve enjoyed plotting out a mystery that relies on the intricacies of village life.
And then there is the moor, the vast, empty country that Bronte and her sisters spent so much time roaming over. For some time I’ve had a scene written in which Jane introduces Mr. Rochester to the moor country that she (and her creator) loved. Here it is. Hope you enjoy it.
Excerpt from a forthcoming Jane Rochester mystery:
“Edward, I have your greatcoat.”
“Greatcoat? Whatever for, Jane?”
“There is still a heavy frost on the ground, but the sun will carry it away soon. Come, I want to show you something.”
He obediently held out his arms while I wrapped the coat around him, then laced up his boots for him. A servant might have done it for me, but I was in no mood for officious interference. I wanted to be on the moor.
The path was as I thought it would be, wrought in shades of silver by the frosty night, glimmering in the strong light of day. We traveled over rock and under branch, until we came to the open vale. Before us lay a fairy land – every blade and twig glittered like adamantine. The grass lay dead and bowed to the earth, but the sound of our boots crunching over it gladdened my heart like music. We climbed the long hill with care and emerged on the empty moor. I told Mr. Rochester of everything in view – the soft, shimmering hills, the limitless sky of azure, laced with trailing wisps of cloud, and every faded blossom of heather frosted with white. We stood side by side, his knee touching mine, his arm around my waist – we breathed deep of the keen air, invigorating in its cool clarity.
A bird, perched on a long stalk of grass that swayed in the stillness, sang blythely to the morning, its call filling our ears, the very air replete with sudden joy. Mr. Rochester raised his good hand and caressed my face, his fingers tracing my lips. I asked him what he was thinking of.
“I wanted to know that smile, for I could hear it in your voice, and feel it my soul. I remembered how sad you once were; my little girl alone in the world.”
“I am not alone anymore, Edward.”
“No indeed! Jane departed her fairy home in search of one she could bless and tend, for one in need of her vivacious mind and loving heart. But now it seems we have found out your home, my bonny wanderer. Your kingdom lies round about here somewhere, I think. And now that you have brought me thither, you must grant me a boon, must you not?”
“A boon? Must I? I was not aware of such an obligation.”
“A hardly like to ask, ennobled as you are, revealed in the glory of your own country.”
I turned my eye from the brilliant scene before me to examine his face.
“And what would you request?”
“I would ask to pass all my mortal days by your side, as your husband.”
“But I have all ready granted that wish, when I married you.”
“So you did. Well then, let me think.” He rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Ah, I have it! The very thing – a kiss.”
“Edward, you would not ask for kisses on a morning like this?”
“Grant me just one, Jane. Surely these silvered fields have felt the breath of an angel, a kiss divine as it is passing swiftly. Let me feel the solid warmth of your lips, and know you will not forsake me for your home in yonder fairyland.”
I kissed him as he bid; he demanded more; the bird sang on, its music heralded by the empty moor alone.
“My feet are cold,” I said. “We must move. You do not dislike it, that I brought you out here?”
“Dislike it? Your pleasure is mine, and your happiness my treasure. God bless you, my dear, for your reverence of all that is bright and high. It renews me every day.”
(Spoiler alert! If you’ve never actually read Jane Eyre, this gives away big swathes of the plot. Your best course of action is to go read Jane Eyre as soon as possible, because it’s such a good book. It’s free online and probably at your library.)
Every fictional hero has his flaws. Without them, he would not resemble the complexities of a real human being – he would not feel so true to life. But Mr. Rochester’s flaws have almost seemed to eclipse him as a character, to the point where he has become a sort of standing joke. He is now the guy who kept his wife in the attic.
Of course that is not his only sin: he treated Jane unworthily from the start of their acquaintance, acting capriciously and then taking her into his confidence as an equal, which was not the case society-wise, then deceiving her into accepting his marriage proposal he could not decently offer. To many modern readers, Jane is far too quick to forgive such a catalogue of wrong-doing.
Personally, I think Rochester gets a bad rap these days. I’m biased of course, because I love Bronte’s novel to pieces, and have always liked Rochester from the first time I read the book. I wanted his redemption from the beginning of the novel, and am perhaps a little too inclined to give him grace. While I would never hope to justify all of his deeds to anyone, and in fact spend some time in The Hour of Fatality dwelling on his repentance of his past, (probably to the detriment of my mystery), I still think his critics are too harsh on him. Mostly, on account of the wife in the attic.
Rochester’s wife, locked in the attic room with a nurse for several years, is perhaps to be a pitied a little. But compared to the usual treatment of lunatics in those days, she doesn’t make out too badly. A typical asylum would have seen patients chained to the wall, and possibly whipped when their behavior was too outrageous. Bertha, by contrast, had a private room and a personal attendant. It would be a dreary life, for sure, but then, what might be the consequences if she had been allowed more freedom? Today, with the benefit of psychiatric drugs, we have a certain degree of control over the greater aberrations of mental illness. Many mental problems are diagnosed and controlled by medication. As far as treatment, there was opium – and not much else. Essentially, her condition was untreatable. For the sake of safety, locking Bertha up would have been regarded as a necessity. And as subsequent events in the novel show, she was certainly a dangerous individual, (perhaps perpetuating an ungenerous stereotype. But its within the realm of possibility that a woman with extreme mental illness might be dangerous, and at unpredictable times.)
Mr. Rochester’s most grievous sin, in the eyes of Bronte’s audience, would have been attempting polygamy. This seems largely ignored by many critics today, as marriage has come down somewhat in the world’s estimation. This is the only illegal act he is guilty of. Certainly his infidelity to his marriage vows are a pretty big blot as well. But I think its worth considering that he was in an essentially impossible position.
We only get Mr. Rochester’s view of his first marriage, but judging from that, his wife was most definitely unfaithful to her vows first. I have sometimes wondered why Rochester didn’t divorce his wife immediately, (he claims to have lived with her for four years, knowing full well what her behavior was), on the grounds of infidelity. Of course it wouldn’t have suited the story so well if he had done so, but after thinking about it, I remembered what a black mark it was at that time to get a divorce. It would have followed him all of his life – a divorced man. Even aside from the doctor’s diagnosis of his wife’s madness, making it impossible for him to obtain a divorce, he would have resisted such an option.
He was at that time in his early twenties, with all of his life ahead of him, and after four years of it, however, he had enough.
“In the eyes of the world, I was doubtless covered with grimy dishonour; but I resolved to be clean in my own sight—and to the last I repudiated the contamination of her crimes, and wrenched myself from connection with her mental defects. Still, society associated my name and person with hers; I yet saw her and heard her daily…”
He tried to live apart from her, but being free from the pretense of marriage, he would then have been forced to accept loneliness as his lot. Of course he explains in detail to Jane what choices he made as a result: a dissolute, immoral life that brought him no lasting rest.
Like the Prodigal Son, Rochester finds his way home, but not in the way he expects to. He attempts his own restoration by attempting to claim Jane’s innocence for himself, and by the end of the novel, he learns what Jane herself tried to teach him.
“Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.”
To which Jane wisely responded, “Repentance is said to be its cure.”
The Hour of Fatality: A Jane Rochester Mystery is officially for sale as an e-book and paperback. It’s been a long, occasionally aggravating, but mostly enjoyable journey. It makes me happy that the book is finally available. I hope it makes readers happy too.
I’ve been working off and on with a short story idea, in which Jane Rochester solves her first mystery immediately after her marriage. The tale revolves around Ferndean Manor, the setting of the final scene of Jane Eyre. I guess it’s sort of a prequel to The Hour of Fatality, which I’m currently proofreading, but it’s a standalone mystery. Here’s the very beginning. If it sounds intriguing, let me know. Or you can sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll let you know when it’s completed and available.
For lack of anything more mysterious, it’s tentatively titled:
I entered the study with a keen and lively step. I had only gone as far as the kitchen, no great sojourn at Ferndean Manor, but on one’s wedding day, even a trifling separation is an excuse for a pleasant reunion. Mr. Rochester reached out his arm, and I stepped into his embrace.
“We have passed through fire, trial, and the pain of separation, to a safe harbor and sheltered bourn. I never thought to find any happiness at Ferndean.” He stood behind me, his arms holding me to him. The sun cast brilliant beams through the window; it seemed the very smile of Providence to warm us. “You do not regret having no the bridal journey? No fine gown and rich jewels? I have not disappointed your expectations?”
“Do you know, Mr. Rochester, that there is a bloom of woodland flowers just outside this window?” I replied, not altogether to the purpose.
“Then you shall have Eglantine as a bit of lace, and Honeysuckle as a veil? What shall you take for jewels, my fairy? A bead of dew to adorn your neck, and a filament of ivy to cover your wrist. Is that all that you desire?”
“I am crowned with my husband’s love. No other adornment could satisfy me so well.”
“You are a woman of rare taste, Jane. But I’ll not complain of my good fortune. If this is the fate Heaven offers me, I shall call Paradise premature in its arrival.”
I touched the scar on his forehead, where the fiery tragedy of the past had left its mark. I passed my fingers over his blinded eyes. If I could bring my husband nectar and ambrosia in his condition, I would be well rewarded by the kindness of his love. A departure from sentiment, however, was not unwelcome, even on the dawning day of one’s marriage.
“I find I am rather thirsty for paradise. With your approval, I will summon Mary to bring us tea.” He tweaked my finger and allowed me to pass. Mary brought the tea tray at once.
“Is there no milk?” I inquired.
“No milk? You cannot offer Mrs. Rochester tea without milk,” my husband proclaimed.
“The milkman hasn’t come yet, sir. He’s usually here by this time,” Mary said.
I glanced out the window unconsciously, as if I might catch sight of the young farmer atop his cart. I saw something there that I did not expect, however, and replied, “The milkman? Or the milkman’s horse?”
Out the window of the parlour I could see a tall roan busy with a mouthful of carrot tops. The steed stood at the edge of the kitchen garden and bent his head to devour more of the plentiful greens flourishing there. Hitched to his chest were the traces of a wagon, and by leaning forward, I could see what was most certainly a milkman’s wagon precariously perched over the edge of the lane that led to the back regions of the house.
An exclamation fled from Mary’s lips and she dashed from the room. I briefly described the scene to Mr. Rochester, and to my gratification, he laughed. His mirth was short lived however.
“John is at the top of the hill mending a broken fence, and Mary is occupied saving her lettuces. Leave me for a little while, Jane, and have a look around for the fellow. Perhaps you can discover what has separated him from his cart.”
I acted on his instructions and went out the door, my eyes searching for the tall farmer and his straw hat that I had seen once before. I hoped no disaster had befallen him.
I’ve been working out his cover for a looooong time. It may still change, I don’t know, but here it is, in all its pixel glory. In case anyone’s wondering, that’s a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw embellishing the bottom of the cover. My plan is for this book to be available next month – stay tuned!
My freshman year of college, I was assigned to read Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, in an English class. We had a brief lecture on it – the professor obviously didn’t like the book, and as I had not gotten my hands on a copy yet and there were not going to be any assignments, I didn’t read it. I gathered there was a scene about a ‘red room’ that was supposed to be scary. That was all I knew.
Fast forward a few years, when I was well out of college and no longer cramming down long reading lists of material, had seen a mediocre film version, and had learned to love Pride and Prejudice, I actually read the book.
It was a transformative experience.
(Spell check is telling me transformative is not a word, but I already looked it up, and Oxford Dictionary says it is, and means what I mean. Spell check loses this round.)
Oh, how I relished that book. I read it over, and over, and over again. I was carrying my first child, (and after that, nursing him), and camped out on the couch a lot. I thought I was done reading it; I could read something else. But the bookcase was next to the couch, and the book was conveniently stored right there – and picking it up again was always so inviting.
The language! The dialogue! The emotion! It just kept working for me.
I moved on to other 19th century British classics – things like Middlemarch and Dr. Thorne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I love so many of them – they are like old friends now. I can’t imagine my life without these books.
But to be honest, I used to feel a little silly about this obsession with 19th century England. Why spend so much time on these books? There’s real life happening out there, and I’m just reading this old, wordy tome that I’ve read dozens of times before. I recall looking up a graduate studies program in 19th century British literature – because I felt obscurely that I ought to do something with this passionate love for Bronte and her contemporaries. But does one really need another critical essay on Bronte? I think there are probably enough of them already.
It wasn’t until I actually started writing a real novel that I began to understand what I had been doing. I had been soaking – in language, in plot, in style, in detail. I wrote a contemporary novel. Sometimes my characters started talking like they were in Austenland, and I had to get them back out again. But I had to start with a familiar world, and reading and re-reading some of the most enduring plots in English literature gave me the tools to actually shape a story.
I wrote two more novels, (Two of these are self-published – the third is still hanging out on Google Docs, in need of some love to get it out into the world.) I had also been reading Father Brown and Lord Peter Wimsey and some of Alexander McCall Smith’s books. And then I read P. D. James book, Death Comes to Pemberley, a mystery based on Pride and Prejudice.
Then I had an idea.
I knew Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre. I had been drinking in the diction and style of the time period for years, for the pure joy of it all. I had loved mysteries ever since I devoured a watered down Reader’s Digest version of Sherlock Holmes in high school. (One must start somewhere.) I needed a change in my writing life, so I tried my hand at a first chapter and shared it with my husband. He said it was good. (And he never really likes my stuff. He’d rather be reading about wizards or frigates. Bless him.) I wrote about four chapters – and fizzled. I was tired; I have a lot of kids; it was hard to concentrate. But I felt I had something, so I posted what I had on fanfiction.net. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12303773/1/Mrs-Rochester-Mystery-Hour-of-Fatality I got a handful of positive comments! I was getting page views! It was enough to keep me writing.
It’s been a busy couple of years. I’m finding it tricky to keep track of the sequence of events at this point, but I’m fairly certain our family has grown by two more children since I started this book. Finding the mental space to develop 1) a novel, 2) a historical novel, and 3) a mystery novel, (really, what was I thinking?) has been a challenge. But this week, I finished writing the last chapter. (If you are looking for it on fanfiction, I haven’t posted it yet. It’s not quite typed up. But it’s on paper, which is kind of the big thing on my end.)
I was so excited to be finally, FINALLY, done with the rough draft of this book! There were so many times when I thought I would never get here!
And now I’m kind of sad about it.
But if nothing else, I am glad, that the many, many hours I have spent living and re-living Jane’s fictional life, actually led me to something. And it was something that I could share with other people, and they could enjoy it too. I hope to publish this book someday, somehow. I hope lots and lots of people read it. But I was thinking the other day – suppose I do publish it, and a handful of sweet, kind-hearted readers leave some middling reviews, and nothing much else happens. Am I still glad I wrote it? That I made the vision for this book into a reality?
Yes, yes I am. As Charlotte Bronte herself wrote,
“I have a rosy sky and a green flower Eden in my brain; but without, I am perfectly aware, lies at my feet a rough track to travel.”
I’m grateful to have both her flowery Eden, and my own. It makes the rough track a little easier.