Writing about Blindness

Fritz Eichenberg Wood Engraving

When I decided to write about Mr. Rochester, postJane Eyre, I realized I was going to have write about a blind man. This is not something I have much real life experience with and must often draw on my imagination to supply this aspect. The most immediate difficulty is that, without thinking about it much, I often have my characters exchange a look with each other, or look at their toes or the window or whatnot, to supply information about their thoughts or reactions. I have to catch these things when writing about Mr. Rochester. Jane and Mr. Rochester cannot share a meaningful glance when some important clue is revealed. They must either talk about it, or convey their thoughts to each other through physical motion.

This creates a little challenge for me as a writer, but nothing insurmountable. Defining Mr. Rochester’s role in these stories is a little more difficult. A character who cannot move around much on his own, who cannot study faces or locations, cannot take a very active role in a mystery. In The Hour of Fatality, Mr. Rochester sometimes acts through Jane, by issuing directions or giving information. Because they are staying with the Ingram family, Rochester often gives Jane important information about the characters she trying to understand. In writing the second of the series, I’ve given Jane a more decision-making role. She is in Morton, which is her home ground, and Mr. Rochester has less to do over all. He is still pivotal to Jane’s new task of detecting, but his own challenge is finding new ways to use his abilities. One of the reasons that a Jane Eyre mystery initially appealed to me is because I felt it suited them both. Mr. Rochester has a sharp intellect and would, I think, relish the opportunity to solve mysteries, now that he is bereft of a more active role in life. And nothing would suit Jane Eyre better than righting wrongs and challenging her nimble mind.

Book 2 has proved an opportunity to further develop the relationship of my mystery-solving couple. Mr. Rochester remains the perfect foil to Jane, sometimes prompting her to action through his influence, and sometimes motivating her even further through his contrariness! But I must occasionally delve into Mr. Rochester’s need to reconcile himself to a life more inactive and helpless then he is accustomed to.

Some time ago I came across a poem by John Milton, which I was reminded of recently. It speaks, in a way, to the incapacity that many of us struggle with at different times in our lives. It also speaks to me of Mr. Rochester’s own struggles, acknowledged in the final pages of Jane Eyre.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton, On His Blindness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s