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

Best Kisses in Charlotte Bronte’s Novels

Image result for public domain victorian rose

There was a time, over a decade ago now, when I disliked love stories, and regarded romantic scenes and in particular, kisses, with cynical scorn. To be honest I still feel a little funny about them, even if I do sometimes like them. But since it is Valentine’s day, that routine bathos of giddy romance, here are what I think are the very best kiss scenes from Charlotte Bronte’s novels.

From Shirley, Robert Moore To Caroline Helstone:

She mutely offered a kiss—an offer taken unfair advantage of, to the extortion of about a hundred kisses.

“Extravagant day-dreams,” said Moore, with a sigh and smile, “yet perhaps we may realize some of them. Meantime, the dew is falling. Mrs. Moore, I shall take you in.”

From The Professor, William Crimsworth and Frances Henri:

“You speak God’s truth,” said I at last, “and you shall have your own way, for it is the best way. Now, as a reward for such ready consent, give me a voluntary kiss.”

After some hesitation, natural to a novice in the art of kissing, she brought her lips into very shy and gentle contact with my forehead; I took the small gift as a loan, and repaid it promptly, and with generous interest.

I don’t think Villette actually contains any kissing, so I went with the closest equivalent, when Lucy Snowe learns that Paul Emmanuel does, in fact, like the way she looks.

“Ah! I am not pleasant to look at——?”

I could not help saying this; the words came unbidden: I never remember the time when I had not a haunting dread of what might be the degree of my outward deficiency; this dread pressed me at the moment with special force.

A great softness passed upon his countenance; his violet eyes grew suffused and glistening under their deep Spanish lashes: he started up; “Let us walk on.”

“Do I displease your eyes much?” I took courage to urge: the point had its vital import for me.

He stopped, and gave me a short, strong answer; an answer which silenced, subdued, yet profoundly satisfied. Ever after that I knew what I was for him; and what I might be for the rest of the world, I ceased painfully to care.

And, of course, from Jane Eyre

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!”

“As we are!” repeated Mr. Rochester—“so,” he added, enclosing me in his arms.  Gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips: “so, Jane!”

Happy Valentine’s Day.