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

Update – and a little help needed on the next Jane Rochester mystery

Dear Readers, for those of you patiently waiting for the next Jane Rochester novel, I thank you. You probably thought the book might appear when you still almost remembered the plot of the first book. Alas, so did I. Ironically, one of the chief tools at my disposal as a writer is an unreasoning optimism. I always think the next book will take less time and less work than it actually does. This is probably a good thing, because if I truly knew how long each book would take, I might give up before I began!

It might interest you all to know that when I published The Hour of Fatality, I was actually expecting a new baby. She arrived healthy and well a few months later, and she, and many other domestic obligations, have kept me pretty well occupied. Likewise, a season of insomnia seems to have taken root in my life, and a tired writer is not a very productive writer.

However, in spite of all that, the next Jane Rochester novel is approximately half way through! (Confetti please!) And if you like to keep reading, there is a little excerpt from the work-in-progress below.

And then there are the details. I’m considering a change to my title. My original title choice was The Recipient of Secrets, which is taken directly from the novel, and has a nice balanced sound to it. But it occurred to me that recipient is an awfully easy word to misspell. I may regret saddling my book with it in this search-engine-driven age of ours.. So now I’m trying to think of a new title. I’d like the title to kind of match the first in sound: i.e. The ________ of _________ if possible. AND to be a direct quote from Jane Eyre. (Because, really, why make things easy?) And of course sound sort of mysterious and a little suspenseful if possible. Here are some possibilities I’m thinking about:

The Poison of Life


The Poison of Existence

(there’s poison in the book.)

“Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.”

“I only remind you of your own words, sir: you said error brought remorse, and you pronounced remorse the poison of existence.”

A Season of Darkness

(I don’t know, seems gloomy. But it fits the story.)

“After a season of darkness and struggling, light broke and relief fell: my cramped existence all at once spread out to a plain without bounds…”

(Such a gorgeous quote though.)

The Lonely Vale of Morton

(‘Cause its set in Morton)

“I turned my face aside from the lovely sky of eve and lonely vale of Morton—I say lonely, for in that bend of it visible to me there was no building apparent save the church and the parsonage, half-hid in trees, and, quite at the extremity, the roof of Vale Hall, where the rich Mr. Oliver and his daughter lived. I hid my eyes, and leant my head against the stone frame of my door;”

This Spectre of Death

(Now here’s a real cheerful one. But as there is a hint of a supernatural mystery at play in the book, it kinda’ fits. And it might be hard to spell.)

“This was the climax. A pang of exquisite suffering—a throe of true despair—rent and heaved my heart. Worn out, indeed, I was; not another step could I stir. I sank on the wet doorstep: I groaned—I wrung my hands—I wept in utter anguish. Oh, this spectre of death! Oh, this last hour, approaching in such horror! Alas, this isolation—this banishment from my kind! Not only the anchor of hope, but the footing of fortitude was gone—at least for a moment; but the last I soon endeavoured to regain.”

Hmmm….I’m leaning towards The Poison of Existence. Still not sure though.

If any of these leap out to you and make you say, ‘Hey, I could really see that on the cover of a mystery!‘, or if you want to suggest an even better title, or you have any opinion at all on which is best, tell me in the comments below.

And here, as promised, is a sneak preview of Jane’s next mystery.

When I next opened my eyes, I looked eagerly to the window for signs of daylight, but the pitch blackness shed no gleams upon the casement. Mr. Rochester slumbered on. I rose from the bed and wrapped my shawl around my nightdress. Then I went to the window and drew back the curtain. The rain had slowed, but a dismal mist remained.

A few coals in the grate still burned orange, and offered light enough to reveal my reflection in the glass. I remembered my first arrival at Moor House, on a night of wind and rain. I recalled looking through the low windows as at an Eden of warmth and welcome. I had felt myself effectually barred from all help at that moment, so near to despair. Now it was I who was within. Was there anyone out there, in despair, in need? In trouble, and I unaware of it?

A sound, sudden and startling, high-pitched against the low moan of the wind, sounded in my ears. It was the whinny of a horse. A horse! On the moor in the night!

I left the window at once and ran down the stairs. I flew to the front door and opened it. A gush of frigid wind greeted me, streaming back my loose hair from my face. I could make out nothing but a faint grayness in the east. Was it her? Had she come? Or was it him, come to wreak his revenge?

If it was she, perhaps she was in need of help. Suppose she were to perish on this doorstep, where I had once nearly perished myself. Untenable thought! I rushed out into the rain, and through the gate, and into the darkness.

I was able to make out something of the path ahead of me, though my progress was slow enough. My bare feet were quickly coated in mud, and the fine droplets of water in the air soon laid low my errant locks and flimsy garments. I did not feel the cold, however, for my thoughts were too much occupied in trying to pierce the surrounding darkness, to discern a sign of movement among the bracken and boulders. I made my way clumsily along the path, up the hill and towards the spot I had so recently visited with Mr. Rochester. It bore no spell of magic now, but was dreary, silent, and void. I looked back at the roof of Moor House, and the very faint glow of light, for we had kept a lantern burning on the porch all night long.

A damp and wuthering night alone on the moor is a solemn place to find one’s self. I stopped running and stood still, for the awful loneliness of it bore into my soul. The darkness was ominous, all-encompassing, and I knew not what threat lingered in it. The rain lightened, and dissipated. A gap tore in the clouds above, and the glimmering face of a nearly full moon glazed the earth with a glistening silver. I looked around.

The eerie, sombre night brought to mind a story from my childhood. My old nurse Bessie used to tell me the tale of the Gytrash. I had thought of it before. Sometimes in the guise of a dog, sometimes as a horse, it was said to stalk the hillsides and boded ill tidings to whomever encountered it. Surely this fitful moonlight, this gloomy night time was the fitting haunt of such a spectre.

I crept forward on the path. My feet were growing numb, and my fingers also, but I felt I had strength enough to approach the ridge, perhaps to spy the cottage beyond and look for signs of agitation within.

I did not go far, for the high whinny of a horse sounded once more. Heavy footfalls were beating the ground, in the rhythmic patter of a horse’s tread.

To my dismay I could make out almost nothing around me. The moon had slipped back behind her heavy veil, and a thick darkness cloaked my straining eyes. The galloping hooves grew louder, and closer; they were on the path. Driven by an unthinking impulse, I turned and ran.

In my sightless haste, I tripped and fell. The ground shook with the impact of the thundering feet, and I cowered on the ground, pressing my hands to my head, my cheek to the wet ground. I waited for the deadly impress of those terrible hooves.

My whole body shook with panicked terror, and I could not bring myself to move. I felt, rather than saw, its galloping footfalls moving farther and farther off, disappearing at last from my perception. At length I raised myself to my feet. My hair and clothes were sodden with dirt and rain and my skin icy, my fingers still trembling with fright. I looked around me. The moor was empty. As I staggered back toward Moor House, my lips shaped a nearly incoherent prayer of gratitude to my Maker, that I had been preserved from the consequences of so great a folly. But what was it, or who was it, Reader, that I had beheld on that dark moor?

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.