Book Review: Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man who Created Dracula

Something in the Blood by David Skal is one of the best literary biographies I have ever read. It is 583 pages of main text, plus notes, index, and bibliography, and all of it is interesting. While Skal likes to go off on tangents, all the tangential material is still relevant and fascinating. Besides giving us Bram Stoker’s entire life story, a lot of the book is devoted to Oscar Wilde and particularly his infamous trial. We also get a lot of information about Stoker’s best friend, Hal Caine, and about his employer, the great actor Henry Irving and the history of Victorian theatre. Finally, the last hundred pages of the book are about Dracula’s legacy after Stoker’s death. Skal does not discuss every film or play version of Dracula, but he hits most of the highlights, so that this book might really be seen as an exploration of the creation and evolution of Dracula from influences in Stoker’s childhood to the present.

It’s impossible for me to discuss everything contained in this book, but I’ll just point out a few highlights. At the center of the book is Bram Stoker. Skal is very interested in Stoker’s sexuality and the possibility—very likely—that he was homosexual or bisexual. Surprising and fascinating to me was that Stoker was a great admirer of Walt Whitman, and Skal reprints letters Stoker wrote in admiration to Whitman. Eventually, they developed a close friendship and Stoker met him when he visited the United States on tour with Henry Irving’s company. Skal implies Stoker’s interest in Whitman may have been because of the homosexual references in his poetry, but it’s not clear whether that was his primary interest or just the life-affirming voice of his poetry.

Stoker was very involved in both the theatre and literary world so he knew many of the celebrities of his time. He was friends with Mark Twain, although Skal brushes over this; I would have liked to know more about their friendship. Hal Caine was clearly Stoker’s greatest friend—he dedicated Dracula to him—and he was also the bestselling novelist of his time. Stoker often did editing and other literary work for him on the side when not busy with the theatre. I doubt either could foresee that one day Stoker’s creation Dracula would be a household name and live eternally while Caine’s books are basically forgotten.

Also fascinating was Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving. Irving has often been discussed as the source for the character of Dracula, and Skal explores this possibility. Here we get to the heart of Stoker’s sexuality and psychology. He was never Irving’s lover, but he was his worshiper. Bram Stoker was a big strong, athletic man, over six feet tall, and yet, likely because he was gay or bisexual, he felt the need to hero worship another powerful man. Irving was talented, which led to Stoker admiring his performances before he began working for him. But Irving was also a taskmaster, and Stoker was clearly a workaholic given his doing work on the side when not busy with the theatre and also pursuing his interests in writing his own novels. How Irving treated Stoker doesn’t seem to be really clear, but it is known that Irving could be difficult and Skal states that he even at times got angry enough to hit his fellow actors. Skal goes on to say that the idea that the depiction of Dracula as a sort of revenge on Irving is false because Stoker actually worshiped Irving. Irving treated Stoker like a slave and Stoker, being a masochist, felt validation and gratification as a result of this treatment (p.442).

As for Oscar Wilde, he and Stoker never really had any sort of relationship, but Skal discusses how Wilde was always sort of an absent presence in Stoker’s life. Stoker likely met Wilde on numerous occasions. Stoker attended Wilde’s mother’s salons in Dublin. Wilde was interested in marrying Florence Balcombe, who later became Bram Stoker’s wife. As a result, Stoker must have been aware that Wilde was the ex-boyfriend. And Skal hints that Florence must have frequently considered what her life would have been like had she married Wilde instead—both the pain she would have felt over his trial and imprisonment, and later in life, how she might have benefited from the royalties of his plays whereas Bram Stoker was not a very successful author, and after Irving’s death, she was not left with any real source of income other than from his writing. Skal also suggests that Florence likely knew and was disgusted by her husband’s homosexual proclivities and hated the book Dracula as a result. That said, after his death, she had to work strenuously to protect her rights to the book, even taking the creators of the film Nosferatu to court for making an unauthorized film based on the novel. Wilde’s disgrace must have hurt her deeply. However, there is no record of either of the Stokers’ thoughts on Wilde during the worst times of his life. Skal also believes Stoker kept diaries that he destroyed that mentioned Wilde. Unfortunately, the details of the relationship between Wilde and the Stokers, if there was any, have been lost.

Finally, Skal drops information throughout the book about the creation of Dracula and what may have helped inspire it. He discusses the Irish and fairy tale influences on the novel, and early Gothic works’ influences on the novel, including the works of Wilkie Collins, and of course, vampire fiction prior to Stoker. Stoker’s novel basically set in stone basic elements of the vampire legend. At the same time, Skal discusses details from films that have become part of the myth or popular imagination about Dracula that were never in Stoker’s book. Foremost of these is the idea that Bram Stoker equated Dracula with Vlad Tepes. Stoker probably had no knowledge of Tepes and it wasn’t until McNally and Florescu’s book In Search of Dracula that this idea became popular, and then films like Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the more recent Dracula Untold have caused Vlad and Dracula to be equated by most Dracula fans.

Skal also notes that the equation of vampires with bats was Stoker’s creation. I disagree with him on this point because Paul Feval’s French vampire novel, Vampire City, bring bats into the vampire mythos (see my blog Paul Feval and the Vampire Gothic: The Path from Radcliffe to Stoker. Skal also offers a couple of possible sources for the name Mina in Dracula—Amina from Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula and Minna in Prest and Rymer’s The String of Pearls (p. 110). However, Skal never mentions that in Feval’s Vampire City there is a dog named Mina. I believe Stoker must have had access to Feval’s novels, although I have never seen any scholar make a connection. Stoker certainly traveled in France and could have purchased them (Feval wanted nothing to do with having his books translated into English), and I would assume Stoker could speak French at least moderately. Whether he could read French, however, I am not sure, but it would not have been unlikely.

Many filmmakers and others would take liberties with Dracula in the years after its publication. The actor Hamilton Deane was the first to wear a high-collared black cape in a theatre production in 1924, which made the cape become standard for Dracula. The cape is only mentioned once in the novel when Dracula is crawling up the castle wall (p. 512-3). Skal also mentions the recent discovery that the Icelandic translation of Dracula was not a true translation but may have been based on an earlier manuscript of the novel. The translation was just published in English as Powers of Darkness in February 2017, about three months after Skal’s book appeared, so he did not have access to the translation and could only go on reports of what it contained. (I’ll be blogging about Powers of Darkness in the future.) Skal suggests, based on information from scholar Hans Roos who produced this new translation into English), that the Icelandic translator, Valdimar Ásmundsson, may not only have worked from an earlier draft of the novel but taken liberties in altering or completing the story. If that is the case, it was the first time someone decided to expand or change Stoker’s text.

I will admit Something in the Blood has a few shortcomings. There are several typos where it’s clear dates are wrong and at one point he mixes up which Bronte sister wrote Jane Eyre and which Wuthering Heights. More importantly, I wish that Skal went into more detail about some of Stoker’s novels like The Snake’s Pass and Miss Betty which he only mentions briefly. I would have liked the book to contain more literary criticism altogether. Some of the tangential information throughout the book was also a bit much, and it seemed like Skal was at times reaching/guessing what might have been true about Stoker where evidence did not exist—in terms of whether he was gay or not and what if any relationship he had with Wilde. But I didn’t mind these stretches—it’s fun to guess and wonder what the real Bram Stoker was like, and not surprising that these secrets went with him to the grave.

Overall, anyone interested in Bram Stoker, Dracula, Gothic literature, Victorian gay culture, Victorian history, or vampire film history will find Something in the Blood a treasure trove of interesting information. I’m sure I will be consulting it many times in the future. It is hard to imagine anyone writing a better biography of Bram Stoker unless a bunch of lost manuscripts and letters are discovered to fill in the gaps, which seems unlikely at this point.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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After Ninety Years: A Newly Translated 1880 Serbian Vampire Novella

After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic is a Serbian novella by Milovan Glisic, first published in 1880. Glisic was a Serbian translator, author, and dramaturg; he translated many authors into Serbian, including Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, who both wrote about Gothic themes themselves. It’s noteworthy that this novel was published seventeen years before Dracula, not because it influenced Stoker, since it wasn’t translated into English until 2015, but because it depicts vampire elements that are not the conventional ones Stoker popularized; rather, Glisic’s novella draws on folklore and is more true to the original vampire tradition as a result. After Ninety Years has now been translated into English for the first time by James Lyon, himself the author of the vampire novel Kiss of the Butterfly, which is set in the Balkans and explores Vlad Tepes’ time there.

afterninetyyearsThe book contains both a note from the translator that talks about the translation and Serbian vampire literature and an introduction by Andrew Boylan that discusses the novella, how it differs from Dracula, and also how it compares to the film based on it—Leptirica by Đorđe Kadijević, made in 1973.

Spoiler alert: I will describe the full plot because it’s necessary to understand the vampire elements used in the work. (I will not attempt to reproduce Serbian accents and other marks.)

The story is not long and fairly simple. There is a village in Serbia in which a wealthy man, Zivan, who is the kmet (mayor or leader) of the village has a beautiful daughter named Radojka. A young man, Strahinja, is in love with Radojka, but Zivan refuses to let Strahinja marry her. Zivan’s anger causes Strahinja to leave the village. He ends up going to the neighboring town where the villagers are having a serious problem. They have no miller and whenever they get one, he is found dead in the mill the next day, usually with a red mark around his throat as if he had been hung. (At this point, the villagers do not realize they are up against a vampire. It’s significant that there is no mention of bite marks on the victim’s neck. Instead, the vampire seems to suck out his victims’ blood simply by touching them; unfortunately, the novel is not gruesome enough to show us the vampire preying on his victim, so it’s left somewhat unclear how he satisfies his bloodthirst). Strahinja decides he will play miller to solve this mystery. He hides up on the mill’s loft with two pistols to see what might threaten him.

Enter the vampire. He comes into the mill and Strahinja can see he is a tall man with a face as red as blood and over his shoulder he carries a shroud which stretches down to his heels. (A footnote here explains that in Serbian tradition, the vampire lies in his death shroud and if he loses it, he loses his power. One wonders whether this is why vampires are often depicted with capes in English literature—perhaps a misunderstanding of the death shroud.) The vampire then says out loud to himself, “Oh, Sava Savanović! For 90 years you’ve been a vampire, and you’ve never gone without supper as you have this evening!” This statement explains the novel’s title. Strahinja needs no more information than to know his enemy is a vampire before he decides to shoot him. When the smoke from the pistols clears, the vampire is gone.

Strahinja goes to the other villagers, who are amazed he is alive, and tells them his story. They have never heard of anyone named Sava Savanovic, but they decide an old woman in the village, Mirjana, might know of him because she is older than ninety. (A footnote here reminds us that this novella is based on folklore and that Mirjana was a real person said to have lived to be 110-120 years old. I should note here also that the translator went to Serbia to visit all the places associated with this vampire legend and found that how Glisic relates the story has some variation in the folklore, so it’s not known what he changed or embellished or if he wrote down an accurate version of what he heard.) Mirjana says she remembers Sava from her youth and that he was an evil man. She then tells the villagers where he was buried.

Of course, the villagers are now determined to find Sava’s grave and destroy him. To do so, they need three items: a black and ungelded horse who will be able to locate the grave, holy water, and hawthorn stakes. (The footnotes clarify that hawthorn was symbolic because it is what Christ’s crown of thorns was said to be made from. More relevant to vampires, it lets out trimethylene which is attractive to butterflies so they will often cluster on hawthorn branches. Butterflies are important here because corpses also release trimethylene, which causes butterflies to be attracted to decaying bodies. As a result, butterflies are often seen in cemeteries. The other important thing here is that butterflies were associated with the soul, and it was believed a butterfly (the soul) would fly out of the mouth when a person dies.)

The villagers, with the help of the horse, find the grave. The horse seems to sense where the vampire lies and starts digging in the appropriate place. Once the grave is dug up, the villagers open the coffin and find Sava lying there, his corpse undecayed and looking bloated from drinking blood. They plan to pour holy water down his throat, but they spill it, which awakens him. They have warned each other not to let a butterfly escape from his throat—apparently they would have drowned it with the holy water, but the butterfly does escape. Regardless, they stab the body with the hawthorn stakes to kill the vampire, and they tell themselves it’s no matter that the butterfly escaped because it can’t hurt “grown people.”

The villagers then decide that because of Strahinja’s bravery, he deserves to marry Radojka. They make a plan to kidnap her, which Strahinja argues against but finely gives into, and so Radojka is abducted. Her father comes after them and tries to shoot the abductors, but in the end, he comes to his senses and Radojka and Strahinja are married.

As for the butterfly, it’s said that it killed several children before finally disappearing from the region. (Apparently only “grown people” matter to the villagers.)

I admit I was a bit disappointed by the simplicity of the story—though, it is well told and has a marriage plot and happy ending with its Gothic tale at the center. It is more like a fairy tale, however, than a Gothic story—in the tradition of the young man who must do a fabulous deed to be worthy of the king’s daughter, kind of story, although the royal trappings are gone.

That said, it is worth reading. The translator’s note and introduction make several good points about the significance of the story. They explain how vampires were part of the pagan Slavic people’s mythology, but most of it was erased by Christianity so we can’t really understand the vampires’ place in that mythology today. There was a long history, however, of vampire stories in this culture. The concept of the vampire dates to ancient times, but the word vampire itself first appeared in Serbian in 1725 and then was translated into English and other languages in 1732. Because the vampire is based in folklore, it comes from a long oral tradition and is not the invention of fiction writers. While After Ninety Years could not have influenced Bram Stoker, the vampire folklore tradition from this period may have. Boylan notes that The Pobratim: A Slav Novel contained numerous Slavic folktales in it, including mention of vampires, and it was translated into English in 1895 by Professor P. Jones. I wonder whether Stoker read The Pobratim and it influenced his creation of Dracula. (I’m sure I’ll be reading and blogging about The Pobratim in the near future.)

Glisic’s novel, although not a direct influence on the vampire of Western literature and film today, regardless is an interesting part of the history of the vampire’s development. While not a major work, it is an entertaining and very readable story with plenty of humor and an overall theme of good, or at least love, overcoming prejudice and evil.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Anne Rice’s New Novel More Science-Fiction Than Gothic

With Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Anne Rice has made her vampire novel comeback a firm success. While this novel, like most of the novels that preceded it, is not as engrossing and magical as the first three vampire novels, Rice continues to explore her vampire world and discover new sources of meaning and new secrets in it that make it worth continuing to read.

princelestatandtherealmsofatlantisIn the last novel, Prince Lestat, Rice allowed Amel, who seems to be the source of the vampires’ existence and powers, to take up new residence in Lestat. Lestat was then hailed as the prince of the vampires and a court was designed for all the vampires, a court that meant organization and laws and civilization for the vampires. This novel shows how that court is now being maintained, and more importantly, it delves into Amel’s origin story.

The rest of this blog will give away key points of the plot so be forewarned if you have not yet read the novel. I’ll also add here that Rice’s series has become so complex over the course of her fourteen vampire novels that readers who have not read them all (and even readers like myself who have been following her for years but tend to forget things when a few years separate the publication of each book) may be a bit lost and confused. To help readers, there is a summary of all the novels in the back of the book as well as a glossary of all the characters to remind people who is who in the vampire world.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis begins with a sort of wandering about and wordiness typical of Rice’s more recent vampire books and the reader may ask, “What is the point?” for a while, only the magic of “Atlantis” in the title keeps the reader reading, and while I wish the vampires did not talk so much or at least for such long paragraphs, part of their charm is their eloquence. There is a strong story in this book once you get a hundred or so pages into it, and the middle is the very heart of the novel with the promised tale of Atlantis.

I consider this novel more science fiction than horror because it plays on the recent popularity of ancient alien theories—the idea that aliens created or at least intervened in the development of the earth and the human race. What is most striking about the fact that Rice uses this idea is that it brushes aside any Judeo-Christian concept of God as creator as being the historical truth for mankind.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but ultimately, the vampires discover that there are four creatures on the earth known as Replimoids, and that Amel, now a spirit, was also once one of them. The heart of the novel lies in the tale of Kapetria, the only female Replimoid, who tells Lestat their story and that of Atlantis, which she says was actually called Atalantaya. Her story runs just over eighty pages, nearly 20 percent of the novel. Kapetria reveals how she and the Replimoids were created on the planet Bravenna by the Parents, powerful winged beings who apparently created the earth. However, the earth was damaged (she uses different terms but it sounds like it was hit by a meteor) which killed much of the reptilean life (dinosaurs) and allowed the mammals to become dominant on the planet, which was never intended. The Parents abducted Amel from the earth and genetically manipulated him to make him an enhanced human. He was then sent to earth to try to stem the human overpopulation, but instead he created the city of Atalantaya and a dome over it that meant the Parents, who have hidden some sort of cameras all over the planet, could not see what he was doing. To remedy this situation, the Parents then created Kapetria and three other Replimoids. They spent years educating the Replimoids about humans by showing them videos that largely focused on human suffering. The Replimoids were then sent to earth to destroy Amel and Atalantaya and, ultimately, the human race because of its evils that cause all the suffering. When the Replimoids arrive, however, they find that humans are also very capable of loving and caring for one another and when they enter Atalantaya, they are stunned by the beauty and ingenuity of humans, so ultimately, they decide not to destroy the city but rather disobey the parents. Then in a fluke, the planet Bravenna blows up and parts of it fall to earth and destroy Atalantaya. The Replimoids drown in the disaster that follows, although they are not human so they cannot die; they become frozen in the earth and then eventually reawaken thousands of years later. They do not know what became of Amel, but eventually they realize he is now residing inside Lestat. They wish to free him so he can have his own body again, but the vampires fear that to do so will kill Lestat and likely all of them since Amel has always resided in a vampire since the vampires were given power. The vampires now feel the Replimoids are their enemies, but eventually a compromise is reached and Amel is removed from Lestat without any issues. The result is that the vampires are now not dependent upon anything and Amel has his own body.

Rice’s novels, and indeed all of Gothic literature, have always been very tied to the Judeo-Christian religion/myth of good and evil, God the creator, sin and redemption, but this novel boldly reveals that none of this is the truth, at least in Rice’s vampire world. In her story, Kapetria reveals that the Parents were the ones obsessed with suffering and who made it such an important part of human life. It was repulsive to the Replimoids when they reawoke after centuries to find that an oppressive religion (Rice does not say Christianity, but I have no doubt it is what she means if not all of the Abrahamic religions) full of ideas of sin and sacrifice should have such power over so much of the human race. This novel shows that whole concept of the world and how it operates to be false.

One can’t help speculating how the philosophy or theology of this novel stems from Rice’s own experiences. Surely, her conversion back to Catholicism that was so highly celebrated, and then her rejection of it a few years later, was pivotal to her coming to a new understanding of how she viewed the world so she could write this novel. She seems to have freed herself now from the Christian belief in sin, suffering, and redemption, and so she has freed her characters from it as well.

The novel concludes with Lestat meeting with Amel, now in his new body, and their desire to remain friends despite their physical separation. Some of the final paragraphs of the novel are worth quoting. Here Lestat is speaking, beginning with his thoughts on Amel:

“He walks the earth with the power to destroy it. But then so does the human race. And so do we.

“But what endures is what has always mattered: love—that we love one another as surely as we are alive. And if there is any hope for us to ever really be good—that hope will be realized through love….

“To love any one person or thing truly is the beginning of the wisdom to love all things. This has to be so. It has to be. I believe it and I don’t really believe anything else.”

These final paragraphs show that even in the novel’s rejection of the Christian belief system, the greatest tenet of Christianity—love—remains the most powerful, and when you strip away all the trappings of Christianity and get to its essence, the truth it holds is about love, and that’s the same truth Rice ends on.

For me, this novel makes me feel as if the vampire series is complete, and if this is the last novel Rice writes about them, I will be content with it, but then again, Rice is full of surprises, so she may well have more vampire tricks yet up her sleeve.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s Conversations on Colonial Britain: A Study of the Angrian legends, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette

Charlotte and Emily Brontë were both concerned with what they believed to be the negative influences of the colonies on England. The colonies had made England a wealthy nation by increasing its trade prospects and providing a place for many Englishmen to make their fortunes outside their mother country; while the Brontë sisters appreciated the benefits England received from the colonies, they also feared the colonies would destroy England’s national identity and cause a moral decline among its people.

Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette, along with Charlotte and brother Branwell’s juvenile stories of Angria, all reflect the Brontës’ concern over England’s contact with the Other in the colonies. By establishing colonies, the English were oppressing other races, which the Brontës feared would result in rebellion against the conquerors and the eventual destruction of Britain. Also by oppressing other races, the English were becoming hardened to the point where they were now oppressing their own people, particularly their women. The Brontës feared Britain’s continued association with the colonies would eventually result in England turning savage like the foreign lands it sought to civilize. Charlotte and Emily Brontë both had their own ideas about how to deal with this situation; by chronologically looking at their works on the subject, it becomes apparent that each work responds to and builds on the work before it as if the two sisters were having a conversation about how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

The Brontës’ interest in the colonies began when they were children and first beginning to write. In the late 1820s, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë began writing the legends of Angria, an imaginary kingdom founded by English colonizers on the West Coast of Africa. Angria may have derived its name from Kanhoji Angria, a man who established a pirate kingdom on India’s coast in the late seventeenth century. This kingdom resisted submission to the British government and its colonizers until 1756 when it was conquered by General Clive for the British Indian Empire (Gordon 29). That Charlotte and Branwell did not make up the name of Angria shows the Brontës’ knowledge of events in the colonies prior to and during their childhood. Their knowledge of the subject came from contemporary newspapers and Reverend J. Goldsmith’s A Grammar of General Geography, which Charlotte and Branwell used as a source for their stories in Africa (Ratchford 11). Possibly Charlotte and Branwell even decided to locate their Angrian colony near Fernando Po because in the 1820s, a writer for Blackwood Magazine had advocated it as a good place for British colonization (Meyer 247).

The legends of Angria also illustrate Charlotte Brontë’s familiarity with the British treatment of the natives. Charlotte probably named her main black character, Quashia Quamina, after a slave with a similar name who led a slave uprising in 1823 in British Guiana. Furthermore, the first name Quashia is derived from the racial epithet “Quashee” (Meyer 247). In the Angrian tales, Quashia resembles his namesake by also leading slave revolts against the English colonizers.

The Brontë children’s interest in Britain’s colonies was probably due to the excitement and dangers they imagined to exist in faraway lands. Azim remarks that for the Brontë children, the legends of Angria express “on one level, a feeling of anxiety and fear of the unknown and, on another, a feeling of triumph, based on a conquest of the Other” (112). However, conquest is not always easy. Charlotte, especially, seems to have been aware of the tension in establishing a colony, and she did not always side with Britain in its colonial problems. Although the Angrian stories always allow the English to conquer the natives, the natives often rebel under Quashia’s leadership. These continual uprisings represent the continual tension of colonial establishment, a tension mixing imperial triumph and the belief in Western superiority with a fear of the Other who at any time may rebel and destroy their conquerors.

Quashia Quamina is the pivotal character in understanding how fear of the Other works in the Angrian legends. Quashia is a child when his people’s land is invaded and conquered by the English. Most of his people, including his family, are murdered, while the rest are enslaved. However, the Duke of Wellington, leader of the new colony, decides to adopt the orphaned Quashia. Although by adopting the boy, Wellington may seem kind, his action displays a patriarchal attitude toward the natives, showing how the white race must take care of the black (Azim 131). For Quashia, adoption results in a traumatic displacement from his own people and cultural identity; when the English adopt him, they attempt to Anglicize him, which only causes future trouble for the colony (Azim 131).

legendsofangriaAs Quashia grows up, he realizes he is different from his adoptive family, which in turn leads to his realization that his adoptive family murdered his real family. Because of his native blood, Quashia can never be accepted as a white man; nor can he return to his own people since they are either deceased or living in subjection to their conquerors. His inability to determine his place in this new social order causes him frustration, and he begins to envy the power and culture of his conquerors, which he cannot possess (Azim 126-7). The natural result of his feelings is to rebel so he can end his and his people’s displacement, and gain his conqueror’s power to prevent such displacement from occurring again in the future (Azim 131-2).

Quashia leads several revolts in the Angrian tales, which reflect Charlotte Brontë’s concern for the mistreatment of the colonized natives. However, Charlotte could not bear the thought of English culture being utterly destroyed. In the Angrian stories, she always allows the English colonists to suppress rebellion. Charlotte’s youthful mind seeks an easy solution to the colonial problem, but in adulthood, the complexities of the issue would make her rethink the colonial situation.

The first Brontë novel to express a concern for Britain’s contact with the colonies is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Little is known of Emily’s juvenilia, but it does not seem to be interested in the issue of the colonies or Britain’s contact with other cultures. However, Wuthering Heights is obviously dealing with the colonial issue, and the similarities between Heathcliff and Quashia in the Angrian tales are striking. Azim says of these similarities:

Thematic resemblances between Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia and her sister’s only published novel do not necessarily signify a secret or undiscovered collaboration (as in the mysterious bed plays), but do suggest a fluidity of authorial collaboration which contradicts the static pairing according to contiguity in age upheld by most Brontë biographers (230).

Charlotte and Emily did not collaborate on the Angrian tales, but we know that in writing their novels, the Brontë sisters would discuss their ideas, so there is no reason to believe Emily would not have read her sister’s Angrian stories and have been directly influenced by them while writing her novel. Wuthering Heights is the beginning of Charlotte and Emily’s discussion together of how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

The role Heathcliff plays in Wuthering Heights is almost the same role Quashia held in the Angrian tales. Heathcliff is the Other in the novel because he is not an Earnshaw or a Linton but an outsider. Nothing is known about Heathcliff’s origins except that Mr. Earnshaw finds him abandoned on the streets of Liverpool; the lack of knowledge about Heathcliff’s background leaves his racial origins open to possibility. Heathcliff’s first appearance in the novel portrays him as the Other by the savage terms the other characters use to describe him. Mr. Earnshaw says of him, “it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (32), and Nelly remarks that Heathcliff is a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child” (32). Such statements have made some critics believe Heathcliff is possibly African (Azim 230, Heywood 194). If Heathcliff is of African origin, it would explain why Mr. Earnshaw uses “it” rather than “he” to refer to Heathcliff. Gender specific pronouns are usually used for humans while “it” is applied to animals. During the Victorian and colonial period, the English, to show their own racial superiority, often looked upon non-European races as being closer to animals than humans (Meyer 249). Charlotte Brontë will later use similar racial stereotypes in Jane Eyre.

If Heathcliff is African, then like Quashia, he has been adopted by the conquerors of his race; in fact, Emily Brontë probably based the Earnshaw family on the Sill family of Dent, whom she knew to have connections to the slave trade (Heywood 192). Again like Quashia, Heathcliff experiences displacement not only by being removed from his original home, but also because the Earnshaws try to make him one of them; they name him Heathcliff because it is the name of another Earnshaw child who has died (33); Heathcliff is expected by the Earnshaws to take on the identity of an English person rather than be himself.

However, as happened with Quashia, adopting and Anglicizing the Other into the conqueror’s culture results in failure. Mr. Earnshaw treats Heathcliff well, almost better than his own children, but upon Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley demotes Heathcliff to a position resembling slavery. Heathcliff loves Catherine, but she will not marry him because he is not a gentleman; like Quashia, Heathcliff has been raised to be someone else, yet as an adult, he is not accepted by the culture he has been adopted into. Also like Quashia, Heathcliff now becomes envious of his conquerors and is determined to have revenge. He destroys the small community he is a part of by first coveting and then acquiring the property, daughter, and financial power of his adoptive home (Azim 230). The Earnshaws, by adopting Heathcliff, have only caused their own internal destruction.

Timothy Dalton's portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene - interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene – interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Emily Brontë seems to have borrowed from Charlotte both a character and ideas and then used them to create her own novel. Charlotte’s juvenilia sees the solution to colonial problems as the conquest of the Other, even if such a conquest is cruel, because the continuation of British culture is more important. Emily Brontë’s solution in Wuthering Heights is similar, though not as simple. No one destroys Heathcliff in the novel; Heathcliff’s plans instead fail with the death of his son, Linton, and shortly after, Heathcliff also dies. Because Heathcliff leaves no living descendants, he cannot extend his revenge and power beyond the time of his death. The properties of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange now pass on to Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton, descendants of the original landowning families, who also have pure English blood. The conclusion of Wuthering Heights appears to be a rejoicing that the Other no longer exists among these pure English people, and without the Other, the status quo is reestablished.

Emily Brontë’s decision to conclude Wuthering Heights by reestablishing the status quo and leaving no trace of Heathcliff’s influence is vital to understanding her solution to the colonial problem. Emily Brontë could have allowed Heathcliff to be accepted by the other characters as one of them, and consequently, he might have wed Catherine Earnshaw. However, an interracial marriage is something Emily knew her readers would not accept because it would mean Heathcliff and Catherine’s descendants would be racially impure. Although Heathcliff does marry Isabella Linton, his son nevertheless dies without issue to prevent the continuance of racial mixing. Since Britain would not accept the Other, Emily felt that Britain’s continued contact with the colonies would lead to Britain’s destruction. By Heathcliff’s death and the reestablishment of the status quo at the end of Wuthering Heights, Emily is showing the English that they must break off contact with the colonies. If they do not end contact, they will only be destroying themselves.

Emily Brontë’s solution appears to be a promotion of British isolation. Considering Emily’s own shy character and dislike of society, such a solution seems to reflect her personality. The solution may also reflect Emily’s own fear of the Other. She may well have never met an African person in her life, so consequently, the Other’s unfamiliarity would have made it fearful to her.

Charlotte Brontë was more outgoing than her sister; she also knew Emily’s solution was unrealistic; England could not cut itself off from the colonies because the British economy was now dependent on them. Although Jane Eyre was published before Wuthering Heights, it was not written until after Wuthering Heights was already completed; therefore, Jane Eyre may be read as Charlotte’s response to Emily’s solutions. Jane Eyre would be more detailed in discussing the specific aspects of English life that were suffering from the colonies’ negative influences, and by this closer exploration, Charlotte would arrive at a more complex understanding of the situation.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Charlotte’s juvenile works express the displacement of both the conquered and the conqueror when a colony is established. The conquerors are as displaced as the conquered because they are in a foreign land. Despite trying to recreate England in the colonies, the English never completely exterminated native cultures, and often, foreign cultures had influences on the English. Such influences caused many colonists to bring foreign ideas home with them to England. Unlike in Wuthering Heights where a foreigner destroys the local status quo, Jane Eyre reflects the belief that the English, from being influenced by the Other, could destroy England themselves. Charlotte portrays this idea in Jane Eyre by using images of blackness to show the breakdown of pure English culture; Charlotte believes the aspect of English life most affected by negative colonial influences is the relationship between English men and women.

Men went to the colonies more frequently than women, and men were the ones placed in positions of power over the natives. Such complete power is easily abused, especially when dealing with another race that might rebel. One way for the English to control the Other was by possessing their women. The lack of English women caused many Englishmen to seek another outlet for their sexual desires, and native women were the easiest solution. In fact, sexuality for the Englishman was probably enhanced by the mystery of being with a foreign woman (Azim 123). Throughout the colonies, it became an accepted practice for white planters to take female slaves as concubines; however, this resulted in a growing mulatto population that caused displacement for whites, natives, and mulattoes, making everyone’s place in the social structure uncertain; to ensure their own position, the whites rejected the mulattoes, and the natives, out of hatred for their conquerors, equally rejected those who were of half English blood (Meyer 252-3).

Charlotte Brontë believed this situation resulted in Englishmen going to the colonies because they could have more dominance over foreign women. Louis Moore contemplates going to the colonies for such a reason in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley (570-71). Englishmen who oppressed foreign women then returned from the colonies believing they could also oppress Englishwomen (Meyer 260). In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë depicts the oppression of Englishmen over their women by using foreign images, and particularly, the metaphor of the harem (Zonana 605-6).

Every household in Jane Eyre has colonial connections. These connections are not obvious with the Reed and Brocklehurst families, yet the two families are based on Yorkshire families whom the Brontës knew to have interests in the slave trade (Heywood 184). As a result of colonial influences, each English household in Jane Eyre resembles a harem (Zonana 605-6). Charlotte further illustrates the colonies’ negative influences by applying images of blackness to individual family members.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte

At Gateshead, John Reed, the only male in the house, is master over all the women. Because the Reed men have oppressed other races, it is in John’s blood to oppress, and he places his mother, sisters, and the servants in a position where they resemble his harem. The family’s colonial encounters are reflected in the blackness used to describe John and Mrs. Reed. John’s “thick lips” (83) are a metaphor for the way he is beginning to resemble a Negro because of his family’s contact with the African race (Meyer 260). Jane notices that John Reed reviled his mother “for her dark skin, similar to his own” (9). Later, when Jane visits her dying aunt, she sees Mrs. Reed’s “imperious, despotic eyebrow” (218), a sign of Mrs. Reed’s oppressive nature. Yet, Mrs. Reed is only despotic toward Jane. To John Reed, she is subservient, and she supports his detrimental behavior until he has destroyed his family’s fortune.

Jane is the only female in the Reed household who rebels against John’s sultanic tyranny. She tells him, “you are like a slave driver” (5) and says of herself, “like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths” (6). When Jane defies Mrs. Reed, it is because by submitting to her son’s authority, her “chosen vassalage” (9), Mrs. Reed is contributing to the oppression of her fellow female. Mrs. Reed again submits to a man’s authority when Mr. Brocklehurst visits Gateshead. Brocklehurst expects and desires to hear negative stories of Jane, so Mrs. Reed tells degrading lies about Jane in an attempt to please him. Mrs. Reed does not even understand she is being unfair to Jane; instead, she feels she is doing her duty by obeying men. When Jane bursts out against her, Mrs. Reed thinks of Jane as of a different race (Meyer 249). She tells Jane, “you don’t understand these things: children must be corrected for their faults” (30) and “I assure you, I desire to be your friend” (30). In her own way, perhaps Mrs. Reed does have concern for Jane’s well-being; Mrs. Reed is much older than Jane, so she better understands the difficulties a woman experiences in a man’s world. She is warning Jane that rebellion against men will only cause Jane grief. However, Jane refuses to accept such a lifestyle, nor can she respect Mrs. Reed for submitting to it.

Jane goes away to school, thinking it will be an improvement over her life at Gateshead; however, Lowood school is also set up like a harem with Mr. Brocklehurst as its sultan. The Brocklehursts, like the Reeds, were also based on a slave trading Yorkshire family (Heywood 184); critics have not discussed the descriptions of blackness applied to Mr. Brocklehurst, yet I find they exist in the same way they were applied to the Reeds. When Brocklehurst appears at Gateshead, Jane describes him as a “black pillar” (24), having a “grim face at the top like a carved mask” (25) and “gray eyes” (25). Later when he whispers into Miss Temple’s ear, Jane fears to see the “dark orb” of Miss Temple’s eye turn toward her (54). Jane’s fear is that Mr. Brocklehurst will spread his blackness to Miss Temple, making her his slave, as he did to Mrs. Reed. Zonana argues that Brocklehurst’s sultanic quality is best reflected in his order that the girls at Lowood cut their hair to prevent vanity. Zonana sees vanity as the excuse Brocklehurst uses to strip the girls of their beauty and sexuality because if he cannot possess them, he wishes for no other men to find them attractive (608). Brocklehurst uses the Christian argument that vanity is a sin. Charlotte Brontë was well aware of how Christianity was often used as an excuse for British imperialism. Later in the novel, St. John will also use Christianity to further his own sultanic desires. Jane is as much a slave as the other women at Lowood; when Brocklehurst defames Jane before the school, she feels like a “slave or victim” (60). The only difference between Gateshead and Lowood is that the head woman in the harem, here Miss Temple rather than Mrs. Reed, although she tolerates the sultan, does not act as his tool to oppress her fellow women.

Thornfield also contains harem images because Mr. Rochester is connected to the colonies by his marriage to Bertha. Thornfield is the first harem type household where Jane is an adult, and consequently, more able to fight against the slave-like treatment of women. Thornfield is also the place where the harem image is most powerful, and Rochester is the man to whom the largest number of sultanic images are applied.

Rochester’s first appearance is when he falls from his horse and sprains his foot. Jane is unable to bring him his horse, so he remarks, “the mountain will never be brought to Mahomet, so all you can do is to aid Mahomet to go to the mountain” (106). Zonana argues that when Rochester compares himself to the Prophet Mahomet, he is displaying himself as “a polygamous, blasphemous despot—a sultan” (608). Rochester’s remark may appear as something anyone would say under such circumstances; however, Charlotte Brontë could simply have had him say, “Since the horse won’t come to me, can you help me to the horse.” Instead, she purposely used a phrase that conjures up the image of a sultan to foreshadow the later discovery of his marriage to Bertha. Furthermore, one hopes Charlotte would not let her characters speak clichés without a purpose.

Rochester is the Sultan of Thornfield by being master over a household of women. Even the female guests he invites to Thornfield appear submissive to him by Brontë’s use of Eastern images. Lady Ingram is described as having “inflated and darkened” features and a hard eye that reminds Jane of Mrs. Reed, and “A crimson velvet robe, and a shawl turban of some gold-wrought Indian fabric, invested her (I suppose she thought) with a truly imperial dignity” (161). The more important visitor to Thornfield is Blanche Ingram, Rochester’s intended future wife. Rochester remarks to Jane that Blanche is “A strapper—a real strapper, Jane: big, brown, and buxom; with hair just such as the ladies of Carthage must have had” (207). Jane also notices Blanche’s “dark and imperious eye” (174) and low brow, which liken Blanche to an inferior race in need of English male dominance (Meyer 260). The blackness attributed to the Ingram women might also suggest the family’s basis on a historical English family connected to the slave trade.

After Jane and Rochester fall in love, Rochester continues to be portrayed in ways depicting him as a master over women. Indeed, Jane is almost willing to be his slave as seen by her continually calling him “my master”. But there are moments when she revolts against his thinking of her as a member of his harem. At one point, Rochester comments of Jane, “I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio—gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!” (255). Jane is annoyed with the Eastern allusion and says that neither she nor any woman should be treated like a slave. If Rochester goes to the bazaars looking for harem women, she says:

I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates among the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred (256).

During their next meeting, Rochester sings a song to Jane about an Indian woman dying with her husband. Jane responds, “he had talked of his future wife dying with him. What did he mean by such a pagan idea? I had no intention of dying with him—he might depend on that” (259).

However, Jane will soon realize how like a Sultan with multiple wives Rochester is. When he plans to marry her, he sets about having Thornfield cleaned although Jane remarks that she thinks the house is already clean enough. Jane does not realize that Rochester is trying to wipe out the blackness he has contracted from the colonies. However, what he actually needs to wipe out is his past marriage. Especially poignant to this scene is Grace Poole coming downstairs to supervise the cleaning. Grace, as the keeper of Bertha, knows just how filthy the house is, so she is best able to clean it (Meyer 264). However, no matter how clean the house is made, as long as Bertha is alive, she is Rochester’s lawful wife and cannot be wiped out.

Rochester, in marrying Jane, is willing to commit bigamy (or rather, polygamy like a sultan would do), but Mr. Mason stops the wedding by revealing the existence of Bertha. Rochester then brings Jane to see Bertha. It is a striking scene which Jane describes:

In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell; it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal; but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face (278).

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto - a threat to England's whiteness.

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto – a threat to England’s whiteness.

Bertha is depicted as an animal on all fours, scarcely human, much as the English saw the natives of the lands they colonized as savage, scarcely human creatures. Women in harems were similarly treated as animals. Earlier, Jane had used the word seraglio to refer to a harem, yet Zonana points out that until the seventeenth century, a seraglio was also a place to keep wild beasts (600). Women who are kept in a seraglio or harem suffer enforced confinement, are undereducated, and kept inactive just like animals in cages (Zonana 602).

Bertha is doubly degraded by being depicted as a harem woman and an animal. Unlike the English women in the novel, Bertha is part animal because she is a Creole. Critics have argued that Brontë uses the term Creole to mean anyone born in the West Indies, not necessarily a mulatto (Meyer 253); however, Rochester says of Bertha’s mother, “Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard” (277). He then describes Bertha as having “red balls” for eyes (279). These red eyes are a sign of drunkenness, which presumably with her insanity, Bertha inherited from her mother. Insanity and drunkenness are both common racist stereotypes that the English associated with Africans to promote their belief in English superiority (Meyer 253-4). Therefore, Brontë appears to have intended that Bertha was a mulatto by the African blood she received from her mother.

Another racist belief of the time was that Africans were more closely related to apes than human beings; Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished novel Emma reflects this belief in the main character’s name, Matilda Fitzgibbon (Meyer 249). Fitz was often used as a prefix to show illegitimacy. A gibbon is a small tailless ape, resembling a monkey, meaning Matilda is the illegitimate offspring of a monkey (Meyer 249). In Jane Eyre, because Bertha is a Creole, she is half-human and half-animal (Meyer 250). As we saw in the above discussion of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff being referred to as “it” may also suggest that his possible African origins liken him to an animal.

Rochester claims that Bertha’s insanity is inherited from her mother, but he may be trying to place blame, so he will not appear guilty for his wife’s mental instability. Bertha’s insanity could be the result of her displacement. Not only has she been displaced by having to leave her native country and come to England, but like Quashia, she is displaced from her family. Bertha’s case may even be more severe than Quashia’s, for although Quashia’s family was murdered, Bertha’s family directly helped cause her displacement by trying to change her identity so that Rochester would find her attractive. Bertha’s situation is a trap where she is betrayed by both her family and husband.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester assists in displacing Bertha by trying to make her Otherness familiar to him. In the novel, Bertha’s real name is Antoinette, but Rochester decides to call her Bertha because he says it is a name he has a fondness for (135). In response, Antoinette exclaims, “Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name” (147). By giving Antoinette an English name, Rochester is trying to Anglicize her so he can accept her. This is the same type of situation that occurs in Wuthering Heights when the Earnshaws give Heathcliff the name, and consequently, the identity of one of their deceased children. Spivak argues that such examples of name changes being applied to the Other by the conqueror represent how easily one’s identity can be determined by imperialism (250).

For Jane, the meeting with Bertha is startling because it is a type of colonial encounter with “the Other” (Azim 178). Since Rochester and Jane cannot marry, Rochester suggests they travel to another land where they can be together. Jane refuses because she fears becoming like Bertha, the Other. Without a legal marriage to Rochester, she may be treated as a harem woman or a mistress who can easily be cast off when he tires of her. By becoming Rochester’s mistress, Jane, like Bertha, would experience displacement from what she is accustomed to. Even if she could legally marry Rochester, Jane does not want to become Rochester’s slave by being financially dependent on him. Unlike in Wuthering Heights, eliminating the character representative of the Other will not provide a complete solution to the problem.

A poster for the 1939 film -- Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

A poster for the 1939 film — Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

Jane leaves Thornfield to prevent her own transformation into the Other, yet after leaving, she almost succumbs to becoming like Bertha. Without a home, Jane suffers from hunger and at one point crawls on her hands and knees, just as Bertha does, until she is taken in by the Rivers family (Azim 179). The Rivers’ household is again set up like a harem, with St. John as the only man. Consequently, Jane again risks becoming a slave in a harem. When St. John proposes to Jane, he is asking that she become his wife and obey him. He also wants her to join him as a missionary in India. St. John uses Christianity to try to control Jane. Being a Christian, Jane finds his arguments difficult to resist, but she knows that going to India will cause her death. Despite St. John’s Christianity, Jane sees the despotic tendencies in his personality. By marrying St. John, not only will Jane become his slave, but she will be contributing to the oppression of others by preaching Christianity to the Indians so that they will submit to British imperialism. Since Jane fears displacement for herself, she realizes she cannot travel to India and displace or oppress others. Because Jane despised Mrs. Reed for trying to make her submissive to men when Mrs. Reed herself was already oppressed by them, Jane cannot now be a hypocrite; she wisely refuses St. John’s proposal.

Jane now returns to Thornfield and discovers Bertha has burnt down the house in her madness. However, Bertha may not be as mad as readers have long believed. Her burning of Thornfield may instead reflect the novel’s historical context. Slave revolts in the West Indies usually took place at night when plantation owners slept. Bertha’s escapes from her room are always at night. Night was the easiest time to rebel and catch the slave owners unprepared. Slaves would use fire to signal for an uprising among the other slaves, then destroy their masters’ property, and hopefully, kill their masters (Meyer 254-5). Bertha, as a Creole, is reenacting situations she may have experienced as a child in the West Indies. She is not only a madwoman, but a slave in revolt against the white man who oppresses her. Like Quashia in the juvenilia, Bertha is angry that her freedom, identity, and possessions have been taken from her. When Bertha burns Thornfield, Charlotte Brontë is not only speaking out against the oppression of the colonized, but she is also warning the English that they are bringing misfortune on themselves by colonizing and suppressing other races, just as the Duke of Wellington tried to make Quashia like him, and the Earnshaws tried to Anglicize Heathcliff. Colonization and suppression will only result in rebellion and destruction.

Meyer argues that Bertha does the great act of cleaning in the novel by burning down Thornfield. Rochester’s estate represents the wealth Rochester gained by his marriage to Bertha; by burning Thornfield, Bertha is making Rochester pay for his sins (Meyer 266), but at the same time, the destruction of his house and wife wipes away Rochester’s connection to the colonies. Rochester’s colonial background had caused his moral decline. After Thornfield burns, Rochester is left blind and lame, but Jane’s return to him brings light to destroy the blackness of his encounter with the Other, and Rochester regains his eyesight (Heywood 189).

With Jane and Rochester reunited, the novel seems like it should end happily. The loss of Rochester’s wealth is replaced by Jane’s inheritance from her uncle. Yet it is this inheritance that makes the conclusion of Jane Eyre so ambiguous. St. John learns that Jane is the heir to her uncle’s fortune when she writes her name in Indian ink (364). From a morocco pocketbook, St. John pulls out the letter stating Jane’s uncle has died and she has inherited his fortune (361). Both the Indian ink and the morocco pocketbook suggest a connection to the colonies (Meyer 267-8). Jane’s uncle was also in Madeira off the coast of Morocco, suggesting like the ink and pocketbook, that Mr. Eyre had a connection to the slave trade (Meyer 267). Therefore, even with Bertha’s death, Jane and Rochester are not free from a connection to the colonies. Instead, their financial stability is the result of slave trading. The complexity of this situation suggests Charlotte’s awareness that the British economy was now dependent upon its colonies. Emily’s solution that Britain separate itself from its colonies was not possible in Charlotte’s opinion.

At the time Charlotte was writing Jane Eyre, the British colonies in the West Indies had already begun to fail. Attention was now being turned toward India as a place of colonization, and this is reflected in St. John going to India as a missionary. Charlotte feared the same difficulties the British faced in the West Indies were now going to be experienced in India (Meyer 257). Jane’s refusal to go to India with St. John shows her refusal to support British imperialism by helping oppress other races. St. John does go to India with the intention to spread Christianity to the natives, but Christianity is also a way for England to oppress and Anglicize the Other (Azim 181). If St. John is helping the Indian natives, it is only how he wishes to help them. It is questionable just how St. John is helping the Indians by imposing Western religion on them. Perhaps he is more concerned with doing what he sees as his Christian duty rather than being truly Christian toward his Indian brothers.

The moment Jane and Rochester's marriage is stopped and Bertha's existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

The moment Jane and Rochester’s marriage is stopped and Bertha’s existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

Zonana reads the conclusion of Jane Eyre as Charlotte’s promotion of Christianity as a way to reform English men and prevent polygamy. Once England is redeemed from foreign influences, it can go forth and redeem other races (612). Zonana adds that Brontë is purposely overlooking the patriarchal oppression that is also part of Christianity to provide a solution (612). However, I believe Charlotte saw Christianity as part of the problem rather than the complete answer. By establishing colonies, Britain was responsible for beginning colonial problems. The British pretended to be doing their Christian duty by bringing the Other to the true religion, but Christian duty was merely being used as an excuse for the British to legitimize stealing land.

At the end of the novel, Jane says of St. John, “he labours for his race…he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and cast that encumber it” (433). But the race St. John labors for is not that of the Christians but of the English. The creed and cast that encumber it are not necessarily England’s prejudices against India, but very possibly India’s prejudices against England. With the breakdown of these, the English believe India will be more accepting of English ways. St. John is merely adding to the problem by trying to make the East resemble the West. Nor is this a successful labor. Being in India has made St. John ill, and Jane knows his death is fast approaching. His connection to the colonies, as has been the case for so many other Brontë characters, only causes his own downfall (Pell 405).

As St. John’s death approaches, Jane writes that he will go to “the joy of his Lord” (430). Why did Charlotte Brontë not write “the Lord”? Did she realize that the Christian God is not necessarily the God for India? Charlotte most likely felt Christianity was the true religion, but Jane Eyre’s argument is that the West should not try to control the East. By continually trying to make the Orient like the Occident before the Occident can be polluted by the Orient, England will be foolishly applying the problem as a solution. As a result, the problem will only increase. The closing words of the novel are St. John praying, “come, Lord Jesus” (433). These are Charlotte’s words as much as St. John’s. Charlotte is leaving the problem in the hands of God. She has pointed out the problem to the English. If England cannot see the wrongs of oppressing other races, perhaps they will stop the oppression for England’s own survival.

When Jane is bullied by John Reed, she exclaims to him, “you are like the Roman Emperors” (5). The comparison is significant because Britain was now an oppressive empire much like Rome had been. Charlotte knew that all great empires must eventually fall. In writing “come, Lord Jesus!”, Charlotte Brontë is asking God to awaken the English people to their situation before they bring destruction down upon themselves.

Emily Brontë died the year following the publication of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. To my knowledge, there is no extant record of Emily’s reactions to Jane Eyre. Emily would never write another novel, so it would seem that Charlotte and Emily’s ongoing discussion of the subject came to an end with Emily’s death. However, six years later, Charlotte Brontë’s last novel, Villette, was published and the colonial theme was reintroduced. The theme is much weaker in Villette than in Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, yet the novel reflects Charlotte’s continuing interest in Britain’s colonial problems. Villette is a more mature Charlotte’s response to both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and she incorporates ideas from both novels to arrive at yet another solution to the colonial situation.

Meyer is the first critic to notice the colonial theme in Villette, yet she only discusses it in regards to the conclusion of the novel. Meyer suggests that the storm which kills M. Paul is caused by the West Indians’ rage and desire for revenge over M. Paul who has been a slave master while in the West Indies (248). While Villette does state that M. Paul goes to the West Indies to take care of business there for a friend, the actual position M. Paul holds in the West Indies is never stated and M. Paul’s decease is extremely obscure. As Schaeffer points out, “The death of M. Paul at sea is not even mentioned, yet we know it occurred” (xiv). M. Paul’s death has been accepted by most critics as the interpretation of the novel’s conclusion. Neither does the text state where the storm occurred; it may have happened closer to English shores than near the West Indies. Meyer’s theory that the storm reflects the anger of the slaves whom M. Paul has been master over appears to have little textual basis.

However, by examining the entire novel rather than just the conclusion, I found that Charlotte does use several of the same colonial images that appeared in Jane Eyre. If M. Paul does have some connection to slavery, it might account for the black descriptions Charlotte uses to describe him. The first description of M. Paul is that he has a “black head” and “broad, sallow brow” (121). Later, his head has a “velvet blackness” (128), and there is a “blackness” of his cranium (297). These are just a few of several similar passages that suggest Charlotte was using the same black imagery she used in Jane Eyre. However, this argument is weakened by M. Paul being based on Charlotte’s own Belgian professor, M. Heger. Charlotte once described M. Heger as “a little black ugly being” (Gordon 94). M. Heger’s own dark complexion was the result of his Spanish origins, so the black descriptions applied to M. Paul may be the result of his basis on M. Heger rather than any connection to slavery.

A Penguin edition of Villette

A Penguin edition of Villette

Villette is also similar to Jane Eyre because the novel’s opening scene presents a harem type household. Graham is the only man, while his mother, Lucy, and Polly are all present to serve him. However, none of the other households in the novel appears to fit the harem pattern. Later in the novel, Graham wins a turban in a lottery at the opera. One day while he is sleeping, his mother jokingly places it on his head, claiming it makes him look Eastern, and she calls him “my lord” (261). The situations Graham is placed in may portray him as having a sultan’s position, yet his character does not suggest that he holds sultanic attitudes. Furthermore, it is strange that Graham would have sultanic qualities applied to him if M. Paul is the one intended to have the blackened connections to the colonies.

The concept of the Other also appears in the novel, only this time, it is the main character, Lucy, who is the Other because she is in a foreign land; M. Paul continually complains to her about the English who are the Other for him. Because Lucy is of a different race, M. Paul sees her as inferior to him, and at one point, he even calls her a “sauvage” (305). Meyer argues that because of the way M. Paul treats Lucy, it is best that he die because had he returned to marry Lucy, he would have treated her as his slave just as the men in Jane Eyre oppress their English women (248). However, it is questionable that Lucy would have submitted to such treatment. Jane Eyre admired St. John for his Christianity, but she did not let him use Christianity to control her. Lucy similarly admires M. Paul’s kind heart, at one point calling him “my Christian hero” (382), and later when he sets up the school for her, he is “my king; royal for me had been that hand’s bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty” (467). However, like Jane Eyre, Lucy does not always willingly submit to a man; M. Paul tries to convert Lucy to Catholicism, but she refuses to give up her own identity. In trying to convert Lucy, M. Paul is trying to make the Other familiar to him, much as applying English names to Heathcliff and Bertha were used in Wuthering Heights and Wide Sargasso Sea. Like Jane who refuses to become the Other, Lucy refuses to change her identity. But even with this concept of the Other applied to Lucy, there is no connection to the colonies in these scenes.

Meyer’s theory for Villette’s containing the colonial theme rests on the death of M. Paul occurring because of his connections to slavery in the colonies. I do not find these arguments convincing, but if Meyer is correct, perhaps Villette could be seen as Charlotte agreeing with Emily. Emily’s solution was to end contact with the Other, represented by the death of Heathcliff and the return to the original status quo. Perhaps Charlotte now saw Jane’s ability to reform Rochester from his sultanic qualities as unrealistic. Instead, Charlotte may now be agreeing with Emily that contact with the Other must end. But Charlotte goes a step further than Emily. Rather than destroying the Other, Villette suggests that once men have been defiled by their contact with the colonies, they cannot be reformed, so women must resist having relationships with them. Such resistance on the part of women would also save England by preventing the regeneration of oppressive men in future generations just as the regeneration of oppressors is prevented in Wuthering Heights by the death of Heathcliff. As Jane Eyre showed, a total breach with the colonies was not economically possible, so Villette offers a solution that allows each woman to solve the problem for herself. Lucy may end up alone at the novel’s conclusion, but to be alone is preferable to being oppressed by a despotic man. I am hesitant to believe that M. Paul is connected to the slave trade as Meyer argues, yet the concept of the Other in Villette might still suggest that Charlotte had a further solution to the problem of Britain’s colonies.

The issue of the colonies appears in Charlotte’s juvenilia as well as her novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, and in Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights. Although the theme appears in Charlotte’s work more than in that of Emily, by looking at the order in which the texts were written, it is possible to see Charlotte and Emily using their writings as a way to discuss England’s colonial problems between themselves. By reacting to each other’s ideas, Charlotte and Emily Brontë together explored their fear that England’s colonies would destroy its national identity and bring moral ruin to the English people. Each Brontë work seeks a solution to the problem and builds on the text prior to it. Although it is questionable which Brontë text provides the best solution, looking at the chronological order of the texts and the way they build upon each other helps us better understand how the Brontë sisters collaborated to form some of the finest novels in British literature.

 

Works Cited

Azim, Firdous. The Colonial Rise of the Novel. London: Routledge, 1993.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley. 1849. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. 1853. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Bantam, 1983.

Heywood, Christopher. “Yorkshire Slavery in Wuthering Heights.” Review of English Studies 38 (1987): 184-98.

Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Meyer, Susan L. “Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.” Victorian Studies 33 (1990): 247-68.

Pell, Nancy. “Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 31 (1977): 397-420.

Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth. The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. New York: Russell and       Russell, 1964.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.

Schaeffer, Susan Fromberg. “‘The Sharp Lesson of Experience’: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.Villette. 1853. By Charlotte Brontë. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Spivak, Gaytri C. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 243-61.

Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs 18 (1993): 592-617.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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The Wandering Jew in The Children of Arthur Series

My newest novel, Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is the most Gothic-influenced of my novels. While the series builds on the Arthurian legends, it also draws on many other legends, including those of Charlemagne, the Fairy Melusine, Prester John, Dracula, and the Wandering Jew. Here is the prologue to Lilith’s Love, which introduces the Wandering Jew, who is frequently known to appear at key historical moments, as if he is in some way manipulating them, and such is the case in this scene:

Prologue

Constantinople, May 29, 1453, Just after Midnight

“The city will be both founded and lost by an emperor Constantine whose mother was called Helen.”

— Ancient Byzantine Prophecy

For fifty-three days, the siege had held. He had never thought he would be able to hold off the Turks for as long as he had. Had Pope Nicholas V and the rest of Europe come to his aid, it might have been different; even so, his people had been remarkable in their determination not to surrender to the enemy. But any day now, even any hour, it was bound to end.

Lilith's Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

And he would be the last, he, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Romans. For fifteen centuries, there had been an empire, and for more than eleven centuries, the capital had been here in Constantinople, but now all that would come to an end. He had done everything he could, trying to negotiate peace with the Turks, striving to get the Orthodox Church to concede to the Pope’s demands that they become Catholic, imploring the rulers of France, England, Hungary, Venice, whoever would listen, to come to his aid, but it had all been to no avail. The Turks far outnumbered those in the city.

And the city was not even worth taking; Constantine knew that. Its wealth had diminished to almost nothing in the last two centuries, ever since the Latins had used a crusade to the Holy Land as an excuse to sack the city and then rule as its emperors for most of the thirteenth century. Although the Romans had regained the city and the throne in time, the empire had continued to shrink and weaken; continually, Constantine and his imperial predecessors had sought to keep the Turks at bay, the emperors wedding their daughters to the Ottoman sultans and doing anything necessary to ensure the empire’s survival.

And as the last emperor, Constantine knew the blame would lie upon his head, without regard to how little chance he had to stop his enemy or how all of Christendom had abandoned him and his people to their fate. What would they call him? His first namesake was Constantine the Great. Would he be called Constantine the Defeated, Constantine the Failure, Constantine the Unworthy? Perhaps the best he could hope for was to be killed in battle so he would be remembered as Constantine the Martyr.

He stood alone now on the battlements, his soldiers knowing he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out at the vast hordes of Turks encamped around the city. Even now they were battering at the walls, hoping to topple any one of them, not even seeking sleep as the night moved toward dawn.

How had it come to this? To some extent, Constantine could understand the reluctance and ignorance of his fellow rulers to come to his aid. Even the Pope, the supposed leader of the Christian world, he could forgive for his stubbornness when he considered that they were all men, full of weaknesses, but how could God Himself turn His back on them? How could the Holy Virgin to whom the city had been dedicated, desert them?

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

And there was no doubt they had been forsaken. The Holy Virgin had shown she would no longer protect them. The city had been dedicated to the Virgin since its ancient days. In desperation, the people had cried out to her ever since the siege had begun, and just three days ago, her most holy relic, the Hodegetria—an icon of her, believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself, which had saved the city on numerous occasions—was brought forth from Saint Sophia and carried in a procession through the streets. It had been mounted on a wooden pallet and lifted onto the shoulders of several strong men from the icon’s confraternity. The people followed as the Hodegetria traveled through the city, while the priests offered up incense, and the men, women, and children walked barefoot to show their penance. Hymns were sung, prayers said, and the people repeatedly cried out to the Virgin, beseeching her protection: “Do thou save thy city, as thou knowest and willest. We put thee forward as our arms, our rampart, our shield, our general: do thou fight for thy people.”

Then, before anyone realized it was happening, the Hodegetria slipped from the hands of its bearers. They struggled to grasp it, but it was too late. The people ran forward to pick it up, but it was as if it were weighted with lead, refusing to be raised. Eventually, when it was raised again, the procession had barely restarted before thunder burst through the clouds and lightning split the sky. Then the heavens poured down rain, soaking the procession and all the penitents. The downpour became torrential so that the procession had to halt; water, inches deep, filled the streets, making them slippery, and the flood soon threatened to wash away the children in the procession. Struggling, the icon’s bearers eventually managed to return the Hodegetria to Saint Sophia as gloom settled over the city, less from the weather than the omens that clearly stated the Virgin had refused their prayers and penance.

Worse, the next day, God’s grace had left the city. Since its construction by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, Saint Sophia had held within it the Holy Light as its protector. But that night, a great glow was seen in the sky. First, the sentries on the walls and then people in the streets had cried out in fear that the city had caught on fire. All the sky lit up, but the flame was located only on the roof of Saint Sophia. The flame shot forth from the window and circled the entire dome several times before gathering itself into one great and indescribable flash of blinding light that shot up into the heavens. Clearly, the Holy Light had returned from whence it had come, no longer offering God’s protection to the city. The sight had been so overwhelming to Constantine that now, two days later, it still made him sick to think of it. Had he himself lost favor with God? At that fatal moment, such a thought had caused him to go numb throughout his body and collapse to the ground in a faint, remaining unconscious for hours.

When Constantine finally woke, the people had begged him to flee the city before it was too late, but he had insisted he would not do so. To leave his people solely to save his own life would be to heap immortal ridicule upon his name. And even if he did leave, what life would remain for him, without a throne, marked as a coward for not standing by his supporters in their hour of greatest need? Better he stay to fight, and if need be, die with his people.

He had seen both these catastrophes with his own eyes, but the most shocking event he alone had experienced. Early the next morning, when he had gone out walking in the palace gardens, he had come face-to-face with an old man with a flowing white beard in a tattered black robe. Constantine had never seen the man before, and he could not understand how the man had entered his private gardens. But before he could accost the man, the stranger looked him square in the eyes, his own eyes piercingly gray, and without showing fear or deference for Constantine’s station, he said, “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Constantine had frozen, feeling himself unable to speak or move. His mind went blank for what seemed the longest time as the question “Who are you?” struggled to rise to his lips. His first fear was that the man might be an assassin, sent by the Turks—who but an assassin would dare to enter his private garden at dawn? But then, slowly, the answer came to his lips in a whisper.

“The Wandering Jew.”

Before the words fully escaped Constantine’s mouth, the man turned and disappeared behind a clump of trees. Constantine ran after him, so stunned that he pursued him into the bushes, scratching himself on their branches but unable to see anyone. After a couple of minutes, he calmed himself and returned to the walkway, fearing his people had seen his frantic behavior. Had he dreamt it, or had he truly seen the man? But he could remember those words clearly; they yet rung in his ears: “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Gustave Dore's depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ's Second Coming.

Gustave Dore’s depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ’s Second Coming.

He knew such a meeting forebode great ill. The Wandering Jew—he whom Christ had cursed to wander the earth until His return—had long been rumored to appear at pivotal moments in history. Stories claimed he had been seen in the city once before, back in 1204 when the Latin Crusaders had sacked Constantinople. He had also been seen at the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, amid the mob during the Peasants Revolt in England in 1381, and most recently in the crowd when the Maid of Orleans had been burned at the stake in Rouen, France in 1431. Constantine had heard rumors in recent days that the Wandering Jew had been sighted in Constantinople’s streets, but he had dismissed such rumors as folk tales. Now, he could not imagine who else this man could be who dared to address him as “last of the Romans”—an ominous reference, indeed.

The next day, Constantine knew his death was certain when twelve Venetian ships arrived to aid the city, bringing with them the news that no larger fleet nor other enforcements would come. Twelve ships would be of little help against the incredible Ottoman navy and the hordes of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final assault they all knew was coming. No one could accurately tell the numbers, but a city of just over fifty thousand souls—a city that in its glorious past had been home to a million residents—was being protected by an army of less than twenty thousand against some one hundred thousand Turks, plus their allies. Surely, the situation was hopeless.

Constantine had little doubt that tonight was the last time the sun would set on the city before it was taken, and pillaged, and perhaps even destroyed. The walls could well be broken through before dawn. The Turkish cannons had already damaged them beyond repair. The conquest would happen as soon as Sultan Mehmet II led the next charge.

Nothing was left to do but offer prayers, though prayers now seemed of little help. Nevertheless, Constantine had spent the last day at service in Saint Sophia, on his knees before his people and God, begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Afterwards, he had spent time here on the ramparts with his longtime friend and advisor Sphrantzes. And then he had sought some time alone, time to prepare himself for what he did not doubt was his imminent death. He would do so nobly, as Emperor of the Romans, and in a manner to make his ancestors proud, but he would be dead nonetheless, and he had his doubts that God would have mercy upon his soul after the signs he had already seen.

“Your majesty.” He turned to hear himself addressed and found the captain of the guard speaking. “The Turks are about to break through the wall. You must return to the palace. You must look to your own safety.”

“You know better,” Constantine replied, already in his armor. “Come; we will fight together, and may God have mercy on our souls.”

The Turks were firing their cannons. It was almost half-past one in the morning. Just as the emperor joined his army before the St. Romanus Gate, a cannonball came ripping through the wall, sending stone and men flying, and by the time Constantine and his men recovered from the shock, three hundred Turks had poured through, their voices roaring as they entered the city. In panic, some of the Romans fled into the streets, desperate to see to their own and their families’ safety, but most stood fighting beside their emperor and the officers.

The Romans fought violently, but they were far outnumbered, and while the battle raged at the great crumbling opening in the wall for several minutes, eventually, the Romans were cut down as the Turks began to spread and pillage throughout Constantinople.

Constantine found himself covered in blood as his sword continued to slice at the Turks before him, but within a few minutes, he was surrounded by his enemies. He had taken care not to wear anything to make the enemy suspect he was the emperor, for he knew if they discovered his identity, his life would be spared, but only because the sultan would want to hold him as a prisoner. No, he would much rather die here with his people than be forced to go down on bended knee before Mehmet II, or worse, be paraded through the streets by his captors.

Suddenly, Constantine felt a great pain in his back. He immediately became dizzy; for a moment, he felt his knees buckle and he thought he would collapse, but then he experienced a great lifting feeling, as if he were floating into the air. He could only think that his soul was leaving his body. Had he been slain? Was he now dead? Was he being taken to Heaven—could death be this quick?

Looking up, bending his head all the way back, he saw he was in the arms of a great winged man, a beautiful gorgeous man, a man a good couple of feet taller than him—no, not a man but an angel.

And then all went black.

*

When he opened his eyes, Constantine found himself lying on a cot inside a barren room all built of stone. He could see the sky, but nothing else from the window, making him assume he was quite high up. All he heard were birds chirping and a breeze rustling through the trees. No screams of his people. No cannons booming. And most surprisingly, he felt no fear.

Was he dead? But, surely, Heaven did not look like the barren room of a castle.

For a moment, he relished the quiet, but his curiosity overcame him. He sat up and continued to look out the window. From his sitting position, he could see what appeared to be a marsh, and beyond that a river, and then just a green row of trees and a lush countryside. He appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, he was far from Constantinople.

“Where am I?” he muttered, about to put his feet on the floor when the door opened. In walked a man whom Constantine had only seen once before.

“You!” Constantine gasped.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Arranged Marriage Perfect Juxtapose in Gothic Twister: An Interview with bestselling author Michelle M. Pillow

Today I’m pleased to host Michelle M. Pillow, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Forget Me Not, previously reviewed on this blog, and numerous other Gothic, romance, and shapeshifter novels.

How long have you been writing professionally?

My first paranormal romance was published in 2004 under the title The Mists of Midnight. It has since been revised and was just re-released under the title Forget Me Not.

michellepillowHow many novels have you published?

Over 100.

Wow. What’s your secret for producing so much? Do you write on a specific schedule?

I wish there was a magic formula I could share, but it comes down to hard work. I treat writing like a career—one that I love, but one that demands a lot of work and dedication due to the competitive nature of the business. It’s a full-time-plus job that I’m always doing.

At any given time I’ll have several projects in various stages. Some are in the planning and research stage. Others are being written. Then others will be with editors. Then there are aspects of being a professional author that people often forget about—namely marketing and promotions. It’s not all book signings and appearances, either. I’ve had to learn how to build websites and run online ad campaigns, and build graphics. It’s a balancing act, and there are times where I’m up until 3 a.m. just to make a deadline.

All that said, I absolutely love my job. To be a writer, I think that’s important. You have to love it, feel it inside of you as something you have to do, or this industry and the sacrifices it demands will wear you down fast.

Are all your books in the same genre?

As a writer, I love to tell a story and not be limited by one time period or genre, so you’ll see a variety of books under my name. When I create characters and the worlds they live in, I like to set them down and throw things at them, and then just let them react the way their personalities and histories would dictate. I often never know how a story is going to end when I start it.

Which authors inspire you?

In high school, I loved the section of the library where I’d find books that hadn’t been checked out for decades. This ended up being a lot of the literary classics—Austen, Bronte, Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper, and Tolstoy. Pride and Prejudice is still a favorite. The romantic in me loves the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth, including his not-so-well-done first marriage proposal. These books were like little buried treasures I’d read on my lunch breaks. I have always loved history and, ultimately, went to college to study it, and these books afforded a peek into historical lives and struggles.

Later, I discovered Steinbeck, including his travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. His insights into the wide variety of people he met, and into the universal feeling people had in longing to be somewhere else, anywhere but where they were, spoke to me, as I began to consider my own characters and their motivations.

Many of my books have historical and/or paranormal influences, even if they are not strictly historically set. Some of the stories that inspire me have inspired many, including Shelley and Stoker, along with various other Gothic writers and ideas. I find the Victorian notions of vampires entertaining and very in line with societal beliefs at the time—including not being able to enter a home without an invitation, which reflected the social art of how to properly call on a person’s home and receive guests as a way to safeguard decent people from evil. Edgar Allan Poe was another author I enjoyed, especially the mental breakdown in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

In your latest novel Forget Me Not, arranged marriage is the pretense for the story, which offers up all kinds of stringent gender roles. Was it a conscious decision to do that?

Arranged marriages in the 1800s are simply a continuation of a phenomena that had been around since ancient times. Marriage was seen as a logical choice, from the desire to make advantageous matches for a family that were both financially sound and socially acceptable. It was with the Victorians that the idea of romantic love really started to take real hold. Consider for a moment Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; theirs is recognized as a love match. Forget Me Not is set during the Regency period, in a world that really marks a time of change between the thought processes of the Middle Ages to modern day society as we recognize it. Now, we would hardly think it acceptable (and rightly so) that a woman belonged first to her father, and then to her husband, including her belongings.

To be honest, though, arranged marriages create the perfect backdrop for romance and conflict to happen.

Does your main character Isabel Drake rebel against protocol?

Absolutely! Unlike her meeker younger sister, Jane, Isabel cares less about being a good and dutiful daughter, and wants more out of life than to marry for money and comfort. The book takes place in 1812 when marriages weren’t necessarily always arranged, but they were treated as more of a business decision than simply off the basis of love and desire. The general opinion was that women needed a breadwinner, and men wanted a woman who could take care of the home and children. Marriages became more of a partnership agreement, often instigated or encouraged by families.

As an interesting fact, in regards to a woman being the property of her husband, in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act became law to allow a woman to own presents given to her. True story.

Dougal Weston is Isabel’s tutor in the novel. Would you say he is the archetypal aloof romantic hero in the tradition of Mr. Darcy, or is he more of an antihero?Dougal is a classic leading man with his own personal goal to achieve in the story, nothing to do with Isabel at first, even though he appears as her tutor. But when their stories collide, this whole new realm of possibilities opens up. It adds several layers to the story, which peel back at the right time. Like everyone, these characters are complicated with many motivations and needs.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Speaking of layers, there’s no shortage of twists—well thought of twists—in Forget Me Not. Did they come naturally, or were they devices as milestones that you built the story around?

Great question. I was very lucky with this story. It was one of the first books I wrote, and it was actually the first one that was published back in 2004. And it flowed from start to finish. My muse was kind to me back then.

Talking of muses, how do see your muse?

She’s a crazy lady with an endless supply of cups of coffee, and a very demanding personality. I think she’d be happiest if I typed two books at once. Dr. Who fans will know what I’m talking about when I liken her to the angel statue in “Blink.”

How or where does Forget Me Not fit in the stack of Michelle M. Pillow’s works?

Well, it’s romance, which is what I do. But then the Regency and the Gothic (which I classify as Paranormal) aspect of it puts Forget Me Not slightly off center from my futuristic and shifter works. When I started writing, Historicals were what I really wanted to do. But as it turned out, I found traction with other subgenres of romance.

Is there a follow up to Forget Me Not?

No. Forget Me Not is a standalone title. I do think it gives the reader’s mind plenty to daydream about and imagine in the world created, away from the words actually written.

I do have other historical novels, including the National RT Award winner Maiden and the Monster. It is a medieval set historical romance. I also have other stories with the same feel and tone as Forget Me Not. One would be the shorter work, Everlastingly.

Thank you, Michelle, for joining me today. Where can we learn more about your novels?

Visit me at www.MichellePillow.com. Information and buy links for all of my novels are there. They can be found at most major bookstores. Thank you for having me.

__________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Michelle Pillow’s New Novel Reflects that Gothic Romance Is Alive and Well

As a scholar of the classic Gothic novel of the nineteenth century, from time to time I like to read twenty-first century Gothic novels to see how well the seeds that Mrs. Radcliffe planted are flourishing. I’m happy to report that authors like Michelle Pillow are keeping the Gothic tradition alive and well by utilizing standard Gothic plot devices but making them their own as the Gothic evolves into something more spiritual and less terrifying than its originators may have first imagined.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Forget Me Not has all the classic Gothic elements a reader could want, and it draws heavily upon those early novels for its setting and atmosphere. We can also define it as a regency novel—since it’s set in England in 1812—when George IV was still Prince Regent of England. Readers today might call it paranormal rather than Gothic, and, of course, it also falls into the romance novel category.

The story begins when Isabel Drake and her sister Jane are speculating about whether Rothfield Park is haunted. The family has let the manor house from its owner, the Marquis of Rothfield. Legend says that during a fire, a child and servant died in the house. Jane claims that she has seen evidence of hauntings in the castle, but Isabel thinks Jane has just let her imagination get the better of her after reading a “shilling shocker.” (Shilling shockers were popular short books in the nineteenth century that often plagiarized longer best-selling Gothic novels and were abridged to be affordable, costing only a shilling.) This scene recalls Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and the thrills that Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe have over reading “horrid” novels by Mrs. Radcliffe and others.

Isabel, however, has bigger problems than ghosts. Her parents do not like how she treats her governess so they have decided to hire a tutor approved by the colonel, nephew to the Marquis of Rothfield, whom they plan for her to marry. Isabel wants nothing to do with marrying the colonel or with a new tutor.

In anger, Isabel goes riding and comes to the woods, where a heavy mist is setting in. She meets there a mysterious child who asks her to play with her, but Isabel refuses, feeling spooked. As she tries to return home, she has an accident with a tree branch and falls from her horse.

Isabel has no memory of the accident, but by the time she recovers, she finds her parents have left her alone at Rothfield with her new tutor, Dougal Weston. Here, I admit, my willing suspension of disbelief was a bit challenged—no self-respecting noble family of this time would leave their daughter alone with just the servants and a handsome male tutor—but Michelle Pillow will provide some surprising and ultimately believable explanations for this chain of events before the novel is over.

Dougal Weston turns out to be unlike any tutor Isabel ever expected. He really doesn’t teach her much of anything—just asks her to read and then discuss with him what she read. Isabel soon starts to suspect he isn’t a tutor but someone with an ulterior motive for being at Rothfield.

Nevertheless, Isabel finds herself falling in love with him and confesses to him that she is now repeatedly seeing the ghost child. Dougal appears interested in the history of the house and the ghost child, but he also tries to comfort Isabel and calm her fears. His comforting eventually goes a bit too far—though Isabel doesn’t object—and you guess it, they have quite enjoyable sex. Before long, Isabel is starting to consider how she might shirk off her social status and marriage expectations to run off and live in a cottage with Dougal.

Eventually, however, Isabel begins to suspect Dougal is just using her to learn more about the ghost child. Dougal then asks Reverend Stillwell to speak to Isabel about the ghosts. Reverend Stillwell is a sort of medium who can communicate with the dead; he explains things to Isabel about ghosts that make her feel more comfortable and realize she isn’t crazy. He also will encourage Isabel and Dougal to seek happiness.

I can’t say more without giving away all the plot twists, but I will just say that I love how Michelle Pillow takes old Gothic themes and makes them new. Before the story is over, there’s even a cursed man who has made a Faustian pact to obtain knowledge from evil wizards in exchange for his soul. However, he can prevent himself from going to hell if he captures other souls for the devil—a classic Victorian twist previously used by authors like George W.M. Reynolds in The Necromancer (1852). Pillow also draws on regency novel conventions—there’s even a runaway marriage to Gretna Green, worthy of a Jane Austen novel. Finally, I didn’t see the final plot twist at the end, though I think I should have, but in any case, I was delighted by it.

Forget Me Not is not quite Jane Austen, but if you enjoyed books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, then Forget Me Not should give you plenty of ghostly pleasure. If you’re a fan of television shows like The Ghost Whisperer or films like The Sixth Sense, you’ll also find more enjoyable modern spins on ghosts and the Gothic in these pages. After you finish Forget Me Not, I suspect you will want to read more of Michelle Pillow’s novels—fortunately, she has written plenty in both the romance and paranormal genres.

For more information about Forget Me Not and Michelle Pillow, visit www.MichellePillow.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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