Charlotte Brontė's (in)experience -- in her own words.
Posted by The Mysterious H.C. on October 12, 1997 at 14:16:24:
In response to My best guess, written by Rachel on October 12, 1997 at 10:40:20
] ] something that has amazed readers of jane eyre over the generations, and fascinates me, is how bronte was able to describe one of the most passionate love affairs in fiction, when she apparently was so inexperienced herself.
] ] how did she come to describe her abuse at the hands of john reed so compellingly? seems to me one can't get those experiences from a book.
] I think that sometimes you don't have to directly experience the thing, but if you knew someone who had, that can help to fill in the blanks. I myself have never experienced physical abuse, but my mother did when she young. She used to talk about it sometimes, and I have an idea of what it might have been like. I think that you can use the experience of others, but you really have to be a good writer to make them as convincing as if you had the experience yourself.
"MY DEAR SIR, -- I am obliged to you for preserving my secret, being at least as anxious as ever (more anxious I cannot well be) to keep quiet. You asked me in one of your letters lately, whether I thought I should escape identification in Yorkshire. I am so little known, that I think I shall. Besides, the book is far less founded on the Real, than perhaps appears. It would be difficult to explain to you how little actual experience I have had of life, how few persons I have known, and how very few have known me.
"As an instance how the characters have been managed, take that of Mr. Helstone. If this character had an original, it was in the person of a clergyman who died some years since at the advanced age of eighty. I never saw him except once -- at the consecration of a church -- when I was a child of ten years old. I was then struck with his appearance, and stern, martial air. At a subsequent period, I heard him talked about in the neighbourhood where he had resided: some mention him with enthusiasm -- others with detestation. I listened to various anecdotes, balanced evidence against evidence, and drew an inference.
I remember two or three subjects of the conversations which she and I held in the evenings, besides those alluded to in my letter.
I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, -- vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, -- wondering what it was like, or how it would be, -- till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had
in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it.
"DEAR SIR, -- I thank you then sincerely for your generous review; and it is with the sense of double content I express my gratitude, because I am now sure the tribute is not superfluous or obtrusive. You were not severe on Jane Eyre; you were very lenient. I am glad you told me my faults plainly in private, for in your public notice you touch on them so lightly, I should perhaps have passed them over thus indicated, with too little reflection.
"I mean to observe your warning about being careful how I undertake new works; my stock of materials is not abundant, but very slender; and, besides, neither my experience, my acquirements, nor my powers, are sufficiently varied to justify my ever becoming a frequent writer. I tell you this, because your article in Frazer left in me an uneasy impression that you were disposed to think better of the author of Jane Eyre than that individual deserved; and I would rather you had a correct than a flattering opinion of me, even though I should never see you.
"If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama'; I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' 'to finish more and be more subdued'; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master -- which will have its own way -- putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones.
"Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?
"I am glad that another work of yours will soon appear; most curious shall I be to see whether you will write up to your own principles, and work out your own theories. You did not do it altogether in Ranthorpe -- at least not in the latter part; but the first portion was, I think, nearly without fault; then it had a pith, truth, significance in it, which gave the book sterling value; but to write so, one must have seen and known a great deal, and I have seen and known very little.
"Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would have rather written Pride and Prejudice, or Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley Novels?
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