Author Archives: davidginsberg

‘The Moonstone’: Wilkie Collins’s ‘Jane Eyre’

Wilkie Collins’s novel, The Moonstone, is thought to be the first detective novel ever written. Just as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre conveyed personal thoughts, feelings, and autobiographical elements, Collins’s The Moonstone did as well.

As we have spoke about in class, Wilkie Collins was close friends with Charles Dickens, the famous author who often wrote about the lower and middle class’s ongoing struggle with poverty. Whether or not Collins agreed with Dickens’s critique of how the poor and the outcasts were treated and how they lived is unknown, but it certainly looks as if Collins sympathized with Dickens’s feelings.

By making Ezra Jennings – the social outcast who nobody trusted – the hero of the book, Collins clearly expressed his feelings of the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ezra Jennings is portrayed as villainous and mysterious by the townspeople, while Godfrey Ablewhite is beloved by everyone. Collins shocks the reader by reversing the perceived notions of the malicious foreigner and the clean-cut Brit.

Also, as Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge clearly express in their essay, The Transatlantic Moonstone: A Study of the Illustrated Serial in Harper’s Weekly (http://englishnovel2.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2014/01/42.3.leighton-moonstone-serializatation.pdf), (paraphrasing) the Indians are depicted as being victims (in the beginning of the book) and heroes and the rightful owners of the Moonstone at the end of the book. This is another way in which Collins cleverly subverts colonialism. A well-traveled man who appreciated art and culture of all kinds, Collins most likely was of the belief that colonialism was wrong. Much like Shakespeare’s not-so-subtle commentary of colonialism in The Tempest, Collins uses a clever backdrop and an intriguing narrative to disguise his thoughts.

In terms of a more direct autobiographical standpoint, Collins and Ezra Jennings are directly linked. Due to his excruciating pain from rheumatic gout, Collins became addicted to Opium, just like Jennings (http://www.wilkie-collins.info/wilkie_collins_biography.htm). Perhaps this contributed to Collins’s decision to make Jennings the hero of the novel.

Taking what we’ve learned from all of the texts we’ve read in class – Emma, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, and The Moonstone – all of these classic authors tend to use their real-life experiences in their stories. Maybe that’s why these novels are so timeless.

Jane Eyre: A Story of Assorted Control Freaks

Admittedly when I first began reading Jane Eyre, I felt like this…

I quickly warmed up to the book, however, especially since it’s written with such passion. Jane Eyre features many emotional characters with very strong opinions. Primary and secondary characters alike aspire to have control and power over other people. I’m going to start with the main characters and work down to the more minor characters in the novel.

Jane Eyre: Jane had every right to refuse Mr. Rochester’s initial marriage proposal. He was married to Bertha and he had hidden that from Jane. However, Jane’s control freak tendencies blossom when she returns to Mr. Rochester at his remote manor in Ferndean. She is, dare I say, happy that he is blind and crippled. The entire 37th chapter attests to the fact that Jane is thrilled with the control she has over Rochester. In chapter 37 (page 379), Jane states:

“I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.”

This link – http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/brine2.html from Victorianweb also backs up this theory with more examples. Jane’s teasing of Rochester by bringing up St. John Rivers and acting aloof to his desire to marry her are more ways that she relishes and embraces this newfound power she has.

Mr. Rochester: Mr. Rochester attempted to control Jane from the moment she stepped foot in Thornfield. Rochester’s interrogations of Jane in chapters 13 (pages 102-109) and 14 (pages 111-116) were his ways of initiating control of their relationship. From chapters 17-23, Rochester parades around with Miss Ingram with false intent just to make Jane jealous. He even dresses up as a fortune teller in chapters 18 and 19 in order to gain access to Jane’s innermost thoughts. Although Rochester acquiesced to Jane in the end, things may have played out differently had he not been blind and crippled.

St. John Rivers: The epitome of controlling, St. John used every perceivable way of persuading Jane into marrying him so they can go off to India together. He ignored her, treated her poorly and even threatened Jane with eternal damnation:

“I shall be absent a fortnight – take that space of time to consider my offer: and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God… Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself for ever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!” (chapter 24, page 348)

Mrs. Reed: Early on in the book, Mrs. Reed and her children mistreat Jane to the point of making her ill. As soon as Jane starts talking back to Mrs. Reed, she is shipped off to a religious institution for poor children. Mrs. Reed sensed her control was slipping away and got rid of Jane as soon as possible.

Mr. Brocklehurst: Possibly the most contemptible character in the novel, Mr. Brocklehurst repeatedly demands that the students be malnourished and not properly clothed in an attempt to save money. He also humiliates Jane in front of everybody by making her stand on a stool in front of her schoolmates and teachers (chapter 7, pages 55-56).

Bertha: Bertha controls Mr. Rochester with her frenzied attacks on the household. By setting fires and entering Jane’s room, she makes Mr. Rochester admit the truth to Jane which prevents her from marrying him the first time around. This hurt Mr. Rochester in the worst way possible.

In the end, Jane and Mr. Rochester are happy; St. John goes on his journey, albeit without a wife; Mrs. Reed and Bertha both pass away; and Mr. Brocklehurst loses much of his power as other people begin to contribute to the school. Half of the control freaks are satisfied and half are dead or unhappy. Just like life, the fates of these power hungry people are not one-sided.

The Importance of Unspoken Speech in “Emma”

“Emma” is a book centered around a lot of annoying people who, for the most part, spew a bunch of nonsense. Sure, occasionally there is a meaningful conversation or relevant observation here and there, but for the most part, the most important conversations and situations in Jane Austen’s book are unspoken thoughts delivered/expressed through silent signals or actions. There are tons of instances throughout the book, but I’ll just focus on the examples from volume 3, which are still plentiful.

The first significant example occurs at the ball at the Crown in chapter 2. After Mr. Elton rudely declines to dance with Harriet Smith, Emma notices Mr. Knightley, who hadn’t danced previously, walk over to Harriet and ask her to dance. “She (Emma) was all pleasure and gratitude; both for Harriet and herself, and longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, her countenance said as much, as soon as she could catch his eye again” (P.226). A little while later, Emma once again silently invited Mr. Knightley over – “… “her (Emma) eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked” (P.227). I feel that this scene was like a lightbulb going off in Emma’s head about her feelings towards Mr. Knightley. She would proceed to ask him to dance with her, which he gladly accepted.

In chapter 5 of volume 3, Mr. Knightley begins to suspect Frank Churchill of courting Jane Fairfax. “He (Mr. Knightley) was dining with the Randalls’ family. and Jane at the Eltons’; and he had seen a look, more than a single look, at Miss Fairfax, which, from the admirer of Miss Woodhouse, seemed somewhat out of place” (P.237). Mr. Knightley knew that there was a “private liking” or “private understanding between Frank Churchill and Jane” (P.237).

Shortly thereafter, Frank Churchill slips up when he makes a comment about Mr. Perry that only the Miss Bates, Mrs. Bates and Jane knew about, making it obvious that Jane had told him. “Mr. Knightley’s eye had preceded Miss Bates’s in a glance at Jane. From Frank Churchill’s face, where he thought he saw confusion suppressed or laughed away, he had involuntarily turned to her’s… Mr. Knightley suspected in Frank Churchill the determination of catching her eye – he seemed watching her intently…” (P.239). Once inside, Frank Churchill insists that he and Emma play a game using a box of alphabet letters. He spells out ‘blunder,’ which made Jane blush. Mr. Knightley, once again, noticed the goings on. (P.240)

In chapter 9, after Emma rudely insults Miss Bates and gets chastised by Mr. Knightley, it is revealed that Emma went over to apologize and pay her respects. “He (Mr. Knightley) looked at her with a glow of regard… He took her hand… pressed it, and certainly was on the point of carrying it to his lips – when, he suddenly let it go… He would have judged better, she thought, if he had not stopped” (P.266). Mr. Knightley and Emma’s fondness for each other tends to grow moreso through their non-verbal communication than their actual conversations.

There are many more examples of unspoken speech. For example, the most important messages are usually not spoken, but rather a written letter. Frank Churchill’s explanation of his hidden engagement to Jane Fairfax and Isabella and Mrs. Weston’s letters to Mr. Woodhouse on behalf of Mr. Knightley are two prime examples of this.

Emma’s thoughts allow her to be much more candid with herself as well. When she finds out that Harriet is interested in Mr. Knightley and not Frank Churchill, she thinks things to herself which she would never say aloud – that Harriet wasn’t good enough for Knightley and that they’d be mocked for being together since he’s much better than her. She even finally admits to herself that she has feelings for Mr. Knightley.

Admittedly, I didn’t like the book at first. I found our class discussions much more enlightening and entertaining. However, as the book went on and we examined the depths of the characters and Jane Austen’s writing, I grew to appreciate it. The moments I cited were some of my favorite moments in the entire book.