Mrs. Rochester, The First

A letter to Edward Fairfax Rochester of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonised as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.” – Jane Eyre

Dear Edward,

How could you?  I don’t know that I can frame a more profound question to ask you at this moment.  I am in anguish, I am betrayed and wounded, and so my thoughts are more scattered and less collected even than those of the young woman you have wronged.  She framed more meaningful questions than that…but my brain is stuck and my heart repeats the same three words over and over, more quietly and dejectedly with each passing moment, with each roll of the carriage’s wheels away from you.

How could you?  What did we do to deserve not only dishonesty and deceit, but also cruelty?  For it was cruel of you to hide such a secret – for someone who professes to be capable of such strong and ardent love, you are also capable of producing such indescribable and unbearable pain.

Oh, I love you Edward Fairfax Rochester – and I am often ashamed (and now more than ever) to admit it.  I have defended you…I have vehemently opposed my female friends who claim that Mr. Darcy is a much more dashing lover, that at least he doesn’t have skeletons, living skeletons, in his closet, that at least he isn’t a liar.  What do I say to these friends of mine?  Only that you are passionate, that there is something dark and mysterious about you that is at once intoxicating and intriguing.  And this is obviously true…but I am, of course, also denying, shutting my eyes fast and firmly against what I know to be true.  You are exactly what they say:  a liar, a cheater, a scoundrel.  I would never be comfortable marrying you myself, I could not trust you…and yet, somehow I have always wanted my best literary friend to settle for you.

Because it would be just that – it would be settling.  What woman wants to be with a man who is so at ease about hiding such a huge, enormous, massive secret?  It is one thing to have a complicated past…nobody, no man or woman, is perfect.  But it is another thing altogether to hide those complicated circumstances from the person who you are supposed to love more than anyone or anything else on this planet.  And not just love – you are also supposed to respect that person, to want to protect that person, to do everything in your power to guard that person from physical and emotional harm.

And yet you, you Mr. Sexy, Brooding Rochester, inflicted harm on poor Jane Eyre – you caused her turmoil.  I don’t deny the difficulties of living with Bertha Rochester…and I don’t, I would never ever, doubt your love for Jane.  But things were not handled well here, Edward…there were other paths you could’ve chosen…there were other paths that I, as a fond and dedicated reader, would’ve liked for you to have chosen.  I can’t think up all those alternatives because I am not Charlotte and I wouldn’t dream of writing a storyline for you that doesn’t align with her vision and literary genius.  But I am sure that there is some other road you could’ve turned down…there are some other words you could’ve said to Jane during that proposal that would’ve made all my friends despise you a teensy, tiny bit less.

How could you?  That’s what this all comes down to.  I think I love Jane Eyre more than you, for I felt her agony and sadness and depression (and I have felt it now more times than I can count) and I decided that I could never do any similar thing to a person I loved in my life.  So how did you do it, you the man who she so confidently and contentedly called “dear Edward”?  How did you lie?  How did you look at her on that night when the wind swept through the chestnut tree, how did you gaze on her on the night when she spoke of the vampire’s visit to her chambers, how did you stare at her with excited eyes on your wedding day and not reveal some truth, some aspect of the horribly heavy secret you had locked away?  How did you look into her green eyes and not let every little blot on your soul slip out?

It all ends in happily ever after, just as it should, and for that I am grateful.  Jane, if no one else, deserves tranquility and happiness.  And I would be lying if I claimed that I didn’t want those things, those tender feelings for you too.  I believe that you deserve to be healed and set free – and this is why I continue to defend you.  I only wonder how…I never wonder why (I understand fear of self-revelation too)…and I only sometimes wish that you had done differently.  Because if you had, my favourite story would be entirely altered, and I don’t want that at all – I just, as I said before, sometimes wish that things had gone more smoothly here, at the climax of the novel.  I have to go spend dreaded time with St. John Rivers.  I have to watch Jane repress her passion.  I have to wait through pages and pages until we can return to you.  But imagine if I had never had to endure any of that with Jane?  Imagine if we all could’ve lived happily ever after at page 400 instead?

And then I wonder, would Jane and I have loved you so well?  Absence makes the heart grow…well, you know what they say.  I think it must be true.  I will be absent from you now, Mr. Rochester – I will be absent from you, because of you.  And I will be missing you, in spite of but never forgetting that simple question, those three little words that replay in my head.

Until we meet again,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

 

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A Man to Marry

It’s time for a much-delayed update and I think it’s also time to reveal a very special part of my “personal archive”. I mentioned in my first blog post (Salutations!) that I wanted to be able to post some more creative reviews of my favourite literary works. I came up with this idea because I had already written several adaptations of my favourite novels, plays and works of poetry (which I may share here at some point if I can muster up the courage!), and I had always enjoyed making use of my own creative impulses and imagination to expand the stories I had grown to love and to get to know my beloved characters better.

It was because of this desire to get closer to my most idolized literary characters that I wrote a letter to Prior Walter, of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, during the summer after my second year of university. I was reminded of this letter just a few days ago when I visited the Distillery District in downtown Toronto and saw that the play was being performed. I vividly remember my reaction to Kushner’s award winning play. I remember wondering whether I would like the reading list for my Jewish Literature class because most of the works were American, and I have never been a particular fan of American Literature. I remember reading the premise of Angels in America and thinking that it sounded too far-fetched, a little random and altogether too religious for my liking. I remember sitting down in E.J. Pratt library, at the University of Toronto, and flipping eagerly through every single page, desperate to get to the end. I remember tears streaming down my face as I devoured the story of Prior Walter and his lover and his friends and the marvellous cast of intricate and unique characters that surround him. I remember being moved, I remember being violently emotional, I remember being obsessed with this modern prophet…I remember wanting to marry him despite the fact that I knew he was gay and, probably more importantly, fictitious. I remember wanting to help him, wanting to jump into the play and save him from a disease that I hadn’t known much about and from a love that seemed to be destroying him. I remember wanting to give myself to him, to heal him.

And so, my only option was to write Prior Walter a letter, to pour my heart and soul out to him in writing, the sole medium through which we could speak to each other. I wrote this letter with more tears streaming down my face…and as I documented my more articulate thoughts about the novel in my journal, still more flowed. I love Prior Walter, to this day, and I will never forget him…he gave me insight, he gave me knowledge, he gave me compassion. He gave me the will to be a better person, and he opened my eyes to issues and ideas that I hadn’t considered before. I am the woman I am today because of Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale and Shirley Keeldar and so many other strong female characters – but I possess this overwhelming capacity to love because of Prior Walter.

With the biggest and warmest of hearts,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


A letter to Prior Walter of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

“Fuck you.  I’m a prophet.” – Prior Walter

To my favourite prophet Prior,

Throughout history there have been countless alleged prophets, most of them religious, but I must begin by admitting that of all of them, you are my favourite. No disrespect to Jesus, who I grew up learning of, but you, Prior, seem altogether more real and tangible than any prophet that I have ever heard of. Perhaps I am most drawn to you because you are not religious, because you are so bound up in the secular. Among the characters of Tony Kushner’s awesome, awe-inspiring work, you stand out as the one so totally free of religion, so non-denominational and non-conformist. You don’t have all the answers, and you don’t care to find them. I respect that. I respect you more than I respect Roy Cohn, who is evil despite his Jewish heritage, or Joe Pitt, who does everything in his power to contradict his Mormon upbringing. The angels that appear to you are orgasmic, not spiritual, and their god is a traitor unworthy of devotion. You are untouched, unaffected by them, and you even have the guts to reject their prophecy, to scorn their Book of Immobility and their offers of immortality. You are a prophet with balls who I believe to be severely under acknowledged!

I was also drawn into your world and I began to (rather vividly and viscerally) adopt your sentiments, especially your mixed affection/anger toward Louis Ironson. I was half insane with devastation when Louis left us battling AIDS alone and abandoned. I was enraged and crazy when he returned and begged for our forgiveness. I was astonished and proud when we held firm, demanding his blood and torture before accepting his apology. I became a gay, fatally ill man and I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with a cheater, a traitor, a criminal. I wept with you. I swore and cursed through you.

But, there were of course some critical differences between us. I had a strong, healthy body, free of sores and lesions. I didn’t shit blood or cough and wheeze after minimal exertion. I could see clearly; no woolly patches clouded my eyes. I didn’t have AIDS; I wasn’t facing a death sentence. I could only read as you limped along, in and out of the hospital and consciousness. This fact only served to increase my fury. You were lonely, helpless, uncared for. I was lonely, companionless and dying (not quite literally) to soothe your pain. I wanted nothing more than to jump into the thick, worn pages and marry you, Prior. I am not delusional; I knew that you would have no physical attraction to me whatsoever. I knew that our relationship could never be sexual and that I would always be more attached to you than you would be to me. Regardless, I felt, I believed inwardly, that I could easily accept a less than reciprocal engagement if you would only let me heal you. I would be your nursemaid. I would administer your medication, wipe your sweating forehead, tuck you in at night. And, I would lie beside you, listening to your tired ramblings, letting you call me “Louis” if you needed to. I would be your angel, your Book of Immobility, your key to peace and calm. You would not be the first literary character with whom I formed a relationship, and yet I would give up all the others to take away your torment. I became inexplicably attached to you. When you cried, I cried, my heart breaking. When you screamed in frustration, my chest ached with silent sobs. My only peace came when I saw you happy, surrounded by friends, and when, in the end, I heard you declare that you would fight your disease without cease. You gave me the will to fight too, to conquer my own demons here, in the real world. You gave me strength and courage.

And, simultaneously, you scared me. You still do. You are beyond intriguing. You are developed, intricate, multi-faceted, the perfect character. You have a voice; it is yours, not your creator’s, and you use it well. You have a spirit and, as I said, you are so real, so realistic. Having said that, you are above me. I don’t know if I could ever create a character quite like you. I don’t know if I have the talent to envision a prophet, and then inflict torment and torture upon him. I don’t know if I can create a Pulitzer Prize winning story, if I can surpass or even match your narrative. I don’t know if there is enough passion in me…yet. I only know that you, Prior Walter, have helped to increase my passion, have left an imprint on my soul. You are permanently lodged there, and your presence encourages me, inspires me to write and imagine and see. You make me want to prophecy my own work, my own story.

I shudder to think about what has become of you since I last saw you, in February 1990. I know instinctively that you are dead now, as you can only fight such a tremendous battle for so long. This thought saddens me, and yet it seems somehow fitting. You will always belong to that period of change and anxious anticipation. May you rest forever in that peaceful time, just before Millennium approaches.

With love and admiration,

JNG

July 27, 2011

I have many loves in my life, my most recent being Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America. I will admit, I am completely obsessed, and after seeing the film adaptation I am even more affected. I cannot talk or write about this amazing play enough. Don’t misunderstand, I love Shakespeare but Kushner is a truly breathtaking playwright. Angels in America opened my eyes to so many controversial issues: religion, sexual orientation, the American legal system and injustice, the AIDS epidemic. After reading, I realized just how little I know about the world and its suffering. However, after reading, I felt more informed, more knowledgeable, more aware. I was most touched by the character Prior Walter (even thinking about him now, I could cry) and his battle with AIDS. I have never witnessed suffering first hand, but I feel like I lived through AIDS with this man. At times, I could hardly control my anguish, and I was severely overcome with sympathy and the desire to help somehow. I was moved by every aspect of the play, and I can honestly say that I feel I am a better person for having read it.

Prior Walter is now one of my dearest companions. He joins a list that includes Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Johnny Wheelwright, Owen Meany, Duke Orsino and Viola, Erik the Phantom, and Henry Higgins. I have already conversed and will continue to converse with him as I do with Milton’s Satan and Abdiel, or Munro’s Del Jordan. I seek refuge in his company as I do with my own fictional creations. He is, for me, more real than many people I know.