A Brontean Dream Vision
One of my friends has brought to my attention a very strange little book published in 1904. It is called Henry Brocken: His Travels and Adventures in the Rich, Strange, Scarce-Imaginable Regions of Romance, by Walter J. de la Mare. I call it a dream vision because it seems to me something akin to this medieval genre. I have not read it all the way through, but at first glance it seems to be a travel log of his journey through various literary 'romances'. How he has taken 'romance' I am not yet certain. Chapter three of this strange book is called 'Jane Eyre'.
In chapter three, Henry has somehow, inexplicably, finds himself at Ferndean- apparently. It is, as he says in the title, 'strange'. I cannot say that I can recognise Mr and Mrs Rochester in his prose. Mr Rochester is something very odd in this book- both hyperbolically transcendent (his guestures at dinner apparently all denote a 'smoldering power' something like 'storms, winds of the equinox, the illimitable night sky'), and yet he speaks of having a 'shell' that he's quite content to stick himself into- while brooding and stumbling around outside… When Jane isn't trying to lock him inside. Yes, she keeps locking him inside- locking the gate and the doors. Her husband asks her why she keeps doing that, and she then enunciates some very fine, very confusing, and totally unhelpful poetry back at him. No wonder he excused himself from dinner to stand outside- until Jane snatched him again.
And the strangeness doesn't end there. Mr Rochester has grown suddenly very touchy about strangers- which he attributes to his blindness. Pilot has also been mentally disturbed, apparently- the poor dog has no feelings it seems but just stares eerily and blankly at Mr.Brocken. In fact, everone at Ferndean MUST speak in elaborate, poetic passages. These are, really, often very nice pieces of poetry but are really obnoxious before long. This is not the same as saying they are melodramatic- as the early stage productions of Jane Eyre.
The strangest part of all, perhaps, occurs when Mr Rochester has left for awhile and Mr Brocken and Jane are alone. She wants to know about what is left of her. What part of herself he has taken from the book. It is unclear whether she is supposed to be the 'real' Jane Eyre living inside the novel- in a sort of Plato's realm of the ideal- or if she is the Brocken's Jane Eyre. Again, there's some interesting, but very cryptic language here. Something disturbs his sleep. And he is soon off on his journey. Here are a few extracts from chapter three:
"It is indeed a strange journey," she replied. "But I fear I cannot in the least direct you. I have never ventured my own self beyond the woods, lest–I should penetrate too far. But you are tired and hungry. Will you please walk on a few steps till you come to a stone seat? My name is Rochester–Jane Rochester"–she glanced up between the hollies with a sigh that was all but laughter–"Jane Eyre, you know."
I went on as she had bidden, and seated myself before an old, white, many-windowed house, squatting, like an owl at noon, beneath its green covert. In a few minutes the great dog with dripping jowl passed almost like reality, and after him his mistress, and on her arm her master, Mr. Rochester.
There seemed a night of darkness in that scarred face, and stars unearthly bright. He peered dimly at me, leaning heavily on Jane's arm, his left hand plunged into the bosom of his coat. And when he was come near, he lifted his hat to me with a kind of Spanish gravity.
"Is this the gentleman, Jane?" he enquired.
"He's young!" he muttered.
"For otherwise he would not be here," she replied.
"Was the gate bolted, then?" he asked.
"Mr. Rochester desires to know if you had the audacity, sir, to scale his garden wall," Jane said, turning sharply on me. "Shall I count the strawberries, sir?" she added over her shoulder."
"Jane, Jane!" he exclaimed testily.
"There! hush now, here he floats; sit still, sit still–I hear his wings. It is my 'Four Evangels,' sir!"
It was a sleek blackbird that had alighted and now set to singing on the topmost twig of a lofty pear-tree near by; and with his first note Jane reappeared. And while we listened, unstirring, to that rich, undaunted voice, I had good opportunity to observe her, and not, I think, without her knowledge, not even without her approval.
This, then, was the face that had returned wrath for wrath, remorse for remorse, passion for passion to that dark egotist Jane in the looking-glass. Yet who, thought I, could be else than beautiful with eyes that seemed to hide in fleeting cloud a flame as pure as amber? The arch simplicity of her gown, her small, narrow hands, the exquisite cleverness of mouth and chin, the lovely courage and sincerity of that yet-childish brow–it seemed even Mr. Rochester's"Four Evangels" out of his urgent rhetoric was summoning with reiterated persuasions, "Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Ja … ne!"
"And am I indeed only like that poor mad thing you thought Jane Eyre?"she said, "or did you read between?"
I answered that it was not her words, not even her thoughts, not even her poetry that was to me Jane Eyre.
"What then is left of me?" she enquired, stooping her eyes over the keys and smiling darkly. "Am I indeed so evanescent, a wintry wraith?"
"Well," I said, "Jane Eyre is left."
She pressed her lips together. "I see," she said brightly. "But then, was I not detestable too? so stubborn, so wilful, so demented, so–vain?"
"You were vain," I answered, "because–"
"Well?" she said, and the melody died out, and the lower voices of her music complained softly on.
"For a barrier," I answered.
"A barrier?" she cried.
"Why, yes," I said, "a barrier against cant, and flummery, and coldness, and pride, and against–why, against your own vanity too."