Language and Style
For all of the texts in this series, I have started with a thorough re-reading of the novel in focus to re-immerse myself in the central preoccupations, the mood and the linguistic experience. That has been followed up with extensive reading and research, including recent biographies and critical commentaries.
Ultimately, however, my intention has been to make contact with the authors’ minds at a key point in the creative process and, rather than offering an analysis of my own, to create a narrative of that magical unfolding. As for the research, I try not to keep it at the forefront of my mind but allow it to present itself to me as my own narrative unfolds.
In each little book, I have also reached out for a style which would at least echo some of the key elements of the original as well as expressing the nature of the creative process for each.
In The Boy with Four Hats, I sought to capture something of Dickens’s restless curiosity, his compassion, humour and love of both the mysterious and the eccentric. I have used the present tense for the narrative voice to give the text a sense of immediacy and discovery. The boy’s private narratives are in the past tense, making them more inward and reflective. I’ve also given them a simplicity and sobriety to contrast with the narrative voice and encourage a compassionate response. These are not without sentimentality but that, too, was an aspect of Dickens’s work.
Humour is partly situational, as in the encounter with the Noodles, but also occurs in small images, such as the suggestion that the boy seemed to have shrunk in the wash rather than his clothes. The four hats themselves give structure to the narrative, particularly in emphasising the progression from observation to creation. At a fairly simple level, there is also a determination to suggest that moral judgements are almost always complex.
A critic once remarked that after reading the first line of any novel, one had a strong sense of what was to follow. Perhaps this is something of an exaggeration but the word “Freedom” at the start of Wycoller’s Bridges establishes the central theme of the narrative. In the description which follows, there is a proliferation of words and phrases such as “unlaced”, “unencumbered”, “rippling thrill” and “float”, leading to what is probably Wordsworth’s most famous line of poetry as a reminder that we are still in the era of Romantics.
Of course, Charlotte Brontë did not seek freedom for frivolous reasons and the narrative quickly moves on to more serious reflections, taking Wycoller’s bridges as the foci for her contemplations. The language becomes more earnest and at times angry when she turns to the issue of slavery – an anger which is soon transferred to a memory of her father’s behaviour towards her mother and to the plight of women of her class in general. This account of her restless mind is emphasised by the description of the dipper.
Two quite contrasted elements emerge in the remainder of the narrative. The first of these is the supernatural and its power to lead us to understandings which the rational mind might not achieve; the second is the discipline of religion and the difficulty of aligning the struggles of a complex life to an inflexible set of rules.
As with Top Withins, I conclude with a few chance experiences and a reflection on my own life. These are hardly profound but are whispers of the great themes of Jane Eyre as a reminder that the novel is not of an age but for all time.
Top Withins was more of a challenge. How do you get into the mind of a writer who was very determined to keep herself closed away from the world and from all observation or recognition? A key element in the style of this book is its very sparse prose with few main verbs, certainly in the opening pages.
Much of the vocabulary is negative: “obliterated”, “claustrophobic”, “putrefaction” and “descent”. There are also numerous references to things fundamental, such as the mention of Dante’s Divine Comedy, “essence” and “primeval necessity”.
Emily was only to find deep satisfaction within herself and upon the wild moors, where she could lose herself and the metaphor of “the reader’s mindsteps” combines both of these.
She is generally considered to be the finest poet amongst the three sisters and this is acknowledged in the quotations from her work. Her own favoured poet, of course, was not Wordsworth but Byron. No doubt his wild and reckless life reminded Emily of her brother Branwell to whom, of all the sisters, she was by far the closest and her great portrayal of Heathcliff clearly derives much of its energy from both poet and brother.
These references and the brief description of the Crow Hill explosion emphasise the great passion that burned within Emily and quotations from contemporary reviews of her great novel reveal the shock felt by the reading world on encountering the moors, Heathcliff and Cathy.
In the closing fragments of the book, one of the things I mention is the issue of identity in our technological age, with all of the uncertainties which that has brought, and make a brief comment on how uncongenial Emily would have found the increasing modes of intrusion into our selves and our lives.