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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jane Eyre, the watchful eyer, & watched ward

I have been very fortunate to have experienced hundreds and hundreds of wonderful serendipities in the course of my many years of obsessive literary sleuthing. However, today, two seemingly unrelated discoveries coincided in time, so as to lead me to connect dots that I otherwise might not have connected for many moons. As I will explain to you, below, I can’t think of a serendipity more uncanny and lucky than this one, and I hope you’ll agree, it is not even that complicated to explain (for a change!).

Recall first that I posted the following at the end of last week about the allusion rotating around the words “watch” and “ward” which I discovered in Mansfield Park, that point unmistakably to Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida:

Then, completely unrelated to the above (in fact, thinking of it as a break from my Austen and Shakespeare –intensive research), I went to see the new Jane Eyre film adaptation, and posted yesterday about the multiple allusions to all of Jane Austen’s novels, including but not limited to Mansfield Park, in Bronte’s novel:

At no time did it occur to me till an hour ago that these two posts might actually be connected thematically in the most remarkable way. But then, I was following up on one of the puns I detected (never having noticed them before) in the name “Eyre”, which I made the basis of the title of that second post, i.e., Jane Eyer, meaning “Jane who eyes or watches everything around her”, and lightning struck.

It was when I realized what an important word “watch” was in Jane Eyre, that I suddenly made the connection across the chasm of these two posts, and it dawned on me that the allusion to Mansfield Park in Jane Eyre _also_ included that striking parallel between Fanny and Jane as being quintessential “watchers”!

That would have been exciting enough. But the coup de grace came when I searched through the text of Jane Eyre, to look at all the times that Jane is described by the narrator as watching and watched (just as I had just done last Friday, searching through Mansfield Park). I noted all the times Jane is watched, and also all the times Jane Eyre is described as being watched by others—from Mrs. Reed to the teachers at Lowood to (most of all) Rochester, who watches Jane as much as she watches him—indeed that is at the essence of their intense mutual attraction, they each cannot take their eyes off the other from the moment they meet, and even after Rochester is blind!

The coup de grace, however, was the following agonized line spoken by Rochester in the church just after his wedding to Jane has been abruptly interrupted and shut down by Mason’s lawyer’s explosive revelation:

“You say you never heard of a Mrs. Rochester at the house up yonder, Wood; but I daresay you have many a time inclined your ear to gossip about the mysterious lunatic kept there _under watch and ward._”

“...under watch and ward”!!!!! At first I could not believe _my_ eyes, because I had just written the first above-linked post only last Friday about _both_ of those words, and had even put them both into my title (“Warding and Watching in Troilus & Cressida and Mansfield Park”), having absolutely no idea that “watch and ward” was an idiom in the English language going back (it turns out) at least a century _before_ Shakespeare wrote Troilus and Cressida in 1604!

From what I quickly gathered from contemporary sources readable online, “watch and ward” was a term of art in the feudal world, describing the function of the guard who stands watch at the gates to a town or castle.

And, fresh from a quick reread of vast sections of Jane Eyre during the past few days, I immediately realized that this was why the Reed residence where Jane is abused as a child is named _Gates_head Hall! And also why we hear a lot in the novel about gates—the gates to Thornfield Hall, the gates of hell that Rochester describes Jane as standing at when she watches Bertha Mason Rochester in horror for the first time, etc etc.

So it all suggests to me that, among other things:

Bronte’s already complex and beautiful allusion to Mansfield Park was even more complex and beautiful, by the addition of the key thematic words “watch” and “ward” as so pointedly symbolic of both Fanny Price and Jane Eyre;

And it was also probable that Bronte, who was, like Austen, a very accomplished Shakespearean scholar, had recognized the allusion to Troilus & Cressida in Mansfield Park, and was tipping her hat to Austen’s allusion to Troilus & Cressida in the way JA used the words “watch” and “ward”; and

It was also almost certain that Shakespeare’s repartee between Pandarus and Cressida on “watch” and “ward” had another layer that I had not previously seen, which was that of the necessity that Cressida keep a very vigilant “watch” over her own “gates”, so as best to be able to “ward” off any Greek (or Trojan) “horses”!
And there must be even more jewels to be fetched from the depths of this complex literary matrix, when I have time to let it fully sink in.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I almost forgot to add one additional layer, this one being the icing on the allusive layer cake.

I had long ago previously noticed (and then was not surprised to learn I was not the first to notice) that there was a complex, beautiful, but very mysterious, allusion to Jane Eyre in an even later novelistic masterpiece, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw” (which I had also previously also identified as being very allusive to Austen’s Emma in a number of striking ways).

It would require a whole additional blog post to unpack James’s veiled Brontean allusion, but for now I mention it only because I became curious to know whether Henry James might have noticed the words “watch” and “ward”, and look what Wikipedia revealed to me:

“Watch and Ward is a short novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly in 1871 and later as a book in 1878. This was James' first attempt at a novel, though he virtually disowned the book later in life. James was still in his apprentice stage as a writer, and Watch and Ward shows predictable immaturity. It's an odd, sometimes melodramatic tale of how protagonist Roger Lawrence adopts an orphaned twelve-year-old girl, Nora Lambert, and raises her as his eventual bride-to-be. But complications ensue, sometimes in a bizarre manner.”

In other words, it appears that the young James already had Jane Eyre on the brain in 1871, so much so that he made it the allusive source for his first novelistic attempt! And it seems that he never let Jane Eyre go, but returned to it for one of his mature masterpieces. ---ALP

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