How Margaret Drabble Rewrites Jane Eyre: The Birth of a Feminine Novel The Waterfall
Jane Eyre compels generations of readers to measure themselves against Jane in confronting afresh the question, “What will you give in return for love?” The answer will depend, not on the author, but on the reader. One such reader is The Waterfall author Margaret Drabble who was inspired by Jane Eyre.
Drabble refers to Jane Eyre several times in The Waterfall. To give an example, the sentence, “Reader, I loved him” is reminiscent of “Reader, I married him” from Jane Eyre. Furthermore, the incident where James is seriously injured in a car accident reminds us of Rochester’s loss of eyesight.
However, Drabble not only imitates Jane Eyre but also alters it. What attracts our attention most is how Drabble alters the end of the novel; Jane Eyre quit narrating after her marriage with Rochester while Jane Grey in The Waterfall begins to write poems on love affairs with James. This means that the answer to “What will you give in return for love?” should be “to write” in case of Drabble.
Jane Grey in The Waterfall is not a virgin like Jane Eyre but appears as a married pregnant woman. After her husband deserts her, Jane Grey gives birth to her second child. Her cousin Lucy and her husband James visit her and Jane Grey falls in love with James.
When Jane Grey narrates her love affair with James, she refers to Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë: “Reader, I loved him: as Charlotte Brontë said.” This can be considered to be an alternative to “Reader, I married him” in Jane Eyre. Adding “as Charlotte Brontë said,” Drabble confuses the author Charlotte with the narrator Jane, from which the question arises: “Which was Charlotte Brontë’s man, the one she created and wept for and longed for, or the poor curate that had her and killed her, her sexual measure, her sexual match?” That is to say, Drabble questions which is more real, Charlotte’s love for characters she created or her affection for her husband, Authur Bell Nicholls.
Furthermore, as “some Brussels of the mind” suggests, Charlotte’s passion for Monsieur Héger and its repression should be implied. Charlotte’s reality must have been vastly different from her imaginary world “as she sat in the Yorkshire parsonage writing letters filled with adoration to a Monsieur Héger in Brussels whom she reconstructed in the image of Byronic intensity.”
However, by creating Rochester and associating him with Jane Eyre, Charlotte described her passion and love to her heart’s content in her imaginary world, which was never realized in her real world. In other words, Charlotte secretly achieves her desire as a woman by writing Jane Eyre.
Drabble suggests Charlotte’s unrequited love as well as salvation through writing and imagination by “Reader, I loved him: as Charlotte Brontë said.” In addition, letting Jane Grey narrates like this, Drabble imitates and borrows Charlotte’s passion and shows her reverence to it.
There still remains a question whether Charlotte fully described the paradise she pursued though she achieved her desire to some extent in her imagination. Jane Eyre mentions her 10 years’ married life as “I hold myself supremely blest － blest beyond what language can express….” It implies there are the limitations of expression through language. It is also suggested that happiness as a woman is not always compatible with creative activities. This is associated with Jane Grey’s remark “I can’t describe the condition of that possession; the world that I lived in with him…” concerning her difficulty to describe love affair with James.
After Jane Grey falls in love with James, she gives up writing poems. She does not know how to write about “joy.” She cannot find any words or patterns for “the damp and intimate secrets of love.” This suspension is related to Jane Grey’s style of poems. We see Jane Grey’s motivation for writing such as : “The more unhappy I was the more I wrote.” Furthermore, her verse “was flawless metrical, and it always rhymed; I think that I tried unnaturally hard to impose order upon it.” Thus, her poem is coldly kept under control and she does not evolve the fictional forms to catch “the fluidity of female sexual experience.” The fact that Jane Grey stops writing poems is reminiscent of Jane Grey’s silence after her marriage with Rochester.
The ultimate object of Jane Eyre is marriage with Rochester. To achieve this object, Charlotte created a series of unnatural incidents; arson by Bertha, Rochester’s severe injury, supernatural transmission of Rochester’s voice to prevent St. John Rivers’ marriage proposal. By imposing a certain rule such as poetic justice Charlotte tried to protect the moral code in the Victorian era. This imposition of an established order on the novel reminds us of Jane Grey’s obsession with meters and rhymes. To narrate Jane Eyre’s life after marriage, Charlotte should have evolved the new form of story, and Jane Grey also needs to find the new form of poems.
While Charlotte in Jane Eyre obeys the rule poetic justice by blinding Rochester, Drabble in The Waterfall follows a different path. James recovers from a severe injury and even enjoys recounting the details of the accident, which according to Jane Grey was: “Nothing like what Jane Eyre had to put up with.” Concerning this conclusion that nobody dies, Jane Grey asks whether it is “a feminine ending.” This also implies that Jane Eyre has its “masculine ending” in which Bertha commits suicide and Rochester gets seriously injured.
As a result of the “feminine ending” Jane Grey starts writing poems, while James is in hospital: “I have been writing better ever since that episode. Soon, no doubt, I shall begin to worry about writing too well. James was annoyed when I published the poems about him: he claimed that it was sacrilege to speak of such matters.” Thus Jane Grey evolves the fictional forms to catch “the fluidity of female sexual experience.”
Jane Grey declares that she stops taking contraceptive pills and decides that she will live as James’ lover. She will depict her love affairs in the new forms of poems and give birth to James’ child. In the age when Jane Eyre was written, it should have been virtually impossible to live as Rochester’s lover and to achieve self-realization in the society. When about 120 years had passed since Jane Eyre, The Waterfall was written in which Drabble shows another possible life of Jane Eyre.