Secret Women


[Dürer's Eve]
She fell silent, and in this moment had something of the aura of one of Dürer's female figures, a sort of night-bird shyness, a flying-over-the-seas-in-the-dark, a soft inner whimpering.

--Walser, The Robber

It is morning and I read Bachmann's poems and not papers on Identity Theory. I read 'Songs in Flight' -- I read and I too fly, I too soar.

I read:

But I lie alone,
wounds fill an abbatis of ice.

The snow upon me
has not yet sealed my eyes.

The dead pressed against me
are silent, no matter the tongue.

No one loves me,
no lamp for me is hung.


I think of Lucy Snowe, my forgotten heroine. Shall I read Villette again? I think also of Charlotte Brontë -- I think of her well-loved dead, the dead she could never resurrect, not even with so much attentive ministrations. I think also of her women, my secret women in a way -- her Jane and Lucy, but also the oft-overlooked Marina and Elizabeth. Elizabeth figures in an early novella, 'Captain Henry Hastings' --

Here was a being made up of intense emotions—in her ordinary course of life always smothered under the diffidence of prudence & a skilful address, but now when her affections were about to suffer almost a death-stab—when incidents of strange excitement were transpiring around her—on the point of bursting forth like lava— still she struggled to keep wrapt about her the veil of reserve & propriety.

These were Charlotte's women, they were fiery, passionate, artistic, but veiled, always veiled. They are buried deep under snows, buried deep in earth, but always buried. They disguise themselves, feign, dissemble, do whatever it takes to protect that smoldering fire that burns in their breast. Even triumphant Jane is buried at the end, sequestered away from the world with her beloved, broken Rochester. She has her triumph of course -- she addresses her spirit to his spirit, prevents that cup of living water from being dashed from her lips, preserves herself from infamy and scorn, but in the end her reward amounts to a live burial.

Jane's return to Thornfield is suffused with death imagery. Thornfield itself is a wreck, a burnt shell of what it had previously been: And there was the silence of death about it: the solitude of a lonesome wild. She leaves this site of death and destruction to continue her search for Mr. Rochester. As she progresses, she retreats further and further from the world. Ferndean, Mr. Rochester’s new location, is remote, desolate, and, deep buried in a wood. Jane must navigate the gloomy wood that surrounds it, winding further and further into isolation. She arrives at the gate and then the house: So dank and green were its decaying walls. Entering a portal, fastened only by a latch, I stood amidst a space of enclosed ground, from which the wood swept away in a semicircle…‘Can there be life here?’ I asked.

Yes, life can exist, but only in a mitigated sense. Jane has returned to her master only to find him maimed and blind. He too has passed close to death, emerging with his life, but altered. Jane and Mr. Rochester are reunited through near-death experiences, a spiritual communication, and the power of burial. The needs of each only serve to bring them closer together, to fuse their spirits into one: No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. Jane has reconciled the two sides of her nature that had so often opposed one another, her reason and her imagination, but she has only done this in the setting of a burial. Jane lives in a metaphorical grave, buried from the world and sharing her life with only one other person. Just as she had foretold in her passionate speech to Mr. Rochester, it is her spirit addressing his spirit as equals, but only as if both had passed through the grave.

There is so much more to say about Charlotte, about her women, about the only path she had available. I look back on the writing I did about this years ago, my massive thesis on Charlotte, Villette and death -- on the problem of suppressed passion -- and I wonder how whether that project chose me, or if I chose that project.

And then I turn back to Bachmann, I read:
We entered enchanted rooms
and illuminated the dark
with our fingertips.

And again I am transported --