Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trapped in Creepy Houses

Currently Reading: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Welcome Joy: Death in Puritan New England

I read a quote today that I found on BronteBlog from an interview with an author named Chloe Hooper describing a key aspect of both Jane Eyre and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. (You all know how much I love the former, but the latter book is fantastic as well).

Ms. Hooper says, "I love all of those Gothic classics such as Jane Eyre and Rebecca, stories of heroines trapped in spooky houses and heroes of dubious backgrounds...But I think those stories of women trapped in houses are often linked to women's ambivalence about domesticity and marriage. And the thriller, which is a genre that works on ambivalence about our fears and desires, is also a perfect way to talk about marriage."

This especially intrigued me, not only because it is a fantastic analysis of the structure of both books, but also because it resonates with the book I am currently reading: The Turn of the Screw. All three books feature young, often naive, female protagonists who inadvertently and unintentionally find themselves in circumstances outside of their control. All with a touch of Gothic creepiness, each story takes place in a large, well-to-do country house in which dark and terrible secrets are hidden. This plot device is not, as the quote above states, coincidental. As I think about it more, I see the connections better and better. In each novel, the young woman is an inferior by status (the main female character in Rebecca is the only one who is not a governess and is in fact the lady of the house, but she is still inferior by birth, age, and (seemingly) in relation to Rebecca), and come through some means to a grand but seemingly innocuous house. The master is secretive, an enigma to the women. (In Turn of the Screw, Peter Quint replaces the master in this way). He is hiding something, but no one seems to know what. The protagonist's seemingly normal existence is soon replaced by sinister and dire circumstances within her new home that spiral out of her control. She is caught right in the thick of it all, but often without understanding or knowing the entire truth. I am fascinated by the implications of Hooper's analysis- while I have always known that each novel focuses on female social and sexual limitations, I have never made a connection between the setting (and the "trapped" aspect) and women's fears about the limitations of marriage and their personal battles against the limitations of their gender. As I see it now, the male masters represent the ways in which many males and husbands were perceived by their wives at these times: as dominant and enigmatic, while the houses- foreboding and secretive- represent the terror of women's own daily realities, shut within house and home, with no control over her life. In Jane Eyre, she escapes this; yet when she returns, it is to a different house and a changed man. A different house and a changed man! In all of my readings, I have never contemplated the implications of this. I feel as if another window has opened, revealing a different view, a different angle. This is why I read... there is always something new to discover.

Turn of the Screw has turned out to be the perfect Halloween read, as a chill-inducing ghost story and a psychological thriller. A new addition to my fall must-reads!

Give me your thoughts on all of this... I'd love to hear more!

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