Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why write an E-Book?

After I discovered the symbols and anagrams in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I began reading all the scholarship I could find about the Brontë sisters and their family. I then read everything written by a Brontë, which included the father's and the brother's works as well. The reading and the writing took about seven years. When I had finished a fairly cohesive final draft I began querying agents to represent the book. The agents who were initially interested hesitated when they realized that I had uncovered enough evidence to put forward the theory that Charlotte wrote the books and poetry that were ascribed to her two sisters, Emily and Anne. This claim was a shocking one that was hard for them to accept. Also, with such a controversial theory, I better be right.  How could they decide if my evidence was genuine, especially if they weren't Brontë experts? I thought we could leave it up to the readers to decide, but they were nervous about putting forth a book that might be utter nonsense based on a cracked-brain's speculation. I hated to admit it, but I could see their point. Apparently, my two degrees in English Lit were not enough to convince them that I was sane and on to something worthy of publication. "You need a PhD,"  they said.  "But I have a Master of Arts degree." "Yes," they said, "But that's not enough. For this kind of book, you need a PhD." I then explained that I had already uncovered in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre a symbolic and allegorical structure based on the rituals and symbols of Freemasonry that no scholar had noticed before.  "Maybe I've discovered something new again," I said. "Doesn't matter," they said. "It's just the way it is." So I asked a Brontë expert if he would be kind enough to read the manuscript, which he did. He was amazed at the preponderance of evidence and admitted I might very well be right. Would he, therefore, write his support for the book in a letter that I could show to the agents? He declined. He didn't want to disrupt decades of scholarship. I understood his reluctance and didn't want to put him in an uncomfortable position, so I was back to square one.

The agents agreed that the writing and the research were good. No problems there. But the theory was just too . . . shocking, and I wasn't qualified. To be fair, they had weighed the pros and cons and had discussed representing the book, but in the end, they weren't any more comfortable than the expert. Some of them were extremely helpful so, as much as I disliked their decision, I also appreciated their efforts. Agents are not bad people; they love good stories, and they want to help writers, but they also have to respect the market and adhere to the rules of the trade. I get that, but it's still frustrating for an author to be rejected on those grounds: too controversial; not qualified enough, especially when the evidence was compelling and strong.

After seven years and a finished book, I hunted for options and found the e-book community. Here was an opportunity to bypass the "gatekeepers" as one writer called them.  Within this group and the bloggers, I have found great support. I completely trust the readers to be honest about their reaction to this new-found evidence. In most cases, they are well-informed about the Brontës, and are fair participants as they investigate my point of view. At least now, thanks to e-books, that point of view is in front of them in its complete and unadulterated form.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The First Anagram

After I had discovered the Masonic symbols in Jane Eyre, I searched Wuthering Heights for a similar system. As I began my analysis, I noticed in the first chapter that Lockwood had been describing Heathcliff and the farmhouse before switching subjects to talk about himself.

Just before this paragraph, and within 2 sentences are a few masonic words: 'actuate,' 'constitution,' 'peculiar,' 'mother,' 'comfortable home,' and 'unworthy.' The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry states that the colour red symbolically represents the "ardor and zeal which should actuate all" who participate in the degree ceremonies. The Book of Constitutions is another term for the Grand Lodge charter: to form a new Lodge, masons need a Warrant of Constitution in order to assemble as a regular Lodge. Freemasonry is described as "a peculiar system of morality," and in England the term "mother lodge" can refer to the lodge where the man first became a mason, or to a lodge that sponsors the creation of a new lodge. Inside a lodge, Freemasons find a comfortable home in a safe and sacred retreat, but in order to become a mason, a man must first prove he is worthy. In Lockwood's case, he admits in his 'confession' that he had "proved himself perfectly unworthy" of a "comfortable home."

Brontë has dropped Masonic words into a paragraph that leads into Lockwood providing a description of himself. I wondered if there might be more clues in his admission of unworthiness. He explains that he met a woman but treated her badly. One of the lines reads, "If looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head and ears." The words, "looks have language" made me think, should I look at the language. I reread the sentence: "the merest idiot might have guessed" . . . what? Look at the language and you should be able to guess what's being said. That's how I interpreted it. I also thought the saying "over head and ears" was an odd one. Wasn't it "head over heels"? I later learned that this saying is correct and means that Lockwood was out of his depth, in too deep with this woman. If I had known that the saying was right, I would never have lingered on this sentence, but I thought it bore closer scrutiny, so I read the sentence again as this:

"Look at the language because an idiot should see that I" . . . am what? The next thought was that perhaps the group of words "was over head and ears" was an anagram, so I began trying to decipher it. Within a short time, I had found the words rove as dead Earnshaw. In the novel, Catherine Earnshaw Linton has been dead several years when Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights, so I thought this anagram might be accurate, but what did it mean? Why was there an anagram hidden in the sentence? I decided to search the rest of the paragraph for more. A little while later I had uncovered a treasure trove of anagrams embedded in the paragraph. In fact, the whole paragraph is a great, long anagram that tells an amazing secret story that runs through the novel. This anagram and many, many others are outlined and explained in Charlotte Brontë's Thunder. What a day that was!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Book's First Reader

When Charlotte Brontë had finished Shirley in August 1849, she wrote to her editor W.S. Williams that the writing had helped her get through her period of grief. Her three surviving siblings--Branwell, Emily and Anne--had all died within the previous year. She wrote that the writing of Shirley had kept her busy and had taken her "out of dark and desolate reality to an unreal but happier region." She explained to him that even though her eyes had suffered from the work, she preferred committing wholeheartedly to the novel: "you can write nothing of value unless you give yourself wholly to the theme, and when you so give yourself, you lose appetite and sleep--it cannot be helped." Williams would be Shirley's first reader. Fortunately, he liked the story, so a month later Brontë wrote back to him thanking him for his positive response. She shared with him the anxiety that every writer feels upon delivering a manuscript to the 'first reader.'  For a non-writer, the experience can be likened to any moment when you first present your work, whether a painting, a piece of carpentry, a song, or an idea to an individual for feedback about your efforts. Who wouldn't want to hear something positive and encouraging? The anxiety, of course, arises from the fear that the individual will be negative and not constructively critical. In Brontë's case, she had sat alone in a room without ever showing her work to another soul, so she had "held no consultation about plan, subject, characters or incidents, asked and had no opinion from one living being, but fabricated it darkly in the silent workshop of [her] own brain--such an author awaits with a singular feeling the report of the first impression produced by his creation in a quarter where he places confidence, and truly glad he is when that report proves favourable." The best advice, therefore, is to place your work in the hands of someone whose judgment you can trust and whose support you can count on. We all can benefit from constructive criticism that focuses on the work itself and not on the person creating it. The distinction is an important one. Also, we can never know for certain what challenges were in place while the author or artist plodded through his or her creation, but to have completed the work is an accomplishment worth a word of congratulations. That kind of support can give a writer, as it did Charlotte Brontë, "great pleasure."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Freemasonry and Charlotte Brontë

My assignment in Victorian Lit was to write something interesting about Jane Eyre.  After reading through the novel, I noticed that two sections in the book (ch. 2 and 20) were similar in their religious overtones. I kept studying the few pages from each chapter that dealt with a form of ritual. Young Jane and later Mason suffered blows that drew blood; the effect of a real spirit haunted the red-room while, through the portrait of Judas, Satan threatened Jane and Mason; and certain suggestive words like "solemn" and "dreary consecration" aligned with "mystic cell" and "spellbound."  Jane's "consternation of soul" also matched both events. What religion and religious symbols was she using?  The entire puzzle would have remained hidden if I hadn't noticed that, after remarking on Rochester's "dismay" when he knew that Mason was at Thornfield, Brontë had written the following sentence: "Why had the mere name of this unresisting individual--whom his word now sufficed to control like a child--fallen on him, a few hours since, as a thunderbolt might fall on an oak?"  The man's name was powerful and it held a clue. What was it about his name that was so important? I suddenly saw that she could be alluding to Masons or Freemasonry in her rituals and symbols.  I rushed over to the campus library and hauled the huge Dictionary of Freemasonry down from the shelf and began searching for relevant terms and symbols.  Immediately, everything fit. But how could Charlotte know about Freemasonry, a secret male fraternity? My prof supplied the answer: her brother Branwell was a Master Mason.  To show how little I knew about this family, I said, "She had a brother?"