Will the Summer of '21 be remembered as the Summer of Love? We wandered freely through the world, ripping our masks off, peacefully riding our bicycles, taking walks with less fear, and, on one occasion, abandoning al fresco dining for the bugless indoors.
Back to caution and masks. The Fall (Demise) of Love?
JANE EYRE AND ANNE HEREFORD
Charlotte Bronte and Mrs. Henry Wood practiced wildly different genres. Wood, the author of 30 novels, including the popular East Lynne, was a master of the Victorian sensation novel. Ghosts, murderers, screaming maidens, and vengeful villains explode out of the pages. There are sensational elements in Charlotte Bronte's Gothic classics, Jane Eyre and Villette, but they are subtler, the mad wife excepted. Yet Wood's neglected novel Anne Hereford (1868) has much in common with Jane Eyre. Wood, who had a professional eye for what sells, borrowed from it and made it her own.
Though the racy Ellen Wood is a variable stylist, I enjoyed this book. And I was interested in the parallels between the characters. Both Jane and Anne are orphans who become teachers and then governesses. Both fall in love with rich men who are barred from marriage for secret reasons. Mr Rochester deceives Jane, but the milder Mr. Chandros says openly that he loves Anne but can never marry. (A family secret.) Wood's characters tend to be nicer and milder than Bronte's. There is depression, but not unbridled passion. Jane leaves in disgust when she learns Mr. Rochester's secret, walking for days until she faints on a minister's doorstep. Anne screams more than once when she sees strangers - or ghosts? - in the woods. She wants to leave after hearing horrible rumors about Mr Chandros, but she must wait to be paid by her employer, Mr. Chandros's sister, who is in France. (Of course money did not stop Jane.)
The quiet Anne Hereford may be a milquetoast compared to Jane, but her childhood trauma as a witness of violence was deeper. At age 11, after her mother's death, she went to live with 21-year-old Aunt Selina, a wild, heedless woman who flirted with a guest, George Heneage, and excited the jealousy of her middle-aged husband and he indignation of Philip King, his nephew and heir.
And then there is a tragedy. Anne witnesses the killing of Philip King in the woods, though she does not see who fired the shot. And Aunt Selina, who caught a chill during her search for George (who completely disappears), dies a few weeks later. And so the dead bodies seem to mount up. Luckily, Anne is sent to two good schools, where she does well and is neither starved nor humiliated.
There seems to be a fine line between sensation novels and Gothics. In Bronte's Jane Eyre we have a mad woman in the attic; in Villette we have a ghost and an opium-fueled dream; in Wood's Anne Hereford we have murders, ghosts, mysterious strangers, a vengeful woman plotting character assassination, and the strange seclusion of Lady Chandros in the west wing of the house. Is it a matter of quantity?
There are ghostly facets of horror in Anne Hereford. A Halloweencoincidence: I was not reading for the holiday.