Saturday, January 16, 2010

Be very careful what you dwell on: getting caught in one's own traps

I have had some more ideas about Charlotte Brontë, and I want to pass on my interpretation of certain significant events in her life.

Charlotte Brontë and her siblings were obsessed with the Duke of Wellington, England’s hero of the time. He starred in many of the wonderful, Byronic stories that they created from their imaginations. Both Charlotte and Emily Brontë created dark, romantic heroes and it is likely that they thought of the Duke, whose real name was Arthur Wellesley, as dark and romantic too.

Charlotte eventually married a dark man whose first name was Arthur. Was this just a coincidence, or a case of ‘Be very careful what you wish for ...’? He annoyed her when he hung around and dogged her footsteps through the village, but perhaps he was drawn in and caught in a psychic trap.

Her letters show that she was a great daydreamer: she had an almost lifelong habit of ‘making out’ as it was then called. This helped her to escape from her surroundings and painful memories, and provided some compensation for an unsatisfactory life.

Some of her imaginings were so intensely vivid that they were almost hallucinations. She went in for two types of daydreaming: one where it was similar to watching TV and she did not know what would happen next, and the other where she mentally choreographed the events and invested a lot of energy in them, living them as if they were real. Some of the results went into her books:

Jane Eyre has a scene where Mr Rochester’s horse slips on the ice and comes crashing down. Luckily, neither the horse nor his master is badly hurt. Charlotte Brontë was not so fortunate when she rode a horse for the first time: the horse ‘spooked’ when going through a dangerous mountain pass and Charlotte was thrown to the ground and badly shaken. This accident might have been a contributory factor to her death, which was less than one year later. Charlotte had been warned about the difficult terrain and advised to dismount, but she decided to stay put. She described the incident in her letters and said that the horse appeared to go mad. 

Was there any connection between the incident that she had imagined and put into her book and her accident? When she originally created the scene, did she put so much of her vital energy into it that she created what some people would call an artificial elemental that hung around her waiting for an opportunity to fulfill its task? Sometimes the chickens come home to roost; we get back what we send out.

The description of the final weeks of Charlotte’s life is harrowing to read: she was confined to her bed and became weaker and weaker. In Charlotte’s book Shirley, Caroline Helstone pines away, which causes her long lost mother to come forward and declare herself. Caroline’s story had a happy ending; Charlotte Brontë’s did not. Her mother had died when Charlotte was six years old. When she wrote this scene, she may have been performing unconscious sympathetic magic in an attempt to bring her mother back. Did she get caught in another of her own traps? Was she unconsciously re-creating a very painful, deeply buried memory that was burned into her soul?

There are parallels in the Alcott family: Louisa and her mother were very affected by the death of Louisa’s sister Elizabeth, which was very harrowing. When the Alcott sisters’ mother died, she was reduced to the same terrible shrunken state as Elizabeth. Could Louisa have had something to do with this? Could she have re-created a scene that had badly affected her in the past?

There are names for the conscious use of the directed imagination: pathworking, creative visualisation and magical imagery for example. It seems that some people need no training: they are naturals. They never realise what they are doing, and they never get any instruction or guidance. They need to be very careful what they dwell on, as it may well manifest in their lives.