This is meant for my creative writing course, which will end (yay!) finally in May.
I think I can safely say that my greatest literary influence is Charlotte Brontë. When I wrote my story, I sought to set it in the Victorian era, hoping to emulate her. For what characterises Charlotte Brontë's work is a deep sense of the individual, great depth of feeling and vivid images. It does not matter that her characters may be crudely drawn - because they are drawn from the perspective of a flawed, unseeing narrator. But what stands out is that narrator. Her heroine is always placed in trying circumstances, and has independence of thought, trapped though they are in a world they cannot belong to. I thought at first I would write about a 1870's Darwinian setting, when science and ideas are booming in an industrial era. There would be a Darwinian radical protagonist, and there would be conflict between the Church and Darwinism which it opposed. The world would be an alternate universe, of course, to play with my ideas. Some form of genetic engineering called transmuatation would be invented, and there were wizards and magic. Only that wizards would be what we call scientists, and the magic they played with is akin to our science. There were some flaws in this plan, however. The theme was survival in a harsh, changing world of materialism and commerce, and the unworldly heroine would feel she was old-fashioned and unfavoured by natural selection. This heroine was interested in wizardry. If I wanted to depict a battle between magic and science, I could not make magic science, or science magic.
I immersed myself into Charlotte Brontë again. As I delved deeper and deeper I realised that she was a child of the Romantics. The Romantics emphasised the tortured, isolated individual, conflicted with a changing world. The setting might be pastoral or fantasylike, but the mind of the individual would be startlingly advanced. What was particularly appealing was their Gothic and otherworldly influences - something I wanted to incorporate with psychological realism. It is set in the past, in another universe, and I felt that a more mysterious air would fit in with this. I wanted to challenge the postmodern notion that good literature has no exciting plot. No, I decided, the setting would be in the Romantic era, in the 1810's, and the protagonist would be a hero.
Some time later I stumbled upon the works of John Keats. Keats was of course one of the major poets of the Romantic era. His works were not well-received in his lifetime and his style was individual. I saw in his poetry a new fount of inspiration. Lamia and La Belle Dame Sans Merci in particular are surrounded by an otherworldly air, Lamia being about a half-snake-half-woman who entices a human mortal. But she is no monster: she is drawn sympathetically, and she symbolises the ideal who cannot survive in a practical world. She is complex, tragic and yet deceptive. How wonderful, I thought, to use fantasy as a metaphor! The limits of the fantasy genre is that plot precedes psychological development, but Keats has proven us wrong. I had now got a rough idea of my background, and I shall fill in the details.
The scene is the Romantic era, the 1810's. It was a time of change - a time of war, when industry changed the landscape, when Luddite riots went on against the harsh manufacturers. It was also a time of great poetry steeped in emotion and experimentation. The new wealthy manufacturers were gaining position and respectability beside the aristocracy. My hero, I decided, would be shaped by this change. He would be the younger son of a baronet's son, upper-class with an uncertain future, as he would have to earn his own living, probably by becoming a clergyman or barrister. He is no realist, being an introspective dreamer. His childhood is disrupted when his siblings grow up and he is too young to be a suitable companion for them. And he is distanced from the other children in the country town as they are of a different class, and he is shy. His secret wish is to become a wizard though no one in the family knows much about wizards and magic. His life is changed for the better when a new bookseller, Mr Bronwyn sets up shop, and they get to know each other. Mr Bronwyn is an emerging middle-class tradesman who is largely self-educated but well-read, intelligent and courteous. He, his niece Helena and Charles become firm friends, and he teaches the children all he knows about magic. But as time passes magic becomes obsolete and unwanted, and Charles is again distanced from the friends he knows and loves as if they were his own family.
How does fantasy fit in? Years ago to be a wizard was to be a distinguished gentleman. People respected and courted them, they were learned scholars and dined at the finest tables of the day. In Charles' era much of magic has faded and only a few wizards are left. Magic is still respectable though less popular. It does not earn you a good living. By becoming a wizard he is leaving reality for a course he worships. Magic is accessible only to well-off gentleman, who can afford a good education at a good school and at the University. To be an acknowledged wizard you must attend a University. Charles is fortunate in this sense. However, the working classes are in revolt against the wealthy manufacturers and the aristocracy who they feel are leeching on the soil. Wizards, being an institution for the wealthy and the upper-classes are becoming notoriously unpopular. There is also a rising awareness of science and engineering which can surpass the wonders of magic. Magic is the province of learned gentlemen with nothing better to do but be learned and unworldly, and only the gifted can truly excel at it. Most real practical magic has disappeared and much of the remnants are in the form of books and theory.
But this is about the rise and fall of class. Charles, due to his inability to earn a good living, is doomed for a less easy life. He is no materialist but he is affected because this would mean he cannot keep the company he is used to. His ideals clash with practicality. Mr Bronwyn eventually rises as a well-off publisher and stationer, and educated his niece well. However, the down-to-earth bookseller has become proud and over-eager to be in fashionable society. He pressures Helena to be more like a lady, less bookish and to marry a wealthy man. Helena, like Charles, is trapped. She longs to be in the society of intellectuals and to rise, but she is unhappy because she cannot fit in. Helena is not part of the natural aristocracy, those born to survive well. She longs to return to her happy childhood of truth and sincerity. Charles and Helena fall in love and plan to marry. This is thwarted by Mr Bronwyn who desires a better match for his niece, and Charles' family who want him to marry a wealthy heiress, the daughter of a manufacturer. Charles feels he can be true and happy with Helena, but cannot afford to marry her.
In the meantime, Charles' dabbling in wizard studies lead him to start a revolution in modern magic. Scoffing at the rigid scholars' adherence to ancient rituals, he seeks new ways with Helena, who cannot receive a wizarding education being a middle-class girl. He also discovers a new talent in John Waters, son of a farmer who is unable to receive the education to become a recognised wizard, as he is neither wealthy or high-born. John Waters' roots lie in the farmer-poet John Clare, who taught himself to read and became a well-known poet in his lifetime. But poetry could not feed him and he died in poverty.
I have chosen to write about Mr Bronwyn's stories of folklore to the children, focusing on the warmth he gives them. There is also a fragment of Charles' return to his hometown to discover his disillusionment in his old friend and family. It is a story, essentially, of changes wrought by time, and how it destroys the individual.
Note: How to type an umlaut e as in Brontë for Html:
Type & euml;
no spacing between & and e