Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Long Fatal Love Chase, or It's Jane All the Way Down

So this week I read A Long Fatal Love Chase (1995) by Louisa May Alcott, famed writer of Little Women. In regards to this class, this novel is unique in many ways from the other novels that we're reading. First, it is an American novel, though American in the style of Henry James, and second, this novel was published for the first time in the 1990s.

In regards to other novels, however, Love Chase is hardly unique. There are great similarities to Jane Eyre in terms of the novels content--the criticism of the Byronic Hero, the theme of bigamy, and the feminism embodied by the protagonist. The constant flight and chase seems to parallel Jane's flight in the middle of her novel, as does the relationship with the priest (or the priest-like figure of St. John). There are, however, striking differences between the two novels. For one, this novel is a tragedy, ending in the death of our protagonist. There is no redemption allowed for the Byronic Hero--here, unlike Rochester, playing antagonist--and Tempest remains a selfish monster to the end. In this respect, Alcott seems to be calling on the characterization of Heathcliff--perhaps positing, in the way similar to fan fiction, "What if Jane had met Heathcliff instead?"

The striking feminism of the novel is also, at least partly, due to Jane's influence. For all the novel's faults, Alcott gives us an active, round protagonist that does things, rather than having things done to her. The constant leaving, the willingness to put principle over pleasure marks Rosamond as Jane's literary sister. This marks Rosamond as exhibiting characteristics of the Byronic Heroine: not content to be merely persecuted, as in Udolpho, nor locked away as a madwoman, even metaphorically, as in Jane Eyre. Rather, Rosamond occupies a characterization that mixes parts of the two, while adding a great deal of agency, much like, again, Jane does.

The religious aspect of the novel is also, arguably, more pronounced than in Jane Eyre. While Jane does believe in God, I'd be hard-pressed to call her a religious person, whereas a great deal of Rosamond's motivation is the belief that she should do as God would want. Rosamond acts from a religious impulse while Jane acts from one of personal pride. The equation of Tempest with a Satan figure, while fairly heavy-handed on the part of the author, underscores both Rosamond's motivation and the Gothic tone of the work.

All right, so next week we're reading two books: Polidori's The Vampyre (main character based on Byron) and le Fanu's Carmilla (lesbians! vampires!), and we return to the supernatural elements that have been rather under-represented since Frankenstein.

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