Friday, May 31, 2013

Is a past necessary for the main characters of a novel?

I read a book, “Elements of Fiction writing, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends” by Nancy Kress who has written over a dozen books of fiction and is a regular columnist for Writers Digest magazine. She refers to Jane Austin’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice” to illustrate the point that a character changes somewhere within the novel. Elizabeth Bennett changed from her point of view that Mr. Darcy was insufferable to her being in love with him; she also revised her opinion of George Wickham, Charlotte Lucas, and Charles Bingley. These were significant changes but Elizabeth’s past was basically insignificant although she did have an overbearing mother, spoiled younger siblings, an older sister who was too reserved to openly demonstrate her feelings, and a father who gave in to his wife over most matters.

I began thinking of the heroine in “Jane Eyre” Charlotte Bronte’s novel about a young orphaned woman who was initially abused by her Aunt’s family. She left that home thinking only of anger and revenge but Helen Burns taught her tolerance; Jane later forgave her aunt. Jane had certain moral principles that she refused to change and this could have cost her the one true love of her life, Rochester. The most anguished scene, to me, in the book is when Jane emerges from her room emotionally spent and Rochester attempts to persuade her to live in sin with him; in her heart, she wants to go with him but she succeeds in thwarting the temptation and she leaves Thornfield. Of all the ‘Jane Eyre’ movies I’ve seen, not one demonstrates the horrendous anguish of Jane and Rochester as well as the book. In the end, she does decide to return to Thornfield even though she thinks it a lost cause; the question of what she would have done if the mad woman was still alive, comes to mind to the reader. Would she have reneged on her principles for the sake of love when she saw Rochester again? By the way, I have to say that Timothy Dalton does portray Rochester very well in the BBC series of ‘Jane Eyre’.
In writing a novel, it would seem more exciting if the two main characters have a past that evokes a certain behavior or sequence of events, until the ‘change’ occurs but whether or not a ‘past’ necessary is a good question and not one that I, due to my inexperience, can answer. A ‘change’, however, is needed.

1 comment:

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