A lumber-room of her own: attics in Pamela and Jane Eyre.
Pamela's lumber-room creates a historical perspective that allows Richardson tacitly to acknowledge all the unused but nonetheless stored literary lumber that went into his novel: the amatory, the seduction, and the roman a clef narratives. The lumber-room itself eluded architectural description and definition in the eighteenth-century, but largely represented a storehouse. This curious architectural site--a space that stores, changes, and records those very changes--allegorizes the way Richardson tucks away the leftover and latent legacies of the earlier novelistic narratives into the interiority of his domestic novel. Richardson's use of the lumber-room in Pamela as a generic node anticipates Bronte's re-purposing of the attic in Jane Eyre. I argue that Richardson and Bronte drew from the same eighteenth-century pool of symbolic associations and deployed the lumber-room as a symbolic space of storage, liminality, and transformation. For Richardson the lumber-room marks the moment before the domestic novel was fully formed, and he uses it to establish his own vision of the novel, which both acknowledges and dismisses earlier seduction narratives. But Bronte uses the attic to disrupt Richardson's view and instead shows that the novel is a dynamic and unstable genre.
Several literary scholars have noted the abundance of spatial descriptions in eighteenth-century novels, and in Pamela in particular. However, these scholars usually overlook the significance of the lumber-room and focus instead on the closet. Robert Folkenflik in "A Room of Pamela's, Own" (1972) observes that Pamela includes an "extraordinary number of spatial locutions, one after the other" (586-7). But out of these many spaces, Folkenflik focuses on the closet as the one that signifies Pamela's textual agency. He argues, "Mr. B's conversion is marked by the shift in function of Pamela's closet. This room becomes the scene and touchstone of their formally changing relationship" (591). He notes that by the eighteenth century, the closet was known to be a "room off a bedroom or another one," which was characteristically "used as [a] room for reading and writing" (590-1). The fact that Pamela secures her epistolary agency at Lincolnshire--she reads and writer's her letters there--recommends the closet as a defining site that authorizes her subjectivity.
Michael McKeon in The Secret History of Domesticity (2006) refracts that argument through a reading of Pamela as a secret history and states that Richardson's novel discloses "traditional or elite secrets" and creates "an internalization of public concerns" (470). Thus, he discusses Pamela's closets in terms of secrets and subjectivity:
When Mrs. Jewkes spies her parcel of writing through the "Closet" "Keyhole," Pamela fears that her "private Thoughts" and "Secrets" will become known. The key to actual names has modulated to the keyhole that opens into the concrete inner recesses of the mind" (657)
Folkenflik and McKeon both read the abundance of closet passages and their attendant details (the "keyhole" and "the room off a bedroom") as indications of the internal recesses of Pamela's thoughts.
I want to shift attention away from such well-examined spaces as the closet and instead highlight the lumber-room as an overlooked site that transforms the traditional internal focus of domestic narratives. This paper builds on Cynthia Wall's convincing notion in The Prose of Things (2005) that spaces in eighteenth-century novels were "implied" sites that fitted "action within carefully chosen contours" with "their features rising obediently and handily at the first beckoning of plot, time, and space" (Wall 124). Rather than defining novelistic spaces with details, a holdover from Ian Watt's formulation of formal realism, Wall frames descriptive space with narrative dimension and perspective:
Ordinary interior space rarely zooms into view, unless some extraordinary event explodes within. And, even then, what is viewed is, not the visual entirety of Jane's Red Room, but a floor plan, a two-dimension and unfocused space called the "Chamber," the "Parlour," or the "Kitchen," rather than a fully realized set of rooms all decked out with someone's choices in fabric, color, furniture, and ornament. (124)
Wall and Folkenflik agree that the majority of descriptions in Pamela exist as "locutions" or "two-dimensional" descriptors. But where Folkenflik assumes that spaces exist only within Pamela's narrative, Wall claims that space can serve as markers outside the narrative, contextualizing the novel within and without. Extending that perspective, I argue that the lumber-room functions internally and externally: it conveys the domestic moments in the novel, but it also serves an external function, which marks the extra-narrative moments in the novel.
The lumber-room exists both as a space called to narrative action--rather than embedded within it--and as a space that exposes the underlying narrative structure. This site provides a new kind of internalization (or storage) that domesticates the literary lumber not yet ready to be domesticated. Because the lumber-room lacks a definable material history, Richardson can exploit its mutable quality in order to render a novelistic space that draws attention to his generic undertaking in Pamela. The sheer exiguity of the lumber-room's reference in Pamela (it is only mentioned twice in the course of 503 pages of the novel and offers little if any narrative details) demands that it operates implicitly and behind the scenes. Richardson only alludes to the space (rather than exhaustively describing it) because the lumber-room was not yet ready to be domesticated formally in the novel. Instead, the lumber-room registers in Pamela all the topoi foreign to the novel's domestication process.
In the eighteenth century, the lumber-room's obscure material history and its rich symbolism allowed both architects and writers to inscribe and re-inscribe the space with meaning. Eighteenth-century architectural texts tell little about the lumber-room. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition of the lumber-room as a "room for the reception of lumber or disused chattels." The lumber-room is essentially a junk room, a space that stores heterogeneous materials that have fallen out of use but still represent a potential for future deployment. Curiously, the word lumber-room takes on the material meaning of the "disused" and overlooked component of its architectural counterpart.
The description of and designation for the lumber-room is marked by an unaccounted for, obscure, and liminal characteristic that opposes the functional and symbolic fixity of such notable and public rooms such as the parlor and the grand hall, which filled detailed page after page in architectural texts. As a result, the lumber-room took on a negative quality: unlike the parlor (a space of domestic sociability) or the closet (a locus of privacy), the lumber-room lacks a fixed social meaning and instead stores and is itself stored within the layers of an obscure spatial semiotics that can be shaped and filled with myriad definitions and symbolic associations.
For instance, Colin Campbell, one of the pre-eminent eighteenth-century architectural writers, in his highly popular treatise of various floor plans, Vitruvius Britannicus, included several substitute names for the "lumber-room," such as "garret," "attic," and "attic story"--three interchangeable terms for the same space. And while Vitruvius Britannicus, a popular eighteenth-century architectural treatise, provides detailed descriptions of other rooms--including dimensions, prominent uses, and developmental histories for closets and parlors--it fails to provide equally detailed information about the lumber-room, an omission which suggests that the space itself was considered an architectural afterthought in the ideologies of housing design in the eighteenth century (Vol. 2: 37, 51). Even in modem architectural histories, authors pore over the detailed origins and growth of "major" rooms--noting the relationship between their architectural locations and their functional meanings--while resigning the lumber-room to a mere footnote.
The lumber-room's obscurity may result from its interface status as a room that typically exists between two spaces in floor plans and divides the attic from top-story floors. The earliest written definition of the lumber-room in the 1719 dictionary Glossographia Anglicana Nova by Thomas Blount describes it as a "false roof, of a house," which is "that part ... between the upper rooms and covering." This definition exhibits the lumber-room's liminal status, which places it "between" two visible structures (Blount). The use of the attribute "false" freights the lumber-room with the quality of being "not essential or permanent" and even fictional, which shifts the lumber-room's mutability, obscurity, and liminality into a symbolic register. Between visibility and absence, reality and fiction, the lumber-room is suspended in a middle state of disguised visibility, a status that can be shaped, formed, and re-formed by the viewer and architectural designer. Therefore, the lumber-room becomes a site that takes on an interstitial state between literal fixity and abstract obscurity. Within that negative space, the lumber-room made room for an implied space that eighteenth-century writers mined for meaning.
The lumber-room's figural meanings proved more prevalent than its material meanings, and therefore, it became largely a symbolic term for eighteenth-century writers. In Nicholas Baker's Size of Thoughts (1997), Baker traces the etymologies of the word lumber and lumber-room and notes their prevalent figurative usages: "the mind has been called a lumber-room, and its contents or its printed products described as lumber, since about 1680" (208). Baker examines the eighteenth-century symbol of the lumber-room as a mind that stores "its contents or its printed products." I extend his definition to show how the lumber-room shares a kinship with literary products.
The literary lumber of printed products creates the space's storage function as a metaphoric locus of writing and reading, a space where heterogeneous thoughts, ideas, and motifs are stored until made useable. Unlike the closet's defined function as a place for "reading and writing," the lumber-room emphasizes the technological apparatus that links early print technology to the mind and material books to the marketplace. Rather than requiring a figurative keyhole to access the internal thoughts of a secret history, the lumber-room itself turns history into allusion, storing the sedimented narrative and generic past in its obscure and hidden confines until such time that novelists, like Charlotte Bronte, unearth it in the nineteenth-century domestic novel.
Richardson writes Pamela as an allegory about genres, specifically the novel genre, from the perspective of the lumber-room. It emerges as a spatial figure for Samuel Richardson, whose generic work takes place both in the text (as narrative signposts for different genres) and about the text (as allegorical signposts that expose the discursive interplay among genres in Pamela). By invoking the space as a literary place-holder, Richardson uses the lumber-room to stage both the transformation of his character Pamela and his novel entitled Pamela: one as the besieged maid turned proper wife and the other as a fledgling ephemeral fiction turned established canonical text. The lumber-room, therefore, represents a place where Richardson can stabilize the otherwise mutable genre.
The only explicit passage about the lumber-room occurs midway through the novel at a pivotal point where two plot strands intersect. The first strand involves a seduction narrative in which a rake (Mr. B) assails the virtue of a maiden (Pamela) with unwanted kisses at the estate's summerhouse, and the second concludes with a love narrative that converts the earlier seductions into a marriage plot. By the second half of the novel Mr. B's intention changes from libertine to domestic when he assuages Pamela's fear of a sham marriage and declares his personal reformation by instituting a spatial rearrangement of his family's "lumber-room" into a "little chapel." In the following passages, an interchange between Pamela and Mr. B about the possible location of their marital ceremony, Richardson mentions the lumber-room and its metamorphosis into the chapel:
But, Sir, did you say in the Housel Ay, said he; for I care not how privately it be done; and it must be very publick if we go to Church. It is a Holy Rite, Sir, said I, and would be better, methinks in a Holy Place. I will order my own little chapel, which has not been used for two generations, for any thing but a lumber-room, because our family seldom resided here long together, to be cleared and cleaned, and got ready for the ceremony, if you dislike your own chamber or mine. Sir, said I, that will be better than the Chamber, and it will never be lumbered again, but kept to Use, for which as I presume, it has been consecrated. O yes, said he, it has been consecrated, and that several Ages ago, in my Great Great Grandfather's Time, who built that and the good house together. (emphasis mine, 277-8)
Because Pamela's lumber-room lacks any realistic or descriptive details (its interior design, its location relative to other rooms), its historical context determines its narrative role. Mr. B plans on converting the seldom-used "lumber-room," literally vacated of meaning, into a "little chapel," a space read as honorable and stabilized by the ceremony and institution of marriage (277). Whereas other rooms of Mr. B's estates, such as the summer-house in Lincolnshire or Pamela's private chamber, offered the backdrop for a series of assaults and near-rapes, the conversion of the chapel can now allow all this to be "cleared and cleaned" in order to make way for a "ceremony" of marriage (276-7).
But this process of clearing and cleaning depends on the lumber-room's historical perspective. Mr. B tells Pamela that the lumber-room actually originated as a family chapel, was then converted into a lumber-room, and now is brought back in the form of the "little chapel" (277). Richardson positions the lumber-room not within a narrative perspective, which would detail the transformation, but within a historical perspective, which outlines the transition from an unused past ("not been used for two generations") to a future use (typified by Richardson's use of the future tense that the lumber-room "will" be ordered). The lumber-room lacks detailed history, both materially and narratively. By this I mean that its earlier state as the older chapel overwrites and skips over the lumber-room's existence: generations of obsolescence bury the older chapel into a lumbered memory. Even in the narrative history when Mr. B initially offers to stage the wedding in "your chamber or mine," Pamela opts for the lumber-room because--unlike either "chambers," which are replete with the history of Mr. B's seductions and Pamela's incarceration--the lumber-room stores history rather than makes it. Pamela's utterance, therefore, that the lumber-room "will be better than the Chamber" augurs the literary time when this sedimented space will rise into a "better" place in domestic novels (277).
Richardson not only orders the domestic novel, but he re-orders it using the mutable space of the lumber-room. The lumber-room orchestrates two poles of symbolic chapels: the older chapel of the landed gentry, which represents the older seduction narratives, and the newer chapel of a progressive middle-class system, which symbolizes Pamela itself and the newer novel of manners that will follow. Because of the vagaries of the lumber-room's actual location, Richardson provides not a spatial blueprint for its location in the Bedfordshire House but a generic blueprint for its implicit location in the narrative. He fails to identify where this lumber-room is located or how the inhabitants transform it into a chapel. Instead, he alludes to the space sporadically and obliquely, jumping from Mr. B's initial "ordering" to the actual wedding ceremony, a process that obscures the memory of the lumber-room's existence. While Mr. B states his intent to "order my own little chapel," he forgets--or neglects to mention--that the ordering in fact represents a re-ordering and re-consecration of a pre-existing structure.
By re-ordering the forms of the domestic novel, Richardson also draws on the definition of the lumber-room as a false or Active space. He uses the fictional quality of the lumber-room to call attention to the transformation of the "Sham-marriage" to a real marriage (276-7). After all, the first half of the novel requires a series of "sham" representations, necessary fictions that allow Mr. B to disguise his motives (and indeed, his actual person), to put the secret behind--and below--him in the lumber-room, and to proceed with the marriage. When she learns the truth, however, Pamela finds herself "an undone Creature, and a guilty harlot, instead of a lawful wife" (225). So far this situation follows the conventions of a seduction narrative. But the lumber-room's fictional quality prevents the seduction narrative from playing out and enables Pamela and Mr. B's real marriage in the second half of the novel. Using this Active quality, Richardson works a seamless and necessarily fictional transition from the seductive mode ("guilty harlot" and "sham-marriage") to the new domestic mode ("lawful wife").
However, the lumber-room reveals at the transitional moment the loose thread, the memory of the "sham-marriage," that draws attention to his uneven stitching of his generic work. At this a site, despite the elision of "guilty harlot" and "lawful wife," the problem of appearance remains. Richardson's placement of the lumber-room in the narrative invites readers to note a shift fraught with and haunted by the sham-marriage of two seemingly incompatible narratives and genres. This placement also allows readers to observe the traces of the older seduction narratives, such as romantic secrets and illicit affairs, before it is "cleared and cleaned" for the completion of the marriage telos and novel genre.
Richardson uses artistic and editorial terminology to describe the space's transformation. Pamela notes that Mr. B plans that the lumber-room "should be all new white-wash'd, and painted, and lin'd" in preparation for the wedding (304). The textual resonance of the lumber-room as a trope for writing becomes legible. The verbs "white-wash'd," "painted," and "lin'd" all suggest artistic modifications, with the last term bearing the strongest connotations of writing as the creation of a "line" of text. "White-wash'd" invokes the connotation of editorial deletion, a step in a revisionary process that attempts to erase earlier traces. For example, Mr. B omits his romantic history with Sally Godfrey, a previous lover, until after he and Pamela are married. Richardson essentially whitewashes the past and lines it over with his marriage to Pamela. Moreover, these epistolary connotations fit into a novel whose very form relies on the written word through epistles that are also frequently "lin'd," blotted out, and revised. For instance, when Mr. B asks to read Pamela's package of letters, she in turn asks to "let me write over again one Sheet" containing some content that may reflect poorly on her husband-to-be (277). Pamela, the ultimate editor, essentially plans on "white-washing" the earlier accounts of Mr. B's libertine behavior towards her in the first half of the novel, thereby superscribing the narrative with a fresh coat of textual ink.
By the time the marriage occurs, Richardson, as if whitewashing the details of the latent genres' traces in his novel himself, omits any description or perspective of this new chapel. In line with the argument that Pamela may represent a roman a clef, McKeon notes that "in the end the ceremony is performed in a flurry of 'Secrecy' and as 'privately as possible' without incurring on Pamela's part the suspicion of a sham" (644). Richardson merely alludes to the "secret" of both the character's fear of a sham and his own novel's indebtedness to the roman a clef and chooses instead to sanctify both the marriage and his novel as his new work.
While Richardson goes to great lengths to frame the lumber-room as a figurative space of revision necessary to make Pamela a progressive novel, the room's liminal status complicates his vision, and, as a result, the lumber-room becomes a space of revision. If one aspect of the lumber-room gives Richardson an authorial space to transform his text into a novel genre and propel his vision teleologically forward, it simultaneously energizes Pamela with a reverse impulse, one that moves it backwards and reminds us that Richardson's vision of his "little chapel" of literature is in fact a re-vision that might threaten Pamela's newness. If the "little chapel" symbolizes the end product of Richardson's innovative generic transformation, the mere existence of an earlier chapel implies a cyclical process in the course of which Pamela could become, through time, the obsolescent chapel that another author might want to revise. Because Richardson worries over and anticipates the possibility of the future obsolescence of his work, he has Mr. B largely omit the existence of the old chapel in order to create, in Wall's terms, the "floor plans directed by the narrative" and the blueprint directed by Richardson's vision for his novel (124).
Despite the lumber-room's humble and adumbrated origins as a tucked-away space, the lumber-room proves to be one site that demands attention not just as a functional room in a house but also as a symbolic space of authorship. Charlotte Bronte gives proof of the room's figural durability when she converts Richardson's lumber-room into one of the most memorable attics in literature. Just as one chapel haunts another before it is renovated, and just as one sham marriage haunts another marriage until its legacy is cleared away, the attic in Thomfield Hall houses another physical and formal presence that must be faced before Jane Eyre/Jane Eyre, the title character and novel, can escape the narrative and structural constraints of its genre. While Bronte's attic locates the climactic site where modern scholars note the racial and colonial implications, which Susan Meyers identifies in "Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre" (1990), or the feminist symbolism of the attic's "mad" inhabitant, which Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar famously address in The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), the attic's spatial symbolism tends to get overlooked. The attic exists in a liminal state, stores disparate and obsolescent items, but re-purposes those unused items to renovate the space and narrative and gesture to the history of the domestic novel.
Bronte introduces Jane Eyre's attic first and foremost as a place of storage that holds relics of the past, a gesture that recalls the eighteenth-century symbolic association of the lumber-room with cognition and artistic creation. Unlike the empty lumber-room of Bedfordshire, the attic in Thomfield Hall stores material history in the form of "bedsteads of a hundred years old," unused "furniture [that was] once appropriated to the lower apartments [which] had been.. .removed here, as fashions changed," and other "relics" from the attic that infused Thomfield with "the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory" (Bronte 173). Thus, the association of the lumber-room with the mind takes actual form in Jane Eyre as a repository of the past or "memory." Moreover, Jane Eyre's attic holds the institutional memory of Rochester's family estate not merely as a vague and unusable historic "two generations" ago (Richardson 277) but also as specific "relics" and "bedsteads of a hundred years old," all of which bear traces of legacy and inheritance that ascend from the sedimented and forgotten "lower apartments" of domesticity to the higher and enshrined space of active history. Here Bronte describes the attic in detail, offering a "fully realized set of rooms all decked out with someone's choices in fabric, color, furniture, and ornament" (Wall 124). Though the itemized details here serve to refer back to an older site, one that relies on Richardson's transformative lumber-room, these memorabilia serve to remind the reader of Thomfield's and Jane Eyre's historical perspective.
The lumber-room's figurative capacity of bearing the literary lumber of "printed products" allegorizes the way Bronte stores and uses different genres to construct Jane Eyre. As a result, Bronte narrates Jane reading a heterogeneous collection of genres, from "old fairy tales and other ballads" (68) to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, and the League of Rats: A Fable by Fontaine (170). In a double move, the "shrine of memory" in Bronte's "attic" ostensibly pays homage both to Rochester's gentrified past and to the notable texts of the eighteenth century that Jane encounters in the novel. Even the name "Rochester" intimates a connection to the notorious seventeenth-century rakish poetry by Sir John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680). Given the strategy of titling a novel after the main character, Bronte's decision to have the eponymous character read other fiction represents the novel's incorporation of these works, so that one might say that Jane Eyre the novel reads and revises the other genres that precede it.
The attic also represents a liminal space that straddles a storied past and a progressive future and, as a result, creates a narrative node around which the marriage plot takes shape. During Jane's tour of the attic, she notes the vista from which she "surveyed the grounds laid out like a map" and focuses on the "tranquil hills," "the autumn day's sun," and most importantly the "horizon bounded by a propitious sky" (174). Given the homophony of Eyre and air, her name evokes a bird seeking to stretch her wings to independence, and the attic's vista plays along with the symbolic binary between grounded incarceration and aerial freedom. The attic's architectural location visually and figuratively separates, on the one hand, the narrative vantage point that displays the symbolic horizon between Jane's wish for the free "sky" and, on the other hand, the bounded architectural space that traps her. She notes the attic's liminal status when she observes that it "seemed black as a vault compared with that blue air" (174). Because of Jane's frequent description of Rochester's darkness, her phrase contextualizes her choice between the airy future of social freedom as an independent woman and the turbid prospect of an unequal marriage between people of different classes.
Bronte symbolically locates Jane's marital quandary in the attic, a narrative lacuna disguised by the mystery of the attic's inhabitant that Jane seeks to uncover. With the secret trap door, the "preternatural" laughter, and the shrieks that emanate from it, the attic shrouds itself in a gothic haze of suspense that also suspends the marriage plot (175). Earlier in the novel, Rochester, rather than simply omitting the history of the attic, hides and effectively re-writes the space's functional meaning as the Bertha's "cell," setting up the eventual transformation of the attic into a space around which the marriage plot pivots (291).
By overwriting and whitewashing this space, Bronte transforms the genre that Richardson hoped would bear his name on the final coat of literary paint. Bronte's use of the attic in Jane Eyre disrupts and displaces the spatial process of revision and sedimentation that Richardson's lumber-room negotiated between the two chapels. Unlike the way Richardson combines the lumber-room with the chapel into one transformative space, Bronte moves the marital ceremony away from the attic and into the family chapel near Thomfield Hall. Thus she divides the symbolic spaces of storage and sanctification and stages the events in two memorable but isolated locales. In contrast to Mr. B's localization at the lumber-room, Jane's marital process moves into a new and different site. As a result, Jane Eyre's attic represents no longer a static site of transformation but rather a dynamic site of relocation and displacement. Despite this difference, Jane Eyre and Pamela both employ the "chapel" space and situate it in the private setting of the family estate. Echoing Mr. B's wish that the marriage "shall be very private" for Pamela's sake in the "little chapel" in Lincolnshire, Rochester plans for a "private marriage ceremony" in the "gray old House of God" by Thomfield Hall (Richardson 270; Bronte 375).
Nonetheless, Bronte's relocation of the chapel breaks the cycle of change that Richardson's lumber-room mediates and thus stops the revisionary process. Counterpoised to Richardson's closed-circuit novelistic space that contains and stabilizes the spatial and symbolic revision where the lumber-room orchestrates the two chapels and their transformations, the attic's separation from the chapel short-circuits the symbolic changes. The attic, rather than undergoing a spatial transformation and paving the way for a chapel and its attendant symbolism of marriage, instead exposes its physical dislocation that corresponds to a symbolic rupture that obstructs the marital process. The rupture takes place when Mr. Mason reveals Rochester's existing marriage to Bertha and her incarceration in the attic; this effectively brings the marital past lumbered in the attic into the open and into the marital present of Jane's imminent wedding. In Pamela, Richardson's system recasts the return of Sally Godfrey as symbolic lumber that clears the way for Pamela's marriage; Bronte's return to the past, by contrast, halts and haunts that future marital prospect and prevents the union with Jane. At this point, the liminality of Bronte's attic breaks down and collapses within itself, causing a narrative and symbolic disaster. In Jane Eyre's attic, history exists and lives in the form of Bertha and rather than remaining a secret becomes public fact.
Jane Eyre's pivotal scene in the attic demonstrates the inability of that space to reconfigure the different narrative poles--Rochester's rakish history and Jane's marital prospects. As a result, that scene highlights the attic's destructive feature. In the pivotal moment of the failed marriage, Rochester leads the wedding party from the chapel to the attic in order to disclose the true nature of his marriage state and to reveal the identity of his first wife. To be sure, the attic maintains its metamorphic and heterogeneous nature as Rochester asks the party to "compare [Jane's] eyes with the red balls yonder--this face with that mask--this form with that bulk" (381). With the comparative description in the attic, Bronte juxtaposes Bertha and Jane to draw out a transformation between a current spouse and a potential one, but does so only to demonstrate the impossibility of such a positive transformation of disparate narrative features--from demon to angel, from legal marriage bonds to illicit nuptial promise. Instead, the attic stages a destructive transformation that breaks down past and future prospects when Jane asks, "Where was the Jane of yesterday ... where were her prospects?" (383). The attic's liminality between a transgressive past and a prospective future falls in on itself. Consequently, in the second half of the novel, Jane becomes lumbered like Bertha as the narrative buries her in isolation and obscurity: she returns to a life of poverty, changes her name, and lives as a relative recluse away from Thornfield Hall.
While Richardson's "white-wash'd" and newly "lin'd" lumber-room successfully erases his prior love affair with Sally Godfrey, Bronte's attic highlights the prior marriage. Bertha, the racial other and symbol of oppressed women, cannot be tacitly acknowledged, forgotten, erased, or even revised into a more salutary character in Jane Eyre. Though Sally Godfrey also represents a character similarly lumbered by time and symbolized within the space of the older chapel, her story is "lin'd" over by Pamela's marriage plot and continues through her care of Sally's daughter, leaving the lumber-room's transformation into Pamela's newer "little chapel" intact. But the attic fails to provide that narrative haven for Bronte's demonic Bertha. When Jane returns to Thornfield Hall after her hiatus from Rochester, she finds the estate in fiery ruin, learns that Rochester went up to the "attics when all was burning above and below," and calls out to Bertha, who stands perched on the roof before she "gave a spring" and ended up "smashed on the pavement" (528-9).
A far cry from Richardson's conversion of the lumber-room into a "little chapel," Bronte's attic literally and figuratively collapses under the weight of a character freighted with Bronte's feminist criticism. Bronte's "roof' on which Bertha stood becomes that "false roof' on which the author exposes the deceptive surface of gentrified life that must collapse in order for Jane Eyre to critique colonial, racial, and gendered politics of her time. Bronte's attic ultimately serves as a symbolic node that has been evacuated of Richardson's optimistic view of the marriage plot: it caves in. Rather than becoming a transformed space, its liminal status negates both the poles of Britishness and the racial other, or those of masculine and feminine authority.
It appears that Bronte's seeming destruction of the lumber-room entirely effaces Richardson's symbolic site. But another way to put it would be that Richardson's lumber-room in Pamela was already effaced, or not yet ready for incorporation into a domestic novel. History directly influenced Victorian novel genres (gothic novels and historical fictions), and Bronte's attic stores and uses those relics closer to the "false roof' and recognizable surface of the novel. Richardson's early attempt to stamp his legacy on the lumber-room combusts in Bronte's novel. The lumber-room's symbolic durability of the novel genre proves to be ephemeral because of its unstable and mutable nature, leaving it to Bronte to reconstruct a new novel genre from the ground up.
Had Bronte ended the novel with Jane's return to Thornfield Hall and her mournful recognition of the failure of marriage, Richardson's lumber-room, we could say, would have been written over. Instead, Bronte continues to narrate Jane's return to Rochester's secluded cottage of Ferndean. The now "stone-blind" and crippled Rochester, emasculated by his physical and emotional injuries and freed from his initial marriage, re-discovers Jane (529). And one of the most memorable lines, "Reader, I married him," establishes Jane Eyre to a recognizable literary legacy that, along with the symbolic attic, traces back to an earlier and unsettled moment of Pamela's own marriage denouement (552). Bronte dislocates and bums down the attic topos, removing it from the spatial process of generic transformation that ends on the stabilization of the marriage plot, and does so with Richardson's lumber-room in mind. The attic's destruction, given the eventual marriage between Jane and Rochester, implies a rebuilding and a re-consecration of a union initially unattainable but now possible.
Because the lumber-room acts as an ethereal placeholder for a genre Richardson innovated, the attic still remains a space of generic potential and transformation. Even though the topos stands apart from Thornfield's chapel, its sheer figurative mobility demonstrates its symbolic force, so that the "quiet wedding" in Ferndean circuitously completes the spatial and generic process that the attic initiated. Rochester's blindness demonstrates his inability and the general failure of a noble patriarchal system to re-envision a possible denouement under those terms. But Jane's role as his guide and support demonstrates her, and by extension Bronte's, re-visioning of a genre that follows Richardson's generic blueprint. Bronte, therefore, lists in her novel a series of books that young Jane encounters, which includes "passages of love ... taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or from the pages of Pamela" (65). That Bronte gestures to Richardson's groundbreaking novel during Bessie's reading lessons with Jane suggests that, despite Bronte's new construction of Jane Eyre, the symbolic power of the lumber-room to stand for novel experimentation and generic construction persists.
John Sung Han
Indiana University at Bloomington
(1) The lumber-room is best understood as an early version of a "junk room," where the excess or disused materials ("lumber") was stored. But the way this term itself stores other designations--attic, garret, etc.--demonstrates its symbolic power.
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|Author:||Han, John Sung|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2014|
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