Category Archives: Featured

Whatever Happened to little Adele?

Charlotte Brontë by J.H. Thompson
(Wikimedia Commons)

(or, how Jane Eyre may have gone from being Cinderella to being the Wicked Stepmother)

What happened to little Adele? Did she get her happily ever after? Or did she, like her stepmother before her, become the next generation’s lonely, unwanted “Cinderella”?

At the end of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, all seems well. Jane is reunited with Rochester and they have a son; Diana and Mary Rivers are both married, with families of their own; and St. John Rivers is a devoutly successful missionary in India. However, it is the question of Adele, Rochester’s illegitimate daughter, that remains ambiguous. Despite all the assurances offered the reader in the final chapter, there are lingering doubts. Readers are told Jane needs to devote all her time to Rochester, and thus sent Adele to a “more indulgent” school where her “French defects” were corrected, and that she grew up to be a “docile, good-tempered, and well-principled” young lady.

So Jane was too busy being a wife and mother to her newborn son to continue teaching Adele herself. Understandable. Why, then, did she not simply hire another governess? Why send Adele away? The answer may lie in how Jane sees her past, her journey and, ultimately, herself.

As a child in the home of her Aunt Reed, Jane felt severely out of place and neglected by the only family she knew. She was also a pauper at the mercy of her of her late uncle’s wife. Despite these circumstances, she becomes first a woman capable of earning her own living, then a wealthy heiress and finally the wife of not only the man she loves, but one who is also a member of the landed gentry. Adele could simply be a reminder of a past Jane would rather forget.

Jane may have chosen not to hire another governess because of how she came to be Mrs. Rochester; presumably, the story was still circulating through the regional gossip mill. Another person, especially one who had seen the story unfold, even little Adele, was just too dangerous to keep around. Until she had firmly asserted herself as mistress of Ferndean and Rochester’s wife, Jane did not want in her household any other woman who could become a rival for Rochester’s affection.

There is, however, a darker possibility. The parallels between Jane’s treatment of Adele and Mrs. Reed’s treatment of Jane are eerie. Both Adele and Jane were, for the most part, orphans dependent on relatives for support and neither was responsible for their situation. Adele was very young when she lost her mother, and if Rochester is her father he does not recognize her — but he does bring her to England in an attempt to “put things right.” Similarly, when Jane’s parents died, her uncle took her in as an attempt to mitigate the damage done to her, however indirectly, by her grandparents. Mrs. Reed dealt with Jane by sending her to Lowood Institution; Jane deals with Adele by sending her away. Looked at this way, Adele and Jane’s suffering is not accidental or their fault, but the result of a pattern of neglect within the Rochester and Reed families that was passed on from one generation to the next. Thus Jane’s treatment of Adele is simply and woefully the fulfillment of the Rochester-Reed family legacy.

So, during the course of the novel Jane goes from being the powerless child at the mercy of relatives to being the older relative with power over an orphan, from “Cinderella” to the “wicked stepmother.” Jane may have sent Adele away to school because she had become the very Aunt Reed she feared and disliked as a child.

Phillip English & the Identity Politics of Material Culture

The home of Phillip and Mary English was built in 1685 on Essex Street in Salem, Massachusetts.
(Image from University of Missouri)

Material culture is fascinating. It can be as simple as a flint arrowpoint or as elaborate as hand gilded furniture, as beautifully functional as a Wedgwood teacup or as ridiculously simple as a copper kettle — the pieces available for interpretation are varied and many. Understanding how it shapes identity, how it alters and creates cultural identity, is more challenging.

The story of Phillip English (or Philippe L’Anglois), a Jersey merchant who immigrated to Salem in the seventeenth century, is an excellent example. A merchant who brought foreign goods to New England, he also forced the insular Puritan community to cope with those unlike themselves — and in the process created a new cultural identity. He prospered in his given profession as an Anglicized Frenchman in a British colony, forcing his contemporaries to acknowledge not only the necessity of his presence, but his intrinsic worth as well. In the interim, however, by creating and maintaining an identity separate from the other Salem merchants, he occupied a psychological and cultural borderland. This created tensions with his Puritan neighbors, true, but the psychological space in which they met and conducted their business gave rise of the “polite consumer culture” of the eighteenth century.

That Phillip English was partially responsible for the rise of a polite consumer culture that eventually modeled itself on Georgian gentility is not surprising. Much of what he imported were goods popular among the gentility. His actions, coupled his very existence in that time and place, contributed to the transition away from Puritan homogeneity to commercial homogeneity. The interplay between commerce and culture transformed the social universe, because “polite culture” was concerned more with outward symbols of success than it was eternal salvation. Once gentility became a sign of economic and social prosperity, your appearance became everything. To be part of this imagined community required purchasing its trappings.

This meant people were not only purchasing an identity, they were altering culture through the acquisition and display of new and exotic goods. A New England origin for the idea of “keeping up with the Jones,'” perhaps?

Of course, the meaning given to material goods can change and, subsequently, change culture. Those who believed that the luxurious possessions they owned reflected their worth identified as Georgian gentility. At the same time, others who were resistant to capitalism and the new culture unfolding, and those of the lower classes, saw those objects quite differently. This difference of interpretation became more evident as the eighteenth century wore on. The culmination of this reinterpretation was the result of the Patriots, who created new meanings for material goods and the connection between them and a person’s character.

By altering those meanings, the Patriots (and earlier, those opposed to the polite consumer culture) distinguished themselves and their politics from everyone else. This began to alter culture. With their emphasis on purchasing domestic goods as opposed to foreign imports, the Patriots created an “American” identity that endures to this day.

Isn’t it interesting how what we choose to buy, or not buy, reflects our culture and cultural perceptions? Material goods can alter or even create culture and culture alters and creates material goods.

For more on this topic, and to learn about Phillip English’s brush with the Salem Witchcraft Trials, read Purchasing Identity in the Atlantic World by Phyllis Hunter.

Historic Banknotes to be Auctioned

Two rare North Carolina banknotes will go up for auction on June 9. Both come from the personal collection of Henry Fries Shaffner, one of the original founders and first chairman of the Wachovia Bank and Trust Company.

The oldest of the two is an 1866 $5 note from the First National Bank of Salem, believed by the National Banknote Census to be the only one of its kind. The signature at the bottom is right belongs to the bank’s founder and first president, Israel George Lash, the grandson of Jacob Loesch, one of the eleven original Moravian settlers who traveled from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 1753.

The Moravians named the tract of land they settled “Wachovia” after the Wachau area of the Danube Valley, home to the estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, the Austrian who sheltered them from religious persecution after they fled their homeland in Bohemia and Moravia (what is today the Czech Republic). There they built a town called Herrnhut on his estate, Berthelsdorf.

The town the Moravians founded in North Carolina was called Salem, and eventually merged with neighboring town Winston to create Winston-Salem. Parts of the original village survive as the living history site Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

The second note is an 1882 $20 note, called a “Brown Back,” from the Wachovia National Bank of Winston; it is only one of four known to exist. It has the signatures of William A. Lemly, bank president, and James A. Gray, cashier. The bank in 1910 merged with the Wachovia Loan and Trust Company to form the Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, with Colonel Francis Fries its as president and Gray as its first vice president. Henry Fries Shaffner, collector of the two banknotes, was the nephew of Colonel Fries and served as the bank’s secretary/treasurer.

— Some information taken from a history compiled by Louis A. Shaffner

Searching for Hermione Granger (in art)

Now that all the Harry Potter films have been released, I’ve decided to bring up something that has bothered me since the first film came out. (Well, one of the things that bothers me, at any rate. There are so many to choose from, even for someone who thought the last three books were a ridiculous travesty.)

Emma Watson is a lovely young woman and a good actress. She does a believable job portraying J.K. Rowling’s smart, driven muggleborn witch. The problem is that, despite this, she’s just too pretty to be Hermione Granger. And, with the exception of the first film, her hair is nothing like our favorite bookworm’s.

So where to find Hermione Granger? After giving it some thought, I nixed looking at actresses and started looking at art, specifically nineteenth century to begin with. Eventually I compiled a list of likely candidates. Few are perfect, but most could — with some tweaks — be the bushy-haired bookworm.

La Pia de Tolomei

The first two are by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the 19th century painter, poet and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The first is La Pia de Tolomei, above, which depicts a young woman sitting in a garden with a sundial and a Bible or catechism book (as opposed to any other book, since there’s a rosary on top of it). The model was Jane Burden Morris, wife of fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Morris; her hair is too red and her eyes green, but otherwise she is very much Hermione – with strong features and “bushy” hair.

Mona Vanna

The second is Monna Vanna. The model was Alexa Wilding; again, the hair color isn’t quite right, but this could otherwise be adult Hermione.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

John William Waterhouse’s 1908 Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May could very easily be Hermione. The model’s hair, while pulled back in two section on either side, is clearly of the curly/bushy variety and it’s the right color. She is also not too pretty, but there is something striking about her. Perhaps it’s the roses she’s offering or the admonition of poet Robert Herrick in “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” from which the painting’s title is taken.

Most of Waterhouse’s models remain unknown, but given the date of this piece she could be Aline Henderson or possibly Gwendoline Gunn.

A Young Beauty With Flowers In Her Hair

The final image is by Peruvian painter Albert Lynch. A Young Beauty with Flowers in her Hair epitomizes Hermione as she may have looked at the Yule Ball, with bushy hair tamed by Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion.

These are just a few possibilities; I’ll post more later. Meanwhile, have you found Hermione in art?

Images courtesy of Art Renewal Center