Nelly Dean, Virginia Wolf, and Jane Austen – Oh My!

Hello lovely readers! I hope you all are doing fabulously. Today I’m introducing a new weekly post on Lissy Reads called Read Worthy Links.

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In my time online I’ve come across some interesting articles that have gotten me to dig deeper into what I’m reading. I think my experience would be made even greater if I shared the articles with you all so we can discuss.

I’m hoping to share at least one article with you every week, but it will be on a random day because I really want these articles to be interesting, and I’m afraid if I make it a set day every week I’ll be posting just to post, instead of sharing really cool things.

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…anyways! I’ve been on a Bronte kick for about a week or so. I get an inkling to read Wuthering Heights every so often because I’m such a glutton for punishment when it comes to Catherine and Heathcliff and their story is just… UGH.

It’s become common knowledge, especially since the thing has wiggled its way into my work-in-progress, so when my friend texted me a link with the caption: “Read this but more important, get to the part where they talk about Nelly. Then consider, does [WIP] have a Nelly?” I had to drop everything and read it.

The Bronte’s Secret actually discusses all three Bronte sisters, but I really honed in on Emily and Wuthering Heights and a novel about Nelly Dean (can you hear me scream in excitement?) There’s a section dedicated to Nelly’s agency and how, because she’s able to form her own opinions about her employer, she plays a much more deliberate part in the story than people have readily admitted.

I’m not sure if she actually meant any harm, but I know that Nelly’s morals definitely paid a part in how she reacted to the lovers, and she may have caused more harm than good in the process.

And yes, my work-in-progress does have it’s own Nelly Dean.

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The Real Mr. Darcy is a quick, cute read that didn’t capture much of my attention until the end (if you have strong feelings about socially awkward Darcy, you may like the full thing). But a passage did catch my eye:

Austen wrote in her parlor and would hide her writing whenever callers stopped by. At the British Library it is open, with very small spectacles pinned to one corner and the tiny notebook that held the first draft of Persuasion lying on top of it, splayed flat so you can see Austen’s fine, precise handwriting. Under the shadow of that desk, the disciplined confinement of her novels acquires visceral force. This much space was she permitted, and no more.

In the display case next to Austen’s desk is Dickens’s first draft of Nicholas Nickelby, in a notebook that dwarfs Austen’s entire desk, with generous margins and looping, scrawly handwriting. It is impossible for me to imagine what Austen might have done with that kind of freedom, that kind of certainty of her own right to take up space.

This idea of space, of having room to create, has been a topic of interest for a couple of years for me. I remember going to a writer’s conference back in 2014 and attending a panel run by former classmates. Using Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own, the two panelists discussed women and how each created their own “rooms,” which basically meant spaces and time for themselves. They discussed Wolf herself, Lord of the Rings, and Katniss in The Hunger Games. I really should look back at my notes from this session because it was really interesting. I remember that Katniss’s room was her self-sufficiency, her choices, whereas Wolf discusses a physical Room in her work.

I can’t help but bring Nelly Dean back here in this conversation of rooms and space. In literature and in real life, women have found spaces to write, to breath, to be. Emily Bronte gave this privilege of the time to a servant. She made Nelly the most reliable source for Catherine and Heathcliff’s story (the question of her actual reliability can be discussed in the comments, yes)? The choice is one I really wish I could pick her brain about.

So now I wonder at how back then, women like Austen and Wolf and Bronte must have really felt their stories needed to be told. Otherwise, we might not have them at all. I am thankful for their creative spaces. Hopefully they’ll help me in creating mine.

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