Academic journal article Hecate

From the Golden Courtesan

Academic journal article Hecate

From the Golden Courtesan

Article excerpt

This is an excerpt from the fifth chapter of Shady Cosgrove's The Golden Courtesan. Set in the 1830s, the novel responds to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in a Rhysian tradition by exploring the life of Edward Rochester's mistress, Celine Varens. Celine was an opera dancer/courtesan and mother to Adele Varens (the child who inspired Jane's arrival at Thornfield).

A few nights later, around eleven, I heard Rochester arrive. I was closing my window against the chill when his horse pulled up. He had been to dinner. I had been invited, but declined because of rehearsals.

I was excited by how the opera was progressing. That afternoon, we had been trying on costumes and altering them to fit. I loved watching the way my complexion changed entirely depending on the hue I wore. Taking up hems and bringing in waistlines, I felt my shoulders relax; my heart wasn't so anxious.

In my boudoir, I was distracting myself with fantasies about the upcoming opening night--audience responses, critics' reviews--when I heard Rochester's voice downstairs, loud and angry. Unpleasant English words echoed up the stairs. Generally he was not a heavy drinker, but it sounded as if he had too much rum with his dinner.

Sarah told him to wait and she would fetch me, but he wouldn't be stopped. I heard heavy footsteps approaching and with one sharp movement, my heavy door was thrown open, its momentum alarming. His face was twisted and uneven. It almost seemed his eyes and mouth had been stretched further apart than normal. His nostrils were large, reminding me of an uncontrolled dog.

'I am going to London,' he said.

In my head were images from the stage, the costumes. I was thinking of box offices and tickets. His speech slurred and he steadied himself against the bedpost. I made to approach him, but he beat his hand in the air to ward me off.

'What are you talking about?' I spoke English. I enunciated carefully.

'What are you talking about?' he mocked my French intonations and snickered.

'What is the cause of this?' I wondered if he was he upset I hadn't accompanied him to dinner. He seemed jovial upon leaving though, unconcerned about my previous commitments.

'Mistress. Mistrust. The words are not so far apart from each other, are they?'

I stared at him.

'You wouldn't miss me, would you? Though you might miss this lovely apartment, true? Your earrings? Your dresses?' He gingerly touched a gown hanging in my open wardrobe.

'You would miss this too, wouldn't you?' he said, staggering over to the vanity and picking up my hand mirror. It seemed small in his hand as if belonging to a doll. I steadied my voice.

'You are making no sense, Rochester. What is this about?'

He snarled with the anger of an animal. I tried again, my voice expressing a calm I did not feel.

'Perhaps you should go to your hotel. We'll continue this discussion in the morning. You'll wake the entire house,' I said.

His arms tightened, but he didn't move, the mirror rigid in his fist. Rochester's body seemed to expand slightly each time his pulse jerked within his chest. He stood watching me.

'Do you enjoy your friend, Bourdelais?'

'What--'

'I may well have surprised you tonight. Perhaps I arrived and you were out. I let myself into your room. I waited on the balcony, surprised to see him on your arm when you returned. You didn't know I was here, listening in on your chatter. You spoke dismissively of me before ...'

He addressed the room as if it bore witness to events he detailed. The candles in the chandelier flickered overhead and he seemed to take this as evidence to support his case.

'What are you talking about? There is nothing between Bourdelais and myself,' I said to the dimming room.

His jaw relaxed, but his face looked heavy, tired.

'Rochester .. …

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