Cut From the Classics: Dermott McDuck -The Toast

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Cut from the Classics brings your favorite novels to life as never before. Each week we present a profile of a character who originally appeared in the first draft of a major work of fiction, but was subsequently cut from the final draft. This insight into each author’s process brings a fuller, richer sense of their body of work. Previously: Bettina Thrush.

Book: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography
Author: Charlotte Brontë, as Currer Bell
Publication Date: 1847

Character: Dermott McDuck

Written in England in 1845, Jane Eyre is a fictionalized autobiography which tells the story of an intelligent, if plain, orphan girl and the dramatic turns of fortune that befall her on the road to true love and happiness. As a novel, it toes the line between heavy-handed morality and the more histrionic prose typical in the prose of romantic and gothic writers of the age. Its author, Charlotte Brontë, was a member of an artistic family which also included sisters and fellow authors, Emily and Anne, and ne’er-do-well brother and friend of Rossetti, the tubercular painter Branwell Brontë [1. “Brr It’s Cold In Here: TB In The Historical Atmosphere”, Perry Gunderson, Hip-Hop Historical Press, Muncie Indiana, 2000].

Beloved by generations, the story tracks Jane from early childhood, where she is shunted off to a tragically unfunded boarding school for the unwanted at the behest of her vindictive Aunt-By-Marriage. While Jane does not care for the school, the majority of its educators, or its frigid climes, she is relieved to be free of her hated cousins, and of the ghost of her uncle which haunts the “red room”[2. “From Bronte to Kubrick: Red Rooms And What They Hold”, Stephen D. King, esq., Top Heavy Tomes, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1973] of his former abode.

Jane rebels against the institution which seeks to make her pliant and to conform her personality to society’s strictures regarding the role of an impoverished, solitary woman. She learns patience and to take solace in God’s love from her only friend Helen Burns, who, shortly thereafter, dies of consumption[3. “TB 2 B Forgotten: Consumption Tales – A Graphic Novel in 34 parts”, Lorraine Brussoli, Lincolnshire Books, York, Maine, 2011 – Ongoing]. Upon graduation, Jane bides her time teaching[4. “Those who can’t: A Compendium Of Educators”, Steffie Grisbacher,, 2009] before eventually finding employment as a governess to the young Adele Varens, the bastard charge of one Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall.

The story as presented through this point, should be a familiar one. It is, however, upon Jane’s arrival to Thornfield Hall where the first draft of Brontë’s seminal work takes a distinct left turn. The fundamentals of the tale are the same, and even some specific details appear as we now know them. The isolation of the impressive if haunting manor is tempered by the comic relief of characters such as the partially deaf housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and Jane’s charge, the young, naively precocious Adele. Jane’s interest is piqued by the mysterious charms of the over-bearing and unattractive and emotionally manipulative Master of the House Edward Fairfax Rochester.

One crucial element however, is vastly different. While in the completed version of the novel we know, each chapter is narrated by Jane herself, in the first draft, upon her arrival at Thornfield Hall, Jane’s chapters alternate with those of a character foreign to modern readers. This character identifies himself as being one Dermott McDuck. His introduction is confusing, to say the least[5. “Say What Now?: Baffling Book Bits”, Binkie Bascom, Binkie’s Bookings, Bajaoina Brazil, 1999].

McDuck’s earliest contributions make it clear that we are dealing with the classic trope of the outsider narrative. In this, and this alone do we see any overlap between McDuck and Jane Eyre herself. McDuck describes his home as being “the thorny bush and barren crag of this braw place.”[6. “Jane Eyre”, Charlotte Bronte, first draft, page 274, 1852] He goes on to detail the events of his day; sleeping in the underbrush of the lush Thornfield property, fleeing Rochester’s recalcitrant hound, Pilot, and observing the setting sun with a touching lyricism and strangely matter-of-fact discussion of storm cycles as though he were in their midst. Is McDuck a poacher, a reprobate, does he wish harm upon the residents of the Thornfield and its inhabitants? He is certainly not a derelict member of the household staff, as outside of his own contributions he is not mentioned by Jane at any other part of the story.

The mystery of McDuck is finally solved when he describes witnessing Rochester and Jane’s first dramatic and muchly-anticipated embrace while feasting upon crumbs provided him by Adele at the behest of the kitchen’s cook[7. “The girl had yet again brought me the scrubby leavings of her high-born french biscuits. Though I ate them, my heart was with memories of the cook’s finer fare, such as last week’s beef Wellington. I made my complaints known to the girl who only clapped her hands and danced in tiny circles thus proving my theory regarding the limited intelligence of the French to be quite correct,” – Dermot McDuck, “Jane Eyre”, Charlotte Bronte, Draft One, page 333, 1852.]. McDuck, is, in fact, not a human voyeur obsessed with the goings on of the highborn house and its occupants, but rather, is an actual duck who for reasons unimaginable Brontë has enlisted as her second narrator in anthropomorphic form[8. Newly discovered journals belonging to Brontë indicate early revisions of the novel reimagined Rochester altogether, casting in place of the dark and stormy male, a black stallion with a penchant for tophats and an ability to do magic. ].

McDuck, as research soon makes clear, is Brontë’s attempt to write a novel for a younger audience. Having been told by her first editor[9. Adam C. Rubles, of Rubles Management, Inkymainforte, The Isle of Wight] that her writing style was too florid and melodramatic to appeal to an adult audience[10. Fragments of letters from Rubles to the writer include phrases like “is Rochester truly foul of face, or perhaps foul of face but in such a manner as should be compelling upon a London stage?” and “Wait just a moment – are you a lady? I say! I SAY INDEED,” among others. ] Brontë recalibrated when it came to her approach. Rather than begin a new novel, Brontë attempted to insert McDuck as a concession to a potential new audience. While her effort must be applauded as modern and adaptable, the prose reveals a novelist as baffled by her efforts as would be her later biographers.

The impact this decision made upon the text is immeasurable. On the fateful day of Jane’s scheduled wedding to Rochester, he rails to the collected throng having been cornered into admitting that he is indeed, already married to a madwoman maintained in the Thornfield Hall attic. Rochester barks, “look there at [Jane] who stands so grave even at the very mouth of hell.” The novel then shifts gears, jarringly recounting how sick McDuck had made himself in the process of consuming all of the ill-fated wedding rice.

McDuck never refers to Jane, Rochester, or any other character by their given name. Instead he calls them things such as “the twiggy, pasty, looking one” and “the screaming fellow in the cloak.” McDuck’s oblivious nature and obsession with snack foods does provide temporary respite from the solemn events of the novel’s second half, but only until Jane flees Thornfield and takes to the moors in near madness. At this point, the modern reader has no idea that a drama of equitable proportions was taking place in the McDuck chapters.

Having grown rotund and lazy having been fed a steady diet including pate provided him by the hall’s residents[11. “Cannibal Animal: Fun With Near Rhyme” Duenna Plinth Harbee, Chunnel Nougat Press, Bottom Tuna, Rhode Island, 2012], McDuck’s round form catches the eye of Rochester’s drunken household staff member, Grace Poole. As Thornfield Hall burns to the ground, McDuck dodges the flames and the grasping calloused hands of Poole who is quite eager to make a meal of the duck she has been, in her view, fattening for a full year.

Rochester may save all but Bertha from the fiery blaze, but scholars argue that it is in McDuck that the full allegory of redemption is realized. Having escaped Poole’s clutches, McDuck finds himself to be, like Rochester before him, blinded by drifting cinders. Jane eventually returns to Rochester, having been summoned by the call of his voice through time and space. McDuck finds no such solace, and eventually makes of himself an offering to Grace, acknowledging that it was his gluttony that served as his undoing. Because he is, in fact, a duck, Grace does not find his somber quacking intelligible, but has no hesitation in making a meal of him which she shares with no one, save Pilot who feasted upon his very bones.

Eventually, Brontë shelved this effort at writing for children, removing McDuck, severing her connection with her first editor, and submitting her novel for publication under the name Currer Bell. Though McDuck’s presence as a bizarre novelty is surely missed, his memory lives in the form of the popular Aflac insurance company spokescreature, “The Aflac Duck”. The advertisements for this campaign were written by distant Brontë descendant, Hymie Brontë Jurgenson whose continuing mission is to see that the memory of McDuck never dies, and to provide discount, freelance, copywriting services to mid-level advertising agencies in the greater Pacific Northwest[12. Contact information available upon request. Rates reasonable and competitive.]

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance humorist living in Brooklyn. Her work is on the internet.

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