The Emma Press

How I Wrote ‘Moths of the Red Room’ – Z. R. Ghani

A chilly gust hits you on your way in, threatening to extinguish the flame. Your mind is in turmoil, but all is well. The light, although feeble, is intact. There’s a bed in the corner, supported by gaudy mahogany pillars. Red drapes and curtains gather like wrinkles secreting dust wherever the light can find anything to shine on. The clamour of wings twisting out of a belfry resounds in your ears. No one comes here voluntarily, Reader, so why do you? Perhaps we all need reminding that we are flawed from time to time, that the existence of darkness, our own darkness cannot be denied. You may stay for as long as you like. Beware of the looking glass, however, for it distorts reality. Or you may uncover who you really are.

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The Red Room is where we confront our fears and once marked by the experience, we carry it with us for the rest of our lives. In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, the young Jane is thrown into the Red Room as a form of punishment by her austere Aunt Reed. The room is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of her deceased uncle. As night approaches, Jane’s fear gradually mounts, and she senses the ghost of her uncle in the room. She is soon overcome by the terror and collapses into a fit.

My English teacher gave me Jane Eyre to read when I was in secondary school. I accepted it reluctantly because it was a big book with an unappealing beige cover. I certainly didn’t expect it to move me as it did, with its emotional intensity, its rich descriptions of nature, its unflinching honesty and awareness of the spiritual over the physical. For a female protagonist, Jane is multi-faceted and endowed with many contradictions: she is fiery but reserved, sociable but solitary, romantic but pragmatic. It was refreshing to encounter this otherworldly female character. I drew many parallels between Jane and myself. We were both outsiders in our family home and driven by the urge to escape. I received her assertion for independence strongly: ‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being…’

Shortly after finishing Brontë’s book, I started writing. I sought to replicate similar emotions that the novel had stirred in me, and even if I couldn’t do that, I would spend a considerable amount of time attempting to. Many years later, with the same intention, I began writing the poems that would form In the Name of Red. One of the first poems I wrote for the collection was ‘Moths of the Red Room’.

Red is a unifying symbol in In the Name of Red and one of the reasons why I chose to write about it is because Jane’s fixation with the colour always intrigued me. She reacts to the sight of the red like a rook at the glint of a key. Mr Rochester’s drawing-room has a ‘crimson curtain hung before the arch’, and when Jane meets him at Thornfield for the first time, she remarks: ‘The fire shone full on his face’. Prior to Mr Rochester’s marriage proposal, the sun burns ‘with the light of (a) red jewel and furnace flame’, while the moon is ‘blood-red and half overcast’ the night before her failed wedding. Red is the symbol of Jane’s carnal, though repressed, desires – the objects and sensations that make her heart race. Jane follows red as if it is a calling, leading her into the next phase in her life, but she is also alerted by its auguring presence. Red is her signal fire. And of course, it is the colour of where her worst fears reside – the Red Room.

The room in question is a neglected space in a large manor house that is otherwise well-tended by servants. The fear of it being haunted by the ghost of a deceased relative causes it to be locked up and avoided. The symbol of this peculiar room highlights the prevalence of superstitious thinking within religious communities and, as such, I recalled my own experiences of being warned that going out after dark with my hair down would attract negative spirits, that whistling (for a girl) is bad luck and as mentioned in ‘Moths of the Red Room’, moths can blind you.

I envisaged what the Red Room would have been like in my own childhood home. It is not unlikely that a similar room could have existed. I could imagine my siblings and I holding it as a place both fascinating and forbidding. Residing in my version of the Red Room are moths – severe, unforgiving creatures with the power to dictate the family tree that is woven onto a (magical) tapestry. The moths decide whether a family member deserves their place on the prestigious tree and if they should be removed permanently. My fruit, which represents me on the tapestry, keeps falling out of the tree – it doesn’t belong. Therefore, its extraction by the moths is impending:

                                    My sisters joked that mine was troubled,

                                    and overdue for the moths’ intense unpicking.

                                    They locked me in the Red Room with my bad fruit.

Reading Jane Eyre in my teenage years was an enlightening experience. Paradoxically, it was by escaping into Jane Eyre that I actually discovered hidden aspects of my being. The spirit Jane rouses in Mr Rochester is the spirit I seek to rouse in you, the Reader, through my poetry. To echo Jane’s words, ‘I am not talking to you now in the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit.’

Purchase In the Name of Red by Z.R. Ghani in our webshop.

Z. R. Ghani is from London. She graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in 2012. Her poems, which explore themes of identity, femininity, religion, and nature, have been published in literary journals such as Magma, Black Bough Poetry and The Adriatic. In 2021 her first collection of poems was shortlisted in the Poetry Wales Pamphlet Competition.

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