swiftjolras said: Hi Cassie! I just finished reading Clockwork Princess and while I loved it, what I really want to know is - why did Jessamine have to die? I get that she was happier as a ghost than she was in life, but why did she have to die to be happy? Why couldn’t she have lived and been happy? It’s just so tragic to me because she was sad and angry her whole life and spent the last couple months a prisoner, and then the moment she got out, she died. What was your reasoning here?
Thanks for the kind words about Princess and the love for Jessamine, an often unnoticed character. I never thought of Jessamine being “happier” as a ghost (she’s not, really, she’s just … a ghost) as having to do with the meaning of her death. Rather, Jessamine, Tessa, Sophie, Charlotte (and to some extent Cecily — in fact, all the female characters in TID) are symbolic of the ways that the Victorian repression of women shaped women’s lives.
Sophie was a servant, who was sexually assaulted by her employer — something that happened constantly in the Victorian era, because women had no defense against a man in a greater position of power and wealth. He would always claim that she had thrown herself at him, and he would always be believed over her. Like Sophie, a lot of those women were tossed out on the street, unable to get another job. Sophie was rescued by Charlotte but many many women in real life were not that lucky.
Tessa had to go to England to join her brother because no other options were available to her. Without a guardian (her aunt) as a young woman, she had to have the protection of a man. She had no other options besides a workhouse where she probably would have died, or prostitution. She didn’t have the education to be a governess or the references to be a servant. Tessa is trapped into the events of the Clockwork series as much by her gender as her circumstances.
Charlotte is born to power, exactly the sort of woman her father wishes had been a boy because she’s a clear leader. Still, she fights tooth and nail for every bit of respect and every ounce of power she has. And until Princess, all her accomplishments are credited to Henry (even though everyone knows that though Henry is brilliant with inventions, he’s an awful leader) an she would have no access to power if she wasn’t married to him. The power she does have still comes through a man until the end.
“Women of the mid-19th century had no such choices. Most lived in a state little better than slavery. They had to obey men, because in most cases men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence. A wealthy widow or spinster was a lucky exception. A woman who remained single would attract social disapproval and pity. She could not have children or cohabit with a man: the social penalties were simply too high. Nor could she follow a profession, since they were all closed to women…Most women had little choice but to marry.”
Jessamine grew up as a mundane. As such, she would have been made to understand that making a good marriage was the purpose of her life. When she lost her family and came to the Institute, she was given one other option: become a Shadowhunter. (Not that there isn’t/wasn’t pressure on female Shadowhunters to marry, as well, and have children/more Shadowhunters. But they did have the option of earning a Clave salary.)
However, Jessamine doesn’t want to be a Shadowhunter. She wants what she was brought up to want, because that is what early conditioning does. And obviously not in every case — many women in the Victorian era chafed against the restraints placed on them by society. And Jessamine, who is in fact headstrong and stubborn and brave, probably would have as well, but she never got the chance to: her ideas of what marriage and family and propriety means are tied up with her dead family, as exemplified by her dollhouse, where she recreates what she imagines a “normal” life to be. For Jessamine, becoming a Shadowhunter means betraying the ideals of her dead parents, something no one in the Institute understands or tries to understand except perhaps Tessa.
Jessamine is trapped. As all Victorian women were in a sense trapped. She’s smart, she’s desperate, she’s willing to run away and live with Tessa if they can just get away from the Shadowhunters, but no one sees how desperate she is until it is too late. Was she in love with Nate? Probably not. He offered her an escape from the life she was trapped in, and she offered him some useful information. She did betray the other Shadowhunters, people who had taken her in and been kind to her, but she was not in her nature either stupid (no one who managed to cleverly get around the spell on her to communicate to Will where Mortmain really was is stupid) or treacherous. She was in a situation where only bad choices were available to her and she made one.
I do often get this sort of question a lot: “Why did so and so have to die? It was tragic.” And I understand it, because reading tragedy is hard and painful for us all. But tragedy in fiction is an illuminator: without death and tragedy, there are no visible consequences for anything. Without Jessamine’s death, there is no visible consequence for the misogyny practiced against her, against Charlotte and Sophie and Tessa.
That Charlotte is named Consul is a massive victory, but she is an exception, not the rule. Sophie, in surviving what her employer did to her and going on to Ascend, is an exception. Tessa, because of her immense magical power, is an exception.
Not everyone can be an exception.
The world was a terrible and dangerous place for women in the 1870’s — by which I don’t mean that women walking down the street might be attacked at any moment. I mean their agency and personhood was under attack. Jessamine’s story is a story about being trapped and having no good options, because that was often if not always the situation for women in that era. It’s often the situation for women now. She’s obviously more sinned against than sinning, but there was literally a war against women at the time. There are five important women in the TID books; four of them survive the war. One doesn’t. The lesson of Jessamine and what the world and the Clave did to her will live on, into the lives of the descendants of the survivors. Into TLH.