This chapter consists of several letters. The first is Simon’s farewell letter to Rachel. It is signed: “You know how much I admire your courage in the face of adversity, and how I respect you; and I hope you will find it in your heart to feel the same.”
Simon’s saccharine plea for forgiveness, which plays upon Rachel’s “woman’s heart and sensibility,” suggests that he is still trying to exert power over her by virtue of stereotyping her.
The next letter is from Simon’s mother, Mrs. Jordan, to Rachel Humphrey. Mrs. Jordan writes that she is returning seven letters that Rachel has sent to Simon, and she cautions Rachel that “it is wise to avoid the expression of one’s feelings in letters, which must run the gauntlet of the public posts, and may fall into the hands of persons who may be tempted to read them unbeknownst to the sender.”
Mrs. Jordan’s word of advice to Rachel suggests that she herself has read Rachel’s letters, showing a weak point in the relative power of the written word—written letters can find their way to the wrong audience. Mrs. Jordan also seems to be chiding Rachel for having expressed her feelings at all—yet another indication that women are expected to unquestioningly allow men to define the terms of romantic relationships. Finally, though Mrs. Jordan does not explicitly demean Rachel for her low-class status, it seems likely that the class differences between Mrs. Jordan and her son’s former paramour have inflected the letter she has written her.
The third letter is from Grace to Dr. Jordan. She writes that when she learned he had left for good she fainted. She entreats Dr. Jordan to fulfill his promise of writing a letter on her behalf, in order that she may be freed from prison.
This is the first instance of Grace actually writing down her thoughts.
The fourth letter is from Simon to his friend Edward Murchie. Simon writes that he “was forced to make a hasty escape from Kingston” and that “someday over a glass of sherry” he may tell Edward all that happened there. He confesses, “[I] have come near to addling my own wits, in my assiduous attempts to unpick those of another.” He also tells Ed that he believes he is “doomed to wander the face of the earth alone.” He anticipates serving in the looming Civil War, writing: “Given my present tumultuous and morbid mental state, it will be a relief to have a duty of some kind set before me.”
Simon’s claim that he has almost “addled” his own wits is difficult to interpret. It speaks yet again to the power of Grace’s storytelling, but also seems to highlight the fact that Simon’s wits were fundamentally no match for Grace’s. Simon intends, it would seem, to cast Grace as mysterious—perhaps even irrationally so—but he inadvertently ends up pointing out how strong she is. Not only is she able to tell all that has happened to her, but she was able to survive it—while Simon was hardly able to escape the telling intact.
The fifth letter is from Grace to Jeremiah, who is now going by the name Geraldo Ponti. It is dated 1861, two years after Dr. Jordan’s year in Kingston. Grace writes: “Since the Hypnotism, the people here seem to treat me better, and with more esteem, although perhaps it is only that they are more afraid of me; sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.” Grace also informs Jeremiah that the Reverend Verringer has married Miss Lydia, and that though she has heard nothing from Dr. Jordan, she has heard many rumors about him and his landlady. Dora has even claimed “it was a wonder he hadn’t killed this lady and buried the body in the yard outside, as she’d seen the spade for it standing ready, and a grave already dug.”
Grace gestures to an important quality of human nature: that fear can mimic, and perhaps even produce, esteem. Yet, though she does not mention it here, Grace has also experienced the opposite: the fact that people fear her, not only as a potential murderess but also as a woman who, in several ways, bucks societal expectation, has led people to demean and mistreat her. This passage of Grace’s letter is also important because Dora’s perspective on Dr. Jordan suggests that he may have been even more unstable than the reader was able to perceive from the narration, since it was limited to Dr. Jordan’s perspective.
Grace also writes that the Governor’s wife questioned her about whether Dr. Jordan ever made any sexual advances toward her. She tells Jeremiah she does not “believe everything that was being said against [Dr. Jordan], as [she knows] what it is to have lies told about a person, and you not able to defend yourself.” Grace says she is beginning to become depressed “about [her] wasted life,” and that she still wonders what Jeremiah meant when he once told her that they were “of the same sort.” She asks, “Why did you want to help me? Was it as a challenge, and to outwit the others […] or was it out of affection and fellow-feeling?”
Here, Grace’s strange fondness for Dr. Jordan—despite his objectification of her—finds an explanation. In the same way she felt sympathy for McDermott because he was lonely, Grace seems to have felt sympathy for Dr. Jordan because he was sad, and her sympathy has only grown since Dr. Jordan has been maligned. Grace’s rhetorical question to Jeremiah also seems like a clue that Grace and Jeremiah had been in cahoots regarding the hypnotism.
The sixth letter is dated 1862, and is from Mrs. Jordan to Rachel Humphrey. She writes, “To threaten to do yourself an injury […] might carry weight with an impressionable and tender-hearted young man, but it does not, with his more experienced Mother.” She informs Rachel that Simon served and was injured in the Union army; he is suffering from amnesia and, according to Mrs. Jordan, he does not recall “the period of time he spent in the city of Kingston.” Mrs. Jordan offers her condolences on the death of Major Humphrey, but writes that it is her duty to inform Rachel that Simon is as good as engaged to one Faith Cartwright—though, she writes, “he persists in believing that [Faith] is called Grace.”
Simon’s amnesia is incredibly ironic, because it effectively completes the role reversal between Simon and Grace. Simon, as an invalid, is now dependent on his mother and fiancée to care for him, and he has suffered amnesia that parallel’s Grace’s. The fact that the reader sees two letters from Mrs. Jordan in this chapter but none from Rachel is also important because, on a meta level, it continues the erasure, started by Simon, of Rachel Humphrey as a full character.
The seventh letter is dated 1867, and is from Reverend Verringer to Dr. Bannerling. He writes to request Dr. Bannerling’s support in securing a pardon for Grace, saying, “It moves me to tears to think how this poor woman has been wronged through lack of scientific understanding.”
The tone of Reverend Verringer’s letter seems to confirm that he is a good-hearted and well-intentioned character. His characterization of Grace’s suffering and long imprisonment as a result of a “lack of scientific understanding” again raises the question of whether Grace is suffering from a diagnosable dissociative disorder, or whether her apparent “double consciousness” has other causes.
The eighth and final letter is a reply from Dr. Bannerling to Reverend Verringer. He writes that he is “astonished that anyone with a medical degree would allow himself to be imposed upon by such a blatant piece of charlatanism and preposterous tomfoolery as a ‘neuro-hypnotic trance,’” which he thinks is a front for men to ask young women “impertinent and offensive questions and [order] them to perform immodest acts, without the latter appearing to consent to it.” He asks that the Reverend “be pleased to desist from pestering” him with further requests for assistance with Grace’s pardon.
Dr. Bannerling’s “concern” that neuro-hypnotism is illegitimate because it makes women patients vulnerable to sexual assault is deeply ironic, since Bannerling himself sexually assaulted Grace while she was under his medical care in the asylum. Furthermore, the fact that Bannerling seems to be of the opinion that women are prone to “perform[ing] immodest acts” while pretending not to consent (as a way of flouting society’s “ban” on female sexuality) suggests an underlying misogyny that is disturbing and reminiscent of many of Simon’s claims about his relationship with Rachel Humphrey.