Briar Rose-Jane Yolen This module is called close study of text. It is module B of paper 2 worth 20%. This is a novel, a work of fiction. The author or composer is Jane Yolen. Context In order to understand this novel we have to know about the NAZI, holocaust, which aimed to exterminate the Jewish people from Europe In total nearly 6 million Jews were systematically killed in NAZI occupied Europe. A Briar is a thorn or prickly plant. A Briar Rose is a beautiful flower that grows from a potentially painful plant or shrub. Chapter 1 The parts of the novel written in Italics represent the fairytale.
The most important fairytale is that of “Sleeping Beauty”. There are also elements of the “Cinderella” fairytale with Silvia and Shana as the evil step-sisters who leave all the work to the Cinderella figure, Rebecca. Chapter 2 20 years later, the 3 little girls have grown up and Gemma is near death. Shana and Silvia have returned to visit and even though they are sad, they have no patience and are more worried about themselves than they are about their grandmother. In the last moment of lucidity, Gemma tells Becca “I am Briar Rose” and charges her with the final palace.
Chapter 3 “The angel of death”, the bad fairy… the one in black with the big black boots and silver eagles on her hat. This is the metaphor for the NAZI’s. The SS who wore the eagle insignia and black boots. Chapter 4 “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” This was originally said by the Whinsteon Churchill to describe Russia. It means that no-one really understood what Russia was like. The description also applies to Gemma: no-one, not even her own daughter knows anything about her past, no-one is even sure of her real name.
The box with the photos and papers, which they find after her death, will provide the clues for Becca to “find the castle and the prince to reclaim our heritage”. It is significant that Becca tells the same story about Briar Rose to the new generation as she is the one who will keep the family tradition alive. NOTE- Gemma’s story is an adaptation or transformation of the classic sleeping beauty story. There are variations for example: Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep not by a needle prick but a mist, but many features of the fairytale remain. (The Wicked Fairy etc. This fairytale is the way in which Gemma deals with the horrors of what happened to her. The second element of this story is the detective novel. Becca, the youngest granddaughter (Cinderella) who is the closest to her grandmother and who resembles her most closely, “The two roses of the family” goes on a quest to find out Gemma’s real story. Chapters 5-7 Variations appear in the Sleeping Beauty fable, enough to upset a visitor but Gemma’s version “is how it goes in the house”. Becca as an adult realises a very significant theme/point about Gemma’s adaptation to the fairytale and this is it.
The “Happily ever after” ending applies only to the princess. Everybody else stays asleep. Becca begins her quest. She sorts out her grandmother’s papers. She discovers that in fact Gemma arrived in America on the 30th of August 1944. Only 8 months before the end of the war in Europe had ended. This is different from what the family had previously thought. That she had come to America after the war. Yet another aspect of the fairytale becomes significant, the mist that puts the people to sleep. Chapters 8-10 The Investigation Begins…
Becca finds out that her grandmother had lives in a place called Oswego when she first came to America. The place was a war refuge shelter. After she contacts some people she sends some documents. From them she finds out that her grandmother’s real name and that she called herself “Princess”. When she came to America, she was heavily pregnant; she gives her maiden and married name as the same indicating that perhaps she is not married. In light if the Briar Rose story it is significant that she refers to herself as Princess.
Most of the questions on the form were not answered, perhaps indicating that she had alot to hide. In any case, Becca still has a long way to go. A third element, not as important as the other two of this novel is the romantic story in which Becca clearly has a crush on Stan and we as readers become more interested in the development of the relationship. Chapters 11-12 The romantic sub plot becomes more apparent as Becca and Stan travel to Oswego to find out more about Gemma’s past. They share an intimate picnic and she is relieves when his friend Samantha turns out to be a married woman.
In Oswego, Becca meets Harvey Goldman who had known her grandmother in Oswego. He reminisces of her as being beautiful but withdrawn, preoccupied with her past. He also remembers her nickname of “Princess”. Chapters 13-16 The fairytale Element… The prince is described as courageous “he put his hands into the thorns”. The detective story genre there is a reference to Kulmhof (also called Chulmno). Harvey Goldman tells Becca that Kulmhof was on an extermination camp, and that no woman ever got out of there alive. Becca decides to visit Poland where she would have an interpreter, Magda Bronski.
Chapters 17-24 The fairytale Elements… An explanation of why it is so important to tell stories to make the past understood. “If the Prince knows all his past and lives and tells all the people who are still to come then the Prince lives again and into the future”. Becca arrives in Poland and meets up with Magda. They visit Chlemno. The dullness of the day is the metaphor for the ugliness of the place. The place is intimidating, it is a reminder that evil was not confined to a single period, in history, that hatred survives and finds new manifestations. Nothing happened here and we should take our few questions or that ‘nothing’ will happen again” They meet Father Stashu and he refers to a Schloss (Castle) which ties in with Gemma’s story and he also arranges a meeting with Joseph Potocki who turns out to be the ‘JMP’ on Gemma’s ring. He tells Becca that he has known bother her grandmother and grandfather and that he had been persecuted because he was a homosexual. Chapters 25-27 NOTE- A third narrative comes into the story. This is the story of Joseph Potocki.
The use of multiple narratives is an important technique in this book and each (Gemma’s, Becca’s and Joseph’s) narrative contributes to the impact of the story as a whole. In these chapters we find out about Joseph Potocki’s background. He had been “a-political”, taken no interest in politics and was thus, unaware of the danger he was in. Finally he is caught, beaten and tortured and sent to a concentration camp because he was a homosexual. From there he escapes and joins a partism group where they are killed in a botched attempt to blow up an arniment so Joseph is left behind and again escaped death. He seems to have a charmed death.