Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chapter 3: In Which Mr. Lloyd Foreshadows

When we left Jane, she had just collapsed in the red room. In chapter 3, she's been removed to her own bed, and Charlotte Bronte throws in another atmosphere-setting zinger:
I felt an inexpressible relief, a soothing conviction of protection and security, when I knew that there was a stranger in the room, an individual not belonging to Gateshead, and not related to Mrs. Reed.
This is a ten-year-old girl, remember. And what it takes for her to feel safe is the presence of a stranger.

The stranger is Mr. Lloyd, the local apothecary (the lowest rung of the medical profession at the time; if you don't know this, the fact that Mrs. Reed calls in a physician for herself doesn't have the same impact). He's there to check in on Jane, who's had a bit of a fright.

And then we get one of the moments where Jane actually seems like a child, as she contemplates Gulliver's Travels:
This book I had again and again perused with delight. I considered it a narrative of facts, and discovered in it a vein of interest deeper than what I found in fairy tales: for as to the elves, having sought them in vain among foxglove leaves and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground-ivy mantling old wall-nooks, I had at length made up my mind to the sad truth, that they were all gone out of England to some savage country where the woods were wilder and thicker, and the population more scant; whereas, Lilliput and Brobdignag being, in my creed, solid parts of the earth’s surface, I doubted not that I might one day, by taking a long voyage, see with my own eyes the little fields, houses, and trees, the diminutive people, the tiny cows, sheep, and birds of the one realm; and the corn-fields forest-high, the mighty mastiffs, the monster cats, the tower-like men and women, of the other.
Mr. Lloyd comes back for a chat, and the reader is given the first hint that Jane might have family beyond the walls of Gateshead:
"Have you any relations besides Mrs. Reed?"

"I think not, sir."

"None belonging to your father?"

"I don’t know. I asked Aunt Reed once, and she said possibly I might have some poor, low relations called Eyre, but she knew nothing about them."

"If you had such, would you like to go to them?"

I reflected. Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the word only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation... I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste.

We've touched on Jane Eyre as a book that endorses revolutionary ideals, but it's a revolution that takes place very much within the landed classes. Bronte was not a fan of Jane Austen, but I think there's a good chance our Jane and Fanny Price would have agreed on the undesirability of poor relations.

Mr. Lloyd continues to act as a one-man foreshadowing show when he asks Jane if she'd like to go to school. Poor girl doesn't know what she's letting herself in for, but we'll see, starting in the next chapter.

Even with all the pathos in this chapter, the deadpan humor is still there, particularly in this line from the narrator:

Abbot, I think, gave me credit for being a sort of infantine Guy Fawkes.
Hmm. That's a mash-up that no one's tried yet. Anyone up for Jane Eyre and Gunpowder?

Where the name came from

Just moving this off the sidebar and into a post:

That Greek one, then, is my hero
who watched the bath water

Rise above his navel, and rushed
out naked, 'I found it,

I found it' into the street
in all his shining and forgot

That others would only stare
at his genitals.

What laughter!'

- Dannie Abse

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chapter 2: Jane Strikes Back

[Previously: Chapter 1]

Well, sort of. Bronte drops the reader into an opening paragraph that shows the change that's suddenly come over Jane:
I resisted all the way: a new thing for me, and a circumstance which greatly strengthened the bad opinion Bessie and Miss Abbot were disposed to entertain of me. The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment’s mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.
"A new thing for me," another one of those character-development asides that I just love. (See also "'If you don’t sit still, you must be tied down,' said Bessie. 'Miss Abbot, lend me your garters; she would break mine directly.'" Tell me that's not a dig at the larger girth of the less-sympathetic Abbott.)

I'm going to leave the slavery bit until later, even though the slaves Jane refers to are probably, as in the last chapter, classical ones. There's a lot to say about slavery in Jane Eyre, and for the moment the politics that contemporary critics saw in the book are quite enough for one post.

The Christian Remembrancer used the phrase "moral Jacobinism" in its review of the book, and this chapter was one of the bits it cited in support of that view - which was not an endorsement. The Jacobins were associated with the French Revolution (half a century before the book was published; a generation before its events), and no respectable English monarchist would get behind that, would they?

What's the one thing that distracts Jane from rebellion? A ghost, or the idea of one.
A singular notion dawned upon me. I doubted not—never doubted—that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly; and now, as I sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls—occasionally also turning a fascinated eye towards the dimly gleaning mirror—I began to recall what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the perjured and avenge the oppressed... This idea, consolatory in theory, I felt would be terrible if realised...
To review: Jane is the child of Mr. Reed's sister and brother-in-law, both dead. As is Mr. Reed, so the adult in charge is his widow, who considers Jane no relation at all - although Jane suspects things might have turned out differently if she'd been pretty.

Which reminds me of one of Fanny's speeches from Sense & Sensibility:
"What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters! And as it is--only half blood!--But you have such a generous spirit!"
Wouldn't you love to see Jane and Fanny duke it out?

Other bits:
  • This is the chapter with the red room scene, which I no longer read without thinking of Roger's question.
  • It's also the first appearance in the book of "abigail" as a synonym for "lady's maid." (Thank you, Penguin Classics, for defining that!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beginning Jane

Inspired by Leila's Big Reads, Kelly's chapter-by-chapter look at Jane Austen, and the fact that Colleen has somehow never read one of my favorite books, I'm launching a Jane Eyre blogathon.

Knowing my inability to keep to any kind of schedule I set out, I'm not going to promise a chapter a day, or really any posting calendar at all. But I've already taken notes on the whole book, so we'll get through it sooner or later.

For those who'd like to play along at home, the complete text is up at Project Gutenberg - plus, it's the sort of book you should be able to find in any library or general bookstore. (And if it's not in yours, I want names!)

I actually have three different copies of the book - one that I picked up at a book sale sometime in high school, a Penguin Classics edition acquired from my store, and the new Penguin Classics Couture edition, which is just as gorgeous as it looks in the pictures. (And even though that wasn't the copy I grabbed for notetaking, I'll satisfy the FCC by saying that that copy was a gift.)

So... (taking a deep breath) here goes: Chapter 1
The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy.
You see what she did with that parenthetical? Yup, Miss C's got your character development right there. Seven words, and you've got a pretty good idea what life is like at the Reed house.

The Reeds are Jane's cousins and her aunt, who serves as guardian totally against her will. She's not too fond of Jane, and doesn't bother to hide it, so Jane does her best to keep out of the way.

In this case, she curls up in the window seat with a copy of Bewick's History of British Birds, keeping to herself until John Reed finally locates her. (And if you're familiar with Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance, you'll see that John Reed and Gerald Fairley have quite a lot in common, in terms of their character and their physical person, though it takes longer for Gerald to come to a bad end.)
John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month or two, “on account of his delicate health.” Mr. Miles, the master, affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats sent him from home; but the mother’s heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John’s sallowness was owing to over-application and, perhaps, to pining after home.
Sounds like a charmer, no? He lets loose on Jane:
You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense.
Again, I'm impressed by Bronte's skill with words - John's basically reciting a bunch of backstory here, but no one's about to accuse Bronte of telling instead of showing.

Jane, although she describes herself as "habitually obedient" just a few paragraphs earlier, isn't going to take the abuse quietly. And you just can't help laughing a bit at her reasoning here:

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors!”

I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c.

'Cause, you know, most ten-year-old girls are pretty set in their opinions of Roman emperors. This is one of the points that make the reader remember that the narrator is actually late-twenties Jane, telling her history from a particular point of view. There's one other line in this chapter that strikes me the same way, when Jane describes the stories Bessie the nurse would tell:

passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.
To a kid, they're just stories. But to an adult - who is probably well aware of the prejudices against novels that existed both at the time she was writing and at the time the story was set - it's a reason to chuckle.