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.

2 comments:

身材維持 said...
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Scott Sullivan said...

Penguin Classics edition is an interesting book. I'm sure kids would love it and also adults. Great post about books!

Scott Sullivan
CEO
www.houstonsafeandlock.net