Monday, November 8, 2010

Chapter 7: The Big Bad Wolf returns

Lowood is not a pretty place. (The name might be a bit of a hint - in the nineteenth century, low-lying areas were generally thought unhealthy. And I suppose you can consider that a minor spoiler, too.)
Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet: I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning. Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid. From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.
Just where you want to send your kid, isn't it? It appears our Jane was not the only one with less-than-devoted relatives.

But here's the part that tells the reader how bad things really are: "The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to attempt the task of cheering others." I'm actually a little surprised Jane lets them off so easily here, as opposed to using this to demonstrate that the staff is as bad as the physical plant, but apparently she's inclined to be generous.

And then... Mr. Brocklehurst shows up.

Cue the ominous music, 'cause you just know this isn't going to turn out well.

His visit starts out mildly enough - if he's not very sympathetic, he's not too horrible as he goes over some housekeeping notes with Miss Temple. But his criticisms of her management continue, and then we get to the shocking indulgence of lunch:
I looked over the regulations, and I find no such meal as lunch mentioned. Who introduced this innovation? and by what authority?
Historical side note: Lunch in the sense of a midday meal hadn't really arrived by the time this chapter takes place in. By the end of the book, we're getting to the late 1820s/early 1830s, when it had become more fashionable, but to be fair to Mr. Brocklehurst we have to acknowledge that most girls probably weren't getting any meals beyond breakfast, dinner (which was undergoing some migrations at this point, but was somewhere around mid-afternoon), and supper (the oatcake-with-a-splash-of-coffee meal of Jane's arrival at Lowood).

Etymological side note: Before lunch/luncheon took on the meaning we associate with it, it meant a small serving of something.

Back to the story. Miss Temple explains the extenuating circumstances surrounding the lunches, and Mr. Brocklehurst demonstrates his ability to cloak miserliness in priggishness.
"Madam, allow me an instant. You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying. Should any little accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, such as the spoiling of a meal, the under or the over dressing of a dish, the incident ought not to be neutralised by replacing with something more delicate the comfort lost, thus pampering the body and obviating the aim of this institution; it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under temporary privation."
And Miss Temple looks like she's about to let him have it, when another distraction pops up: hair. Let's just not even get into it. Or the female Brocklehursts. The closest thing to a rational comment on that is ppbbbbthhhhh.

And then we get to the heart of the chapter: Mr. Brocklehurst makes good on his promise to Mrs. Reed, and calls Jane out as a liar. Rather over-the-top eloquently. In front of everyone.

We already know, thanks to her strong feelings in Helen's case, that Jane's not a fan of the public humiliation form of punishment. So how does she feel when she's the object? That's what we'll learn in Chapter 8.

(Post pic: This was actually taken in Georgia, but if you pretend that the vegetation is something more English than Spanish moss and live oaks, it could almost be Lowood's surroundings, couldn't it?)

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