Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #3: Wally Austin

Yup, the L'Engle dads get their turn in this series. (In other words, Alex Murry is next.)

Wally Austin is a mild-mannered country doctor with a large, active family -- and just a touch of a Clark Kent-mystique vibe, thanks to this line that gets thrown out in The Moon by Night and then never developed:
"Daddy was a black belt in Judo before any of us was ever born."
There's also the bit where he trades in GP-ing for a year in New York, doing research that turns out to have huge organized crime/international/moral/biological implications, but that doesn't actually get much attention outside The Young Unicorns.

Leading characteristics:
  • Bears a passing resemblance to Ward Cleaver. To be fair, the Austin books were written over a period of 30 or 40 years, and his more objectionable attitudes aren't around in the later books. That said, he still doesn't get a pass for objecting to women who wear pants.
  • Excellent sense of humor. Because how can you not admire a guy who'll dress up as his own (nonexistent) butler just for the purpose of messing with his brother's girlfriend?
  • Serious family values. This is a guy who will relocate the whole family for the summer to be with his ailing father-in-law. It's not just the nuclear family that matters here.
Pull quote(s):
  • "He was old-fashioned enough to have given his seat to an elderly woman and modern enough to make sure that it was she and not somebody else who got it."
  • "... could always concentrate better with a pencil or pen in his fingers"

The Men of L'Engle #2: John Austin

Today's L'Engle male is one who was never presented as a romantic lead in the books he appeared in -- because his little sister was doing the narration.

But there's still enough information about John Austin for an outsider to get a sense of what Izzy Jenkins sees in him.

John makes at least a passing appearance in all the Austin books. He's the reason Adam Eddington practically joins the family (don't get your hopes up; Adam doesn't get his turn for a while), and basically he serves as a solid, down-to-earth foil to Vicky (kind of like Suzy, only John's loads less annoying).

Leading characteristics:
  • Nerd. In the most adorable way, though -- when we first meet him, he's a high school kid who's built a spacesuit in the barn. And then he goes off to MIT to study astrophysics -- plus pre-med, just because.
  • Protective big brother. He lets Vicky and Suzy do their own thing, and they squabble a bit, but he's got everyone's back.
  • Not a fan of Zachary Gray. And probably not just because of the she's-my-little-sister thing. (Ah, Zachary, we'll get to you later. Stop trying to take over all the other entries.)
Pull quote(s):
  • "Okay, so maybe I am old-fashioned, but I don't want just a relationship. Relationships aren't real unless they end in bed, and they don't have to go any further than that. What I want is the real thing, and I'm not ready for it yet."
  • "Don't let him be too important to you, Vic. You're too young."
  • "Hold it while I get my glasses. I was so scared I forgot them."
So where's John now? Being a Boston resident, I'd like to think he stuck around Cambridge, and is currently working on a post-doc at the CFA. He stays in touch with his family, but doesn't plan on going back to Thornhill. He's still not ready for "the real thing," as he puts it, but once he gets a few more papers published, he might have time for romance. I still haven't decided whether he went with Lasik, for convenience, or whether he's rocking a pair of black hipster glasses. (I was trying to find a picture of the Apollo 13 character I think he resembles, but apparently no one else found him as adorable as I did.)

Tell you one thing, though: he's welcome to borrow a book any time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Percolating blog posts

In addition to the ongoing Men of L'Engle series (new installment on the way soon!) and the upcoming chapter-by-chapter blogging of Anne of Green Gables (which still needs a clever name), there are some big-picture posts that I've been thinking about, but haven't fully pulled together:
  • Making my way through the kids' nonfiction section of the library (back in the day)
  • How eight years of tech and journalism innovation the world of Naked in Baghdad and the Tunisia/Egypt/Libya/Syria/Bahrain/Yemen conflicts
  • Why melancholy, brooding characters are so attractive (both to their romantic interest and to the reader/viewer)
So, one of these days. Got a favorite? Feel free to nag, and it goes to the top of the pile.

(Post pic is me holding the newborn Codename: Princesa, ages ago. Just because I like the lighting. And this blog can always use more images.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chapter 38: The end (finally!)



Jane and Rochester are married.

St. John is not.

Rochester eventually gets his sight back.

There are many little Rochesters running around, so the dynasty continues.

And, all together now: "Reader, I married him."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chapter 37: We'd be nowhere without some misunderstandings

The previous chapter was basically just necessary background, but now we get to the meat of the story.

Jane gets to observe Rochester before she interacts with him. If she weren't already in love with him, I think she'd be unlikely to start now. This is Beauty & the Beast when the Beast has gone back to eating with his hands and clawing ancient tapestries.

So, naturally, the best way to announce to your blind and cantankerous ex-fiance that you've returned is to sneak up on him.
"When you go in," said I, "tell your master that a person wishes to speak to him, but do not give my name."
How does Rochester finally convince himself it's not a dream? Well, when kissing and embracing doesn't do it:
"My uncle in Madeira is dead, and he left me five thousand pounds."

"Ah! this is practical—this is real!" he cried: "I should never dream that. Besides, there is that peculiar voice of hers, so animating and piquant, as well as soft: it cheers my withered heart; it puts life into it.—What, Janet! Are you an independent woman? A rich woman?"
Money talks.

Not everything gets cleared up right away -- they both hold back from discussing whether marriage should be a part of their ongoing relationship. But Jane definitely wants to stick around.
"I thought you would be revolted, Jane, when you saw my arm, and my cicatrised visage."

"Did you? Don’t tell me so—lest I should say something disparaging to your judgment."
And this is why we love her:
"Am I hideous, Jane?"

"Very, sir: you always were, you know."
They spend the next day very much together ("I sought a seat for him in a hidden and lovely spot, a dry stump of a tree; nor did I refuse to let him, when seated, place me on his knee. Why should I, when both he and I were happier near than apart?"), which naturally leads to Rochester assuming that she's going to marry St. John.

Look, she doesn't love him for his mind, okay?

The upshot:
"The third day from this must be our wedding-day, Jane. Never mind fine clothes and jewels, now: all that is not worth a fillip."
Just imagine if he'd been that tractable ten chapters ago.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 36: A blackened ruin

Having heard Rochester's voice from some far-off place the night before, Jane's up early, ready to set off and search for him. And after 36 hours on the road, she reaches the neighborhood of Thornfield.

She decides not to ask for news of the household, but sets out and walks the two miles to her former home. Only there's a bit of a surprise when she gets there:
I looked with timorous joy towards a stately house: I saw a blackened ruin.
She returns to the inn and gets the full story from the former butler. As he is not the most concise of storytellers, here's a precis:

Rochester kicked everyone out and shut himself up at Thornfield after Jane left. One night Grace was drunk and Bertha escaped the third floor, and took the opportunity to set some fires. Which spread. Rochester got everyone out of the house, then went back for Bertha. Bertha died, and Rochester ended up blind and missing one hand.

The ex-butler reveals that Rochester is now living at Ferndean, which is 30 miles away. Suddenly that distance is nothing to our well-traveled heroine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chapter 35: A last-minute reprieve

Did I mention that St. John has some abuser potential?
He deferred his departure a whole week, and during that time he made me feel what severe punishment a good yet stern, a conscientious yet implacable man can inflict on one who has offended him.
Are we all in agreement that Jane should so not be marrying him?

This is why it's hard to like St. John. He's off to do good works, but he's just so squicky and manipulative.

Luckily, Jane sees this:
"Once more, why this refusal?" he asked.

"Formerly," I answered, "because you did not love me; now, I reply, because you almost hate me. If I were to marry you, you would kill me. You are killing me now."
And then he tries to convince her she should go to India with some acquaintances of his, since it would be breaking a promise (which she totally didn't make) to not go.
"There is no dishonour, no breach of promise, no desertion in the case. I am not under the slightest obligation to go to India, especially with strangers."
So St. John turns mean, though he no doubt thinks he's just being frank:
"I know where your heart turns and to what it clings. The interest you cherish is lawless and unconsecrated. Long since you ought to have crushed it: now you should blush to allude to it. You think of Mr. Rochester?"
But still, St. John's got a forceful personality, and Jane might just be convinced, if he presses the right moral buttons. But as she's standing there thinking that maybe she'll go ahead and marry him if it seems like it's the right thing to do, she hears a disembodied voice calling from elsewhere.

It belongs, of course, to Rochester.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chapter 34: Jane receives a second proposal

Which is not the only thing that happens in this chapter. Everyone comes home and they all move back into Moor House. Jane quits teaching. Jane starts learning Hindi because St. John doesn't want to study alone. Jane writes to ask Mrs. Fairfax what's up with Rochester, and is despondent when six months go by without an answer.

And early on, Jane reaches this conclusion:
As I looked at his lofty forehead, still and pale as a white stone—at his fine lineaments fixed in study—I comprehended all at once that he would hardly make a good husband: that it would be a trying thing to be his wife.
So are we at all surprised when St. John, still in Edward Cullen mode ("There are no such things as marble kisses or ice kisses, or I should say my ecclesiastical cousin’s salute belonged to one of these classes"), asks Jane to marry him?

Well, sort of. He wants her to go to India with him as a fellow missionary, and his sense of morality demands that they be married before traveling together.

St. John's proposal is the emotional opposite of Rochester's earlier in the book. It's closer to that of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, minus the absurdities. He spends paragraphs laying out all the reasons Jane would make a decent missionary.

Jane takes some time to think it over, soliloquizing all the while. There are a load of reasons for her not to accept:
  • "If I join St. John, I abandon half myself"
  • "He will never love me; but he shall approve me"
  • "He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all."
  • "Can I receive from him the bridal ring, endure all the forms of love (which I doubt not he would scrupulously observe) and know that the spirit was quite absent? Can I bear the consciousness that every endearment he bestows is a sacrifice made on principle? No: such a martyrdom would be monstrous."
Her alternative: she'll go to India as his helper, but not his wife.

St. John's response to that: yes to the first, no to the second, and oh, by the way, let me demonstrate my utter unreasonableness and abusive potential.

The way he sees it, Jane's agreed to go to India with him. And he'll repeat that as many times as necessary. Never mind that she hasn't actually committed to going, or that she's absolutely refused to marry him, or that he's just a touch unyielding about his version.
"To do so, you must have a coadjutor: not a brother—that is a loose tie—but a husband. I, too, do not want a sister: a sister might any day be taken from me. I want a wife: the sole helpmeet I can influence efficiently in life, and retain absolutely till death."
What every girl wants to hear, let me tell you.

Jane's answer: "Oh! I will give my heart to God," I said. "You do not want it."

Bah, says St. John. You'll love me eventually, more or less.
"I scorn your idea of love," I could not help saying, as I rose up and stood before him, leaning my back against the rock. "I scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer: yes, St. John, and I scorn you when you offer it."
We have reached, as I believe it is termed, an impasse.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chapter 33: Jane finds a fortune

The chapter opens with St. John making his way through a storm to visit Jane -- and at first it appears it's for no purpose other than to demonstrate his Edward Cullen skills.
I had never seen that handsome-featured face of his look more like chiselled marble than it did just now, as he put aside his snow-wet hair from his forehead and let the firelight shine free on his pale brow and cheek as pale, where it grieved me to discover the hollow trace of care or sorrow now so plainly graved.
But no. Instead, it's storytime, as he begins to narrate a history that should sound quite familiar to anyone who's been paying attention thus far:
"Twenty years ago, a poor curate—never mind his name at this moment—fell in love with a rich man’s daughter; she fell in love with him, and married him, against the advice of all her friends, who consequently disowned her immediately after the wedding. Before two years passed, the rash pair were both dead, and laid quietly side by side under one slab. (I have seen their grave; it formed part of the pavement of a huge churchyard surrounding the grim, soot-black old cathedral of an overgrown manufacturing town in ---shire.) They left a daughter, which, at its very birth, Charity received in her lap—cold as that of the snow-drift I almost stuck fast in to-night. Charity carried the friendless thing to the house of its rich maternal relations; it was reared by an aunt-in-law, called (I come to names now) Mrs. Reed of Gateshead. You start—did you hear a noise? I daresay it is only a rat scrambling along the rafters of the adjoining schoolroom: it was a barn before I had it repaired and altered, and barns are generally haunted by rats.—To proceed. Mrs. Reed kept the orphan ten years: whether it was happy or not with her, I cannot say, never having been told; but at the end of that time she transferred it to a place you know—being no other than Lowood School, where you so long resided yourself. It seems her career there was very honourable: from a pupil, she became a teacher, like yourself—really it strikes me there are parallel points in her history and yours—she left it to be a governess: there, again, your fates were analogous; she undertook the education of the ward of a certain Mr. Rochester."
(Side note: I love the narration here because it's so much more arch than is typical for St. John. "Did you hear a noise?")

You remember that slip of paper he absconded with in the previous chapter? He noticed that Jane signed her real name to one of the paintings she'd been working on -- and that name just happened to be that of the cousin who inherited the great-uncle's family wealth. (We've gone back about three chapters here. This was the bit where the chapter ended with the Rivers siblings finding out they were cut out of the will.)

So to sum up: Jane has just inherited 20,000 pounds. But she's more interested in a) the fact that Rochester came up several times in the conversation, though St. John didn't actually have any information about him, and b) Jane the Lonely now has a family, in the form of her Rivers cousins.

She much prefers family to wealth, so (after much contention) the inheritance is divided among the four cousins: they have 5,000 apiece, and no one has to go out and work any longer.
I need not narrate in detail the further struggles I had, and arguments I used, to get matters regarding the legacy settled as I wished. My task was a very hard one; but, as I was absolutely resolved—as my cousins saw at length that my mind was really and immutably fixed on making a just division of the property—as they must in their own hearts have felt the equity of the intention; and must, besides, have been innately conscious that in my place they would have done precisely what I wished to do—they yielded at length so far as to consent to put the affair to arbitration. The judges chosen were Mr. Oliver and an able lawyer: both coincided in my opinion: I carried my point. The instruments of transfer were drawn out: St. John, Diana, Mary, and I, each became possessed of a competency.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chapter 32: Poor Miss Oliver!

You remember Jane's "par parenthese" from back in Chapter 12? She's not overly fond of children, and she's certainly not about to flatter them. But she's beginning to find some admirable qualities among her new pupils; they are no longer (at least not all of them) "hopelessly dull."

Jane's settling into her village existence, and even enjoying it on some level -- though she's very clear about the fact that she is totally not yet over Rochester.

Also of interest: Miss Oliver starts hanging out with Jane, who finds her not particularly interesting, but not bad company either. And she knows that she's not the primary draw: Rosamond Oliver has a thing for St. John Rivers, but he's fully focused on his becoming-a-missionary plan. Jane tries to meddle a bit and get him to admit that he has a bit of a thing for Miss Oliver too, but St. John is the epitome of self-control.

Seriously, self-control, or something. How can you not love a man who responds thus to hearing that the beautiful rich woman finds him appealing?
"It is very pleasant to hear this," he said—"very: go on for another quarter of an hour." And he actually took out his watch and laid it upon the table to measure the time.
And I have to grant St. John this: he's one of the most self-aware characters in the book.
"Know me to be what I am—a cold hard man."
*cough*Edward Cullen*cough*

However (foreshadowing ahoy!), he does have some skill in concealment:
I saw him dexterously tear a narrow slip from the margin. It disappeared in his glove; and, with one hasty nod and "good-afternoon," he vanished.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chapter 31: Scene-setting ahoy!

What happens in this chapter?

Jane acknowledges her class snobbery:
I had twenty scholars. But three of the number can read: none write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little. They speak with the broadest accent of the district. At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other’s language. Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me. I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born.
Jane decides she made the right choice:
Meantime, let me ask myself one question—Which is better?—To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion; made no painful effort—no struggle;—but to have sunk down in the silken snare; fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern clime, amongst the luxuries of a pleasure villa: to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress; delirious with his love half my time—for he would—oh, yes, he would have loved me well for a while.... Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next—or to be a village-schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?
St. John proves he has no future in marketing:
  • "But perhaps your accommodations—your cottage—your furniture—have disappointed your expectations?"
  • "But you feel solitude an oppression? The little house there behind you is dark and empty."
  • "It is too soon yet to yield to the vacillating fears of Lot’s wife.
  • "A last conflict with human weakness, in which I know I shall overcome, because I have vowed that I will overcome."
We meet Miss Oliver:
What happy combination of the planets presided over her birth, I wonder?