Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Mitali Test

A couple weeks ago, Mitali Perkins suggested applying a version of the Bechdel Test to books, as a way of evaluating their racial and cultural diversity.

In the comments, I threw out the term "Mitali Test," which other commenters seemed to like. (I also demonstrated my inability to spell "knew," but that's another story.)

The Mitali Test asks three questions about a book:
  1. Are there two or more people of color with names?
  2. Do they have a significant conversation with each other?
  3. Do they talk about something other than race?

I decided to apply the Mitali Test to the middle-grade and YA books in my LibraryThing collection. Here's what passed*:

Is this a comprehensive list? Hardly. But it's a start.

*I was relying on memory when I compiled this list, and it's been a while since I read a few of these. Feel free to correct me on any that don't meet all three criteria.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chapter 12: Jane returns

Bit of a hiatus there - sorry about that! Let's check in with our heroine.

"The promise of a smooth career" at Thornfield, Jane decides, "was not belied on a longer acquaintance with the place and its inmates." Which is all well and good, but she wants a little more.
"I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim sky-line—that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen—that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adèle; but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold."
Goodness? Well, I suppose it depends on your point of view.

When a stranger appears, Jane's first reaction is to think of North Country ghost stories:
"In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind: the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they recurred, maturing youth added to them a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give. As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie's tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a 'Gytrash,' which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me."
But even ghost stories, for Jane, have a certain logic:
"The horse followed,—a tall steed, and on its back a rider. The man, the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form. No Gytrash was this,—only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote."
Anyone want to venture a guess as to who the traveler might be?

(Aside: There's another great instance of sly Bronte humor here, as Charlotte take a little dig at Jane's innocence: "I think he was swearing, but am not certain; however, he was pronouncing some formula which prevented him from replying to me directly.")

As for that innocence - it doesn't necessarily imply humility:
"His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness."
When Jane returns to the house, the maid Leah indirectly identifies the man as Mr. Rochester, the long-absent master of Thornfield. But we have to wait for another chapter before we can begin making a sketch of his character.