Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chapter 17: Outsiders in Thornfield

"You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised."
Sure, honey. That always works.

So Rochester is still away, and Jane's working on her don't-fall-in-love plan, when news arrives: a) Rochester has not hied off to the Continent like Mrs. Fairfax thought he might have done; in fact, b) he's going to be home in three days, c) bringing the house party with him.

So there's work to be done:
The three days were, as she had foretold, busy enough. I had thought all the rooms at Thornfield beautifully clean and well arranged; but it appears I was mistaken.... Mrs. Fairfax had pressed me into her service, and I was all day in the storeroom, helping (or hindering) her and the cook; learning to make custards and cheese-cakes and French pastry, to truss game and garnish desert-dishes.
(This sentiment makes an appearance in Daddy Long-Legs, separate from the overt references to Jane Eyre in that book:
Such a flutter as we are in! The whole house is being cleaned and all the curtains washed. I am driving to the Corners this morning to get some new oilcloth for the entry, and two cans of brown floor paint for the hall and back stairs. Mrs. Dowd is engaged to come tomorrow to wash the windows (in the exigency of the moment, we waive our suspicions in regard to the piglet). You might think, from this account of our activities, that the house was not already immaculate; but I assure you it was! Whatever Mrs. Semple's limitations, she is a HOUSEKEEPER.
What was that line about good writers copy, but great writers steal outright?)

The house party arrives, and Jane gets her first look at Blanche Ingram, who is every bit the beauty she's reputed to be. But she's also standard-issue mean girl, deliberately starting in on governesses - all of them - when Jane joins the group at Rochester's request.

Well, "request" is too mild a word. According to Mrs. Fairfax, what he actually said was
"If she objects, tell her it is my particular wish; and if she resists, say I shall come and fetch her in case of contumacy."
Pleasant man, that.

Let's take a break from speculation about Rochester's designs for a minute, and step in Jane's head, where we can admire Charlotte Bronte's prose. She switches from past to present tense here, something she does at a couple points in the book, as a kind of scene-setting:
At last coffee is brought in, and the gentlemen are summoned. I sit in the shade—if any shade there be in this brilliantly-lit apartment; the window-curtain half hides me. Again the arch yawns; they come. The collective appearance of the gentlemen, like that of the ladies, is very imposing: they are all costumed in black; most of them are tall, some young... I try to concentrate my attention on those netting-needles, on the meshes of the purse I am forming—I wish to think only of the work I have in my hands, to see only the silver beads and silk threads that lie in my lap...
(Full credit, by the way, goes to the introduction in the Penguin Classics edition of the book - I'm not sure I would have noticed the tense shifts if the editor hadn't pointed them out.)

And then we see just how futile Jane's efforts in the beginning of the chapter were:
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
Blanche, however? Not so much.

After the discourse on how to win friends and irritate governesses, we're treated to a Regency-esque (which is not to say that it seems ahistorical here; the 1830s just haven't developed their own literary ambience, y'know?) public flirtation between Blanche and Rochester, at which point Jane decides she's had enough.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chapter 16: Midnight disturbance? What midnight disturbance?

"I both wished and feared to see Mr. Rochester on the day which followed this sleepless night: I wanted to hear his voice again, yet feared to meet his eye."
The rest of the household thinks nothing much went on the night before, just a little accident, but Jane hasn't forgotten. She thinks it has something to do with the mysterious Grace Poole, but her inquiries in that line get her nowhere. Speculation about Grace's relationship with Rochester is equally productive, but it does provoke this leap of logic:
"Yet," suggested the secret voice which talks to us in our own hearts, "you are not beautiful either, and perhaps Mr. Rochester approves you: at any rate, you have often felt as if he did; and last night—remember his words; remember his look; remember his voice!"
Remember, indeed.

But after Jane has spent the whole day expecting to see Rochester anyminutenow, Mrs. Fairfax says that he's left. Off to join a nearby house party.

With Blanche Ingram.

From Mrs. Fairfax's description, it does seem that there's something special about the lady:
"Tall, fine bust, sloping shoulders; long, graceful neck: olive complexion, dark and clear; noble features; eyes rather like Mr. Rochester’s: large and black, and as brilliant as her jewels. And then she had such a fine head of hair; raven-black and so becomingly arranged: a crown of thick plaits behind, and in front the longest, the glossiest curls I ever saw. She was dressed in pure white; an amber-coloured scarf was passed over her shoulder and across her breast, tied at the side, and descending in long, fringed ends below her knee. She wore an amber-coloured flower, too, in her hair: it contrasted well with the jetty mass of her curls."
Aaaand we get another round of foreshadowing:
"Oh! yes. But you see there is a considerable difference in age: Mr. Rochester is nearly forty; she is but twenty-five."

"What of that? More unequal matches are made every day."
You think you know unequal, Mrs. Fairfax? You ain't seen nothin'.

But for now, Jane takes this description of the lovely Miss Ingram as a sign that no, she has no effect whatsoever on Rochester; that it's absurd to even consider such a thing; and that it's now necessary to abase herself further for having considered it.

But that doesn't mean the idea's gone away.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Madeleine L'Engle's Y Chromosomes

"Come on, L'Engle, you owe me. After all, it's your fault I compare every man I date to Adam Eddington."
It's inevitable - when people start sharing their literary crushes, sooner or later, someone's going to bring up Adam Eddington.

The lit-crush conversation today was inspired by Valentine's Day, of course, and Gina, Anindita, and I all agreed on Adam. Then we started discussing Madeleine L'Engle's other alpha males:

And as if I weren't slogging my way through the Jane Eyre-athon, I made an announcement:

So. There will be a "guys of L'Engle" series beginning soon. (Got a better name for it? Please?)

Here's who I'm thinking we need to cover:
  • Adam Eddington, of course (The Arm of the Starfish, A Ring of Endless Light, Troubling a Star)
  • Zachary Grey (The Moon by Night, A Ring of Endless Light, A House Like a Lotus, An Acceptable Time)
  • John Austin (Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, A Ring of Endless Light, Troubling a Star)
  • Paul Laurens (And Both Were Young)
  • Calvin O'Keeffe (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Arm of the Starfish, A House Like a Lotus)
Who else? Is there enough to say about the Murry twins in Many Waters? Should I buckle down and finally read Camilla? Should Vicky's grandfather get a turn? Anybody got a better name for this project?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Third Grade

My goddaughter is in third grade.

The school year is more than half over, so this shouldn't have come as a shock. But my goddaughter, Codename: Princesa, lives far from here, and somehow I'd forgotten. (Somehow? Let's not even consider the list of things I've forgotten lately.)

But when Princesa's mother told me a few days ago about the third-grade class Farmer Boy breakfast, it started to sink in: this girl had reached the age at which I read my first grown-up books.

My third-grade year, 1991-92, was a pivotal one in a lot of ways. I was put in an advanced class that year, half third-graders and half fourth-graders, my school's way of accommodating gifted students. (I never did figure out how the school handled actual fourth grade for those of us who went through it early, since I moved away at the end of that year. They must have had some way to keep it from being repetitive.)

The teacher was Mrs. Reeves, one of those teachers you remember two decades later for all the right reasons.

Mrs. Reeves made us all keep journals she called "lifebooks," which we had to update regularly and turn in weekly. Mine had a lot of pages left at the end of the year, so it served as my diary until sometime in high school. There's nothing like flipping back through your eight-year-old insights to make a teenager feel superior.

We all did a lot of writing in that class, but I did even more, because somehow Mrs. Reeves had me doing an independent project every month on top of the regular classwork, and somehow that was a prize, not a burden. The topic and format were left up to me: one month I created a newspaper and reported on the Salem witch trials; another month I turned the Little House books into Laura's first-person diary.

(Can we take a moment here to reflect on the awesomeness of the Apple II GS, the machine I used to create just about all of these? I can't remember the name of the program I used, a cross between a word-processor and a desktop publisher, but I remember clearly the 5 1/4" floppy it lived on.)

And we did writing projects in class, too - looking back, this was the most creative-writing-oriented school year I ever had.

At one point we wrote our own stories based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which I will forever think of as a book of writing prompts. We wrote poems about colors, and then at the end of the year we each bound them into a book, with pseudo-marbled endpapers (created by sprinkling chalk dust on the surface of a bowl of water and setting a paper down long enough to let the dust adhere) and covers made of foil-covered cardboard, which we went to town on with markers.

(That book was also notable for including an author bio in which I completely misidentified my place of birth. Of course I wasn't born in St. Paul. I know that. But if you needed proof of my tendency to forget things, there you go.)

We must have had some kind of free time for writing too, because I remember stretching out on the classroom floor with a pile of looseleaf, hard at work on Book #2,137 of The Babysitters Club. Yes, that's right. My fanfiction days started early.

But we didn't just write in Mrs. Reeves' class. We read, and we were read to. Every afternoon the class would gather on the floor in the corner that held the classroom library. It was called Australia, after Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Anyone who was having a day like Alexander's was always allowed to retreat to Australia for a while.

The twenty-some of us would settle in - with two randomly-chosen students getting to abandon the floor in favor of red bean bag chairs, which were the coolest thing ever as far as I was concerned - and Mrs. Reeves would read. She must have been a Roald Dahl fan, since Matilda, The B.F.G., and The Witches were among the books she read to us. (I'm sure there was more variety, but the only non-Dahl title I remember was The Castle in the Attic.)

And when I got home from school, I read some more - besides The Babysitters Club, series like Sweet Valley Twins and Cherry Ames were favorites, along with the historical fiction I loved even then.

That was the year of Gone With the Wind.

I picked it up from my aunt and uncle's bookshelves when we visited them for Thanksgiving. Once again, the details escape me - though I very clearly remember their "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Star Trek" poster; yes, I love my family of nerds - but somehow the book, a rather nice navy blue leather-bound hardcover with one of those sewn-in satin bookmarks, went home with me.

I devoured it. I was eight years old, and I just couldn't get enough of Scarlett. I quoted from it. When Cricket magazine invited readers to send in the opening lines from their favorite books, my contribution was "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, though men seldom realized it when captivated by her charms as the Tarleton twins were." Somehow it never ended up in the magazine.

There was a description of someone's low and elegant voice, so I tried to imitate it. (From the backseat of our minivan, where it was a little out of place. My mother, in the driver's seat, kept telling me to speak up.) Inspired by the Disney version of Robin Hood, I wrote a lifebook entry explaining what animal I thought each of the characters should be. I don't know for sure, but I probably tried writing my own sequel to it.

But something even better happened that spring: Alexandra Ripley wrote Scarlett.

Of course I got a copy. (From a swap meet - very California!) And I loved it too.

I don't know why my parents went along with it - I might hesitate before handing Princesa a copy if she asked for it - but I'm so glad they did. There were some bodice-ripping scenes, but they went completely over my head. The romance, the drama, the story - that part I understood.

(Most of the slavery-related aspects of both Gone With the Wind and Scarlett also went over my head at that point. I was a white child living in suburban Orange County, and I don't think I had the necessary frame of reference. All I knew of the Rodney King riots of the year before, for instance, was that for a while the news was on in the afternoon instead of the cartoons we usually watched. I just wasn't aware at that point, and I say that in explanation, not excuse. I don't think that meant I wasn't ready for the books, any more than my superficial take on "romance" did. As I returned to the books over the years, I brought new perspectives to the text each time.)

Gone With the Wind was the defining book of my third-grade year, but it wasn't my only foray into books that don't get shelved in the children's section. Somehow I acquired a copy of Nicholas and Alexandra. (Not gonna lie: I think it was the cover image that grabbed me, especially Alexandra's dress.)

Nicholas and Alexandra, a doorstop-type history book, wasn't quite as smooth sailing as the novels, but I tore through the first (young tsarevich, Princess Alix) and last (fall of the House of Romanov) parts. Between that and the Russian expats who always seemed to turn up in the ballet stories I was also reading, I got hooked on Russia.

But I was still a third-grader, not some mini-Ph.D. candidate, so those books shared mental real estate with horses, dress-up, being a bossy big sister, and school.

Despite the general excellence of Mrs. Reeves, school had its drawbacks. I ended up in the midst of some alpha/mean-girl drama that year. (With the inimitable logic of elementary school, it principally took the form of mocking me for a nonexistent crush on a classmate I'd barely spoken to, and for some reason that was a source of torment. Go figure.)

I don't know if Princesa's third-grade year has involved that kind of drama, but if it has - oh, well. For me it was momentous at the time, but hardly life-changing. (Thank you, Mrs. Reeves, for never responding to the "why do they make fun of me all the time?" lifebook entries. You were way smarter than I was.)

Maybe this isn't the time for her to have a definitive connection with books - or maybe it is. Whenever she gets there, I hope all of us will be smart enough to step back and let her figure it out. For my part, I'll repeat as often as necessary: you read Alexandra Ripley at the age of eight, and somehow you turned out okay.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chapter 15: I see London, I see France...

The first part of this chapter has a simple message: non-English things (like, say, French opera singers) are bad - "hardly congenial to an English mind" - though Rochester doesn't come out smelling like roses either.

In other words, we get the story of Adele's background.
"I had not, it seems, the originality to chalk out a new road to shame and destruction, but trode the old track with stupid exactness not to deviate an inch from the beaten centre."
And we get another look at Edward Rochester, man in touch with his emotions:
"Pain, shame, ire, impatience, disgust, detestation, seemed momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebon eyebrow. Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but another feeling rose and triumphed: something hard and cynical: self-willed and resolute: it settled his passion and petrified his countenance: he went on—"
There's also an Othello reference tucked in here, as Rochester points out that it's "passing strange"
"that you should listen to me quietly, as if it were the most usual thing in the world for a man like me to tell stories of his opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you!"
Yeah, Desdemona's got the marriage every girl dreams of.

After their conversation - well, his monologue, for the most part - the narrator takes over for a bit, and we get to see that while Jane's expending quite a bit of her thought process on her employer, she's got a rather clear-eyed perspective, especially considering she's an unworldly 18-year-old:
"Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others."
And finally, the chapter concludes with a moment of high drama, as Jane hears noises in the hallway, and discovers Rochester in a bit of distress - someone* has torched his linens. Perhaps there's a trip to Linens 'n' Things in Mrs. Fairfax's future.

Rochester behaves a bit suspiciously, telling Jane not to wake any of the servants, and then darting off to some other part of the house. And when he returns, he's got a bit of a do-as-I-say thing going on, as he tells Jane to go back to bed, but doesn't quite let her leave. Our girl turns to a classic to get herself out of it:
"But he still retained my hand, and I could not free it. I bethought myself of an expedient.

'I think I hear Mrs. Fairfax move, sir,' said I."

*Yes, we all presumably know who that someone is. But as she isn't going to be introduced for several more chapters, let's continue to feign ignorance, shall we?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chapter 14: Repartee

Okay, Mr. Rochester is fairly contemptible. I'll admit that. Locking your wife in the attic? No, not so much.

But the way he is in this chapter, you can see why he's also intriguing enough to keep this story going for another twenty chapters. If it were obvious that Jane were making a mistake here, there'd be no story.
"Now I have performed the part of a good host," pursued Mr. Rochester, "put my guests into the way of amusing each other, I ought to be at liberty to attend to my own pleasure. Miss Eyre, draw your chair still a little farther forward: you are yet too far back; I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I have no mind to do."
And then we have this exchange:

"You examine me, Miss Eyre," said he: "do you think me handsome?"

I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—"No, sir."

"Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you," said he: "you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?"

Followed by:

"I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience."

"Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won’t allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?"

I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar—he seems to forget that he pays me £30 per annum for receiving his orders.

"The smile is very well,” said he, catching instantly the passing expression; “but speak too."

"I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders."

"Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate, are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a little?"

"No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree heartily."

"And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases, without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?"

"I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary."

This is, let us remember, the girl who refused to accept punishment meekly at Lowood.

Tempting as it is to just copy the entire dialogue into this post - it's not quite a Hepburn-Grant duel of words, but still enjoyable - I'll leave off here. Go read for yourself.

Chapter 13: Monsieur Edouard Fairfax de Rochester

First: There's a Jane Eyre readalong going on this month. Check it out at Laura's Review Bookshelf.

Second: The book.

Adele's rendition of Rochester's full name is one of those phrases that stuck with me through many rereadings. The gentleman in question is not French, of course (detour back to AP English and the discussion of Bronte's contrasts between the English and the French...), but he does make an appearance.

Jane's just a touch intimidated when she first goes in to meet her employer:
Unused as I was to strangers, it was rather a trial to appear thus formally summoned in Mr. Rochester’s presence. I let Mrs. Fairfax precede me into the dining-room, and kept in her shade as we crossed that apartment; and, passing the arch, whose curtain was now dropped, entered the elegant recess beyond.
But Rochester does her a favor by being his usual charming self.
A reception of finished politeness would probably have confused me: I could not have returned or repaid it by answering grace and elegance on my part; but harsh caprice laid me under no obligation; on the contrary, a decent quiescence, under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage. Besides, the eccentricity of the proceeding was piquant: I felt interested to see how he would go on.
See, that whole Byronic moodiness thing does have a purpose.

"I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?"

"For whom, sir?”

"For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?"

I shook my head. "The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. "And not even in Hay Lane, or the fields about it, could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more."

Mrs. Fairfax had dropped her knitting, and, with raised eyebrows, seemed wondering what sort of talk this was.

Our girl can give as good as she gets here, even if Mrs. Fairfax is a little too salt-of-the-earth-stolid to keep up.

But! Mrs. Fairfax is a valuable woman, and she proves her worth here by providing some more foreshadowing, as she recounts the Rochester chronology (present generation).

"Mr. Rowland Rochester was not quite just to Mr. Edward; and perhaps he prejudiced his father against him. The old gentleman was fond of money, and anxious to keep the family estate together. He did not like to diminish the property by division, and yet he was anxious that Mr. Edward should have wealth, too, to keep up the consequence of the name; and, soon after he was of age, some steps were taken that were not quite fair, and made a great deal of mischief. Old Mr. Rochester and Mr. Rowland combined to bring Mr. Edward into what he considered a painful position, for the sake of making his fortune: what the precise nature of that position was I never clearly knew, but his spirit could not brook what he had to suffer in it. He is not very forgiving: he broke with his family, and now for many years he has led an unsettled kind of life."

Unsettled, hmm? We shall see where this leads us.