Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chapter 30: Jane settles in

Conveniently, the opening line of this chapter also makes for a pretty good summary: "The more I knew of the inmates of Moor House, the better I liked them."

I admit to being guilty of the same thing most of the movie adaptations have done (credit for that insight goes to a Times article): I pretty much skip over the Moor House section. True, it's nearly a third of the book. But it's booooooring! We've set the Rochester plot aside for a while. To be fair, there are some loose ends tied up and some positioning that makes the resolution possible, but (and I think this is the crux of it) no matter how hard I try, I just can't find St. John likable, so I rush through this section.

However, we are giving each chapter the dignity it deserves, so I will not skip to the end.

Jane's quite at home with Diana and Mary, but St. John's always busy, and not exactly personable, so she doesn't really get a chance to know him -- which is why she's amazed when she listens to him preach:
It began calm—and indeed, as far as delivery and pitch of voice went, it was calm to the end: an earnestly felt, yet strictly restrained zeal breathed soon in the distinct accents, and prompted the nervous language. This grew to force—compressed, condensed, controlled. The heart was thrilled, the mind astonished, by the power of the preacher: neither were softened. Throughout there was a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness; stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines—election, predestination, reprobation—were frequent; and each reference to these points sounded like a sentence pronounced for doom. When he had done, instead of feeling better, calmer, more enlightened by his discourse, I experienced an inexpressible sadness; for it seemed to me—I know not whether equally so to others—that the eloquence to which I had been listening had sprung from a depth where lay turbid dregs of disappointment—where moved troubling impulses of insatiate yearnings and disquieting aspirations.
St. John also finds a job for Jane, though he goes about offering it in the most backhanded way possible:
  • "I have nothing eligible or profitable to suggest."
  • "I can offer you but a service of poverty and obscurity."
  • "You shall hear how poor the proposal is,—how trivial—how cramping."
  • "Your scholars will be only poor girls—cottagers’ children—at the best, farmers’ daughters."
But it gives Jane the opportunity to earn as much as she made teaching Adele, while continuing to hide out, so she accepts.

And then the chapter ends with a scene that doesn't quite mean anything yet, but will soon: the Riverses have lost their uncle, but he left his wealth to another relative.

Three guesses.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chapter 29: Meet the Rivers family

Ten more chapters! We can do this!

Okay, after last chapter's collapse, Jane is out of it for a while. Happily, Jane-the-narrator is able to report on some of the bedside conversations she overhears from her protectors. Which means we get to hear this tidbit from St. John (which, by the way, is pronounced Sinjin). Considering how his character is developed, this is the kind of thing I wouldn't be surprised to hear him say to Jane's face, but at the moment, he thinks she's sleeping:
"That is hardly likely," was the reply. "You will find she is some young lady who has had a misunderstanding with her friends, and has probably injudiciously left them. We may, perhaps, succeed in restoring her to them, if she is not obstinate: but I trace lines of force in her face which make me sceptical of her tractability." He stood considering me some minutes; then added, "She looks sensible, but not at all handsome."
St. John, on the other hand, is pretty much the textbook example of handsome. Not that he cares.

Jane finally gets moving again, and heads to the kitchen, where she has a little tiff with Hannah, the housekeeper. Miss Eyre does not consider herself a beggar (despite the fact that she was, in fact, begging in the last chapter), and she sets Hannah straight on her position in the social hierarchy.

This is the kind of stuff that leads people to call Jane Eyre a fundamentally conservative book, while others focus on the proto-feminism and Jane's independent spirit and some of the narrator's more open-minded opinions.

Once order has been restored, Hannah provides an overview of the household: St. John, Diana, and Mary Rivers, all recently orphaned adults. St. John is the local minister, and the girls work as governesses.

When Jane has her first conversation with them, she pretty much refuses to tell anything about herself:
"The name of the place where, and of the person with whom I lived, is my secret," I replied concisely.

The Men of L'Engle #1: Paul Laurens


We're starting out easy here in the Men of L'Engle Project*. Paul Laurens appears in just one book, And Both Were Young. No multi-book character arcs to discuss here, just one of L'Engle's early creations.

Fair warning: Expect spoilers in these posts. It's kind of hard to analyze characters without giving away plot. If you're lagging behind on your L'Engle reading, get caught up, then come back here.

And Both Were Young is mostly set in an all-girl Swiss boarding school, but Paul manages to score plenty of page time, starting when main character Flip runs into him (literally) at a chateau they're both visiting.

Leading characteristics:
  • Doesn't like "institutions." At first, this gives him a good excuse to be hanging out with his free-range father when Flip goes wandering off campus. Later revealed to be the result of concentration camp-induced PTSD.
  • Good at skiing. And teaching skiing. To Flip.
  • Interested in medicine. Shows promise (has treated many animals), but interest conflicts with his disinclination to go to school.
  • The strong, silent, moody type. "There was always grief in his eyes."
Pull quote(s):
  • "I knew right away that I liked you, so I never bothered to think why."
And Both Were Young is a fairly straightforward and sweet coming-of-age story, and both those adjectives also apply to Paul. It's hard to imagine him doing anything to hurt Flip (oh, Zachary, we will get to you later) or upset the space-time continuum.

We know from the appearance of one of her portraits in a later book that Flip does realize her dream of becoming an artist, but since she herself isn't present, we don't know anything about her personal life. It could go either way, I think. Either she and Paul are about to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary, after a lifetime of dividing themselves between New York and Paris, or else Flip still pulls out a silver necklace once in a while, and smiles when she thinks back on her first love.

*And if you've got a better name, seriously, send it along.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chapter 28: Jane alone


So Jane's not just broke and in unfamiliar territory here -- she also managed to leave her parcel behind in the coach that brought her away from Thornfield, so she's pretty much got nothing but the clothes on her back.

Jane-the-narrator is back to present-tense scene-setting here, giving you a sense of how desperate she's feeling:
Not a tie holds me to human society at this moment—not a charm or hope calls me where my fellow-creatures are—none that saw me would have a kind thought or a good wish for me. I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose.
This isn't the glorious Romantic natural world here. It's Jane's last resort, and it's a cruel world.

Even though she was neglected by the Reeds and has been working for her living, Jane's retained her place among the gentry (though at the bottom of it) by virtue of her father's clergyman status. When she finds herself without money, connections, or any idea what she's going to do, she's also lost that class protection.

(Sort of. Even though she's bedraggled, she's still wearing decent-quality clothes, and when she breaks down and begs some food from a farmer, she assumes that he still considers her a lady of some sort.)

Time for some historical context here, in two parts: the Corn Laws and the Poor Laws. This is the part where I get to prove I learned stuff in my semester of graduate school.

The Corn Laws were in effect for the first half of the nineteenth century, and served to keep the price of grain artificially high, mostly through import restrictions. ("Corn" referred to all kinds of grains, not just what we apply the word to today. The English were eating corn long before they encountered maize in their North American settlements.)

Semantics aside, the result was that high grain prices meant high food prices -- in other words, the Corn Laws benefited the landowning agricultural class at the expense of the poor (and the emerging middle class).

And the Poor Laws didn't help matters. Here we jump out of the story's chronology for a minute, because it's likely that Bronte's description of Jane's experience was shaped by political events in the years before Jane Eyre was published. (For reference, the book was published in 1847, but the story takes place twenty or so years earlier.)

Poor Laws had been around for centuries at this point, regulating relief payments to the needy, who were considered the responsibility of the parish they lived in. In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment was passed. It created the workhouse (pace Dickens).

If you needed relief, the workhouse became your only option, but a) if you had any ability to work, regardless of how little you had the potential to earn, you didn't qualify, but still couldn't get help elsewhere, and b) the people in charge were determined to make the workhouse the most miserable experience ever, on the theory that nineteenth century England was largely populated by Ronald Reagan's welfare queens.

This, by way of summary of what Jane's facing as she's wandering around the countryside, is my five-paragraph summary of a fabulously informative 800-page book, E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. If you're at all interested in what the Regency and early Victorian years were like for the people who only rarely got speaking roles in Jane Austen's books, pick this up.

Returning to the story: Jane's wandering takes her to a house; she eavesdrops on two girls and a housekeeper for a while. When she knocks and asks for help, the housekeeper is unsympathetic, but the man of the house appears and says she can stay. Jane is thoroughly worn out, but not too tired to pick a pseudonym, so as far as her new protectors know, she's Jane Elliott.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chapter 27: "Reader, I forgave him"

Yes, that line actually appears in this chapter, sort of a variation on what's become one of the more famous lines in English lit -- which we'll get to in Chapter 38.

For now, though, Jane emerges from her room, where it turns out Rochester's been parked outside the door waiting. He moans a bit and asks forgiveness, and she gives it.

(Full disclosure: If you like, you can blame my cynicism about the instant forgiveness on my bitter-old-maid status. I still don't think I'd have let Rochester off that easily.)

To be fair, Jane gives us a pretty clear look into her state of mind: "I must leave him, it appears. I do not want to leave him—I cannot leave him." But while she's thinking this, outwardly she's got her priorities straight: Rochester is married to someone else, so there will be no more kissing.

Rochester, who thinks he's going to cart Jane off with him to his even-more-remote house at Thorndean, isn't too pleased when she objects to the idea, which brings us to one of the reasons my sympathies are not with Rochester here:
"Jane! will you hear reason?" (he stooped and approached his lips to my ear); "because, if you won’t, I’ll try violence." His voice was hoarse; his look that of a man who is just about to burst an insufferable bond and plunge headlong into wild license.
The Penguin Classics editors note that "violence," in this context, means rape. I don't care how upset you are about having your wedding interrupted, it's still inexcusable. (Also, it prompts the reader to reconsider Jane's whole "when I'm saucy instead of sappy I can control him" thing from earlier chapters.)

Then he tries the "you didn't want me, you just wanted my money" tack:
"You don’t love me, then? It was only my station, and the rank of my wife, that you valued?"
Charming, isn't he? Rochester gets over himself a bit, calms down, and goes back to his "well, of course we'll be together" plan:
"As to the new existence, it is all right: you shall yet be my wife: I am not married. You shall be Mrs. Rochester—both virtually and nominally."
Which, as Jane points out, would so not be the case. Even if Rochester doesn't want to believe he's married, there's a little piece of paper that says otherwise.

(Historical note: Jane Eyre is set well before the passage of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. The only way Rochester could have divorced Bertha was by petitioning Parliament -- and while he's shown as a wealthy man, it's never suggested that he has that kind of influence.)

This finally leads to Rochester giving a full summary of his history with Bertha, since he thinks Jane will agree with him once she has all the facts. Short version: The Rochester estate was entailed on his older brother, but in order not to leave his second son destitute, Rochester Senior arranged a marriage with a Miss Mason with 30,000 pounds. Rochester met her after everything had been agreed to; she was pretty; he went ahead with it.

(Side note: Emma Woodhouse's fortune was also 30,000 pounds. Emma is, I believe, more or less contemporary with Rochester's marriage. I would not be surprised to learn that fanfiction has already explored this coincidence.)

Short version continued: Rochester hated Bertha pretty much from the start. He ended up inheriting everything anyway, but was stuck with his wife, who ended up mad. He decided to move back to England, secretly lock her up in Thornfield, and enjoy himself on the Continent. And while it wasn't his plan to take up with one mistress after another, "I could not live alone."

But although Rochester enjoyed his mistresses' company at the time, he makes his utter disdain for them pretty clear, which Jane picks up on:
I felt the truth of these words; and I drew from them the certain inference, that if I were so far to forget myself and all the teaching that had ever been instilled into me, as—under any pretext—with any justification—through any temptation—to become the successor of these poor girls, he would one day regard me with the same feeling which now in his mind desecrated their memory.
Which is why, when he once again insists that the two of them should run off to the Riviera together, she's strong enough to say no.
"Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise—'I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'"

"Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours."
Instead, she packs a back and sneaks out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chapter 26: Mawwiage is what bwings us togethah today


It's Jane's wedding day. The happiest day of every girl's life.

Or, y'know, the day she finds out her husband-to-be was actually planning to become a bigamist.

(Side note: For a book that deals with bigamy from the various sides of the relationship -- basically, it's a family story, plus a damn fine read -- put Tayari Jones' Silver Sparrow on your list. It's out at the end of May, and it's awesome.)

Everything is in readiness (and we get a bit of checklist-dialogue to prove it), and Jane and Rochester make their way to the Thornfield church, with Jane taking note of her fiance's expression:
I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did—so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.
Perhaps it's not the happiest day of Rochester's life.

The minister makes his way through the service, and things are good until we get to that bit about an impediment.

As in "the marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment."

It's our old friend Mr. Mason, recovered from his attack in Chapter 20, and back to have his say. Well, actually he's letting his solicitor have his say, to the effect that, as Ellen the maid says in Mary Poppins, "the position 'as been filled."
"And you would thrust on me a wife?"

"I would remind you of your lady’s existence, sir, which the law recognises, if you do not."
There's already a Mrs. Rochester, something her husband managed to leave out in the course of romancing his governess. He tries to bluff it out, objecting to the evidence the solicitor brings up -- after all, even if he once had a wife, that doesn't mean she's still around -- but when Mason reveals himself, Rochester knows he's pretty well screwed.
"Wood, close your book and take off your surplice; John Green (to the clerk), leave the church: there will be no wedding to-day."
And therewith is delivered a big slap in the face to everyone who picked this up expecting it to be a romance. Just in case we haven't covered this: Jane Eyre and Jane Austen are both awesome, but you've got to be prepared for totally different genres. (And Austen's a brilliant satirist and prose stylist, not just a romance writer, but that's a whole other series.)

The whole party decamps to the house, Rochester holding onto Jane the whole time, and ascends to the mysterious third floor. (Typing that phrase, I wonder if this is where Ann M. Martin got the idea for Karen Brewer's bĂȘte noir in the Babysitters Club books.)

For those who aren't familiar with the story of Bertha Mason, here are the pull quotes:
  • "Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard... Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parent in both points."
  • "What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face."
  • "She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest—more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was."
Got all that?

And just in case we haven't added enough family connections in this chapter, Bronte throws us one more: Mason and Jane's uncle share an employer.

Jane goes back to her room, pretty sure that Rochester never loved her in the first place, and is now ready to call it a go. You may not be surprised to learn she's far from pleased with that, though she doesn't see any other possibilities.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chapter 25: Ominous forebodings ahead

In terms of plot, not a whole lot happens in this chapter: it's mostly stage-setting for the melodrama that follows.

It's the day before the wedding, and Jane's looking over the already-tagged trunks that they'll be taking on their honeymoon -- and she's not too sure about the label on hers.
Mrs. Rochester! She did not exist: she would not be born till to-morrow, some time after eight o’clock a.m.; and I would wait to be assured she had come into the world alive before I assigned to her all that property.
The foreshadowing music starts... now!

Jane putters around the house and grounds, then finally goes out in a storm to meet Rochester. She's got something on her mind -- plus she wants to see him.

First, Jane tells him about the odd dreams she's been having. And then the definitely-not-a-dream part:
"It seemed, sir, a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back. I know not what dress she had on: it was white and straight; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell."

"Did you see her face?"

"Not at first. But presently she took my veil from its place; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass."
(If this were a modern work, I'd make snarky reference to the obligatory vampire mention here. But I think we can be pretty sure Charlotte Bronte's not making a Twilight reference -- otherwise Rochester would sparkle.)

Rochester mostly tries to laugh it off, but he also tells her to go sleep in Adele's room. Next up: their wedding day, on which we can all deliver a collective smack to Rochester.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chapter 24: This is why long engagements are discouraged

They're engaged! Birds are singing, mice are hard at work on a dress -- wait. Wrong story.

They're engaged, and everything is wonderful. Except not.

Jane is simultaneously blissful and terrified when she thinks about the fact that she's about to marry Rochester. And he's not helping by insisting that it's now his prerogative to shower her with brocade and diamonds.
"Jewels for Jane Eyre sounds unnatural and strange: I would rather not have them."
While Jane wants to be practical, Rochester has his own plans for married life:
"You shall sojourn at Paris, Rome, and Naples: at Florence, Venice, and Vienna: all the ground I have wandered over shall be re-trodden by you: wherever I stamped my hoof, your sylph’s foot shall step also. Ten years since, I flew through Europe half mad; with disgust, hate, and rage as my companions: now I shall revisit it healed and cleansed, with a very angel as my comforter."
Uh huh. Our girl's take:
"For a little while you will perhaps be as you are now,—a very little while; and then you will turn cool; and then you will be capricious; and then you will be stern, and I shall have much ado to please you: but when you get well used to me, you will perhaps like me again,—like me, I say, not love me. I suppose your love will effervesce in six months, or less."
Show of hands: which scenario is more plausible?

(Side note: Really, Charlotte, you had to throw in that bit of casual antisemitism there? It's not even an accurate reference -- since Esther never asked for half of Ahasuerus' kingdom; he just kept offering it -- and it's so totally unnecessary.)

Elsewhere in the chapter: Mrs. Fairfax is rather shocked at the idea of the governess marrying the employer; there is a shopping trip; Jane announces that she has no intention of being treated like Celine Varens; Rochester whines; Jane takes action:
"I like you more than I can say; but I’ll not sink into a bathos of sentiment: and with this needle of repartee I’ll keep you from the edge of the gulf too; and, moreover, maintain by its pungent aid that distance between you and myself most conducive to our real mutual advantage."

...

He continued to send for me punctually the moment the clock struck seven; though when I appeared before him now, he had no such honeyed terms as “love” and “darling” on his lips: the best words at my service were “provoking puppet,” “malicious elf,” “sprite,” “changeling,” &c. For caresses, too, I now got grimaces; for a pressure of the hand, a pinch on the arm; for a kiss on the cheek, a severe tweak of the ear. It was all right: at present I decidedly preferred these fierce favours to anything more tender.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chapter 23: "Do you think I am an automaton?"


No, I haven't seen the 2011 movie version of this scene yet, but now that the movie has been released in Boston...

It's hard to be of one mind about this chapter. Yes, it's one of the great proposal scenes, with Jane declaring herself just as much as Rochester does - but I don't love it so much that I'm willing to overlook Rochester's needless duplicity here.

Anyway.

Jane's out wandering the Thornfield grounds, treating us to a Romantic aside about all the nature she's encountering (or perhaps that should be Nature, as we're definitely in a Noble Ideas frame of mind here), when she runs into Rochester, who she's been trying to avoid.

Rochester won't let her leave. And then he starts in on how she'll have to leave Thornfield when he marries, and how lovely his Blanche is, and how he's already found a new situation for Jane in Ireland.

Jane is a little less iron-willed than usual, and finally gives into tears at the idea of going so far away. So what does Rochester do? He pulls out this gem:
"My bride! What bride? I have no bride!"
In other words, he lies on two levels -- about his previous bride, and about his current plans. So not seeing a justification for this.

Except for this: it gives Jane an excuse to make one of the great speeches of this book.
Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!
Damn straight.

And then that paragraph is followed by this one (well, first there's a kiss), in which Jane continues to show her mettle, plus we get some foreshadowing:
"Yes, so, sir," I rejoined: "and yet not so; for you are a married man—or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you—to one with whom you have no sympathy—whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you—let me go!"
So much for being equals. So how does Rochester respond to that speech? He proposes, and I don't blame Jane one bit for not believing him.
"I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions."

"You play a farce, which I merely laugh at."

"I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion."

"For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it."
Smart girl, that. But she starts to believe him, "beginning in his earnestness—and especially in his incivility—to credit his sincerity."

In just a bit we'll find out whether or not she's still a smart girl.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 22: Wouldn't this be better with an Alan Menken score?

We begin this chapter with a line that (at least to me) seems like an allusion to Beauty and the Beast:
Mr. Rochester had given me but one week’s leave of absence: yet a month elapsed before I quitted Gateshead.
Can't you just picture the ring turning on her finger, or Robby Benson gazing despondently into the magic mirror? No? Just me? Okay then.

Jane extends her stay at Gateshead because she's being good to her worthless cousins, and giving Bronte the opportunity to tie up all loose ends with the Reed family -- Eliza ends up in a convent, we learn, and Georgiana marries well, and Jane's done with them.

A brief aside as we follow Jane back to Thornfield, now -- this, people, is metaphor:
And then I strangled a new-born agony—a deformed thing which I could not persuade myself to own and rear—and ran on.
We switch back to the stage-setting present tense as Jane narrates her approach, which brings her face-to-face with Rochester, who's sitting on the stile, blocking her path.

And while I'm so not willing to overlook the way Rochester's messing with Jane here, as he starts talking to her about the future Mrs. Rochester -- by which Jane assumes he means Blanche, of course -- I do have to smile at this exchange:
"Tell me now, fairy as you are—can’t you give me a charm, or a philter, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?"

"It would be past the power of magic, sir"
You tell him, Jane.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

From the Better-Late Files: An Old-Fashioned Girl


Finally got around to An Old-Fashioned Girl, rather a bit later for Mitali's cuci mata reading.

Not much to add to the questions and critiques Gail Gauthier raised back in December, except to say this:

Despite all the heavy-handed Important Life Lessons in the book (and Polly's pronounced Pollyanna tendencies), I was totally hooked on the relationships between the characters. I had to find out if Polly and Tom were going to end up together, and if Fanny was ever going to get over herself.

And on a related note, I much preferred the second half of the story to the first.

Chapter 21: In which multiple narrative purposes are served

You thought Jane had put the Reeds behind her? Alas, no -- she still feels an obligation to them, so when Robert Leaven, her aunt's coachman, shows up to request her presence for some family drama, she goes.

Let's take a look all the different ways this trip fits into the story:

Loose ends are tied up. I suppose Bronte could have just left the Reeds in Jane's past, but here they're dispatched with (in John Reed's case, literally).

The romantic tension moves offstage. After all their recent moments, Jane and Rochester are about to spend some time apart -- and she knows she's leaving him with Blanche. Without this physical separation, it's hard to imagine Bronte would have been able to stretch out the length of time their relationship remains unsettled.

Jane gets to explain Rochester to a stranger. And what does she tell Bessie about him?
I told her he was rather an ugly man, but quite a gentleman; and that he treated me kindly, and I was content.
We get to see how Jane's grown up. Her cousins are still rather obnoxious to her, but this isn't the fly-into-a-temper Jane of the opening chapters. She's a bit above all that now.

Jane gets an honest answer to why her aunt has always hated her. Even if it's a really dumb reason, at least she knows.

A Very Important future plot point is introduced. It takes the form of a letter:
“Madam,—Will you have the goodness to send me the address of my niece, Jane Eyre, and to tell me how she is? It is my intention to write shortly and desire her to come to me at Madeira. Providence has blessed my endeavours to secure a competency; and as I am unmarried and childless, I wish to adopt her during my life, and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave.—I am, Madam, &c., &c.,

John Eyre, Madeira.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chapter 20: In which we are reminded that this is as much a horror story as a romance

Just in case you'd been lulled into thinking Jane Eyre was all about love across employer-employee boundaries, Chapter 20 pops in to remind you of all the other stuff generally associated with Gothic novels - the totally non-romantic stuff.

Jane, who forgot to pull the curtains before going to bed, is woken by a full moon shining in her window (been there!), just in time to hear a cry from the third floor of the house:
Indeed, whatever being uttered that fearful shriek could not soon repeat it: not the widest-winged condor on the Andes could, twice in succession, send out such a yell from the cloud shrouding his eyrie. The thing delivering such utterance must rest ere it could repeat the effort.
It's followed by sounds of a scuffle, so naturally the entire house party pours out into the hall to find out what's up. Can't you just picture the ladies here?
"What awful event has taken place?" said she. "Speak! let us know the worst at once!"

"But don’t pull me down or strangle me," he replied: for the Misses Eshton were clinging about him now; and the two dowagers, in vast white wrappers, were bearing down on him like ships in full sail.

"All’s right!—all’s right!" he cried. "It’s a mere rehearsal of Much Ado about Nothing. Ladies, keep off, or I shall wax dangerous."
Clearly, things can't be too bad if Rochester can indulge in snark.

But Jane knows it's not just someone's bad dream, so she gets dressed, figuring she's going to be needed. As she is -- Rochester turns up an hour later, and leads her upstairs.

Mr. Mason, the most recent arrival, has clearly been attacked. We don't get any more details, because Rochester, before dashing off again, absolutely forbids him to speak to Jane, and vice versa. And Mason is nothing if not obedient.

But even without discussion, Jane picks up on some of the mysteries of the situation:
And why, now, was he so tame under the violence or treachery done him? Why did he so quietly submit to the concealment Mr. Rochester enforced? Why did Mr. Rochester enforce this concealment? His guest had been outraged, his own life on a former occasion had been hideously plotted against; and both attempts he smothered in secrecy and sank in oblivion! Lastly, I saw Mr. Mason was submissive to Mr. Rochester; that the impetuous will of the latter held complete sway over the inertness of the former: the few words which had passed between them assured me of this. It was evident that in their former intercourse, the passive disposition of the one had been habitually influenced by the active energy of the other: whence then had arisen Mr. Rochester’s dismay when he heard of Mr. Mason’s arrival? Why had the mere name of this unresisting individual—whom his word now sufficed to control like a child—fallen on him, a few hours since, as a thunderbolt might fall on an oak?
And then the doctor shows up, and everyone's a bit less careful about conversation, which means Jane gets to learn that Mason's assailant
  • had a knife
  • also bit him
  • demonstrated vampiric tendencies
  • was deceptively quite at first
Again: we're in the horror part of the story now.

Rochester hustles Mason off as the sun rises, with Mason's exit following this exchange:
Mason: "Let her be taken care of; let her be treated as tenderly as may be: let her—" he stopped and burst into tears.

Rochester: "I do my best; and have done it, and will do it," was the answer: he shut up the chaise door, and the vehicle drove away.
Uh-huh. In a few chapters we'll find out just what Rochester considers his best.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chapter 19: The Gypsy Trope

Let me start this chapter by pointing out that I'm woefully unqualified to say much of anything about representations of Roma in English lit, except in the most general terms -- and as this Gypsy is not, in fact, Roma at all, I'm going to kind of skip over the quasi-blackface aspects of this scene.

Short version: Jane goes to see the Gypsy because her presence was requested, not out of any actual interest in hearing her fortune told. She's playing along, but considering the length of the conversation, it does seem to be a bit more than simple politeness.

Oh, let's stop being coy. The Gypsy soon reveals himself as Mr. Rochester, who for reasons surpassing understanding has decided that this is the best way to play host to a house party. He asks Jane if she's going to forgive him for messing with her, and our girl is nothing if not circumspect:
"I cannot tell till I have thought it all over. If, on reflection, I find I have fallen into no great absurdity, I shall try to forgive you; but it was not right."
And then Jane mentions, almost in passing, that the party grew by one during Rochester's supposed absence:
"His name is Mason, sir; and he comes from the West Indies; from Spanish Town, in Jamaica, I think."

Mr. Rochester was standing near me; he had taken my hand, as if to lead me to a chair. As I spoke he gave my wrist a convulsive grip; the smile on his lips froze: apparently a spasm caught his breath.

"Mason!—the West Indies!" he said, in the tone one might fancy a speaking automaton to enounce its single words; "Mason!—the West Indies!" he reiterated; and he went over the syllables three times, growing, in the intervals of speaking, whiter than ashes: he hardly seemed to know what he was doing.
Which leads to another moment in which Jane gets to be the strong, sensible one in this relationship.

"Oh, lean on me, sir."

"Jane, you offered me your shoulder once before; let me have it now."

"Yes, sir, yes; and my arm."

Indeed.

And with that, we reach the halfway point of the book!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chapter 18: The population grows

So. There are people at Thornfield. Lots of them -- which is quite a change from the last couple months.

We get a house party scene, as Jane watches Rochester and his guests play charades (and act out a sham marriage - what foreshadowing!) and generally banter.

Which means, of course, that she's watching Blanche and Rochester, fairly sure that a marriage is in the works -- even if Blanche clearly doesn't know Mr. R. as well as Jane does:
"Because, when she failed, I saw how she might have succeeded. Arrows that continually glanced off from Mr. Rochester’s breast and fell harmless at his feet, might, I knew, if shot by a surer hand, have quivered keen in his proud heart—have called love into his stern eye, and softness into his sardonic face; or, better still, without weapons a silent conquest might have been won."
We're very much in Jane's head here, as she ponders the nature of interpersonal relations, until a new character makes an appearance. Meet Mr. Mason:
the new-comer was called Mr. Mason; then I learned that he was but just arrived in England, and that he came from some hot country: which was the reason, doubtless, his face was so sallow, and that he sat so near the hearth, and wore a surtout in the house
And then there's one more addition to the house: a gypsy shows up, and offers to tell the young ladies' fortunes. Blanche, of course, is first. Jane stays out of the way until the gypsy specifically asks for her - which leads us into Chapter 19.