Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Read - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

It's not a novel written by a Victorian era author, but... before we start on Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë - our book group read for October - I thought I would explore other realms... possibly newer lands populated by contemporary people.

I began a book given to me by my sweet, book-loving sister-in-law that has been quite enjoyable so far. I am 5 chapters into Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Random House) and ran across a wonderful quote -

"I can't believe you admire Samuel Johnson, Major," she said, laughing. "He seems to have been sorely lacking in the personal grooming department and he was always so rude to that poor Boswell."

"Unfortunately, there is often an inverse correlation between genius and personal hygiene," said the Major. "We would be sorely lacking if we threw out the greats with the bathwater of social niceties."


Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Jane Eyre Tea – July 17th, 2010

Ten of Jane Austen Tea Society numbers met last Saturday at one o’clock to discuss Charlotte Brontë’s deeply satisfying novel, Jane Eyre. Written in 1847 it still makes us think and compare ourselves – as women of the twenty-first century – with the bleak lot in life that fell to Jane – that fell to the women of her time. It seems that those of us who have reread this novel find differing thoughts surfacing depending on where we ourselves are in our lives. Whether single... married…. a career woman… a student... a mother… we all see this literary heroine differently… depending on where our own footsteps and our choices have led us.

Several members of our Tea Society experienced this novel for the first time with this month’s selection and one of them admitted that she had no idea of the plot - never even having seen one of the many film productions. I felt somewhat envious of this new experience for them - just as I have when I hear about someone reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. How I would love to experience again the tingling first-time anticipation as to whether Elizabeth and Darcy would finally discover each other’s deepest hearts and true natures… of whether Jane would ever again see Rochester after having escaped into a world beyond his reach.

The night before our tea this past weekend, I wrestled with what I felt was the integral central theme of this book. Its densely rich layers have leant countless discussions for one hundred and sixty-three years… but what did I think about this current reading for myself. What did Charlotte intend for us to see… to feel…

I realize that as a present day woman with freedoms and choices of a wide almost limitless spectrum, I have to labor to stretch my comprehension backwards to understand Charlotte’s view…to walk in her slight slippers – to understand her points of difference.

Overwhelmed by the multitude of impressions drifting through my mind after this read I found myself falling back on two brief mentions that Charlotte left for me in the text… and they were about Guy Fawkes, the perpetrator of the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament in 1605. The November dated holiday – Guy Fawkes Day – was the day of Jane’s first real resistance of injustice at Gateshead. It was also the date that St. John Rivers stared down at a paper of Jane’s and discovered her true identity for the first time. Why was Guy Fawkes Day purposefully tied to these significant events for Jane?

Rebellion seems to be the only answer to me. Rebellion against injustice. Rebellion against cruelty. Rebellion against subservience. And a gently determined resistance against accepting a degrading or loveless existence. Jane seems the least likely of anyone to rebel but her moves are desperate and life changing. They initiate reactions in those who wield control over her life and her directions shift, veer and send her toward the havens of hope that wait for Jane – Diana and Mary – the cousins who love her as a sister and Rochester – the man whom she saves so that he can then offer the love that she craves.

Brilliant writing. And the tender rebel continues to capture us all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Experiment Kiss - Jane Eyre - Chapter XXXIV

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; but there may be experiment kisses, and his was an experiment kiss. When given, he viewed me to learn the result; it was not striking: I am sure I did not blush; perhaps I might have turned a little pale, for I felt as if this kiss were a seal affixed to my fetters.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fragment – Jane Eyre - Chapter XXX

They clung to the bloom found a charm both potent and permanent. They clung to the purple moors behind and around their dwelling to the hollow vale into which the pebbly bridle-path leading from their gate descended; and which wound between fern-banks first, and then amongst a few of the wildest little pasture-fields that ever bordered a wilderness of heath, or gave sustenance to a flock of grey moorland sheep, with their little mossy-faced lambs: they clung to this scene, I say, with a perfect enthusiasm of attachment. I could comprehend the feeling, and share both its strength and truth. I saw the fascination of the locality. I felt the consecration of its loneliness: my eye feasted on the outline of swell and sweep on the wild colouring communicated to ridge and dell by moss, by heath-bell, by flower-sprinkled turf, by brilliant bracken and mellow granite crag. These details were just to me what they were to them – so many pure and sweet sources of pleasure. The strong blast and the soft breeze; the rough and the halcyon day; the hours of sunrise and sunset; the moonlight and the clouded night, developed for me in these regions, the same attraction as for them wound round my faculties the same spell that entranced theirs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fragment - Jane Eyre - Chapter XXVII...

We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us: and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude. His omnipotence. His omnipresence. I had risen to my knees to pray for Mr. Rochester. Looking up, I, with tear-dimmed eyes, saw the mighty Milky Way. Remembering what it was – what countless systems there swept space like a soft trace of light – I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe: he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long, in sleep, forgot sorrow.

From Jane Eyre - Chapter XXVII

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reading Jane

Our current read for The Jane Austen Tea Society is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855).

I have read this celebrated novel many times in my lifetime. Just as with Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, I find that different stages & situations in my life have caused me to interpret this book in different ways. Do I empathize with Jane's choices? Do I agree with her points of resistance against what she has been dealt in her young life? And Edward Fairfax Rochester... do I understand her attraction to her employer and verbal jouster? I find that I have varied in these stances depending on my age, my marital status, and even my current emotional outlook.

Big questions surface this read... What did Rochester's employees really think of the woman locked up in the attic rooms? Which of them knew about it? Did they truly draw from the "village gossip" that Rochester referred to during the wedding confrontation in the church? Did they honestly believe the hidden Thornfield Hall occupant a "cast-off mistress" or “bastard half-sister”... And Mrs. Fairfax.... could she in her mild demeanor have known the truth?

This novel's heroine is so different from Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth. I greatly enjoyed the book, Ruth, but found Ruth as a character to be... well, OK.... sappy. Other characters in Gaskell's novel seemed drawn in somewhat realistic ways, but after her initial fall with Henry Bellingham, Ruth grew into a character very difficult to identify with... too perfect... too sweet...

Jane Eyre has more than one dimension as a heroine. She is reasonable but filled with emotional responses. She is patient and long suffering yet valiantly endeavors to confront injustice where she meets it. She is flawed yet understandable.

I am strolling slowly through Jane Eyre this read – savoring the vivid glimpse into the time period and bright, sharp landscapes drawn of the English countryside – “The hay was all got in; the fields round Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood, full-leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of the cleared meadows between.”

And so I happily read on…