Friday, 9 December 2016

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

One challenge I participate in every year is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.  I'm under the mistaken impression that because I read mainly classics, that this challenge will be easy to complete.  Ha!  My 2016 challenge is still lacking three books and one extra review.  I'll have to go back through my reads and do some fill-ins.  Whether I achieve successful completion is anyone's guess.

The 2017 challenge has familiar categorizes and those which have been changed up. Here are the guidelines and rules:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this.
  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

3.  A classic by a woman author

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

An romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two CitiesThree Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

12. A Russian Classic2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I'll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count.
  • Children's classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you'll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here

Possible choices could be:
  • The Histories
  • City of God
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Travels with a Donkey in Cevennes
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The Twelve Caesars
  • Shirley
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • O Pioneers!
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • A Small House at Allington
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset
  • 1984
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • We
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Dead Souls

With a dearth of challenges that have been catching my eye for 2017, this one should get some particular focus.  Wish me luck and if you'd like to participate, pop over to Karen's blog and join the fun!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner of our district, who became notorious in his own day (and is still remembered among us) because of his tragic and mysterious death, which occurred exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall relate in its proper place."

What a marvellously mysterious first sentence which brings all sorts of questions to mind.  Why was the Karamazov father only remembered because of his horrific death?  What else did he do in life?  Why has the narrator waited thirteen years to tell the story?  And why does it need to be told in its "proper place"?

The Brothers Karamazov centers around three brothers, Dmitry, Ivan and Alyosha, each of whom appear to represent different aspects of human beliefs: sensual materialism, rational nihilism and faith.  Within the framework of their relationships with their father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov a harsh and unyielding man, their characters are illuminated and these philosophies highlighted. In the case of Ivan Karamazov, his worldview has been formed through the legends and mystery plays of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and Christ's return to earth and his temptations by Satan.  On the other hand, Dimitry Karamazov is wrapped in the atmosphere of the Hellenism of Schiller and the struggles of the Olympian gods with the dark forces that proceeded them.  Father Zosimas embodies the beliefs and rituals of the Eastern Church, and likewise Alyosha Karamazov his protégé, yet doubt creeps into Alyosha's faith and is only overcome by his realization of earth being linked to heaven.

The author brings into relief the struggle of reconciling a just God with a fallen and depraved world.  With Ivan, we see a mutiny against a Christian ideology that allows free will to cause suffering, and with the speech of the Grand Inquisitor, even an indictment against Christ.  Father Zosima answers Ivan’s torment with his insistence on a faith in God being the only way to express an active love for humanity.  We see each character struggling to make a leap of faith in consequence of their actions, a putting aside of “self” for something greater, a struggle for each to interact with his conscience in spite of outside influences. 

Dostoyevsky's notes for Chapter 5
of The Brothers Karamazov
source Wikipedia

With his sparse expository setting and minimal action, Dostoyevsky's story unfolds mainly through his characters and their thoughts, their internal monologues often being more revealing than any physical action.  With great acumen, he examines the breakdown of a Russian family from a social-psychological level, which itself points to a breakdown of moral values of society as a whole and the consequences arising from this underlying issue.  Values within the construct of faith are what make a healthy society and without them, a sickness pervades, culminating in tragedy.

Reason is set against the intangible mystery of human behaviour and an inexorable conflict is evaluated as reason encounters Christian faith.  Dostoyevsky sets about illustrating the limitations of reason.  At the end of the novel, even though reason points to an inevitable conclusion, it does not allow the people in judgement to discover the truth, and its failure is effectively apparent.

Sketch of a Russian Village
Konstantin Alexseevich Korovin
source ArtUK
While the book is rife with questions about faith, strife, family disharmony and moral failings in a most human form, it also has echoes of positive aspects of life.  The monastery is a fortress of true faith and hope, and even the children in this story are able to overcome prejudices and act in a manner of love and reconciliation. Unlike some of his other novels, the author leaves us with a hope for humanity.

Dostoyevsky is a master of the psychological novel and I suspect that I still have not come close to penetrating the fascinating workings of his unique mind.  One finishes his novels, sits down to review them, and then wonders "where on earth do I start?"  The minute psychological details that embellish each character's thoughts kept me in mental gymnastics from beginning to end.  His novels are not easy reads and the first read through it seems as if you only peal off a layer at a time, however the deeper that you slide into them, you find that they change you in a way that you never expected.

I've seen some reviews that express frustration with this book and Dostoyevsky's treatment of the themes but I wonder if its presentation, to a certain extent, mirrors life with its disjointed narrative and its sometimes apparent dead ends which pick up later and lead to something revelatory.  The author presents mystery .... both the mystery of God and the mystery of human psychology ---- and as 21st century intellectually influenced moderns, we simply have difficulty understanding this approach.  His works are certainly challenging, but as I sit with them and let Dostoyevsky's narrative percolate within me, I know that I have much more to discover about, not only the novels but life itself.  I will, without a doubt, read this particular book again!

A View of the Solevyetski Monastery with its Founders
Saints. Zossim and Savatti
unknown artist
source ArtUK

Some favourite quotes:

We are responsible for everyone else in this world, apart from their sins.

" .... but first the period of human isolation will have to come to an end .......  the sort of isolation  that exists everywhere now, and especially in our age, but which hasn't reached its final development .... For today everyone is still striving to keep his individuality as far apart as possible, everyone still wishes to experience the fullness of life in himself alone, and yet instead of achieving the fullness of life, all his efforts merely lead to the fullness of self-destruction, for instead of full self-realization they relapse into complete isolation.  For in our age all men are separated into self-contained units, everyone crawls into his own hole, and hides away everything he possesses, and ends up by keeping himself at a distance from people and keeping other people at a distance from him.  He accumulates riches by himself and thinks how strong he is now and how secure, and does not realize, madman that he is, that the more he accumulates the more deeply does he sink into self-destroying impotence.  For he is used to relying on himself alone and has separated himself as a self-contained unit from the whole.  He has trained his mind not to believe in the help of other people, in men and mankind, and is in constant fear of losing his money and the rights he has won for himself.  Everywhere today the mind of man has ceased, ironically, to understand that true security of the individual does not lie in isolated personal efforts but in general human solidarity .....  a man has to set an example at least once and draw his soul out of its isolation and work for some great act of human intercourse based on brotherly love, even if he is to be regarded as a saintly fool for his pains.  He has to do so that the great idea may not die ......"

I was quite surprised by the mysterious visitor's revelation, as my thoughts had been percolating on the same ideas for a week or so before I read it.  Still in somewhat of a pensive, philosophical mood left over from my summer vacation, I wondered why we appear so engaged with people, when, if you truly gaze into people's hearts, we are really very alone.  Why, when we think someone is suffering, do we feel sympathy for them and wish them well in our minds, yet walk away because we either do not have the time, or don't honestly want to become involved in something that might require effort, or compassion, or sacrifice for someone other than ourselves?  We're more connected with our work, or our possessions, or our own perceived needs than we are with people, blind to the personal connections and the deeper caring that will truly make us happy .... truly make us human.  It's all very sad ....

"And what's strange, what would be marvellous, is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man." 

"Above all, don't lie to yourself.  The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.  And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself" 

"What is hell?  I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love." 

"Be not forgetful of prayer.  Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education." 

"Life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it." 

"Love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time.  Anyone, even a wicked man, can love by chance." 

"The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.  God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man." 

"They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less." 

"Love all God's creation, both the whole and every grain of sand.  Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing.  If thou love each thing, thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it; until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal." 

"Love is such a priceless treasure that you can buy the whole world with it, and redeem not only your own but other people's sins.  Go, and do not be afraid."

Further Reading:

The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881 by Joseph Frank

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Well-Educated Mind: Reading The Histories

Ruth at A Great Book Study is beginning to read through The Well-Educated Mind Histories beginning January 1, 2017 and I'm going to join her on the journey.  We read through the Biographies together (or almost. I still have The Gulag Archipelago to finish up) and while it took two and a half years, it seems just like yesterday that we began.

Now, I'm under no illusions; the histories are going to take longer, especially if one wants to really absorb them.  Here is the list:

  • The Histories by Herodotus
  • The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
  • The Republic by Plato
  • Plutarch’s Lives
  • The City of God by St. Augustine
  • The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • Utopia by Sir Thomas More
  • The True End of Civil Government by John Locke
  • The History of England, Vol. V by David Hume
  • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. Du Bois
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
  • Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey
  • The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
  • The New England Mind by Perry Miller
  • The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made by Eugene D. Genovese
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman
  • All the President's Men by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
  • A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  • The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

Some of these I'm so excited to read, such as The Histories, The Republic, The Prince, The Social Contract, and A Distant Mirror; others leave me rather unmoved, for example, The True End of Civil Government (big yawn!), Common Sense and The Feminine Mystique.  I expect to have some surprise favourite and flops before the read is over.

There is also a Reading the Histories group on Goodreads where we'll be able to discuss as we go.  So please join us if you feel so inclined and we can read the histories together.  You never know where they may take us!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII & XXXVIII

Chapter XXXV

St John makes Jane pay for her unpopular decision to reject his marriage offer with a cold aloofness and a determined effort to display his displeasure.  Jane declares he does not act maliciously, but this reader must disagree with her assessment of his actions.  His sisters are at first pleased that he has offered for Jane, then appalled at his lack of emotion with regard to the attachment, and his efforts to take her to India where they are certain she'll die.  St John attempts once again to change her mind and she is firm, yet after his reading from Revelation one night and his entreaties after, she finds her will bending to his until she hears a voice calling her:  "Jane, Jane, Jane."  She is as certain of it being the voice of Mr. Rochester, as she is certain of her actions the next day and, brushing off St John, retires to her room to await the morning.

The Proposal (1825)
Thomas Clater
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXVI

St John has left for Cambridge for a fortnight when Jane awakens the next morning but has left her a note almost demanding her reconsideration.  Jane gives it little thought, taking leave of Diana and Mary and setting out in a coach for Thornfield.  She stays at the Rochester Arms, and the next morning walks to the great hall with an impatient anticipation.  However, upon setting eyes on Thornfield she is given a great shock; the house is burned to the ground and with a heavy heart she returns to the inn to ask the cause of the blaze.  It was set one night by a lunatic who was kept in the house.  She escaped from her keeper, Mrs. Poole, who liked to tipple, and Rochester, distraught after the disappearance of the governess he loved and longed to marry, was at Thornfield alone.  He tried to save the lunatic, his wife, but she threw herself from the battlements.  While trying to save the other occupants of the house, the staircase he was on collapsed, and the result was that he is now stone blind.  He lives at Ferndean manor house presently and Jane immediately hires a conveyance to take her there.

Manor House, Ilkley
John F. Greenwood
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXVII

Jane arrives at Ferndean just before dark.  Buried deep in a wood, the building is modest and unpretentious.  As she approaches the desolate spot, she spies a figure on the step and knows at once that it is her own Rochester.  His movements are heartbreaking as he struggles to find his blind way to the grass plot in front.  John, the servant, draws near, offering him his arm, which he ungraciously refuses.  After he re-enters the house, Jane knocks and reveals herself to an astonished Mary, then after requesting accommodation, goes into the sitting room to face Rochester.  Carrying in a tray, she offers him a glass of water while an excited Pilot dances around her. Immediately Rochester senses all is not right; he questions her identity while claiming that he is under a delusion.  While he explores her with his hands, he rambles on like a man in a dream.  Is this really his love come back to him again?  When he finally acknowledges that it is she, he questions her rapidly, finding out that she is rich, who she has been with, and that she has had a marriage proposal.  At first he is irritated and self-deprecating, but finally he rises from his funk and asks for her to be his wife, to which she readily agrees.  Eventually, Rochester speaks of a night of longing for her, where he prayed to God and called her name.  Jane discovers it is the same night that she'd heard his voice but doesn't reveal the fact, deciding he has already enough burden and does not need that of the supernatural.

First Born (1881)
Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans
source ArtUK


"Reader, I married him."

And thus ends this wonderful novel.  The wedding was a quiet one with only the parson and clerk present with the couple.  John and Mary are informed; St John is written to but does not respond until six months later; Diana and Mary approve and wish to visit; Adèle is brought home then sent to school again.  Two years later Rochester partially recovers his sight enough to see his first-born son put into his arms.  Diana and Mary both marry and St John becomes an indefatigable and zealous missionary in India.  The last letter Jane receives indicates that he is dying and she feels compassion for this stern but dedicated man whose passion for Christ is unwavering.

A Wooded Walk (1650)
Jan Lievens
source ArtUK

I simply cannot have the same admiration that Jane has for St John's Christian zeal. Regardless of his dedication, the lack of understanding and harsh condemnation he shows towards her for her decision must naturally carry into his dealings with others and the representation of his faith is injurious instead of edifying.

I'm still somewhat puzzled as to why Jane did not want to tell Rochester about her premonition.  Given that they later become inseparable and tell each other everything, why would she withhold this information from him?  The supernatural occurrence brought her to him and it's revelation should be uplifting.  Why such reticence?

I also found the ending to the novel curious.  Why end with an observation on St John? His character was interesting as a contrast, but on its own was rather one-dimensional. Was it an indication that his forceful character still had even a tenuous hold over her?  A commentary to stress the importance of his perseverance for spreading the gospel?  I'm not sure .....

What I am sure of is that this read-along has come to an end, and a thoroughly enjoyable read-along it was!  Thanks to Hamlette for another meander through a classic favourite.  I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Where Have I Been? Meet Finn!

Well, I suppose I haven't been absent from my blog for that long, but much longer than I usually would.  I can't use busyness as an excuse because I'm nearly always busy, however this time the busyness seems to have doubled as I have a new addition to my family.

As those of you who have followed my blog for over a year know, my beloved Australian Shepherd, Bear, passed away last November.

I took his loss harder than I ever thought I would.  He was a challenge at times, but so uniquely Bear, that his absence left a huge hole in my existence.  Yet in spite of the sadness, a house just doesn't seem like a home without a dog around, and with that in mind, a few months ago I put my name on a few "puppy lists."  There is such a demand for Aussies, you never seem to know for sure if you'll get one, but a few weeks ago we were informed that a puppy was ours.  

On Sunday we brought home a Blue Merle Male, and named him Finnegan:

He is sooooo cute and adorable and lovable and very good too, as far as puppies go. So we've been having a wonderful time getting acquainted, but I hope to be back to blogging soon!  I have the last few chapters of Jane Eyre to post on, and I've also finished The Brothers Karamazov and hope by some miracle to be able to put together a review of it.  But until then, I'm off to play ......... :-)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV

Chapter XXXII

Although Jane assiduously performs her tasks as schoolteacher at the poor school, she still dreams (literally) of Rochester and spending her life by his side.  Rosamond Oliver visits the school and Jane observes the emotionally charged exchanges between her and St John, but the latter's heart is guarded by his determination and ambition.  She is commission to sketch Miss Rosamond, and one evening when St John sees the portrait by accident, Jane takes the initiative to question him with a startlingly frank audacity.  He admits that while he loves Rosamond, he is convinced that she is not the partner for him and that they would make each other unhappy.  She is not set to be a missionary's wife, and he refuses Jane's offer to paint him a copy of the lovely girl.  As he moves to draw a blank sheet of paper over the portrait, he tears a tiny section from it and slips it into this glove.  Jane is puzzled by his actions but soon dismisses and forgets them.

A Young Woman in a Blue Dress Sketching (19th C.)
British (English) School
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXIII

In the midst of days of snowstorms, St John visits Jane at her cottage while she reads his gift to her, Marmion, a recently published poem by Walter Scott.  At first, he behaves with an unusual, almost secretive demeanour, but soon Jane learns his errand.  The paper he ripped from her page previously, was a section where she had doodled her real name, Jane Eyre.  From this, he began inquiries and has now not only learned her story, but aspects of it of which Jane herself was not aware.  Jane, however, is only concerned of his inquiries of Thornfield and asks for news of Mr. Rochester.  Nothing is forthcoming though, and St John informs her that now that her uncle is dead, she has inherited all of his property and is now a rich woman.  Jane is suspicious of his means of discovery and when she presses further, finds out that her uncle was also the uncle of St John, Diana and Mary, and that they are all cousins.  With this in mind, she refuses the large fortune and instead intends to split it equally between the four of them.  She states her intention to remain at the school until a new mistress can be found, and soon the inheritance is divided between them.

Arts, Wealth, Pleasure and Philosophy (1800)
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
source Wikiart

Chapter XXXIV

As the Christmas season comes, Jane closes Morton school and expresses her desire to clean and do some Christmas baking, for which she earns displeasure from St John and an entreaty not to become slothful.  His dour disapproval of anything easy and entertaining begins to show her his faults and unsuitability as a husband.  Diana and Mary arrive and their gay festive spirit further oppresses St John.  News is given that Rosamond is about to be wed and St John congratulates himself over the conquering of his emotions.  He convinces Jane to learn Hindustani, as a help to him as he prepares for his missionary work and proves himself a stern and unyielding taskmaster.  Jane's will to please him, begins to hold her in thrall to his desires, but she has not forgotten Rochester, yet her letters to Mrs. Fairfax to inquire about his well-being remain unanswered.

To Jane's surprise, six weeks before his departure, St John asks her to accompany him as his wife and although Jane agrees to go as a sister, he is implacable in his demands. She begins to see his many, many flaws and thus, is able to deal with him easier as he is brought to her level.  St John continues to punish her with his disapproving silence and even when they try to reconcile, nothing but her complete obedience to his wishes and will would satisfy him:

"As I walked by his side homeward, I read well in his iron silence all he felt towards me: the disappointment of an austere and expected submission --- the disapprobation of a cool, inflexible judgement, which has detected in another feelings and views in which it has no power to sympathize: in short, as a man, he would have wished to coerce me into obedience: it was only as a sincere Christian he bore so patiently with my perversity, and allowed so long a space for reflection and repentance ........

.... He was deeply displeased by what had occurred that day; cordiality would not warm, nor tears move him.  No happy reconciliation was to be had with him --- no cheering smile or generous word: but still the Christian was patient and placid; and when I asked him if he forgave me, he answered that he was not in the habit of cherishing the remembrance of vexation; that he had nothing to forgive, not having been offended.

And with that answer he left me.  I would much rather he had knocked me down."

The Christmas Tree
John Henry Twachtman
source Wikiart

Jane reveals more and more of her character.  I've discovered that what she says about herself is much more important than her outward actions.

She acts with firm resolution in drawing people out of themselves, a unique trait for a woman of her time.
"For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse.  I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart's very hearth-stone."

Her "gift" is instrumental in helping the person to know himself better and this quality of hers is invaluable to those around her.

The character of St John is well-crafted.  I had always thought that his Christianity was the catalyst for his dour character and stringent and unyielding expectations, but Jane often alludes to these characteristics as being outside of his faith and, in fact, it's his faith that holds them in check.  It's not because of his faith that he is this way, rather he uses his faith simply as a vehicle to act out his convictions.  Very interesting.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXIX, XXX, XXXI

Chapter XXIX

While three days and nights pass, Jane continues in a stupor, confined to a bed in the Rivers' household.  We learn of her impressions of the family, the sisters being warm and inviting, but their brother St John, displays a different character.  His reserve, quick judgements, distrust and attention to outward appearance are readily obvious.  When feeling a little better, Jane makes her way to the kitchen, where she meets Hannah.  All Hannah’s prejudices against Jane are aired and cleared, encouraged by Jane’s firm resolution and straightforward honesty.  They become fast friends.  At tea with St John and his sisters, he attempts to learn more about Jane, while she examines him.  His features are described as very handsome and harmonious, but underneath she senses a negative energy about him.

“….. (he) scarcely impressed one with the idea of a gentle, a yielding, an impressible, or even of a placid nature.  Quiescent as he now sat, there was something about his nostril, his mouth, his brow, which, to my perceptions, indicated elements within either restless, or hard, or eager …….

Had he been a statue instead of a man, he could not have been easier…..”

Jane gives an alias of Elliot, tells them about Lowood school but refuses to reveal anything about Thornfield Hall or the happenings there.  St. John relents in his questioning, promising to find her employment.

The Kitchenmaid (1712)
Guiseppe Maria Crespi
source Wikiart

Chapter XXX

Jane begins to develop an intimacy with Diana and Mary, but with St John any deeper connection seems impossible and she has many observations why this is so, including his frequent absences from home, his reserved nature, his lack of interaction with nature, his uncommunicativeness and his lack of peace.

“But besides his frequent absences, there was another barrier to friendship with him: he seemed of a reserved, an abstracted, and even of a brooding nature.  Zealous in his ministerial labours, blameless in life and habits, he yet did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist ……”

Yet while Jane criticizes her benefactor, she also sees parallels in their situations:

“….I was sure St John Rivers --- pure-lived, conscientious, zealous as he was --- had not yet found that peace of God which passeth all understanding: he had no more found it, I thought, than had I, with my concealed and racking regrets for my broken idol and lost Elysium --- regrets to which I have latterly avoided referring, but which possessed me and tyrannized over me ruthlessly.”

Finally she is offered employment by St John as a schoolteacher at a girls' school he established for the poor in the village of Morton.  As the sisters must make their own way in the world since their father’s death and are soon to leave for B----, Jane accepts.  The death of the Rivers’ uncle for a moment gives them new hope for their prospects but his mean spirit leaves them little in his will and they all leave for their respective posts.  Jane’s new life begins.

A Dame's School (1845)
Thomas George Webster
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXI

Jane’s new home is a little cottage in Morton, set aside for the schoolteacher.  As she takes up her new task, she thinks of her old life and begins to come to terms with her decision to leave Thornfield, realizing that if she had succumbed to her sentiments and passions, her inner soul would have been damaged, and for a short time of bliss, she would have paid with a lifetime of regret. 

St John visits one day and while revealing his past struggles and his plans for his future, a girl appears, causing him to blanch.  She is more beautiful than description, and while she attempts to establish an intimacy with St John, he is rather implacable and refuses her invitation to see her father.  It is the heiress. Rosamund Oliver of Vale Hall, but St John seems impervious to her charms.  Jane is intrigued by the exchange.

The Cottage Door (1825)
William Collins
source Wikiart

Initially I wasn’t really looking forward to this part of the book, but I’m finding it compelling this time.  I’m quite loving the contrast between St John and Rochester, and appearance and character.  Rochester’s looks are not outwardly pleasing and his behaviour is not always what would be considered socially pleasing, yet Jane senses that there is a hidden part of his nature that is constant and earnest and has great depth, only it has been corrupted by his life circumstances.  With St John, however, although he is pleasing to look at, and his behaviour is outwardly acceptable, there is a hardness and lack of empathy to him, that does not bode well for any sort of formed intimacy or deep relationship. 

I also like how Jane, while seeing faults in others, also sees them in herself.  While she recognizes that St John has not found peace in his faith or life, she knows that she struggles in this area too and why. 

Since Tom’s comments in my last post about seeing Jane as an unreliable narrator, I have been trying to, but failing miserably.  She simply seems too insightful and too willing to criticize herself for her own failings to be unreliable, or at least from the view of a conscious authorial unreliability.  I'll keep trying though.