#DWJMarch: wandering through Hexwood and other bits and bobs

I’m rereading Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones for the first time in years. I’m about a hundred pages in and trying to a. remember everyone of importance that’s been mentioned, and b. figure out all the other people they are.

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So far this reading is making more sense than previous readings, but we’ll see how it goes. I know there’s layers and layers of shenanigans and I’m only on the top layer.

How is March Magics going for you all? I’m on a social media break so I’m sure I haven’t seen lots of fun DWJ-related things, but I recommend this Howl’s Moving Castle-inspired poem by krobats. I also found this thoughtful post from Emerald City Book Review on A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett and The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones.

Best Reads of 2018

I did the thing! Here are my favorite books that I read during this year (only some actually came out in 2018). I also threw my favorite movies in at the end, because I do what I want and because they are all adapted from books or comics.

Some of my favorite reads were audiobooks, but my top audiobooks below are ones that had great book-content AND great narration/production. I only have two poetry picks because I don’t read much poetry; I’m going to try to read more in 2019. 

Thank you to Snazel, Gingernifty, Em M, and Kemendraugh for some extremely excellent book recommendations this year, several of which show up below. 

Audiobooks

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (multi-cast)

The Queen’s Thief (series) by Megan Whalen Turner (narrated by Steve West)

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (narrated by Steve West)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (narrated by Kyle McCarley)

Poetry

How We Became Human by Joy Harjo

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson

Nonfiction

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown

The Portland Black Panthers by Judson L. Jeffries and Lucas N. N. Burke

Dressing the Galaxy by Trisha Biggar

Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler

Fiction: Series

And I Darken (trilogy) by Kiersten White

Tensorate (series) by J.Y. Yang

The Books of the Raksura (series) by Martha Wells

Murderbot (series) by Martha Wells

Fiction: Stand-alone

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Fiction: Kids

Hamster Princess (series) by Ursula Vernon

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Comics

Ms. Marvel (ongoing) by G. Willow Wilson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (ongoing) by Ryan North

Lumberjanes (ongoing) by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh

The Backstagers (ongoing) by James Tynion IV

Library Wars by Hiro Arikawa and Kiiro Yumi

Movies

Black Panther

Annihilation

Crazy Rich Asians

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

The Legends of Luke Skywalker and The Myths We Cling To

36295579.jpgI finished reading The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu. Firstly, I loved it as a Luke story. It did a great job of presenting Luke from different angles and perspectives, while still keeping him a coherent character. Secondly, I loved it as a collection. The stories ranged from survival tales to tall tales to hero’s journey tales, and all of them were entertaining. Thirdly, that last category, “Hero’s Journey,” made me pause and think about the collection again. It turns out this book, consciously or not (but I’m assuming consciously), systematically goes through some major ways that we approach or study myths. It provides six different stories that each represent one kind of myth structure or category, but inside of the fictional world of Star Wars rather than dealing with our own myths. In so doing, it says a lot about how we tell stories to make sense of our lives and experiences.

Mild spoilers for the book below – I’m going to describe the overall premise of each story, but no details on what happens or how it ends.

Urban Legends

I know I’m not the first to raise questions about this implausible vulnerability, and I’ve heard the theory that maybe it was the result of deliberate sabotage. But if you believe the ragtag Rebel Alliance was capable of infiltrating the highest echelons of the disciplined Imperial military research labs, I’ve got a few choice plots of beachfront property I’d like to sell you on Tatooine.
The first story, called “The Myth Buster,” is set in a bar where the point-of-view character is listening to a bar-fly explain the “true” story of Luke Skywalker. Redy (the bar-fly) explains that what we thought we knew about Luke is nothing but one conspiracy after another, and nothing but propaganda to make the Rebellion look good.
This story reminds me a lot of urban legends, of which conspiracy theories are a sub-genre. Urban legends are those stories that everyone has heard but sometimes don’t know aren’t true. Some are scary, like Bloody Mary or the Killer in The Backseat. Others are Advice Stories like, if you leave a tooth over night in Coca-Cola it will dissolve (it won’t) so don’t drink Coca-Cola. Others are “this happened to a friend of a friend” like the Microwaved Pet story.

In this Luke story, we hear all kinds of twisted versions of Luke’s adventures in the movies, based around the idea that he was actually a guy named Clodplodder and was part of an intergalactic gang. They’re the kind of sensationalist facts and stories that you just know will be repeated by everyone who hears it, because it makes them feel like they know “the truth of the matter.” They won’t be fooled by nonsense legends of a Jedi Knight saving the galaxy.

Personal Mythology

He leapt from rebel star cruiser to rebel star cruiser, his flaming sword at the ready. A Star Destroyer focused all its cannons on him, and carelessly, he deflected the shots with graceful swings. He launched himself from a cruiser, tucked his legs under him, and tumbled through space, shooting bolts of energy from his sword in every direction. Star Destroyer after Star Destroyer disintegrated under this unnatural assault.

The second story is called “The Starship Graveyard” and (is one of my favorites and also) features an unnamed male Imperial officer whose ship goes down during the Battle of Jakku (a battle which occurs in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens). However, the person telling the story, Tyra, accidentally gives enough hints that we realize she is probably giving a cover story for her grandmother, the real protagonist of the story.  The Imperial officer is rescued by a guy who may or may not be Luke but who definitely claims to be Luke by the end but IS HE LYING AND JUST TAKING ADVANTAGE OF LUKE’S FAME, we don’t know????

What I’m calling “Personal Mythology” are those stories that we tell about ourselves, stories of our experiences that were very formative at the time, and that we’ve told so many times that they’ve grown in the telling, and so as we keep telling them their significance to our lives grows.

This story about the point-of-view character’s experience with Luke has grown in his or her mind so much that Luke almost seems like a hallucination or a god. This person that won the Battle of Jakku (according to the narrator), saved them from dying in the desert, and helped the scavengers escape a lake of boiling glass. Luke’s significance to this one character is enormous, and in their mind he’s become a sort of all-powerful legendary figure.

Hero’s Journey

“We take turns to uplift each other.”

The third story is called “Fishing in the Deluge.” It’s set on an oceanic planet and inhabited by people who allow “The Tide” to decide their lives and life around them. It’s told from the perspective of a local girl, Ava, but Luke visits the planet on a quest to find out more about the Jedi and Force-users. In order for him to be taught by them, however, Luke has to pass their coming-of-age test that allows young locals to learn how to feel the Tide (aka the Force).

The characters’s attitude toward the coming-of-age trial is evocative of “The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey was codified by Joseph Campbell, and made even more famous by George Lucas who used it as a template for the original Star Wars movie. The Hero’s Journey is a basic structure full of common elements shared among most myths; for example, each hero experiences a “call to adventure” early on. If the hero makes it through their whole journey they become “master of two worlds”: both the one they came from and the one they have mastered during their journey, often divided into a physical and a spiritual world.

If Luke makes it through the quest (or hero’s journey, or coming of age ritual) that the local elder sets him, he will be able to master both the Force and the Tide. However, through the trial, Luke learns it’s not so much about mastering something as yielding to a bigger plan. And Ava, the other protagonist, learns a few things from Luke as well. It’s all about balance between two schools of thought and between two individuals, rather than a character successfully navigating a challenge.

Cultural Myths

There was no fear or terror in his face, only determination. How was that possible? Was he droid or man?

The fourth story in the collection is called “I, Droid,” and features a droid protagonist and many many droid slaves working in a deadly mine. Their experience with Luke Skywalker changes them in their hardware and in their software if you know what I’m saying.

Any myth is cultural, obviously, but what I mean specifically is a myth that defines or influences a culture once it is introduced and learned. It’s implied that Luke has become a legendary figure to any of the droids who met him at this point, and they will tell each other their story about him, and retell it as many times as they have to, until all droids have heard about how great Luke is and what a good droid friend he is. True or not, that’s the story that they’re spreading through their culture.

I’d like to see a follow-up that explores the problematic consequences of this story, where Luke has become a ludicrous figure of myth and any droid who comes across his path treats him like a demigod.

Rationalizing Myths

At least he can follow directions, I thought. Then I realized that this wouldn’t be so bad. I could still make it work. Instead of fighting against his instincts, I had to work with them. If I could manage the vapid Salacious Crumb, surely I could do the same with the overeager Luke.

The fifth story is titled “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote.” Lugubrious Mote is…well, a mote. A tiny space-flea from Kowak, which is the same planet as Jabba’s alien monkey jester in Return of the Jedi, for those following along at home. This story goes in a similar vein as the first story, except instead of Luke being a conman, Mote’s version of him is a little stupid and a lot gullible. Lugubrious Mote explains that the only reason Luke survived Jabba’s palace and barge is because of the tiny flea in his hair. Hm.

Rationalizing myths is a popular trend. We like to investigate myths and explore their origins, and what possible explanations could be behind them, whether the myth is a metaphor for why the sun and moon have the courses they do, whether the myth is a conflated retelling of a much more grounded-in-reality event, etc. Explaining away myths with reason kind of misses the point of myths, which is to put into words something we didn’t have words for before.
This narrator comes across as the most unreliable. Sure, everything Lugubrious says sounds plausible, but Luke’s dialogue, and to a certain extent his actions, don’t make much sense with what we’ve seen of Luke elsewhere. So we have to agree to dismantle Luke’s entire character,  or distrust Lugubrious. If Lugubrious is lying, his intention is most likely to replace Luke’s myth with his own personal myth, the legend of Lugubrious Mote.

History Turning Into Myth

Real magic is always knowledge. The galaxy is knowable, and that’s what makes it wondrous.

The sixth story is called “Big Inside” and features an archaeologist narrator who is hitchhiking her way to her scientific studies. Luke responds to her beacon, and the two of them find something interesting in space and wind up on an asteroid. Bad Things Ensue (it’s hard to talk about this one very much without spoilers).  The scientist is very keen to disregard anything about the Force, whereas Luke believes that science and the Force must go hand-in-hand considering the Force surrounds all living things, etc etc. The contrast was fun to read.

This story illustrates how, if enough time passes after an event, the event and the people living it become a legend. Or, if enough time passes without anyone experiencing a place, the place itself becomes legendary and unreal.

Luke and the archaeologist’s experiences in this story are, to anyone who hasn’t experienced them, completely insane. It’s the kind of thing that myths and hallucinations are made of. At the end of the story, they both admit that no one will ever believe them, but she’s going to have to try if she wants to publish any of her research.  In spite of the clash between her scientific pragmatism and Luke’s idealistic mysticism, the protagonist concludes, “I understood enough.”

A Long Time Ago

There’s a running theme in this collection that everyone wants to be the Luke of their own story, or their own personal myth. As they tell stories, they’re mythologizing him and in a way mythologizing themselves.  The point-of-view characters are making sense of Luke as a legendary figure, in whatever way they need to. They’re also making sense of their own lives, whether they’re an imperial-turned-scavenger, an archaeologist learning new things about how nature works, or a  child learning about how big the galaxy really is. Just like with myths in the real world, the characters in a galaxy far far away need myths to reason their way to the truth.

The Turn of the Screw: Governessing Is A Rough Gig

This post contains possible spoilers for chapters 1-18 of The Turn of the Screw.

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An illustration by William Blake for Mary Wollstonecraft’s book Original Stories From Real Life. Source 

As we’ve seen in recent chapters, TG is in a difficult spot. She has a responsibility to the children and the house, but it’s a fine line to walk between taking care of crazy problems without bothering the employer and trying to do too much herself. The children, specifically Miles, pressure her to get their uncle involved, but her employer has certain rules in place that limit her choices. Even if she wasn’t dealing with ghosts, TG would have a difficult job pleasing both the ones she’s responsible for and the one she’s responsible to. She doesn’t have to negotiate with or placate adult family members, true, but she also has no one to back her up (Mrs. Grose, I think we can agree, is almost no help in a crisis).

Governesses in 19th c. England were in a difficult place, economically and socially. Kathryn Hughes, who has also written a book on the subject, sums up their position very well:

Life was full of social and emotional tensions for the governess since she didn’t quite fit anywhere. She was a surrogate mother who had no children of her own, a family member who was sometimes mistaken for a servant. Was she socially equal or inferior to her employers? If the family had only recently stepped up the social scale, perhaps she’d consider herself superior. She was rarely invited to sit down to dinner with her employers, even if they were kind. The servants disliked the governess because they were expected to be deferential towards her, despite the fact that she had to go out to work, just like them.

If you’d like a nice overview of the 19th century governess’ job, read Hughes’ online article: The Figure of the Governess .

Literature of this time period often employs governesses to illustrate the emotional and filial difficulties in the well-to-do household. In addition, the governess makes a good protagonist because she can fit in with the upper class but she’s generally from the middle class, and exists in a socially liminal space. Jane Eyre was published in in 1847, and The Turn of the Screw in 1898, but there are many more lesser-known novels that feature a governess character or protagonist.  Victorian Web (my favorite online resource for Victorian lit) has a good summary on the novels of the 19th century that feature governesses:

The governess novel must be connected with the nineteenth-century anxiety concerning middle-class female employment in general, and governess work in particular. The situation of governesses generated a debate which was especially active from the 1840s until the end of the century. A large number of manuals for governesses and their employers were also published all through the nineteenth century. The governess debate focused on terms of employment, salaries, and on the socially intermediate position of the governess. In the novels, this intermediate position functions both as a device of bringing the governess’s plight in focus, and to furnish the writer with a framework for female development.

Governesses, like modern-day babysitters or nannies, had a lot to deal with. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the creepy 19th century governess stories with pop culture slashers featuring babysitters. Orrrrr maybe that’s just me.

What would a conversation between Jane Eyre and our governess look like?

The Jungle Books: Something in Common

Rudyard Kipling’s original order of stories in The Jungle Books may seem random at first look. Mowgli stories are interspersed with stories about seals, other little boys, and mystics. Suspenseful plot-driven stories are next to dialogue-heavy stories. Kipling re-ordered the stories after they were first published, and divided them into a volume of Mowgli stories and non-Mowgli stories.

As you’ve been reading, have you been noticing similarities between stories that first appear very different from each other? Which stories could be connected or lumped together? Which stories seem similar in plot, character, theme, or tone?

For one thing, I realized I had been sorting them by protagonist. So obviously the Mowgli stories would go together: “Mowgli’s Brothers,” ‘Kaa’s Hunting,” “Tiger! Tiger!,” “How Fear Came,” “Letting in The Jungle,” “The King’s Ankus,” “The Red Dog”, and “Spring Running.” Then the stories with animal protagonists: “The White Seal,” “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” “Her Majesty’s Servants,” “The Undertakers” Then the three with human protagonists who aren’t Mowgli: “Toomai of the Elephants,” “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat,” “Quiquern”

But you can sort them in many other ways.

“The White Seal” and “Quiqern” stand out as stories set in super cold, northern places.

“Her Majesty’s Servants” and “The Undertakers” are entirely about animals talking to each other about human affairs and how it affects them.

Some stories feature clear-cut villains such as Shere Khan the tiger, the monkey people, Nag the cobra.

“How Fear Came” stands out as an attempt to give the jungle some mythology, or at least history. “The King’s Ankus” is perhaps in the same vein.

Some stories are about the struggle to survive, such as “Quiquern.”

“Mowgli’s Brothers,” “The White Seal,” “Quiqern,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” are conventional coming-of-age stories, whereas “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” is a very unconventional coming-of-age.

“Tiger! Tiger!,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” revolve around the tension between village and jungle, and between humans and animals.

What similarities did I miss? How would you sort them?

The Jungle Books: Chattery

The more research I do on The Jungle Books, the more I’m realizing how crazily controversial Rudyard Kipling is, especially nowadays. Some people dismiss him as an imperialist racist, some say his politics don’t matter at all as long as he can tell a good story, and no one seems to hold a middle ground. I’m interested in discussing this if anyone has thoughts on Kipling’s problematic aspects and whether he / The Jungle Books deserves it.

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Here are a couple of links with articles from wildly different extremes:

In Defense of Rudyard Kipling and ‘The Jungle Books’

How Disney’s new Jungle Book subverts the Gross Colonialism of Rudyard Kipling

The first one, as you can guess, is very defensive, so much so that I worry about his arguments. The second one has a lot to say regarding the new movie but also a lot of Strong Words about Kipling’s beliefs and work.

I’m coming off of vacation and to be honest I’ve had a terrible week so far so I’m not going to manage to say anything articulate about this for now. But hit me up in the comments or on the Twitter tag #JungleRead and let’s chat!

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I hope you’re all enjoying the book, or at least engaging with it in fiery hatred.

The Jungle Books Readalong

Our August Readalong is The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling! We will be reading from August 1 through September 11 (6 weeks). The Readalong hashtag will be #JungleRead . Please join us; there are no prerequisites for this kind of shenanigan!

JunglebookCoverThere are two collections of stories, so make sure your edition has both of them. Book 1 should start with “Mowgli’s Brothers” and end with “Parade-song of the Camp Animals.” Book 2 should start with “How Fear Came” and end with “The Outsong.”

I’m using the Barnes & Noble Classics paperback. Project Gutenberg has Book 1 and Book 2 . Kindle has a free version here.

I’m looking forward to reading this book with you! I will be hanging out on Twitter and posting here on the blog. If you’re planning to do any Jungle Books-related blogging or projects, let me know. I’m going to try to do a scheduled chat at least once during the month; day and time TBD but it will likely be a Saturday.

 

Reading Schedule

August 7th: You should have read through “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log”

August 14th: You should have read through “Darzee’s Chaunt”

August 21st: You should have read through “The Law of the Jungle”

August 28th: You should have read through “A Ripple Song”

September 4th: You should have read through “Angutivan Tina”

September 11th: You should have finished the book through “The Outsong”

 

The Yellow Wallpaper and Jane Eyre

I was going to write a post or two on “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and discuss it in comparison with Jane Eyre. But honestly, all of the comparisons I could make seem a bit too easy.

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” is an American short story, and in some ways the characters and plot are very different from Jane Eyre. But on the other hand, whenever I read it, I can’t help thinking about Mr. Rochester and Bertha Antoinette, or even Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. The gas-lighting and manipulation, whether it’s intentional or simply because the husband thinks he knows best, is terrifying.

If you haven’t read this incredible short story, please do so! You can do so here at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s a brief write-up on female “hysteria” and insanity in the 19th century.

Have any of you read this story? What do you think of it? Does it make you reflect on Jane Eyre differently in any way? If so, how?

 

 

Jane Eyre: Chapters 27-29

This post includes spoilers through chapter 29 of Jane Eyre.

Check out the #EyreAlong discussion on Twitter, if you haven’t already!

Enter the EyreAlong giveaway!

Chapter 27:

“If you were mad, do you think I should hate you?”

“I do indeed, sir.”

“Then you are mistaken, and you know nothing about me, and nothing about the sort of love of which I am capable. Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still.”

Rochester continues at some length on this one point. Based on what we’ve seen of Rochester’s character, what we know of his relationship with Bertha, and what we’ve seen of his relationship with Jane, do you believe him? Why or why not? DISCUSS.

Personally, I’m not sure what Rochester would do if Jane’s mind was broken, but it’s clear that he is convinced of the truth of his words. That’s the tricky part of his character, both for us as readers and for poor Jane trying to argue with him: he is absolutely convinced that he knows the truth of a matter, and that he knows how to act and that his action will be the right one. For example, when he’s telling Jane the whole history of him and Bertha, he says, “I reasoned thus, Jane: and now listen; for it was true Wisdom that consoled me in that hour, and showed me the right path to follow.” He’s referring to the decision to go back to England, and keep his a wife a secret from everyone, so that he can live however he wants and doesn’t have to be responsible for his own wife in the eyes of other people.

Rochester’s progression of arguments in this discussion, in regards to convincing Jane, is scary. He notes almost immediately that Jane is pretty set in her views from the beginning: “you are thinking how to acttalking, you consider, is of no use.” He observes the sphynx-like expression is forming in your countenance” and isn’t sure how she is going to respond or react to any of the information he is giving her. He implies that if he could win her over by physical force, he would do so: “I long to exert a fraction of Samson’s strengthand laments that he can’t: “Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it-the savage, beautiful creature!” Does he get a gold “You Tried” star for realizing that Jane’s mind and soul belong to her, no matter what? I’m not sure.

On Jane’s side, she is clearly just trying to survive the conversation so that she can leave him later, either with or without his consent. Most of her thoughts and speech aren’t even trying to convince him that she is right, just trying to placate him or at least not to rile him. “I saw that in another moment and with one impetus of frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him.” Then Jane tries the proven method of crying, which works even though Rochester is aware of what she is doing (“If I storm, you have the art of weeping.”). But at that point, what ELSE can she do? He’s clearly convinced that he is right and won’t take no for an answer.

The biggest face-palm moment for me was the bit about the mistresses. So Rochester tells Jane about all of his ex-girlfriends, and then ends the explanation with this gem:“Hiring a mistress is the next worst thing to buying a slave: both are often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading.”

Jane says nothing, but she, not being an idiot, realizes that “he would one day regard me with the same feelings which now in his mind desecrated their memory.”

This entire conversation between Rochester and Jane is frankly terrifying. Jane knows she can’t give in on any point, if she wants to keep her self-respect and principles, but she also can’t infuriate or alienate him so much that he either physically restrains her or cuts himself off from her emotionally/psychologically. I’d love to do a close read of this whole section but we have OTHER THINGS TO TALK ABOUT TODAY.

Before we move on to the next chapter, there were a couple of bits in here that reminded me of other works (most likely unintentional):

  • “My fixed desire was to seek and find a good and intelligent woman.” reminded me of John Donne’s Song, and its list of impossible missions, including finding “a woman true, and fair.”
  • Jane’s claim that “You will forget me before I forget you.” reminded me of Anne Elliott in Persuasion by Jane Austen, when she claims: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!” 

Best quote of the chapter (from Jane):I care for myself.”

Runner-up: “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation.”

Chapter 28:

I’m a sucker for “lone figure at a crossroads” imagery.

Jane goes through a lot of angst in this chapter, some of it for herself because she is IN THE WILDS OF ENGLAND with nothing and no one to help, but most of it is for Rochester, who is probably not having the best time either. However, her faith is admirable – “Mr. Rochester was safe: he was God’s and by God would he be guarded.” That doesn’t mean that a) all her problems are solved or b) she feels calm all the time. She still has struggles and doubts; faith not a magic potion.

When she is rejected at the house by the servant Hannah, Jane is finally about to give up: “I can but die, and I believe in God.”

I still can’t decide what Hogwarts house St. John belongs to, but his response, “All men must die,” shows maybe he should belong to a Game of Thrones house instead?

Where did we see the ignis fatuus earlier in this book? I think Rochester alluded to them. Anyway, Jane sees the light at Marsh End and thinks it is a will o’ the wisp, but decides to go toward it as at this point she has no other choice of place to go.

Diana and Mary studying German together is my favorite. What cool kids. Also I learned a new word: “fustian,” which means “pompous or pretentious speech or writing.” I mean, it’s one of those words that creates itself when you use it, but still!

Chapter 29:

Or, the return of physiognomy! Since Jane is so ill she can’t talk, everyone gets to gather around and stare at her face and decide what her personality is like based on the size of her forehead, flesh, etc etc. Jane is judged to be “agreeable,” “sensible,” and not indicating “vulgarity or degradation.” Hooray!

Jane’s conversation with Hannah is fascinating. She plays the same sort of game that she did with Rochester- don’t say much, but when you do, make it barbed; otherwise, stay quiet and stare a lot so that they talk a lot and get defensive. Jane reminds Hannah that “if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” But Hannah has some good points – they live out in the middle of nowhere and she’s alone in the house with two young women.

The Rivers kids are the best supporting characters we’ve met in a while. I like Diana’s bossiness and kindness. St. John is a mysterious guy! He’s very analytical and thoughtful towards Jane, as if he’s trying to figure her out. It’s clear that he’s helping her more out of Christian duty and charity rather than because he likes her or out of kindness, like his sisters do. He’s not interested in helping her if she’s not going to be sensible; he wants to make sure she will make good use of his help rather than take advantage of him.

All three of the Rivers seem to read and study a lot; as Hannah says, “There was nothing like them in these parts, nor ever had been; they had liked learning, all three, almost from the time they could speak.”

All three of them allow Jane to keep her secrets, although the curiosity is probably killing them. What Jane does say makes her situation sound very dramatic and mysterious – which it is, but she could have gone the safer route and made something specific up. That wouldn’t be very like her, though.

We take a look at how much the Rivers parallel or contrast with the Reeds in future chapters.

Best quote of the chapter:

“My sisters, you see, have a pleasure in keeping you,” said Mr. St. John, “as they would have a pleasure in keeping and cherishing a half-frozen bird some wintry wind might have driven through their casement. I feel more inclination to put you in the way of keeping yourself: and shall endeavour to do so: but observe, my sphere is narrow.”

 

Jane Eyre: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Monologues

This post contains spoilers for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1996) and Jane Eyre (2011).

A good Jane Eyre adaptation is hard to find. Gingernifty has a great post here on the literary webseries, “Autobiography of Jane Eyre.” As you may have seen on Twitter, I’ve watched (or re-watched) a couple of Jane Eyre movies lately. Below are my thoughts on how well each of them translates the novel to a visual medium.

 

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Jane Eyre (1993) does a decent job at smashing a 600-page book into a movie, but because of some odd story changes and William Hurt’s mediocre Rochester, ultimately it’s not one I would choose to rewatch.

 

The “childhood chapter” was one of the better parts of the movie, and possibly the best treatment of that section that I have seen. The child actors were really great (Anna Paquin plays Jane). It has to gallop through Jane’s growing-up years but it gives us at least one solid highlight at each stage of her young life to show us how she becomes the adult she does. Brocklehurst’s performance is a masterpiece of self-righteousness and deluded charity. I would have liked to see Miss Temple (played by Amanda Root <3)  display even a tiny bit of agency, but the contrast between her and Miss Scatcherd was a nice sketch.

Speaking of nice character sketches, I adore Mrs. Fairfax in this version. She’s cozy, proper, and just a little bit ignorant. Mrs. Fairfax is one of those characters who knows just enough to make you think she’s fully-informed, and once you realize she isn’t, you’re not sure whether to be angry or not. She’s not a villain, and she’s not working actively for or against Jane.

William Hurt as Mr. Rochester did not fill me with the same joy  as Mrs. Fairfax. He wasn’t bad, per se, he was simply mediocre and monotone. Did you even read the book? He should be Byronic and over-dramatic. There was almost no banter between him and Jane – even worse, scenes between them that are give-and-take in the book are more like lectures from Rochester to Jane. She has a healthy side-eye but that’s it.

Adult Jane (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is probably the calmest, most reserved version of Jane Eyre I’ve seen. It’s accurate to the book, and I think she shows just enough in her face and voice to let us know what she’s thinking. Most Janes, because they’re trying to turn Jane’s narration into expressions on their face, wind up displaying different degrees of Distressed most of the time. Shout-out to the moment where she finds out about Blanche Ingram, and walks down the hallway, glances in the mirror, and whispers, “You are a fool” to her reflection. BOOM, 10-page monologue covered in a few seconds.

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One of the most disturbing parts of this movie is Bertha, but not disturbing in the way you would probably think. I wanted to hug her so much in this movie. She seemed so sad and lost, and, occasionally, pissed off at her men-folk who locked her up. Even weirder (and more disturbing), the movie didn’t seem aware that it was making her so sympathetic. It was as if the movie relied so much on our shock making us hate her, that it didn’t bother to make her scary or threatening at any point. We see the results of her actions – the fire, Mason’s injury – but the connection is mostly implied. Bertha deserves better 2017. If you’re going to make her a villain,, at least do a compelling job of it.

I have mixed feelings about the overall look of the movie. The interior sets are great, but the exterior visuals seem to be matte paintings for the most part. The music is so understated that it’s almost unnoticeable, which I don’t appreciate but maybe some people do. It was too subtle.

There were many changes to the story, some small, some large. I appreciated some of them because they helped move the plot along and streamline the story to fit into a movie. However, others were really counter-productive to the pacing and plot. The primary example is St. John Rivers character and sub-plot. Jane’s flight from Thornfield isn’t desperate, it’s organized and safe, undercutting the suspense in the final third of the movie. St. John isn’t a clergyman, simply a solicitor, who serves no purpose and adds no suspense to Jane’s arc or the plot, except to inform her that she has money. Even worse, there is no catalyst for Jane to seek out Rochester again, so the story just seems to sit and wait at St. John’s until enough time has passed for her to move on. Yawn.

mpw-56310Jane Eyre (2011) has totally different problems, but I love the atmosphere and some of the acting choices. It falls short due to the confusing story organization, the lack of dialogue, and some very strange and detrimental acting choices.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane is wonderful. I love how shoe puts her hands on her hips when she is thinking about her life and her choices (usually thoughts like “what am I to do with this poor fool?”). I love her delivery of the “do you think I am soulless and heartless?” speech, and the way she says “God help me” when Rochester is being dramatic and clingy (literally clinging to her). If it wasn’t obvious, she’s my favorite adaptation Jane thus far in my life.

The soundtrack is understated for the most part, but it builds on the story and isn’t weak. It’s very atmospheric and good for this story. I adore the costumes in this movie, as well.

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classic Rochester and Jane face-off. Source 

Rochester in this movie isn’t the best Rochester that could be, but at least Michael Fassbender makes him dramatic and emotional, as well as mysterious and occasionally selfish.

Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax is strangely antagonistic. I think they tried to make her tone foreshadow the darker parts of the story, but instead she comes across as really disapproving and melodramatic.

Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers is just a case of bad casting (although I do love Jamie Bell, I’m sorry, Jamie), and then the acting and directing conspire to make him one-dimensional and terrifying. The thing I like about St. John is that he is cold and rigid and perhaps hardhearted, but he also does a lot of good and thinks he is sacrificing himself for what is right. St. John in this movie is so unlikeable and tyrannical that he loses all depth.

The real issue with this movie is the frame-story structure. I have mixed feelings about it. I love that the movie opens with Jane fleeing Thornfield (with an appropriate amount of Distress) and then when she reaches the Rivers, flashes back to her childhood and what led her to this dramatic turn. However, the movie doesn’t clarify the progression and chronology of the story enough, making it very confusing and occasionally choppy. I’ve read the book several times and I still am surprised by the lack of explanation at several points that make the story difficult to follow. It relies on the albeit beautiful landscapes and imagery to tell the story rather than dialogue, except the visuals don’t tell a clear enough story, either. There are too many Meaningful Stares and not enough verbal interplay between characters to securely build the story.

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Thanks for reading this post! It got longer than I expected.

I’ve been hearing lots of good things about the 1983 BBC miniseries, and I’d like to rewatch the 2006 film as well. What is your favorite Jane Eyre adaptation?