Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)

 Yeah, so I reread this for a class I'm going to be teaching. I like it; it's kind of a cozy read. I hope that doesn't sound condescending. Anyway, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts.

I was sort of surprised how little I remembered about this from the first time I read it, but, well, that was fifteen years ago. I'll tell you this: the thing I remembered most clearly was the character of St. John Rivers, because GOOD LORD, man. That shit'll stick in your mind. It's very difficult for me to tell to what extent his portrayal is meant to be a veiled criticism of this austere religious zealotry. It's easy to read the novel anachronistically and thereby misjudge it. And he does get the last word in the novel, so I do feel like he's meant to be more admirable or not. But GOOD LORD: right, so if you haven't read the book recently or at all, he's the one who wants to marry Jane even though they're not at all in love so she can accompany him to India to do missionary work, and he manipulates her feelings super-hard, and gets all judgmental about her reservations about this extremely swell idea, and he just comes across as a sinister svengali in a way that it seems Brontë couldn't have been completely insensible to. Crazy stuff.

Here's my Hot Take on the novel: the romance between Jane and Rochester? Overrated. Aside from them declaring their love for one another in ever-more assiduous terms, what is there to it? I don't get any particular sense of why they should be so attracted to one another, and they actually don't get that much screentime (pagetime?) together. I will say that the Madwoman in the Attic business is questionable in many ways. I mean, this woman is black, or at least part-black, which is the same thing in the eyes of everyone. And she's being taken away from her homeland and locked up by this guy? Yeesh. I think it was good and necessary that someone should write The Wide Sargasso Sea in response. But even overlooking the colonialist element, you have to ask: is this even legal? Can you just lock up your wife and keep her a secret from the world and it's A-okay? What if any Victorian law would apply to this? And how about if she's not "mad?" Can you do it then? And if the answer is no, well, what's to stop you from unilaterally declaring her such? This whole situation seems to me to be on extremely shaky ground.

One more thing: the conflict here where they want to get married but oh no, he's secretly already married so they can't even though he really isn't in any practical sense is very similar to the one in Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where the titular tenant has run away to escape her philandering, abusive husband, and the narrator wants to marry her, but nope, even though she loves him and she never plans to see her husband again, sanctity of marriage and all, so can't do it. It is extremely obvious that neither of these novels could be set in 2021; here and now, this would seem ludicrous. Well, but they aren't [citation needed]. They're set in a premodern society, and anything that would undermine the stability of an institution like marriage would be considered unacceptable.

BUT. At the same time, you want these books to have happy endings. I don't think, "well, this violates our norms, so the love interests can't be together, too bad so sad" would have been considered any more satisfying a conclusion then than it would be now. And what this means, somewhat perversely it seems to me, is that the only answer is authorial murder--gotta kill off the people getting in the way. I mean CRIKEY, if you weren't so deferential to the idea of marriage, you could have gotten together with Jane WITHOUT getting maimed in a fire, and maybe Bertha could've gotten the help she needed.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction (1990)

This book has a Pynchon blurb, and was represented to me as the kind of thing I'd like, maybe, so I read it.  It's about a boy named Daniel Pearse, who grows up with his mother Annalee living a kind of itinerant lifestyle and becoming involved with a group called AMO--Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws--a kind of secret society devoted to...well, not wholly clear what, beyond generally being those things, and helping one another out when necessary.  When Annalee is killed in an apparent accident, Daniel is more or less raised by this group, bouncing around from idiosyncratic teacher to idiosyncratic teacher, where he learns about meditation, drugs, gambling, safecracking, disguises...actually, I guess that's mostly it.  Did he ever learn, like, arithmetic?  Unclear.  At any rate, the group has a plan to steal a huge diamond from a heavily-guarded government facility, and he is chosen to do be the lead guy there.  And I won't spoil what happens next, I guess.

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