Monday, 20 June 2016

Jane Eyre - Chapters V, VI & VII

Chapter V

On the morning of January 19th, Jane leaves the Reed residence of Gateshead, after saying a goodbye to Bessie and proclaiming that Mrs. Reed has never been a friend to her.  Again the scene is set, a wet and misty dampness cloaking her travel until she arrives at Lowood Institution.  Discipline is immediately apparent at this charitable school, yet we also see the compassion of Miss Temple, the supervisor, at the treatment of the pupils, who are fed a diet lacking in nutritious food.  In spite of the rigidity of the place, there does seem a concern for health and well-being as far as it is possible within the structure of which it is run.  Jane meets Helen Burns for the first time and we get an initial impression of her maturity and sensibility.  And thus ended Jane's first day at Lowood.

Again Brontë creates sympathy for Jane by referring to her long coach ride alone at such a tender age.    Our admiration is more fully developed by Jane facing her circumstances with a determination and resoluteness of someone twice her age.

While the school has a rigid code, we can see that there is flexibility among certain teachers.  The rigour is at first unfamiliar to Jane but the girl whom she meets (Helen) appears to accept them with an uncomplaining stoicism.  And again we see the importance of literary choices as foreshadowing, as Helen is reading Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia when Jane approaches her, its storyline being the futility of realizing human happiness.

Two Young Girls Reading (1891)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart

Chapter VI

Jane is a member of the fourth class of Lowood and is somewhat bewildered by the lessons and rules.  She is stunned by Helen's quiet acceptance of Miss Scatcherd's berating of her slovenly habits and later quizzes Helen as to how she could have born up under such abuse.  She learns a valuable lesson from her friend, as Helen encourages Jane to follow Christ's example of love for others, and presses her to attempt to see the situation from another point of view.  Their conversation is very enlightening:

"But I feel this, Helen:  I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly.  It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved."

"Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine; but Christians and civilised nations disown it."

"How?  I don't understand."

"It is not violence that best overcomes hate ---- nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."

"What then?"

"Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example."

"What does he say?"

"Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you."

"Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible."

..............  "Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited?  Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs ......"

We have the impression that Jane is benefiting from Helen's wisdom in a way that will serve her well in the future.

School for Peasants' Children in Verkiai (1848)
Vasily Sadovnikov
source Wikiart

Chapter VII

The first quarter of January, February and March pass for Jane at Lowood, and we learn of the scarcity of food, as well as the tedious visits to Brocklebridge Church where Mr. Brocklehurt officiates.  Then one day their patron visits to grill the teachers on their extravagance of food, and the necessity of self-denial and hardship in order to save the students' souls, a much more important issue than practicalities.  Jane is hoping to escape the notice of this implacable man, but she drops her slate and as hard as it comes down, all his displeasure falls upon her.  Made to stand on a stool in the middle of the room as she is categorized as an ungrateful liar by Brocklehurst, Jane can hardly bear the shame, however an angelic look from Helen buoys her spirits and she is able to endure.  She sees in Helen a quiet self-assurance and love that lifts her above the petty spite and unjust actions of Brocklehurst, and the notice of the teachers and students. Helen has an inner power that appears beyond the comprehension of most of those around her.

"Such is the imperfect nature of man!  such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet: and eyes like Miss Scatcherd's can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb."

The Schoolmaster (1954)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

⇐ Chapters III & IV                                                Chapters VIII & IX 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Different Tastes in Literature by C.S. Lewis

Art and Literature (1867)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
source Wikiart

Is there good literature?  Is there bad literature?  How do we make the determination, and do we even have the criteria to judge?  In his essay, Different Tastes in Literature, if Lewis does not directly answer these questions, he at least gives the reader criteria that makes it easier to judge, and challenges us to examine our reading experiences.

First, Lewis investigates the notion of "tastes" and indicates a determination between good and bad literature is complicated by the fact that there are no objective tests.  But the error people make is in assuming that people like bad art in the same way that they like good art.  Instead, Lewis proposes, bad art does not succeed with anyone.

Lewis defines bad art as very low art, such as novels, and popular music that are read or sung and then forgotten soon after.  When it goes out of fashion, it is never thought of afterward.

Geniuses of Art (1761)
Francois Boucher
source Wikiart

Yet while bad art itself is not so easy to describe, the consumer of bad art is more easily targeted:

"He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it.  But he never re-reads.  There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary.  It is infallible.  The literary man re-reads, other men simply read.  A novel once read is to them like yesterday's newspaper ...... It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.  Whether the bad poetry is re-read or not .... I do not know.  But the very fact that we do not know is significant.  It does not creep into the conversation of those who buy it.  One never finds two of its lovers capping quotations and settling down to a good evening's talk about their favourite.  So with the bad picture.  The purchaser says, no doubt sincerely, that he finds it lovely, sweet, beautiful, charming or (more probably) 'nice'.  But he hangs it where it cannot be seen and never looks at it again."

With bad art, there is no question of the 'joy' that good art brings. "The desire for bad art is the desire bred of habit: like the smoker's desire for tobacco, more marked by the extreme malaise of denial than by any very strong delight in fruition."

Art Critic
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

On experiencing good art, it is not like moving from one type to the next, but more like "when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides ...."  However, we must not say that some men like good art and some bad, rather that the term "like" is not the proper word for good art, and the response towards good art, has never been produced in bad.

Is it too simple to say that bad art does not ever have the same effect on a person as good art?  What about those books that captured our imagination in youth but that we now consider bad?  Might this simply mean that the reader's imagination was superior to the author's, but lacking both maturity and discernment?  In effect, we would not have been enjoying the book for what it was, but for what it was not.  But this "mirage" is quite different from the actual liking of bad art.  Bad art is "tepid, trivial, marginal, habitual.  It does not trouble them, nor haunt them ..... No one cares about bad art in the same way as some care about good."  It is only when we eliminate the bad art that the discussions about the superiority of one work of art to another can have some value.

The Disquieting Muses (1916-18)
Giorgio di Chirico
source Wikiart

In this essay, Lewis more distinguishes what is not good art than what is, however his insights, as always, are invaluable.  We have so little time on this earth.  Life comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  Don't we want to be discerning about our literary choices and choose to read works that add perspective, wisdom and purpose to our lives, instead of reading words that pass through us in the blink of an eye?  I do.

Deal Me In Challenge #10 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Jane Eyre - Chapters III & IV

Chapter III

Jane awakes from her fit to find herself being attended by the apothecary.  After her fright, she is strangely unsettled, unable to find joy in things that previously made her happy.  When the apothecary returns, he asks Jane a number of insightful questions with regard to her feelings and state of mind.  He then recommends that she be sent off to school, which agrees mightily with Mrs. Reed.

Jane’s ability to forgive is astounding.  While musing on her treatment by Mrs. Reed she says:  “Yes, Mrs. Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental suffering.  But I ought to forgive you, for you knew not what you did: while rending my heart-strings, you thought you were only uprooting my bad propensities.”  The power of Jane’s words elevate her over Mrs. Reed.  With her capacity for compassion, she can see intention through application, and her magnanimity shows her superiority over her tormentor. However, as the words spoken appear to be from an adult Jane, perhaps it took some time for her to learn this charity.

Bessie and Abbott once again meditate on Jane’s looks, saying if she were pretty like Miss Georgianna, it would be much easier to be kind to her.  Again, outward appearance is valued above good character.

Girl At A Window (1907)
Walter Sickert
source Wikiart

Chapter IV

Jane waits impatiently for a change, but none comes and she is relegated to an invisibility by the Reed household, which is both painful and cruel.  Made to stay in the nursery and have little contact with her cousins, one day a carriage arrives.  When Jane is called to the breakfast room, she meets Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School, a harsh, imposing man who has a single-minded religious fervour.  Mrs. Reed relates Jane's faults, emphasizing her tendency to deceit, and the master leaves, promising to take Jane on as a pupil.  Incensed at the unfair characterization, Jane berates Mrs. Reed, startling her benefactress with her intensity and articulation.

"How dare I, Mrs. Reed?  How dare I?  Because it is the truth.  You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.  I shall remember how you thrust me back ---- roughly and violently thrust me back ---- into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, "Have mercy!  Have mercy, aunt Reed!"  And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me ---- knocked me down for nothing.  I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale.  People think you a good woman, but you are bad; hard-hearted.  You are deceitful!"

Jane and Bessie have an exchange, where Jane admits regret at leaving Bessie, and Bessie is struck by Jane's new-found confidence.

In spite of the cruelty she’s suffered under, we see Jane’s character expand and grow, and it is a comforting thought that one can build good character in the midst of persecution and uncertainty.

The Schoolmaster (1826)
George Harvey
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II                                                Chapters V, VI & VII

Monday, 6 June 2016

Jane Eyre - Chapters I & II

And we're off!  The Edge of the Precipice's Jane Eyre read-along is off to a great start. It's been a good number of years since I read this work last, and it's certainly one of my favourites.  With a reasonably adequate background to the book, I'm looking forward to digging deeper into its pages.  My last Charlotte Brontë read, Villette, was less than thrilling (in fact, I could hardly believe it was the same author), so it will be refreshing to revisit her masterpiece.  So without further ado, let the reading begin!

Chapter I

In which we are introduced to Jane, who is a ward of Mrs. Reed who has three children, Eliza, John and Georgianna.  Jane is treated as not much better than a servant and is tormented unceasingly the the three children of the house.  Finally, persecuted beyond bearing when Master John Reed throws her book at her, cutting her head, Jane reacts with a vehemence, hurling insults at him.  Of course, Jane gets punished for her behaviour, while John Reed is given only sympathy from his mother.  Poor Jane is taken to the red-room and locked there.

Right away Brontë masterfully crafts the mood, describing a gloomy and melancholy setting, with "clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating ...", "chilly afternoons," and "nipped fingers."  The reader is able to immediately get an inkling of the tone of the upcoming chapters.

We understand Jane's isolation not only from descriptions of her situation, but from parallels to her physical surroundings.  From the bleakness of the winter season, the leafless trees, the cold, unfriendly, biting wind and the slow interminable passing of the hours, we feel her rejection and her solitude just as Jane experiences it.  Even her reading of Bewick's 'History of British Birds' echos her aloneness, as she describes from it the "bleak shores" of far of countries, the desolate realms there and the remoteness. As we read of the physical isolation, we certainly get a strong sense of Jane's social isolation.

By Jane shutting herself away on the window-seat using the red curtain, which is later called "scarlet drapery", we are reminded of a scarlet woman, or in this case, a scarlet child, where the person is ostracized because their behaviour does not meet societal standards.

Quite interestingly, Jane also mentions listening to the novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which is a story of a servant who marries her employer.  A little foreshadowing here, perhaps?

Village Street in Winter (1865-70)
Gustave Corbet
source Wikiart

Chapter II

Jane fights her jailors, Bessie, the nurse and Miss Abbott, before promising not to move if they do not tie her to the chair as they plan.  Apparently she had never behaved so before, although Miss Abbott remarks that she'd always had it in her, which perhaps gives more illumination to Miss Abbott's character than Jane Eyre's.  After painful reminders of her station as a "less than a servant" by Bessie, and threats with regard to the state of her soul by Miss Abbott, Jane is left alone.  Now a rather Gothic twist is brought on by her fear of the ghost of Mr. Reed, who died in this red-room nine years ago.  As she thinks about his death, she sees herself in the looking-glass, appearing small and impish, like a tiny phantom.  As she stews on all the injustices that she has had to face from the family, she also recognizes that her own character is in some way responsible for her fate.  As daylight fades from the room, her imagination takes her away, as she muses that if Mr. Reed were alive, he would take her part, and wishes his ghost would return to haunt his family and put things to right.  Seeing a streak of light on the wall, she imagines a coming spirit and attempts to escape, making enough noise that her jailors come running, however Mrs. Reed appears and, in spite of Jane's frantic condition, orders her back to the room, where she faints.

Young Girl with Long Hair (1942)
Moise Kisling
source Wikiart

This was a curious chapter with much to ponder.  We see it as a turning point: whereas before it appears that Jane's resistance to her treatment was all mental, finally it becomes physical as Bessie remarks, "she never did so before."

There is also descriptions of what is commendable in the Reed household, and what is unacceptable.  It appears that vice, bad manners, and cruelty is lauded, whereas patient suffering, obedience and compassion is disparaged.

The Gothic imaginings of the ghost is a curious insertion, but it does serve to reinforce Jane's predicament, her isolation, and sets up the scene with Mrs. Reed, further emphasizing the woman's cold-hearted cruelty.

All these scenes enhance our pity for Jane, and our wish for her to escape her hardships.  An excellent introduction!!

Note:  I'm still wondering about the significance of the colour red in these chapters.

Jane Eyre Read-along                                         Chapters III & IV

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Classics Club Spin #13

I was going to resist the spin this time.  I have too many books on the go and too many of them are atrociously difficult, or inordinately huge.  But one of my goals for the year was to pare down my Classics Club list, so why on earth wouldn't I participate in a spin?

With that said, I'm not shy to admit that I absolutely manipulated my list.  Well, perhaps not completely, but I did change out about seven books for ones that I'm either currently reading, are shorter novels, or projects that I am struggling with (Shakespeare, that's YOU!).  Surprisingly, one of the manipulations was not The Faerie Queene.

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you've got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 - 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we'll announce a number from 1 - 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by August 1st.

I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:

  1. Ivanhoe (1820) - Sir Walter Scott
  2. Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) - Thomas Hardy
  3. Framley Parsonage (1860-61) - Anthony Trollope
  4. 1984 (1949) - George Orwell
  5. The Fairie Queene (1590 - 1596) - Edmund Spenser
  6. Henry V (1599) - Wiliam Shakespeare
  7. The Histories (450-20 BC) - Herodotus
  8. Richard III (1592) - William Shakespeare 
  9. Le Rêve (1888) - Emile Zola
  10. Tom Sawyer (1876) - Mark Twain
  11. The Good Soldier Svejk (1923) - Jaroslav Hasek
  12. The Silver Chalice (1952) - Thomas Costain 
  13. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour
  14. The Lord of the Flies (1954) - William Golding
  15. The Red Bade of Courage (1895) - Steven Crane
  16. The Robe (1942) - Lloyd C. Douglas 
  17. The Twelve Caesars (121) - Suetonius 
  18. The Stranger (1942) - Albert Camus
  19. Tom Brown's School Days (1857) - Thomas Hughes 
  20. The Merchant of Venice (1596 - 1598) - William Shakespeare

While my intentions are good, if I don't finish by August 1st, I won't be surprised.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  And if I get a book I'm already reading, it will be more of a guarantee for success.  

So let the spin begin!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Big 100,000

I've noticed that many people with blogs celebrate their blog anniversaries, such as their first year, or important numbers like 5 years.  Some bloggers mention their 500th post. There is nothing more satisfying than choosing a task and sticking to it.  Other celebrations include finishing a project, or a list such as The Classics Club.  After years of reading, a completed list is certainly something to celebrate.

A Party in the Open Air (1590)
Isaac Oliver
source Wikipedia

Now, while I'll certainly have a BIG party after I complete my Classics Club list, I tend to completely forget my blog anniversary, and each year goes by without a mention of the milestones.  My excuse?  Well, I really don't have one, other than I have lots going on in life, and there's not anything to remind me.  Yet there is one statistic that I see every day when I log into my blog ---- my pageviews ----- and so I'm going to celebrate that milestone today.

So join me in celebrating, because today, on June 2, 2016 I reached the golden number of over:

100,000 pageviews!

Hip! Hip! Hurrah! (1888)
Peder Severin Krøyer
source Wikipedia

Now, honestly, I have no idea if this is an impressive number or not.  I began my blog in October of 2013, so it's 2 years and 8 months old.  When I look at some popular blogs, they are boasting in the millions per year, so I suspect my little number of 100,000 is not so impressive, but it was fun to see it hit that mark today.

Thanks to all the faithful readers, who pop in regularly and those too, who come around now and then.  I really enjoy all the conversations I've had with everyone, and I cherish the blog friends I've made over the years.  You all make blogging a pleasure!