Monday, October 20, 2014

Jane Eyre Read Along Chapters 15-19

Welcome to our discussion chapters 15 - 19. This week’s questions and answers are below.

Rochester seems a very strong personality. Is it surprising that he would become enamored with someone like Céline Varens?

I think that Rochester’s in infatuation with Céline is problematic, but it is, in the end believable. Rochester is both intelligent and has a strong personality. Furthermore he expresses the opinion that he is looking for a mate with similar attributes. Céline seems to be vacuous at best. Though unexpected, based upon observation of real people, I find that this fictional relationship is plausible. In real life, sometimes these very powerful personalities will gravitate towards a persona less intelligent and with less gravitas. I think that such relationships generally do not work in the long run. In the time of Jane Eyre, where marriage was more or less permanent, matrimony in this case would likely lead to very unhappy participants.

We find that Thornfield Hall is a place with strange servants, where demonic laughter is heard and mysterious fires are set. Are these just clever and atmospheric plot devices or is Bronte saying something more?

As I have written previously, I think that Bronte is trying to say something about the Universe in this book. In the author’s reality there are mysterious things about. The world is a strange place with some very dim recesses in it. Some twisted and frightening things are going on. The nature of this  darkness is in of itself mysterious. Perhaps this is all a manifestation of the human mind.

Either way I think that Bronte is trying to dig into something fundamental here. This is manifested in various aspects of this work including the nature of the inhabitants, and the goings on in Thornfield Hall. In my commentary thus far, I have been admittedly vague about this gray part of existence. I am waiting until I am through the book in order to say anything too definitive about it.

At one point Jane rebukes her self as a result of her attraction for Rochester and resolves to suppress that attraction. Is this a realistic reaction of a person falling in love? Do people act this way in the real world and the present day?

I do think that Jane’s reaction here is very realistic.  Personally, I have known people who, when falling for someone attempt to resist doing so. Sometimes, depending on circumstances, personalities, as well as how far deep they are in the process, such endeavors fail. I suspect that they will also fail with Jane and that she will continue to fall in love with Rochester.

Jane believes that Rochester is planning on marrying for the benefit of connections. Is she accessing his character fairly? Based upon what we know about Rochester at this point, would a man like him likely enter into marriage for such reasons?

From the outside looking in, it seems obvious that Rochester would never marry for such materialistic reasons. However, no matter how intelligent and perceptive that Jane is, from her point of view, her assessment of the situation is certainly understandable. The evidence indicates that Rochester will marry for these reasons. A reader of a novel also has the advantage of concentrating on the character traits that the author wants us to see. Thus, while Jane’s hypothesis is off base, it is not unfair of her to believe it.

At one point Blanche Ingram insults and acts cruelly to a passive Jane. Rochester allows this to go on and he takes no action to stop it. What can be concluded from his behavior?

I was curious as to why Rochester does not intervene. In some ways, though a man of strong emotions, he seems detached especially when it comes to the needs of others. I get the impression that he considers the insulting behavior to be  trivial and will not allow it to occupy his thoughts or time. Another possibility is that, as in the interview, he may be testing Jane to see how she reacts to it all.

Rochester disguises himself as a fortuneteller and deceives Jane and several other characters. Is this the act of a trustworthy person?  In reality can someone who acted this way ever be worthy of trust?

Once again Rochester shows himself to be flawed hero. The entire episode seems to be another of his tests. One thing about Rochester is that he is single minded and arrogant. It seems that he planned this charade and was determined to carry it out regardless of the fact that he was practicing deception. As far as this goes, while not a pernicious character, he cannot really be trusted to act honestly in his everyday affairs.

Next week we will be reading chapters 20 -24. The questions are below.

The events of Chapter 20 are very strange, yet Jane does everything Rochester asks her to do, and continues to trust him, for the most part. She does ask him some questions, but makes no demands for an explanation of what's really going on at Thornfield, nor does she seek another position, in spite of her fears and inner doubts. How can her behavior be explained?

Rochester pressures the doctor to rush Mason out of the house and away, even though the latter is seriously injured. What do you think of this action, and why he took it?

What do you think of Eliza and Georgina as adults? 

Do you think Jane was right to forgive Mrs. Reed in light of the important information the later withheld from Jane for three years?

What does Jane's impassioned speech to Mr. Rochester, while they're in the orchard, tell the reader about her?

A terrible storm suddenly springs up, as Chapter 23 draws to a close. During the night, lightning strikes the horse-chestnut tree, at the base of which Jane and Rochester had sat earlier. The tree is split in two. Do you think this is a bad omen? If so, what do you think it means? 

Please do not forget to add your name and the link to your latest post below.

Week 5: Oct. 20th

Reading: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 6: Oct. 27th

Reading: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Questions: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 7: Nov. 3rd

Reading: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Question for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 8: Nov. 10th

Reading: Chapters 34 - 38
Discussion Questions: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 9: Nov. 17th

Discussion Questions, Chapters 34 - 38

Week 9: Nov. 21st

Book Reviews Posted

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Emma by Jane Austen

This post contains major spoilers.

is the second Jane Austen novel for me. This book has so much to recommend and it is so many things. The characters are expertly crafted, and the story is fun and meaningful. Austen often writes effective satire and easily amuses. It includes complex commentary on the English class system of the time. It is full of insightful wit and wisdom. This is another novel that is so beloved by readers that it is almost a paragon in the eyes of its fans. My contention is that it does indeed deserve much of the praise that it has garnered.

The book’s namesake is Emma Woodhouse. Emma is intelligent, lively and often kind and supportive of her friends. At the same time, she is deeply flawed. She is socially and intellectually snobbish. She looks down on the majority of her acquaintances and neighbors. While she tries to be helpful and generous to the people whom she likes, she is hypercritical of those who she does not approve of. She seems to lurch between states when she is self-aware and other periods where she seems blind to her own vices.

With all of this, Emma, even at her worst, is not an unpleasant character to read about.  She is so humorous, witty and engaging. Austen’s words that describe even her foibles are a pleasure to read. Despite her flaws, her redeeming qualities are also numerous. She is ultimately a marvelous literary creation.

There are several additional wonderfully drawn characters. George Knightley is a good friend who is never afraid to point out Emma’s bad behavior. He is also quick to criticize others, but he also shows a core of decency.

Jane Fairfax is a young woman of whom Emma is initially unfairly critical. This is in contrast to Harriet Smith, another young woman who Emma takes under her wing and attempts to find a husband for. In the course of this attempted matchmaking, Emma does more harm than good.

Mr. Frank Churchill is a young man who presumably shows romantic interest in Emma as well as in other young women in the circle.

Through much of the narrative, Emma declares that she is not interested in marriage. Nevertheless, the plot involves Emma and her friends’ romantic entanglements, all aimed, of course, at finding spouses.

In this this post I focused on how in Pride and Prejudice, Austen explored the concept of human perception in very sophisticated ways. Reading Emma, I see a similar theme. The author plays with the concept of perception and individual bias quite a bit in this novel. Emma herself is both the perpetrator and the victim of her own mischaracterizations.

In some ways, this novel can be described as a misreading of the world based upon Emma’s incorrect perceptions. Like Pride and Prejudice, this work is written in third person, but it is mostly written from the main character’s, in this case Emma’s, point of view. Not only does Emma see the world from a distorted vantage point, her misperceptions take the reader along for the ride.

As noted above, Emma attempts to assist Harriet Smith in procuring a husband. Early on, Emma becomes convinced that an attractive young man, Philip Elton, is in love and about to propose marriage to Harriet. Emma’s certainty on this issue convinces Harriet of Elton’s affections. I was similarly taken along with Emma’s theory, adding to the effect for me.

Emma is subsequently shown to be completely wrong when Elton professes his love for Emma herself, and he declares that he is uninterested in Harriet. Needless to say, Emma spurns Elton’s proposal in what is a very bad scene for both of them.

Later, a similar process occurs when another young man, Frank Churchill, comes into the picture. At first, Emma believes that Churchill is enamored with herself. Declaring to herself that she is uninterested in his affections, she subtly steers Frank toward Harriet. Our heroine once again becomes convinced that she has helped create a match for Harriet. Once again, this proves to be a miscalculation when Frank declares that he has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax. To add insult to injury, Emma is shocked when Harriet declares that she was never interested in Frank. She instead reveals a budding interest in George Knightley, who Emma comes to realize that she herself is in love with.

Emma’s belated self-acknowledgement of her love for Knightly, someone that she has known for years, may be the ultimate flaw in perception. Emma comes to understand that she has been in love with the man for some time, yet never admitted this to herself.

At the moment when Harriet informs Emma that she has fallen for Mr. Knightly, and that it seems that Knightly has fallen for her, the revelation comes upon Emma,

  Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched— she admitted— she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! “

All of this makes the novel a brilliant study in human perception and misperception. By including the reader in some of the confusion, Austen adds another level to what is, in a way, a case study into a certain aspect of human psychology.

There is a lot more going on in this book than commentary on people’s tendency to perceive the world incorrectly. As I pointed out above, there is a lot to recommend in this novel. It is a must read for anyone who likes other Austen books or English literature in general.  Emma is both a high artistic achievement and a very fun read.