Friday, May 27, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

It’s impossible for me to be objective about Jane Eyre. Her story affected me deeply the first time I read it and through the years I’ve found the need to re-read it often. The introduction to my present copy of the book reads, “It fell like a meteor in 1847, and in more than a hundred years its glow has not faded.” In my case, the glow increases with time.

The book is many stories in one: a penniless outcast who refuses to be beaten down by circumstances, a woman who won’t compromise her principles no matter how tempting the offer of happiness, love lost and then found again, and many others.
This is at least my twentieth time through the book and I’m amazed at how long it has taken me to see the value of Jane’s year away from Thornfield. I must admit that I’ve often skimmed over the chapters about St. John Rivers and his sisters so that I can get back to Mr. Rochester and the “real” story. I’m astounded that I was such a blockhead. (I’m assuming that everyone knows the gist of this story. If you don’t, then be aware that plot spoilers will follow.)

Another blogger once wrote that it was important for Jane to leave Thornfield so that she could come into her inheritance and return to Rochester as an equal. But Jane had declared herself his equal (in heart and spirit) on more than one occasion so, to me, money was not the big issue. However, now that I’ve read the final chapters more closely, I must agree that they contain pivotal events in Jane’s life which cause her to return to Thornfield a much richer (though not in a monetary sense) and more self-assured young woman.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jane and Rochester truly love each other, but the events in the latter half of the book clarify and, in a sense, purify their love. The whole distasteful episode with St. John starkly contrasts two types of domination. One man would gladly smother Jane for his own purposes, while Jane could call the other one “my master” without the slightest hint of self-negation.

Both Jane and Rochester come to important realizations during their separation. Beforehand he had wanted Jane as his wife no matter what the cost. But later, “Violent as he had seemed in his despair, he, in truth, loved me far too well and too tenderly to constitute himself my tyrant; he would have given me half his fortune, without demanding so much as a kiss in return, rather than I should have flung myself friendless in the wide world.” (p. 444)

Jane was so love-starved when she arrived at Thornfield Hall that it is no wonder she fell in love with the first man who showed her respect and kindness. That is why her time away is integral to the story’s satisfying conclusion. Given the same circumstances, who wouldn’t succumb to Rochester’s proposal? But Brontë does not leave us with a heroine who greedily grabs for her one and only chance at happiness. Instead Jane must make hard moral choices. And in leaving she learns that she can find fulfillment even apart from Rochester. She develops rich friendships with Diana and Mary. She experiences deep contentment in teaching the village school girls. She comes under the power of a cold, implacable man and succeeds in wriggling from his grasp. In just a year she progresses from heartbroken governess to confident young woman who returns to Rochester with her eyes wide open. Ironically, Rochester, though physically blind, now “sees” better than ever. He has come to believe in God and His mercy even before Jane’s return. The closing dialogue is the delightful converse between two adults whose love has been tried and found to be true. Deeply satisfying!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Blog?

I read a good article on blogging today. I blog because I love to read and I love to write. I wouldn't say blogging is a compulsion, but it has been a hobby that has brought me a great deal of satisfaction. I do get a thrill when the number of viewers is high, but that is not my ultimate goal. My primary purpose for starting a blog was to keep reading (having a book blog is a great incentive) and my secondary purpose was to find a handful of readers who shared my interests. In that sense it's been a huge success and I'm grateful for how I've grown through this endeavor.

Why do YOU blog?

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc

If you read my last post on Kindles, you know that I heard about this author while reading Teddy Roosevelt’s diary of his 1914 trip to Brazil. I downloaded the Lupin book for a recent trip and found these short, witty mysteries to be perfect for long layovers. My five hours in the airport flew by.

Arsene Lupin is a gentleman thief who steals not out of need, but for the pure adventure of it. He is so famous for his escapades that he sometimes sends a list of items he wants to his victims and asks them to wrap them up and send them to him to save him the trouble of stealing them himself.

My favorite chapter was “The Seven of Hearts”, the story of a man who was robbed, but wasn’t really. The next day a man comes to inquire about the robbery and commits suicide within three minutes of entering the house. Then Miss Nelly arrives unexpectedly and unsettles our cool-headed thief’s plans. (Miss Nelly is the beautiful young socialite who has won Lupin’s heart, but who cannot love him when she discovers who he is.) For her sake he later returns a roomful of stolen wealth.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin is chock full of surprises. Lupin’s encounter with Sherlock Holmes in the last chapter is wonderfully amusing. (See the Wikipedia article for the controversy this caused.)

Several dozen Arsene Lupin titles are available through Amazon and half of them are available for free on Kindle. If you like a well-written book sprinkled with a good dose of humor, I encourage you to give this series a try.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How My Kindle is Spoiling Me

I still read more library books than I do Kindle books, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying the advantages of the latter. Several times, while using my Kindle, the author of the book I’ve been reading mentions another book. Now, instead of heading to the computer to see if the book is available at Amazon, I do a search right on the Kindle. If the book is in the public domain, I promptly download it.

In Teddy Roosevelt’s jungle journal he mentioned Arsene Lupine. Two clicks later I had one of his novels in front of me. Later when I read Chesterton’s All Things Considered, he enthusiastically extolled the poetry of Francis Thompson (most famous for his "Hound of Heaven" poem). I immediately found Thompson’s book among the free offerings.

This could become dangerous! (But not nearly as expensive and house-cluttering as my previous book accumulation habit.) The greatest benefit of the Kindle is still its portability. I love, love, love the fact that I now travel with no less than on hundred books in my handbag.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Village Girl by Sarah Shears

This was another book recommended in Gladys Hunt’s, Honey for a Woman's HeartIt recounts a young girl’s childhood in the county of Kent (southeast England) between the first and second world wars. Although the book is subtitled “Memoirs of a Kentish Childhood” and is told from the point of view of young Sarah, I feel the book could almost have been titled, “Memories of an Amazing Mother.” As Sarah’s story unfolds, you can’t help but admire the astonishing resourcefulness and courage of a penniless young widow with four children. She suffered hardship with dignity and without complaint, enabling her children to grow up in “genteel poverty”.

This is no action-packed novel, but rather a gentle tale told in a matter-of-fact tone. In fact, Shear’s straightforward prose gives the book much of its charm. Consider this quote from a chapter called “The Aunties.”

Grandmother Prior, who eloped with a poor farmer at the age of seventeen and was left a widow at thirty-five, had eight children – two boys and six girls. The boys, William and Henry, lived just long enough to bequeath their names to my two brothers, then quietly died – of measles. (p, 124)

In the book’s introduction, author R.F. Delderfield wrote, “Occasionally, possibly once every decade, the English literary scene is enriched by a piece of writing that glows with truth like a cottage lamp set down among a cluster of neon lights.” A Village Girl is one such book.

(Note that this book is also available with an alternate title: Tapioca for Tea)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Staggerford Flood by Jon Hassler

Agatha didn’t look well. She didn’t act well. She spent whole days in her chair by the front window, brooding and watching the occasional car or pedestrian go by. The flood woke her up. The flood and her new pacemaker. The change was miraculous. She came out of the ordeal looking even smaller and more fretful than she had before, but a lot of her old energy came back, her erect posture, her strong voice, her fiery opinions. (p. 5)

This is my fourth Hassler book. I told my friend, Carol, that it was my least favorite, but that may just be because I’m growing out of my Agatha McGee phase.
In The Staggerford Flood, Agatha, is eighty and declining in health. Honestly, if this had been the first book I’d read, I wouldn’t have liked her at all. In this particular story she’s crotchety and bossy until she experiences regeneration through the flood. As people drift into her home looking for higher ground, Agatha’s “take charge” personality resurfaces and she offers refuge to each one.

Although not my favorite Hassler book, this one filled in a few of the blanks about what happened to James, Agatha’s dear friend from the first two books.