Thursday, February 11, 2016

Settings in Jane Eyre

It is one thing to write about a place you visit for the sake of writing it, it is another to use it inside your novel and turn it into a practical character that has its own mood, personality, and perhaps even challenges and defeats, let alone physical appearances. In Jane Eyre, we find such a setting. It speaks to us, certainly, as it does the heroine. In fact, reading certain passages we get the feeling she is more impressed by Thornfield than some of the characters as she first encounter the lot.

Again I looked out: we were passing a church: I saw its low broad tower against the sky, and its bell was tolling a quarter; I saw a narrow galaxy of lights too, on a hill-side, marking a village or hamlet. About ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates: we passed through, and they clashed to behind us. We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house: candle-light gleamed from one curtained bow-window; all the rest were dark.

This cinematic description opens our view to the palatial residence without overstating it. We sense the grander (through her descriptions of the church, the sky, a galaxy of lights, and the slow ascending drive, the long front, the candle-light gleam) without being told of it, which is all the more powerful. The writer leaves ample room for our imaginations to fly, yet she has offered enough room to pin down the corner of this new world. Thus a partnership is formed, she the conductor and we the musician who follows her rise of a hand, the tip of an eyebrow and her twitching of one corner of her mouth before we dive full heart into rendering the music she has composed and presented to us. There is no question of authority, though another type of authorship is not only possible but potentially equally effective, but here with this narrator and this story this gentle style of conducting catches our breath all the more, and we lean forward from the edges of our seats in anticipation.

We come to the introduction of Mrs. Fairfax thus. Jane has had some reservations but in this scene her apprehension dissolves with another cinematic unfolding (small scale, yet equally eye-catching):

A snug, small room; a round table by a cheerful fire; an arm-chair high-backed and old-fashioned, wherein sat the neatest imaginable little elderly lady, in window's cap, black silk gown and snowy muslin apron: exactly like what I had fancied Mrs Fairfax, only less stately and milder looking. She was occupied in knitting; a large cat sat demurely at her feet; nothing in short was wanting to complete the beau-ideal of domestic comfort. A more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived: there was no grandeur to overwhelm, no stateliness to embarrass; and then, as I entered, the old lady got up, and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me. 

Like Jane, we have some reservations prior to our encounters with Mrs Fairfax and it darkens our view and perhaps readiness to take in Thornfield at its full splendor (or ghastly horror as the case might be). If the author had forced our hands on this and pushed through with fuller descriptions of the setting, we might have gotten impatient with anxiety and suspense and flip the pages ahead to get a sense of how the human characters might deal with each other. We might also force ourselves to read through the settings only to find disappointments in its lack of response to our anxieties. Again, the writer did not push the issue but gently dealt with it with such a melodic prose that each of her sentence leads us to anticipate the next, wanting to read on and draw closer to her characters and step closer into that world of old stairs, gay blue chintz and flickering candles.

Her evening arrival aids in this respect, we catch a quick glimpse of the impressive castle, then we meet the small, neat, comforting and kind old lady to whom we take an immediate liking. I'm hooked. The next day Jane wake to see the full glamour and scope of the place, we along with her, having met her pupil, another lovely if plain character, we are ready, as she is, to embark on a tour around the house, and learn more of its eccentric, intriguing and somewhat ghost like atmosphere.

Throughout this chapter, I hear a languid and self assured tone sounding like an older Jane Eyre who has returned in her memory to this place and time, and is recounting the story to me slowly as she sits by the fire, occupied in some knitting, and is unhurried by anything other than those offered a strong sense of domestic comfort to her and her visitor. I hear the English accent in her tone as she tell me the story, not only the sounds, but the way she composed her sentences, complex yet friendly to the reader (listener)'s ear so that one will not need of a master's degree from Oxford or the upbringing equipped with a private mansion's governess to understand it. Yet she sounds sophisticated in a way that makes your heart swell, making you aware of the greatness of her mind, despite of (or perhaps in symphony of) the friend activities in which she is engaged.

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