Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Jane Eyre, a cold day in spring

What struck me at once about Jane Eyre was her incredible refusal to throw her self on the altar of anyone’s desire or command. She cannot do it for Mrs. Reed, she decides not to for Mr. Rochester despite the terrible pain it gives her and she manages to resist St. John Rivers though he is terribly persistent and believes God is on his side- the scariest of all people, I find. At each turn, she remains distinctly herself and at the end of book, she respects all her decisions and is ashamed of none, though others still might think ill of her for those choices.
I can’t imagine there were any heroines like this on the book scene at that time. Charlotte Bronte lived off in her own world, not in the literary scene but in a wonderful and vivid fantasy world built by her and her siblings. She did eventually shrug off this dazzling world of huge, intense sagas but she came up with things like “Jane Eyre” instead and “Villette,” which weren’t very far in their internal, psychological worlds of her earlier writing.
So “Jane Eyre” came seemingly out of nowhere, bursting onto the public world and being rather scandalous as a result. It’s only 20 years later that “The American Woman’s Home” got written by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. This a book full of the pleas and then commands women to live the life of self denial and self sacrifice. Someone must perform self sacrifice so the rest of the family can lead a good life! Throw yourself on the altar of this good and consuming act! Christ will reward you! It’s all very bone-chilling.
One of my favorite authors L.M Montgomery took tremendous refuge in reading “Jane Eyre”- which she did over and over and it’s not surprising. In one of her series, Emily of New Moon, there’s many links of spirit and description between Emily and Jane. And one wonders if not for Jane Eyre, would there have been an Anne as well?
And so while Jane Eyre threw the reader forward to a strong female protagonist full of her own resolve and will, Mrs. Rochester propels the reader back. This is not humane treatment of an insane person. And of course, the insane person does deserve that treatment. Hmmm…where have I heard that before? “She made me do it!” Tsk, tsk, Mr. Rochester.
Anyway, this is such an awesome read and I want to read it all over again now that I’m done. It’s a world that’s dark, gloomy, awesome and gothic. It wrestles with views on God and how to lead a good life where the self is not sacrificed.  Nothing else I can ask for!

Comments (2):

  1. Merry F.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Indeed, I have found that there are many connections between L.M. Montgomery’s writing and Bronte’s. The sheer number of references made… Diana is one of St. John’s sisters in Jane Eyre, and Diana is Anne’s best friend in Anne of Green Gables. One of Anne’s friends in Anne’s House of Dreams has a dog named Carlo; the same name of St. John’s dog. Both Anne and Emily are orphans, just like Jane; and in Emily of New Moon, Dean Priest places a flower in an old copy of “Jane Eyre” that he has, and a verse from the song Mr. Rochester sings to Jane is quoted. These are just a few of the many similarities I have found. Coincidence? Apparently not!

  2. Catherine

    March 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I never made the Diana and Carlo connections! So thank you. What you pointed is rather wonderful. I do love the instances in LMM’s journals where she mentions reading “Jane Eyre” time and time again. That book struck a tremendously deep chord in her as I believe it did a great many women then and certainly now.

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I Have Wine and Moon and Flowers: Reading Su Tung-P’o During a Pandemic

As we watch spring growth overtake last year’s dead bracken and grasses, there is both consolation and brutality. This year’s greenery melds with disease: the emergence of flowers entangles with the blossoming of a pandemic.

While the novel coronavirus rages through communities, our lives have shrunk down to fit the small rooms and little neighborhoods that we must now be still in. What do we do in this diminished space? What do we see?

 

6th Moon, 27th Sun: Sipping Wine at Lake-View Tower

 

1

 

Black clouds, soaring ink, nearly blot out these mountains.

White raindrops, skipping pearls, skitter wildly into the boat,

 

Then wind comes across furling earth, scatters them away,

And below Lake-View Tower, lakewater suddenly turns to sky.

 

2

 

Setting animals loose—fish and turtles—I’m an exile out here,

but no one owns waterlilies everywhere blooming, blooming.

 

This lake pillow mountains, starts them glancing up and down,

And my breezy boat wander free, drifts with an aimless moon.

 

Su Tung-P’o (trans. David Hinton)

 

As the great poet Su Tung-P’o knew so well, we see our own natures in everything. The outside world becomes a reflection of our own states; though if we can still ourselves enough as we gaze out, a depth opens and time becomes immaterial.

A master of reflection and stillness, Su Tung-P’o 苏童 lived nearly one thousand years ago and is considered one of great poets of the Song Dynasty. He led a brilliant and varied career as poet, politician, writer, calligrapher, painter and aesthetic theorist. Due to his outspoken and opposing views on the government, he was jailed and sent into exile on three separate occasions.

After his experience in jail and subsequent exile, his poetry evolved and deepen and his surviving work reflect his delicate, painful relationship with loneliness and desolation.

 

Moon, Flowers, Man

 

I raise my cup and invite

The moon to come down from the

Sky.  I hope she will accept

Me. I raise my cup and ask

The branches, heavy with flowers,

To drink with me.  I wish them

Long life and promise never

To pick them.  In company

With the moon and the flowers,

I get drunk, and none of us

Ever worries about good

Or bad.  How many people

Can comprehend our joy? I

Have wine and moon and flowers.

Who else do I want for drinking companions?

(trans. Kenneth Rexroth)

 

To help alleviate the sufferings of a difficult life, he became the devotee of Zen Buddhism and his poetics reflects the practice of the “beginner’s mind,” the ability to meet each experience with equilibrium and a “spontaneous and crystalline responsiveness.”

 

At Seven-Mile Rapids

 

A light boat one loan leaf,

a startled swan two oars—

 

water and sky are pure clarity

reflecting deep. Waves smooth,

 

fish roil this duckweed mirror

and egrets dot misty shorelines.

 

We breeze past sandy streams,

frostfall streams cold,

moonlit streams aglow.

 

ridge above ridge like a painting,

bend beyond bend like a screen.

 

Here I think back to

Yen Tzu-ling’s empty old age,

 

lord and recluse one dream.

Renown’s empty then as now,

 

just mountains stretching away:

cloud mountains erratic,

dawn mountains green.

 

Out of his poetry emerges a beautiful balance, the ability to look at both joy and sorrow with gentle tranquility and wry amusement.

 

At Brahma-Heaven Monastery, Rhymed with a Short Poem of Crystalline Beauty by the Monk Acumen-Hoard

 

You can only hear a bell out beyond the mist:

the monastery deep in mist is lost to sight.

 

Straw sandals wet with the dew of grasses,

a recluse wanders. Never coming to rest,

 

he’s simply an echo of mountaintop moon—

light coming and going night after night.

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Su Tung-P’o’s poetry illuminates the beauty and loneliness running throughout ourselves and Nature. His work becomes a sort of map for this strange new world we find ourselves in: isolated yet surrounded, weary but still observing, cut off but yet deeply involved.

 

After T’ao Ch’ien’s “Drinking Wine”

 

3

 

This little boat of mine, truly a lone leaf,

and beneath it, the sound of dark swells:

 

I keep paddling in the depths of night, drunk,

pleasures of home, bed, and desk forgotten.

 

At dawn, when I ask about the road ahead,

I’ve already past a thousand ridges rising

 

beyond ridges. O where am I going here,

this Way forever leaving ever returning?

 

Never arriving, what can we understand,

and always leaving, what’s left to explain?

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.