Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for December, 2011

Jane Eyre

Posted by nliakos on December 29, 2011

by Charlotte Bronte (eBook)

Of course I have read Jane Eyre several times. I can’t remember when I first read it, but I must have been quite young, probably not yet in college, because after four years of analyzing Russian literature for my BA, I barely touched fiction (other than whodunits) for probably 15 years. I do remember going back periodically to re-read my favorite parts, and I listened to the audiobook a few years ago, startled to discover what a feminist Jane was. Now that I have my Nook, I am taking advantage of the free classics B&N offers, and this was the first I downloaded.

I first read the article about Charlotte Bronte that precedes the novel; that was interesting.  And I took full advantage of the dictionary to look up words I never bothered to look up before, as well as the notes included in the book (problem with the Nook: sometimes the note is not visible on the page, and after “turning” to the following page of notes, it’s not always possible to return to my place in the novel. Then I have to try to remember approximately where I was when I left it to read the note. It’s really annoying!), to better understand some of the archaic vocabulary and literary and Biblical references. I normally never stop to look up words when reading (exception: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, which required a dictionary and annotations!), but the Nook makes it easy. Unfortunately, some of the weirder words (e.g. dialect, here and in Precious Bane) are not in the dictionary.  I suppose they would only be found in the OED, and maybe not even there!)

Anyway, I enjoyed every page.  The hideous treatment that Jane received as a child in the Reed household reminded me of Harry Potter’s treatment at the hands of the Dursleys (it’s so exaggerated!). The beginning of the Lowood years are even worse (talk about jumping from the frying pan in to the fire!). When life gets better there, Bronte skips 8-10 years (good treatment being boring, I suppose) until Jane is 19 years old and goes off to seek her fortune at Thornfield.

I think it is kind of hard to believe that no one spilled the beans about Mr. Rochester’s West Indian marriage or the lunatic in the attic. (And how did Grace Poole ever go to sleep in the same room with her? It would seem to be a rather dangerous thing to do.) Also, Mr. Rochester’s pretending to court Blanche Ingram to make Jane jealous seems a bit far-fetched.  Jane’s flight and her reluctance to beg (and the disdain of the townspeople she approached) were quite believable, though.  The character of St. John Rivers seemed almost Asperger-like.  I feel sorry for the “heathens” he went to convert; I am sure he would never take no for an answer! The telepathic “Jane! Jane! Jane!” and Jane’s subsequent return to Thornfield and Mr Rochester (favorite parts) were satisfying as always. I don’t think I will ever get tired of this book!

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Precious Bane

Posted by nliakos on December 4, 2011

by Mary Webb (1924)

I finally bought myself an e-reader (a Nook) last week, and the first book I downloaded (for the whopping price of $0.99) was Precious Bane.  I had already listened to the audiobook twice; it was one of those books I discovered on the audiobook shelves of the Quince Orchard Library here in Montgomery County MD.  (I found it pretty discouraging to look for a particular audiobook; much better to browse the shelves and just pick something that looked good.)  I loved the book the first time I heard it. Then I borrowed it again and enjoyed it just as much the second time. So it looked like a good first download for the Nook.

Precious Bane is the first-person narrative of Prudence (Prue) Sarn of Sarn, in Shropshire, around the turn of the 19th century. Prue has a harelip, and it dictates much about her life, such as how others relate to her (many suspecting her to be a witch) and what her future holds (no marriage). Prue is one of those heroines you can’t help but like because she is so good and at the same time, so real.

The book is written in Shropshire dialect, so a reader must guess at a lot of the meanings of words in context (a mere is a pond or lake; hiver-hover is apparently something like dilly-dally; etc.) and recognize different spellings and pronunciations of other words (wrostle for wrestle, summat for something, munna for mustn’t, etc.). I never did figure out what leasing meant in the context I found it here. But no matter. The dialect is just one of the charms of the story of Prue Sarn. The reader will consider the situation of people with disabilities (perhaps that is the wrong word for Prue’s harelip, which doesn’t seem to impede her eating, drinking, or speaking, and certainly not working; but it was certainly a social handicap for her), the “sport” of bull-baiting, the daily lives of people  and animals living in rural Shropshire at that time, relationships between the local gentry and the farmers and between men and women.  The description of the grain harvest (“love-carriage”) is so vivid that you feel as if you were right there, participating in the work and the festivities. The characters are varied and real: not only Prue, but her mother and her brother Gideon, driven by his desire for wealth and position; beautiful Jancis Beguildy and her father, the would-be wizard; simple Tivvy, the Sexton’s daughter; the horrible Mister Grimble and Mister Huglet; the courageous, kind and handsome weaver, Kester Woodseaves.

Even on the third read, it was hard to put the book down. It has everything you could ask for in a novel: joy, grief, crime, courage,  hate, and love. I’m trying not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, so I won’t be more specific than that. Suffice it to say that it has become one of my favorite books.

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