Dorothy Allison's novel brings to light the details and realities of domestic violence. Bone, is the protagonist, "I've been called Bone all my life, but my name's Ruth Anne," and her longstanding nickname was bequeathed upon her while she was a baby, as when her mother brought her home from the hospital, her Uncle Earl said she was no bigger than a knucklebone and Deedee, her cousin, pulled back the blanket to see, "the bone."
Bone has a natural appreciation for God's given beauty, "Greenville, South Carolina, in 1955 was the most beautiful place in the world. Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth's matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like the elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars. Weeping willows marched across the yard..."
Bone's mother was a hard working, non-drinking 15 year old girl who was devastated when her baby's father was never named, "So Granny gave one and Ruth gave another, the clerk got mad, and there I was - certified a bastard by the State of South Carolina." Her mother, Anne, pulls herself up out of bed, just eight days after giving birth and returns to work as a waitress. At the age of 16 Anne takes her baby and returns to the courthouse; she says her daughter's birth certificate is torn across the bottom and she needs another one. The clerk hands her a paper, with "Illegitimate," stamped across the bottom and tells her, "the facts have been established," while twittering women stare at her and one of them mouths, "some people."
Anne walks out of that courtroom with her baby held so tight she begins to wail. Anne comes back the next year to the immense enjoyment of the darkly perverse court clerk, to no avail. She even hires a lawyer who tells her there is nothing he can do, "Bastard," Anne hisses at the lawyer.
Lyle Parsons, a gentle, soft spoken, prettily handsome boy, takes Anne's hand and she quits work at his insistence, and is soon pregnant with Reese. Lyle dies, while on the route of one of his work shifts. It was one of those days when the sun shines as the rain pours down, and Lyle's truck spills over, with him falling out and onto the pavement with no obvious injuries. It was hard to believe he was dead, except the back of his head was crushed into the gravel.
Anne howls like a dog, when she sees the sheriff's car pull up. She knew already. Anne, is at 19, probably about the prettiest widow in South Carolina. Both her girls are at the funeral, Reese is still just a baby; and to support them Anne begins working the mills but her health can't take all the labor and the dust, so she goes to waitressing at The White Horse Cafe, where all the men, from truckers to judges like her. "Mama smiled, joked, slapped ass, and firmly passed back anything that looked like a down payment on something she didn't want to sell."
It is Earl, Anne's brother, who sets her up with Glen Waddell, a boy of 17 from a good family, but who was shy and unnervingly distant. The way Allison writes it, she makes it clear it is no one's fault when an abuser enters a family as it can be hard to tell, for some, right away and by the look in his eye, what kind of man he is. The Boatwrights are all infamous for their tempers and they seem to take to Glen just fine except a couple of them, especially Granny, who does not like Glen; saying there is something the matter with him.
None of the Boatwright men, with their dark hair and godly figures, seemed to have trouble with women, saying "no" to them. Earl's Catholic wife left him taking their three daughters with her. This earnestly surprised and embittered Earl as he didn't see what difference it made as long as he didn't marry any of the others. She seemed to think it made a difference and he never got over that she left him.
Granny speaks to Bone about Boatwright men, " 'Oh Bone!' she laughed. 'Maybe you should plan on marrying yourself a blond just to be safe. Huh?' " But for whatever hair color Glen has, and I don't think Allison ever says, only that his eyes are blue, there is something not right about him in a manner based on nuance at first. Granny never likes Glen and thinks there is something ill in his love toward people.
Bone, herself, cannot tell either way, as she describes him from a picture, "Mama's eyes were soft with old hurt and new hope; Glen's eyes told nothing. The man's image was as flat and empty as a sheet of tin in the sun, throwing back heat and light, but no details - not one clear line of who he really was behind those eyes."
Anne dates Glen for two years and in that time, Glen showed no signs of violence, other than there being something about his demeanor, that does not sit right with some people. Uncle Beau didn't like him as he didn't trust a man who didn't drink, "and Glen was as close to a teetotaler as the family had ever seen."
The night Anne was giving birth to her third child, Glen's son, Glen sat in the Pontiac, outside the hospital, smoking Pall Malls and talking to Bone, who is in the backseat with blankets, cokes and her sister Reese; as if Bone were an adult. " 'I know she's worried,' he said. 'She thinks if it's a girl, I won't love it. But it will be our baby, and if it's a girl, we can make another soon enough. I'll have my son...' "
Then, Glen molests Bone in the car, by masturbating against her and bruising her. Bone never tells anyone and instead develops an enclosed world of shame and masturbation, at an age where she should hardly know of such sexual encounters much less be experiencing them. It is unknown if Reese is abused in the same manner as Bone by Glen, as Bone never talks to Reese about it, but Reese also develops a private life of extreme fantasy, masturbation and orgasm at an abnormally early age. The girls have too much of a private life.
The baby Anne has dies at the hospital and Anne can no longer have children. Anne does not know her daughters are being molested but she does know her daughter is being beaten black and blue. "My collarbone fused with a lump the second time it was broken - ...In the hospital the young intern glared and ordered lots of x-rays. 'How'd she break her coccyx?' He demanded of Mama over the sheaf of x-rays when we were ready to go home...'Her what?'
'Her tailbone, lady, her ass. What have you been hitting the child with? Or have you been throwing her up against the wall?' "
Bone cannot tell the doctor she is being abused because she does not know him. She knows her mama; her smell, her fingers, the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles, the sound of her voice. " 'You can tell us,' he said in his stranger's voice." Anne takes Bone and Reese to aunt Alma's but two weeks later they were back with Daddy Glen who swore he would change.
They move from house to house every several months as Daddy Glen cannot keep a job or positive contacts for very long with anyone he works with. He gets into fights with peers at work and never seems to have his jobs come together. Bone goes from school to school, house to house, and the only friend she keeps for very long is an albino outcast, who is just a very ugly child. It is never described what exactly makes her ugly as albinism is unusual but should never make anyone less beautiful. There is just something about the way Shannon Pearl comes together that turns people's stomachs to look at her.
Shannon is bullied by the universe with the exception of her parents and Bone. Her mother sews costume decorations for members of gospel revivals. Bone pulls Shannon into the same seat as herself and Raylene, while they are all on the schoolbus. No one would let Shannon sit next to them and Bone pulled Shannon down next to her with Raylene looking at Bone as if to say, "Have you lost your mind?" Bone figured the Boatwright reputation would protect from the other kids doing anything about it, and she was right.
The two girls have a very adult view of sex considering they are about 10. "Shannon giggled and waved me out on the porch. 'Sometimes Mama needs a little hand on her throttle. You know what I mean?' She laughed and rolled her eyes like a broken kewpie doll.' Daddie has to throttle her back down to a human level or she'd take off like a helium angel.'
I couldn't help myself. I laughed back, remembering what Aunt Raylene had said about Mrs. Pearl - 'If she'd been f-cked right just once, she'd have never birthed that weird child.' " But Shannon, with all her patience and all her hatred, was not long for this world as she picks up lighter fluid while at a BBQ and sprays the fire so that it connects to the liquid canister, gets sucked inward for one silent second, and then explodes outward in a huge ball of flame. Shannon inhales the flame as it simultaneously encompasses her body, takes a few swaying steps as she stumbles from side to side and then collapses.
With the loss of her friend, Bone becomes even less secure of her world. Shannon did seem smart. She had a connection with Bone, that when lost, left the latter more isolated. Also, Bone was the only witness of the event in its entirety.
Bone's uncles are shown her bruises, as Aunt Raylene catches Bone in the bathroom, notices blood on the back of her panties and lifts up Bone's skirt. "Sweet suffering Jesus!" Bone is made terrified by the bruises being discovered. Glen is beaten up severely in turn, but that doesn't seem to stop him from coming to find Bone and hurt her even more.
Allison shows a lot of practicality and courage in detailing her story. Bone is removed to live with an aunt, who lives in a rural location. The family is divided as wherever Anne goes, Glen will follow and it makes more sense for them to split up than to stay together. Bone gets good grades at school, this entire time. She is not yet thirteen when the novel ends.
By Sarah Bahl
This novel, by Alice Walker takes a little getting used to for a couple of reasons. The first being that the violence is so harsh it is hard to digest. The second is that the speaker writes so calmly about it. The combination of the stoic and the horror is a contrast that is hard to swallow. The voice is of Celie, a 14 year old girl who is writing letters to God about her mother giving birth to Luciana. I suppose one can more easily write an objective letter to God than to anyone, as what has God not seen? When her mother leaves to visit a doctor in Macon, Georgia, her father rapes her. "He never had a kind word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn't." It's like reading about a bad dream.
When I start to hurt and then my stomach start moving and then that little baby come out my pussy chewing on it fist you could have knock me over with a feather. Ain't nobody come see us. She got sicker and sicker. Finally she ast where is it? I say God took it. He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kill it out there in the woods. Kill this one too if he can.
As a reader, I had to intake the first letters to God a couple of times, because my reaction was, "Did I just read that? She had babies by her father?" And she did. The novel is very direct in terms of action. There is no explanation of character, no outline of environment nor setting. The reader gets thrown into a world as if snooping among a teenage girl's letters.
Celie's mother dies and her little sister, Nettie, is her only loving family member. Once Celie's mother dies she has a new mammy almost immediately. Her father, she calls "He" and for some reason she can't have children anymore. Celie is given away by her father to a man, she calls Mr. ________.
Nettie's boyfriend is also Mr. _______.
Celie was taken out of school early because of her pregnancies. Nettie tries to keep teaching her. But soon Celie is given to Mr. _______, and she cares for him and his four brats; the oldest boy busts open Nettie's head with a rock, on her wedding day. Mr. ______ has sex with her when she's still bleeding from the head. Celie was shown a picture of Mr. ______ 's girlfriend, Shug Avery who is beautiful, but Mr. ______ told her to leave as she was too much trouble for him. Celie is thin, homely but she works hard and ducks and dodges to survive.
While at the dry goods store, Celie sees her little girl, Olivia. The Reverend and his wife have adopted her. So, at least her children are not dead. Celie follows the Reverend's wife and asks, "How long you had your little girl?" Later, after he is done with his errand, Mr. ______ finds Celie sitting in their wagon laughing to herself.
Nettie moves in with Celie as she ran away from home; and tells Celie she should not let the children rule her like that but Celie says they have the upper hand. Nettie tells her to fight, "But I don't know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive."
Mr. ______ /He tells Celie that Nettie cannot stay there anymore and so Nettie leaves and they do not know where to. Celie tells Nettie to ask the Reverand's wife for help as she is the only woman Celie has ever seen with any money. "I say, Write. She say, What? I say, Write. She say, Nothing but death can keep me from it. She never write."
Mr. ______ sisters come to visit, their names are Carrie and Kate. The latter takes Celie shopping for a dress made just for her. A navy blue one as red is too happy for Mr. ______ and the store doesn't have the color purple. "Buy Celie some clothes. She say to Mr. ______ . She need clothes? he ast. Well look at her. He look at me. It like he looking at the earth. It need somethin? his eyes say."
Harpo, the eldest who busted in Celie's head; doesn't want to work as he is a man and work is for women. Celie does all the work for the family. She plows, cooks, cleans and raises the children to actually have morals. Harpo falls in love with a girl, Sophia from church. Sophia becomes big soon enough. Neither set of parents of either Harpo nor Sophia think the other is good enough, so Sophia goes to live with her sister until she and Harpo can marry.
They do marry and live well enough together for three years, but Harpo comes to Celie and Mr. ______ to ask what he can do to get Sophia to do what he tells her to all the time. Celie tells him to beat Sophia. The next time they see Harpo, his face is cut and bruised. Everytime he beats Sophia, she gives it right back.
Sophia gives Celie back a gift of curtains and thread. And a dollar extra for their use. Celie says they were a gift and Sophia should keep them.
"You told Harpo to beat me, she said." Celie admits, eventually, that she did say this and says it's because she is jealous, of Sophia for fighting. Plus, if something is done for so long to a person it's hard for that person not to do the same thing to somebody else. Hence cyclic abuse.
Celie felt horrible and could not sleep from the pain of the guilt, but she said it all the same. Sophia forgives Celie and they talk about their lives. "All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men."
But men are a part of things. And when Shug Avery Mr. ______ 's old girlfriend becomes sick he takes her in as no one else does, for Celie to care for. "She look me over from head to foot. Then she cackle. Sound like a death rattle. You sure is ugly, she say, like she ain't believe it."
Shug and Mr. ______ commence with their biblical relations and Celie does not mind. Celie is more attracted to Shug than her husband. She and Shug find Nettie's letters together in a trunk of He. Despite that Mr. ______ and Shug have had three children together... "But what was good tween us must have been nothing but bodies, she say. Cause I don't know the Albert that don't dance, can't hardly laugh, never talk bout nothing, beat you and hid your sister Nettie's letters. Who he?"
Celie knew her husband to beat her and treat her like dirt, but to hide letters, to keep her from her own family, she never thought he would do. Nettie wrote to Celie for over thirty years. Nettie, with her education and missionary work writes to Celie with all her ideas of the world and her travels. Celie begins to write Nettie back, about her love affair with Shug and about her work designing pants. Mr. ______ tells Celie that she's ugly and worth nothing but she leaves him anyway.
Nettie cares for Celie's children. And they continue to write each other though, for some reason they don't receive each other's letters. Celie gets a telegram saying Nettie's ship was destroyed by a German mine and that Nettie is probably dead. But Celie does not believe it and the two write each other regardless. Celie finds from her sister that their father is not really their biological father, though this should not lessen in any manner his crimes toward Celie.
They are all eventually reunited as a family. And though they are older now, Celie does not feel old. "And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this is the youngest us ever felt." And so is the last statement of The Color Purple, which I do not think represents domestic violence accurately. I've never been given bruises by a man, but with true abuse, the violence just usually never ends. And there is really nothing to learn from it or gain from it. Abuse is actually pretty boring in the sense, that there is nothing new about it to the world. And that in the end the man who rapes Celie when she is 14 is not actually related by blood to her, should not devalue the horror that a father took advantage of his child in such a manner.
I really loved reading this book for its themes related to education, connections as family, the reality of sexual relations, and the victory of independence in the face of abuse. Maybe the ending is a matter of triumphing as a family over violence, but in doing so it also seems to excuse the inexcusable somewhat. It is as if the author is mocking Shakespeare's, "All's well that ends well."
My favorite part is in the middle of the story, when Celie is talking to Shug about the world and God's perspective. Shug says, "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." I think the real point is not whether it all ties together happily in the end, but whether or not a person notices the color purple as a gift from God, wherever they happen to go.
By Sarah Bahl
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a novel of Victorian sensibility, a magnifying glass upon an age and time, belonging to a people who valued society above all. Considered one of Wharton's finest works and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the novel held the last remnants of New York's dying leisure class, to a mirror, revealing the time for what it was, when people lived their lives within the bound of unspoken musings of the heart.
Their testaments and yearnings were never so vulgar as to be stated outright. And despite all the articulations of the age, there was a quiet hindrance to all emotive needs. For these reasons it was the age of innocence.
Wharton greatly admired her contemporary, Henry James and it is as if her prize winning novel perfectly juxtaposes The Wings of the Dove. Her writing style is as modernly succinct as his is prose-like and it is Wharton's perfectly sad Countess Olenska who fills the role of the dove, so lacking in Jame's works.
The question arises, as to how a dove should make herself situated among societal factors of New York's finest. "On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York," and on this January day "poor Ellen Olenska" as she is known in her family surfaces through the fixed mechanisms of conservatives who cherish their opera house for its, "shabby red and gold boxes," not because they could not afford new boxes but because a modernized Opera House would likely be more convenient for, "new people."
The house's homey and elegant quaintness turns its back on the modern, making itself a fine fit for Newland Archer, who "leaning against the wall at the back of the club box" with a serene sense of vanity, surveyed not so much the stage, with its unusually beautiful setting; but rather his fixation lay within the Mingott's family box directly across from him.
"Mrs. Lovell Mingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and slightly withdrawn behind these brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the stage lovers." The girl in white, May Welland; grand-daughter of Mrs. Manson Mingott (who is too obese to attend the opera, but rathers to entertain at home) is simple and elegant in appearance. Gazing at the lover's scene below with one white hand tenderly caressing her bouquet of lilies of the valley.
May, Archer's fiancée, is the center of his focus. The inspiring scenes of Faust are a blurred nodding toward artful detail as Newland returns his gaze to the stage. Newland's balanced world of comfortably luminated sensibilities is tipped to a side, when Larry Lefferts, who, "was, on the whole, the foremost authority of 'form' in New York," exclaims, " 'My God!' and silently handed his glass to Sillerton Jackson," due to the venerable point, upon which the balance of Newland's new orbit is to now be pinioned on.
Countess Olenska had taken her seat and waits for her potential executioners to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Lefferts, the foremost authority gave a thumbs down with, "I didn't think the Mingotts would have tried it on."
Ellen Olenska, cousin to Newland's fiancée, has had the horrifying Victorian luck of a poor marriage. To have had a less than virtuous matrimonial partnership is one matter. To actually reveal the propensity to lack self blame in public for it is quite another. Yet, there she was with her grave eyes daring to reveal the firm judgement she was being sifted through. As if the cannibals of the opera could eat her soul but found it tasteless for her countenance and features to reveal their taste for blood.
As family is family Newland's ultimate defense was to protect Countess Olenska. And so Archer left his box at the end of the act and made his way to find a place at her side. "Her glance swept the horse shoe curve of boxes. ‘Ah how this brings it all back to me - I see everybody here in knickerbockers and pantalettes!' she said, with her trailing slightly foreign accent, her eyes returning to his face."
Besides, there is never anything more charming to a man than a woman in an undefined position who does not care that she is so. Such was the twilight charm of Ellen Olenska. There is something pure about twilight. It is neither here nor there and its undefined state of essence brings to mind that nothing is so beautiful as that which is imagined.
Newland defends Ellen earnestly from societal retribution while at various dinner parties, including his sister's snide, as well as invasive, comments that Ellen should be named Elaine as Elaine is more elegant;
“ ‘It’s odd,” Janey remarked, ‘that she should have kept such an ugly name as Ellen. I should have changed it to Elaine.’ She glanced about the table to see the effect of this.
Her brother laughed. ‘Why Elaine?’
‘I don’t know; it sounds more-more Polish,” said Janey blushing.
‘It sounds more conspicuous and that can hardly be what she wishes,’ said Mrs. Archer distantly.
‘Why not?’ broke in her son, growing suddenly argumentative. ‘Why shouldn’t she be conspicuous if she chooses? Why should she slink about as if it were she who had disgraced herself?’ ”
He states that even if Ellen has had the fortune of an unhappy life, this is no reason for her to be an outcast. Yet, eventually Newland himself is guilty of setting up Ellen to be a low-life’s mistress rather than a reasonable man’s wife when he persuades her not to seek full divorce in order to preserve the family reputation. Ellen, who remains objectively disenchanted with her life carries on with a melancholy dignity that transposes time. She takes hansom rides with men, who are not her husband, in the middle of the afternoon, does not answer to her people of fashion as she feels they have not answered to her, and never seems to do anything truly mean to anyone else, as if innately incapable of cruelty. Ellen cannot seem to escape a double edge sword’s cut regarding her marriage, and it is as if her best defense is to become the perfect shade of grey.
Newland Archer, a lawyer of high society, a man of more talented propensity than most of his contemporaries was always on the verge of something truly great. Newland makes friends with those who are on the fringes of society but yet are somehow welcomed at its most advanced tables. And among these ornamental threads, Newland seems to find the most intact connections; such as Monsieur Riviere,
“That young tutor is an interesting fellow: we had some awfully good talk after dinner about books and things,” Newland said to May, while they are both riding in a hansom on their way back from a dinner party shortly into their marriage.
“The little Frenchman? Wasn’t he dreadfully common?” said May of M. Riviere. And by common, it is meant by May, “not unusually rich.” Many of their disputes are settled when May rejects a friend of Newland's as "common." But it is M. Riviere; Newland has the most in common with of anyone within the novel. Both men love conversation and are always standing tip toe on a precipice of a moment higher, “You see Monsieur,” M. Riviere said to Newland during the dinner party, “it’s worth everything, isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty, not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?”
And it is M. Riviere who turns to Newland, years later to beg him to protect Ellen from returning to her monster of a husband. M. Riviere could not impede upon a closed sensibility toward divorce, but he did his utmost to keep Ellen’s family from forcing her to return to some vague beast of a man, known to be Count Olenska. M. Riviere held not personal gain from his protections toward Ellen. It was just that he, more than any man, eternally kept both taste and form folded at the corners as handkerchiefs within the pockets of his faded suit coat.
Newland married society and was swept away by its flow. He had a son and a daughter by May and when she passed away he honestly mourned her. Though now at the age of 57 Newland has a chance to meet Ellen once more, while on a trip through Europe with his son. They could talk as there is nothing like good conversation. But Newland cannot. Perhaps he needed someone or something in his life to be pure, as the yellow rose of friendship placed upon the threshold of eternity. For whatever reason, he sits on a bench outside of Ellen's abode and instructs his perplexed son, Dallas, "Say I'm old fashioned: that's enough." And so Dallas goes to see Ellen without his father. Newland remains on the bench, and it is not until the shutters are put up as the street has darkened from dusk to night, that he gets up and walks back to his hotel alone. Ellen remains a dove in the twilight, as if the background to a painting never fully completed but wondrous in its own right all the same.
"Come, own up: you and she were great pals weren't you? Wasn't she most awfully lovely?"
"Lovely? I don't know. She was different."
By Sarah Bahl
Written by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre is a partly autobiographical account of her youth at Lowood, an all girls school based on Cowan Bridge, where the four eldest Bronte sisters attended beginning the year 1824. But, before we enter Lowood, let us begin at Gateshead, the estate home belonging to the widowed Mrs. Reed. Jane is the downtrodden niece to the Lady of the Lowood Estate, who has taken Jane in because her husband willed before his demise that Jane should become a full member of the Reed family, and brought up by Mrs. Reed as one of her own. The Lady adheres to her husband's will, but not his sentiment in the least.
Jane is diminutive and maintains a consistently watchful countenance. She is held captive by the family's sensibility of distaste toward her in everything she does and stands at grand odds to her cousins, including; Georgiana, with her golden curls and large blue eyes, epitomizing the standards of Victorian beauty. Then there is Eliza, who is of no unique mien, but is "headstrong and selfish," as well as John who, "no one thwarted, much less punished; though he twisted the necks of pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set the dogs at the sheep [and] called his mother 'old girl.' "
Miss Eyre is the daughter of a clergyman who married a wealthy Reed daughter much to the aghastment of her mother's friends and family. Both her parents died of typhus while she was about a year old, and she had lived with her aunt ever since.
Now, at the age of ten, Jane can read but has had little formal schooling. Her favorite world is that of The Arabian Nights and Gulliver's Travels, as she is told she can join the vicinity of the Reed's lives as a child to Mrs. Reed and a playmate to her children, once she accrues a more, "sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner."
It is a cold and rainy November evening when Jane has found a temporary repast upon a window seat, with a thick curtain drawn before her and the howling tempest of fall season weather to her back, upon the window pains. She has her world of Bewick's History of British Birds and is greatly enjoying the pictures, as her imagination fills in the crevices of unspoken wonderings, "the two ships becalmed on a torpid sea I believed to be marine phantoms."
Her respite is sharply cracked open by John, who searches out his cousin to bully her, saying to Eliza and Georgiana, " 'tell mamma she is run out into the rain-bad animal!' " But Jane was not in the rain, and asked, " 'What do you want?' " of the grand Master Reed. John tells her, " 'You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not live here with gentleman's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mamma's expense. Now, I'll teach you to rummage my book shelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows."
John, who is 14 years of age, positions his already brow beaten cousin to throw the book at her. He does not seem to read the books but utilizes them for physical ammunition. She hits her head against the door, from the strike of the volume, causing a cut that begins to bleed. He assails her further until she fights back and when she does, he cries out, " 'Rat! Rat!' "
The servants and Mrs. Reed come to the Master's protection, and Miss Eyre then hears, " 'Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!
'Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!' " coming from the servants.
She is locked away in the red-room, where the elder Master Reed breathed his last. There, she is told by Miss Abbot, " 'Say your prayers, Miss Eyre, when you are by yourself; for if you don't repent, something bad might be permitted to come down the chimney and fetch you away.' " Jane, is left with a bleeding head, alone in a large chamber, with thoughts of the boogeyman to comfort her. She becomes hysterical and quite ill from the combination of physical and psychological abuse.
An apothecary, Mr. Lloyd is called and begins to ask questions of how Jane's nerves ended up in such a frightful state in the first place. Bessie, her favorite servant, does not seem to know exactly how old Jane is, and under guesses by a couple of years, in stating the girl's age. Mr. Lloyd gazes at Jane, and after Bessie is excused for dinner, he sarcastically asks her why she possibly minds living in such a grand abode as the Reed's mansion. When she explains her treatment, he asks her if she would rather live with a poor family. Her answer to this, is an adamant, "no." Mr. Lloyd asks her then if she should rather like school. Her answer is, " 'I should indeed like to go to school."
And so, on the 19th of January, Jane begins her journey to Lowood. But not before she informs Mrs. Reed, how she will tell of her treatment by them to others. She holds Mrs. Reed's fear of death above the woman's head.
While at Lowood, Jane becomes acquainted with near starvation, freezing cold and the psychotic Mr. Brocklehurst, who treats any girl who is not rich as a sinner, and even a wanton slave. The food is ill prepared and served in portions too small for growing girls.
At Lowood Jane meets Helen Burns, who loves to read and is patiently objective toward her new found friend's curiosity, and who is also the one person Jane truly seems to love. They meet when Jane interrupts Helen's reading of Rasselas to ask her questions about Lowood and the people there. Her friend has a hollow cough and is uniquely removed of all circumstances that surround herself.
The girls troop through cold, as we have received in D.C. this past winter, but without indoor heating and limited time at fireplaces, as only hebdomadally on Sundays could they spend time at a lit hearth. There were also no boots, so snow would get in the girls' shoes, and no gloves. Sleeping two to a bed is probably what aided them in surviving the night, in a large dormitory room, where temperatures would fall below freezing. The smaller girls would suffer the most harshly, as the elder ones, who were usually larger, coerced the less sizable youngsters out of a place at the fireside as well as confiscated their already limited food rations.
Helen was a lover of books and of fine intellect though, was consistently humiliated for slatternly behavior, much of which was either invented by her bully of a school teacher, Miss. Scatcherd, or not her fault. For instance, her nails were unclean, but only because the water basins had frozen completely the night before. No one had a wash at all, that day.
Helen, based on Charlotte's elder sister Maria was among the many deaths to come in the spring. The mainstay of illnesses was of one wasting disease or another, including typhus and tuberculosis. There is no mention of a full bath for the girls, so when spring came, the girls already weakened by the winter became particularly susceptible to typhus.
Helen passes away, wasted, and looking forward to a heavenly reward of some sort. Jane withholds anger in her heart over the treatment of her only friend. (The name Helen Burns, could be symbolic of a burning torch for the author.) After the deaths of many of the Lowood students, a public scandal ensues and as a result, conditions improve dramatically to create a reasonable, even acclaimed institution.
Jane remains at Lowood, as a student then teacher, until she is 18 years of age. Then, she hires out as a governess, seeking a newer form of servitude. She is hired by Mrs. Fairfax, the head housekeeper of the mysterious Mr. Rochester's estate, to teach his ward, Adele. The conversations between Jane and Mr. Rochester are one note short of a trashy romance novel for the beach: " 'Who talks of cadeaux?' said he gruffly, 'did you expect a present, Miss Eyre? Are you fond of presents?' and he searched my face with eyes that were dark, irate, and piercing." In the event that we, dear reader, with yellowed vacant eyes and drooling lips, have yet to break the bone of the most cliched storyline in all of English literature, by which to suck its very marrow, then we have done so now with Jane Eyre. That storyline being one of a governess and how she manages to marry well.
Mr. Rochester is spoiled, sarcastic, cynical and a withholder of unusual as well as dark family secrets. Eventually, after a few misadventures, Jane marries Mr. Rochester. But not until she comes upon her own wealth of 20,000 pounds via inheritance, that she shares with a couple of new-found cousins, to give her a reasonable fortune of 5,000 pounds. Jane is still haunted by Helen Burns to the end, "Her grave is in Brocklebridge churchyard and for fifteen years after her death it was only covered by a grassy mound; but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name, and the word, 'Resurgam.' " The novel really is not a tale about a governess who falls in love as the Rochester character is far too cliched and outlandish, if not highly written of course. It truly is a story of a school girl, who wants her sister back.
By Sarah Bahl
Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte, is a quintessential ode to upper middle class life. Agnes is one of two daughters born into the odd coupling of a spirited squire-man's daughter and a clergyman within the countryside of Northern England. "Of six children, my sister Mary and myself were the only two that survived the perils of infancy and early childhood."
Agnes continues to describe her childhood as one of protected sensibilities, as "father, mother and sister, all combined to spoil me - not by foolish indulgence to render me factious and ungovernable, but by ceaseless kindness..."
The glass globe of the Grey's family life is shattered, when Agnes's father, bent on securing a more formidable family fortune gives all the household income to a passing ship merchant, who promises to return to the family double the investment. Agnes must then leave her family encompassment of endless compassion, as she knows it, to protect herself and them in her father's financially related absence, because the family's fortunes had sunk into the ocean along with the merchant himself.
Agnes and her sister had spent many a happy hour traversing the moors; dreaming of what the riches could bring them. And when news of the sunken ship enters the family, Agnes's father, "was completely overwhelmed by the calamity." Her sister, Mary, is similar to the father and more of a moody and delicate nature. It is up to Agnes and her skill set to repair the family's station, or at least keep them from imploding toward the poorhouse, which was not uncommon to happen to families during the Victorian period.
So, Agnes begins the type of work befitting for an unusually well educated, as well as highly bright, middle class girl. She hires out as a governess and enters the world of psychological abuse according to the standards of creepy rich people. (No one captures psychological abuse quite like the Bronte sisters).
For the sake of exemplification, shall we begin with her less than lovely charge Tom and his equally deviant sister Mary Ann? " 'I observed, on the grass about his garden, certain apparatus of sticks and cord, and asked what they were.
'Traps for birds.'
'Why do you catch them?'
'Papa says they do harm.'
'And what do you do with them, when you catch them?'
'Different things. Sometimes I give them to the cat; sometimes I cut them in pieces with my penknife; but the next, I mean to roast alive.'
'And why do you mean to do such a horrible thing?'
'For two reasons; first to see how long it will live - and then, to see what it will taste like.' "
The parents of these odious beings insist they simply need a firmer governess, though Agnes is not allowed to discipline them. She is relieved of her post after several months with the family.
But she soon hires out again to the Murray family, with abilities to teach music, singing, drawing, French, Latin and German. She remains with the next family for years and is witness to their cold unfeeling world and all its wasteful sadnesses. Agnes is also given the conundrum of having to tutor children who hate to sit down to learn anything and recite Latin while staring out the window, not caring what anything they are learning about means. Agnes values education greatly and is forced to try to share her world with charges who have no sense of value nor attention span.
The two Murray daughters, Rosalie and Matilda, tell whatever lies they feel like to men interested in Agnes, as god forbid Agnes should have a man love her. But eventually Agnes does marry (after the Murray children are grown) and happily so. Her husband is not rich, but she and her husband are friends. They are also never in want and even have enough to put a little aside for the children every year.
By Sarah Bahl