Chapter 17 of Jane Eyre is filled with wisdom, Jane’s wisdom. Here she is coming round to knowing that Mr. Rochester is removed from her, not just absent from Thornfield Hall but from her standing in the world:
“You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised.”
I love how smart Jane is–the paragraph above shows an active brain going full throttle.
Days later Rochester returns with a gaggle of party guests–Jane makes her way down to the galley for some food, and upon returning up the stairs spots some of the female guests. Note the detail and the reverence in Jane’s observation–and how Scott Fitzgerald might have been influenced by this bit when Nick Carraway first sees his cousin and her golfer friend:
Presently the chambers gave up their fair tenants one after another: each came out gaily and airily, with dress that gleamed lustrous through the dusk. For a moment they stood grouped together at the other extremity of the gallery, conversing in a key of sweet subdued vivacity: they then descended the staircase almost as noiselessly as a bright mist rolls down a hill. Their collective appearance had left on me an impression of high-born elegance, such as I had never before received.
Michel Houellebecq is a great contemporary novelist. Funny, bold, snotty, arrogant, and most of all good, he is a Frenchman who has no American equivalent because he is risk-inclined, the opposite of most all practicing American novelists, who are risk-averse. Houellebecq has five novels published in the English language, four of which I enjoyed. That’s a good average; his sixth novel Submission arrives in the fall.
Whatever is a funny novel about the repetitive boredom of young adulthood and employment. The Elementary Particles is one of the best novels about the 1960s and its effects on children of that era. Platform is a hilarious send-up of travel and sex, easily the funniest and scariest Houellebecq novel. The Possibility of an Island is the one Houllebecq I didn’t enjoy–it was too cute in its structure and toward the book’s middle I became bored, something that never happened to me when reading Houellebecq.
I had small expectations for The Map and the Territory (2010) and was surprised how much I enjoyed its main character Jed Martin, an artist who benefits more from timing and luck than outright talent. Houllebecq is very good on art and the artist’s motivation; there are insights within insights, and nothing of the lofty bullshit one often associates with the creative process. The Map and the Territory is a parody of many things, but namely it is a story of art and art’s meaning in the world. Houllebecq makes a lengthy appearance in his own novel, and the highlight for me was the relationship between Jed and his businessman father. The prose of the novel is Houellebecq’s best, lively and given to unpredictability. Didn’t care for the novel’s third act–a Maigret-pastiche whodunit–but the first two are enough.
Reread Hamsun’s Mysteries and will never do so again. It’s a book that nags one’s brain and bowels like a fever. Johan Nagel is such a pain-in-the-ass character, a rake unlike any other in all of fiction. Mysteries is a great novel, one of the best, but it’s not even in my top five Hamsun novels. I don’t know why I wanted to read it again—masochism maybe.