* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Monday, January 31, 2011


Norham's Castle
Day set on Norham's castled steep, 
And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep, 
And Cheviot's mountains lone; 

The battled towers. the Donjon Keep, 
The loopholes grates, where captives weep, 
The flanking walls that round it sweep, 
In yellow lustre shone. 

The warriors on the turrets high, 
Moving athwart the evening sky, 
Seem'd forms of giant height: 

Their armour, as it caught the rays, 
Flash'd back again the western blaze, 

In lines of dazzling light.


  1. My new favorite analogy: "I again felt rather like an individual of but average gastronomical powers, sitting down to feast alone at a table spread with provisions for a hundred."  I don't think it's entirely accurate here, but what an image!  And certainly "gastronomic powers" could not have carried quite the same meaning then as now, when we have such things as competitive eating.
  2. The behavior of Mr. Rivers is interesting to me:  his return to Jane's place has the appearance of being merely weather-related; the fact that he sits and waits some time indicates he is without hurry, regardless of whether he's building up his courage or wavering over how to articulate his motives; but the most curious is his immediate, apparently hurried departure.  What's his deal?
  3. Forget Bronte: does cosmic force exist that would draw together such estranged families as these, and why?  Perhaps more importantly (and coming back to the author), how does Bronte avoid the appearance of contrivance here (basically, the "Oh-wow-we're-cousins-isn't-that-freaking-convenient?")?
  4. Regardless of what happens in the conclusion of the book, what might prevent Jane, and remain within her character, from sharing the wealth with her new-found family and living with them happily ever after at Marsh End?
  5. The travel or stagnation of information--its content, context, quantity, and quality (among other characteristics) --play a huge part in the creation of fictions and their conflicts.  Consider the palantiri of The Lord of the Rings, and their effective transference of selective information (or misinformation, depending upon the strategy behind their implementation).  The entire plot of Jane Eyre could not happen (well, not without excruciating ignorance on the part of its players) in the modern world.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Poetry XIII -- THE LONGEST WORD, whose poetic value is debatable

According to my falling-apart, 1946 edition of Ripley's Believe it or Not, the longest word in the English language is this:


According to Mr. Ripley:

"The long word of 310 letters was used as a means of demonstrating: 1.  The extent to which even the English language is capable of forming enormous word monsters, and, 2.  The whole field of superstitious divinatory practices which are as old as humanity.

"The literal translation of the long word is 'A deluded human who practices divination or forecasting by means of phenomena, interpretation of acts or other manifestations related to the following animate or inanimate objects and appearances: birds, oracles, Bible, ghosts, crystal gazing, shadows, air appearances, birth, stars, meteors, winds, sacrificial appearances, entrails of humans and fishes, fire, red-hot irons, altar smoke, mice, grain picking by rooster, snakes, herbs, fountains, water, wands, dough, meal, barley, salt, lead, dice, arrows, hatchet balance, sieve, ring suspension, random dots, precious stones, pebbles, pebble heaps, mirrors, ash writing, dreams, palmistry, nail rays, finger rings, numbers, book passages, name letterings, laughing manners, ventriloquism, circle walking, wax, susceptibility to hidden springs, wine, and shoulder blades.'

"Various monastic authors of the Middle Ages writing on the subject of human superstition have actually used such a long word with a slightly varying sequence of items."


Wikipedia disagrees: here.

While my contemporary edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a nicely assembled discussion on the subject of long words, the online 1898 edition is yet informative (here).

However, longestwordinenglish.wordpress.com, pretty much wipes out Mr. Ripley's claim, though it's claim as a "real" word is more dubious that Ripley's.  Of course if we can just jam together a bunch of Latin roots and call it a word, why not a bunch of English bits and pieces?  Is there a difference?

And really, what's the point?  I mean, aside from the utter fun factor!  If a "word" is never going to be used aside from the moment of its conception, then what is it really?


* Somehow (go figure) there are 311 letters in my transcription of the word.  Not that I'm particularly worried about it.  longestwords.wordpress.com seems to agree with me (here).


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jane Eyre XXXIII -- chapter 32: EXEMPLARY LOVE or TANGENT

32 is another chapter that passes the reader simply from one point to another, though the destination remains nebulous.  The story, while doubtfully in context of the whole of the story (which I don't have yet), appears tangential, and for that comes across as over-long and superfluous.  I do wonder, particularly as Jane is yet dreaming of Mr. Rochester, that there is something in the development of the difficult relationship between Mr. Rivers and Miss Oliver that will somehow inform or influence Jane--but to what end?  If not, then I really don't see the point of drawing so far out this secondary story.


Friday, January 28, 2011

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "Eveline"

Finally my Dubliners experience has found a heart in Joyce!  So far (1) the stories, while undeniably, blindingly brilliant, have done virtually nothing to draw the reader--or me, anyway-- "into" the characters and "feel" for them.  Here in "Eveline" --well, how can you not feel sorry for this girl, stuck as she is between this rock and a hard place, understand why she chooses in the end what she does, and yet fervently wish she'd chosen the other?  Also (2) --and I wonder if this is related at all to, and even facilitates, the former (1) --this is the simplest of the stories thus far in the collection, at least as far as layers and symbols are concerned, or else I'm totally (and this is certainly not unlikely) missing the boat here.  Does the general simplicity of this story encourage its pathos?

The story is divided into, not the obvious two (obvious by marker of a printer's dividing line in my copy), but three sections.  The division between one and two is less superficially obvious--more a tonal division between act one and act two, if "acts" there may be in so short a story.  The dividing "line" here, I believe is the long descriptive paragraph for Frank.  Pre-Frank, the prose is markedly negative; the contrary, of course, is the case post-Frank.

Act I, samples of the negative: the evening invades; she was tired; dead, dead, dead; the more distant from the present, the more ideal; the brown and yellow, as opposed to the new and, by contrast, more ideal red; Miss Gavan; the arguments and abuses of her father.  The transition into something less negative is that very last sentence leading into Frank, and Act II:

"It was hard work--a hard life--but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life."  (Nice cadence here, by the way.)  Earlier, Joyce says, or has the girl think, "Everything changes."

The implications of these two sentences speak for the entire story--conflict, character, setting, everything.  The girl has before her a drastic change, and a change for the unknown.  The unknown is a typically scary place, and the known, often regardless of however miserable, is pretty much always preferable to the unknown, at least inasmuch as, again, the unknown is scary (and those naysayers who claim that the unknown--adventure--is not scary but exciting, well, if it were not scary it could in no wise create the adrenaline that verily lends the sensation of excitement in the first place; adrenaline junkies just like to get scared), and it is this that holds the intrigue.  Eveline is torn between, on one hand, staying where she is, despite its monotony, is discomfort, and its potential danger (her father's abuses, particularly as she increasingly gains similarity to her mother), and, on the other hand, embarking (literally) for the greener side across the sea.

Act II, examples of the positive: the white envelopes, indicating how she at least wants to feel for the coming adventure; "but she liked Harry too"; the distinct and abiding good of her father; the new connotation of the "odour of [the] dusty cretonne"; but we quickly slide back to the negative as memory of that good in father leads to his defense of his wife against the "damned Italians."  Eveline is stifled by recalled death and stands in eager/anxious anticipation of her escape.  ("Dereraun Seraun" is most likely--I had to look this up--invented by Joyce; however, the wide variety of implied "definitions" offer pretty idea for what he might have intended.)

Of course, she doesn't escape.  Wracked with fear, she opts for the grayish-brown constance of Dublin over the green adventure of Buenos Ayres (sic).

The theme of the story, I believe, is not change, but a derivative thereof: "the more things change the more they stay the same."  Cliche', sure, but in wording only, not application, and that simple, apparently oxymoronic sentence applies across the entire span of the story, much like the two sentences from before.  Nearly every line of the story holds indicator of something having changed, changing, or awaiting change.  In the end, however, and despite all this change all over the place, really, nothing changes: Eveline stays right where she is, and, interestingly, the things that drive her to seek change in the first place are, tit-for-tat, the very things she can't bear to leave behind.


There are two other items that I want to point out (not the only potentially point-worthy, as there are many (though these others are generally indicative of trends and referents we've already dissected at length), but, I think--forgive me--the point-worthiest), one of foreshadowing, the second of contextualizing; both, however, are perhaps zoomed-in a little too far:
  1. "Damned Italians" -- aside from the irony of racial abuse here (Joyce lived in Italy for most of his life--though this could be scorn from the one-eyed man in the form of mockery toward an assumed bigotry of his countrymen), I think the words from Eveline's father and where/how (from within the happy-ish Act II) they're written/remembered indicate a prejudice against if not travel then foreigners in general.  If she possesses any of the same bigotry of her father, then her fear of this adventure heightens;
  2. "Eveline!  Evvy!" -- maybe I'm slow (likely), but I didn't notice until now the girl's similarity of name to Eve of Old Testament fame.  Hmm.  Is Joyce saying that if Eve had not been pushed out by God for her transgression....  No.  He's saying that Eveline is perhaps missing out on the knowledge and experience that simply cannot be had from within her little, well, garden, no matter how dark and dreary.  And maybe all of Dublin is an Eveline, not an Eve.  Perhaps Joyce sees himself as, by contrast and in context, a masculine incarnation (not an Adam, however) of the more laudable of the two women.  I expect he would see Eden as a prison; also he, in no way, sees himself as a holy or righteous man; so Eve, indeed, is the better woman, and Dublin is a, Eveline: a cowardly failure.

As I said at the beginning, I really see this as the first of the stories thus far to have some spark of life.  Despite the gray tragedy of it, it is a tragedy!  Whatever the other stories were, they were not tragedies, as--for me--a story for whose characters I care not can never come across as tragic.  This poor girl, Eveline!  What a hand she get dealt!  I wonder, and perhaps this is the most salient question: is it her fault?

Jane Eyre XXXII -- chapter 31: WHY . SO . SERIOUS ?

"La mort du fossoyeur," Carlos Schwabe;
(thanks wikipedia)
From Sir Walter Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel: canto 3, XXIV:

So pass'd the day; the evening fell,
'Twas near the time of curfew bell;
The air was mild, the wind was calm,
The stream was smooth, the dew was balm;
E'en the rude watchman on the tower
Enjoy'd and bless'd the lovely hour.
Far more fair Margaret lov'd and bless'd
The hour of silence and of rest.
On the high turret sitting lone,
She waked at times the lute's soft tone;
Touch'd a wild note, and all between
Thought of the bower of hawthorns green.
Her golden hair stream'd free from band,
Her fair cheek rested on her hand
Her blue eyes sought the west afar
For lovers love the western star.
  1. Mr. Rivers has just given Jane the rundown of his life and his abandoned ambitions, and now he's faced with this gorgeous girl and, upon offering mild reprimand for her being out and about so late, "...he crushed the snowy heads of the closed flowers with his feet."  I suspect foreshadowing, but judging by further paragraphs, the crushed flowers are for his forceful efforts to quell the love in his heart for this pretty thing cooing over both him and his dog (after all, if she can't caress him, might as well caress his dog--metonymic, it would seem).
  2. "inexorable as death" -- what a way to paint your brother!  Inexorable = grim.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jane Eyre XXXI -- chapter 30: DEPARTURE THE FOURTH

  1. What is Mr. St. John Rivers' weight and burden that creep up in his sermons?
  2. I hear Jane's words when Mr. Rivers speaks of the philosophy of life.
  3. Is there a point to writing in the Rivers' mother's uncle's death (aside from permitting me an excellent opportunity for ridiculous apastrophic indulgence)?
  4. Moorland.
an example of moorland


My eyes and technical expertise are inadequate to determine if Google Earth's resolution across the planet is impartial.  Not so long ago, my hometown of Dover, Ohio seemed to have a much lower level of detail than did, say, cities like Venice, Chicago, and Sydney; and it makes sense: it's like pharmaceutical research.  Why would a company invest money to interest a mere twelve thousand people when they could put the exact same money to use and satisfy twelve million.  Apparently time has done what beta money could not, and my former fellow citizens have finally received the leviathan's attention.  As far as I can tell, Venice and Dover have--at least almost--equal resolution (though I doubt anything like a 3D tour will ever be available for anything labeled "small-town Midwest").

Dover, Ohio
Regardless of the catholicity of Google's eye--and regardless of how fair it now and finally is--it is not perfect.  There is not a place on the entire planet where a viewer can zoom in so close as to inspect the wear and tear of a child's swing set or count fish--or rats, for that matter--in the Grand Canal.  This isn't to say it's not possible; it just isn't the case currently as commercially available by Google.  I do expect, however, that it's only a matter of time before comparable giant like Home Depot manages to gain sufficient access to satellite imaging to target customers for roof replacement and foundation repair.  But no matter how fine the possible detail available through Google Earth or whatever else, never (dangerous word) will it be perfect ("perfect" used here as "complete").  Never will it examine the souls (or even the soles (haha! -- sorry)) of those who traverse these or any other locale.  Look too closely--zoom in too much (and why does the software even permit such closeups if there's nothing to be gained by them?), and all you see are increasingly large (or decreasingly small) squares of color.  Look too closely for information and detail is lost and interpretation is no more than feeble guess work.

Venice, Italy
So it is with literature.  I am Google Earth.  The text is the planet and its places.  My problem is one of self-awareness and an ever loosening grip on reality: I often forget that when I look too closely all I see is a blur of pixels--that I've gotten too close, and that this close, there's just nothing left to see.

So goes the old saying, which I believe has been used here before, at least in comment: "Can't see the forest for the trees," and this is my biggest difficulty--or fault--in my attempts to interpret James Joyce and his Dubliners.

The picture is so often so much prettier from a distance.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday's for Kids X -- PASS ALONG STORYTELLING

(I highly recommend this, by
the way.)
Scroll down to get to my 7th graders' creative efforts.

I had a best friend once.  We met at church.  We were Boy Scouts together.  We played chess together.  Most importantly--most significantly--we told stories together.  (Gives you a pretty good indication of the kind of kid I was, huh?)  The best stories were those that we called our "cha-ching" stories, and they worked like this:

One of us would go to the other's house for a Friday night sleepover.  We'd have dinner.  We'd play a video game.  We would spy on the younger siblings resident to the given home.  Then, once everyone was asleep, we'd steel a flashlight from the storage room, hole up in a bedroom, and one of us would begin our story for the night.  We'd each go for five or ten minutes, extemporizing on themes alien, ghostly, and monstrous, among others, and then, at some key point, ominously announce, "cha-ching," and the other would take over.  This would go on all night.

It was tremendous fun and tremendously geeky.  When he moved to Utah with his family (his parents had recently split up and his mom took him and his brother and sister to, I believe, Utah State, where she finished her art degree) and left me in Ohio, we found a new medium for our stories: mail.  We reclaimed our "cha-ching" stories and passed them along by correspondence.  We only ever managed one story this way, which we faithfully believed would eventually become a publishable novel, and still I remember it clearly: a junior high kid creatively named Albert ingeniously invents an invisibility formula.  He has many adventures, of course, but they never came to a conclusion.  This lack of ending was perhaps the greatest weakness of our creations (and not particular to the mailer), while simultaneously providing inherent fun.  These stories would go on forever--as kids in bedrooms with flashlights, until the sun came up and breakfast was ready; as eighth graders at computer keyboards with envelopes and stamps at the ready, until we were both sadly too cool and too lazy for it.  (Of course, laziness was most likely the dominant contributor, because though I can't conscionably speak for my friend, I was certainly NEVER too cool for anything.)

Whatever the past, now there is a better way.  While I haven't invented it, I can't for the life me remember when I first encountered it.  The results are generally bizarre, often funny, and always a riot to create.  It works best in a classroom where there need to be at least five or six participants (big families or parties work too).  Thirty-five or -six is better.

Everyone starts with a piece of lined paper.  By prompt of the teacher (today's prompt was "barn animal has a problem and takes it too his/her friend for advice/assistance), all students write four- or five-and-a-half lines of narration.  It is crucial that the last line is only half-completed, and better still if the final word written is in the middle of a sentence.  I usually permit ninety seconds per round.   Each student then folds back the top of the paper so only the half-line is showing.  The papers are traded and the story continues.  The catch, of course, is that the next writer takes up the story based solely upon the three or four words visible on the half-line.

Below are two stories--spelling, grammar, and continuity problems transliterated--from class today, plus several more-or-less legible scans.


There once was a cow who's name
was gilbert.  Gilbert lived on Old mac-
donald's farm, but Gilbert had a
problem couldn't produce milk,
so...  I went to say hi to my friend
cause he was texting me when I didn't want
him to cause it was juring class and I didnt
know what to do he got my phone taken
away...  into nothing ness ....  dust.
So he screamed.  loudly enough that the
E.T. could hear.  So he came in his ship
to the planet Smog, very loudly, scaring
everyone inside the chapel.  he quickly ran
away as the preache got everyone
to go grab torches and pitch forks.
he ran into the wood lik red riding hood was
in. tether ball! cried Bannannafred!  "let's go to the
Ball Cinderella! and he said no way hose, shut up
Bridger, go & go go go go go
& he said What are we doing now
he asked Why does love seem so hard to maintain.  He
thought my life with Courtney is over.  Amanda was a
liar she took my heart and threwup tossed it into
the trash.  I'm so afraid that if I break up with
the taco.  I won't ever be able to love again:
And love is the greatest thing in the world.
But wait.  He saw it.  A yogurt bliss I cecrea m
     The moral of this story love goes on and

Once upon a time ago, bucky
the duck had a friend Cooky the
crow.  Bucky the duck was not
an ordinary Puck.  He came from a family of pigs.
Well he is a pig but he thinks hes a Puck so
thats why his nickname is Mother's
pantyhos!  He always tried to get rid of
it by acting like his father, but
whenever he tried
to breathe all he could inhale was
blood, ewwww ! so he choked to death
on his own blood! it had
green stuff in it and he thought
it was spinach from earlier
that day.  He was so
fat that people came with an
ambulance & had to carry him out
on a helicopter.  they were riding
on the helicopter for everl and they
never got off.  adventualy the heico Pter
started to run away.  But the unicorns
came and attacked everyone and took them
away.  But then the animal woke up and
it was just a horrible nightmare.
     THE END


(Click the stories to enlarge.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jane Eyre [30] -- chapter 29: MARSH END

  1. "Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there firm as weeds among stones."
  2. "Paste" for the pies sounds rather nasty to our modern, American ears, and I have never heard it used as such before.  Before I check the etymology, however, let me go over this: paste is awfully close to pastry, which indeed is word commonly used to describe the stuff for pie crust, among other things, and both paste and pastry are similar to pasta, which is more than just noodles, but the dough from which they're made.  Makes sense, I think.  The etymologies: pasta, pastry, paste (which has a rather humorous later usage).
  3. The casual, classic good looks of Mr. St. John are an interesting contrast to the forceful, oft brutal, "manliness" of Rochester.
  4. Issue of grammar: "Now you may eat, though still not immoderately."  
  5. Is it a philanthropist who helps one find gainful employment?
  6. "My sisters, you see, have a pleasure in keeping you, as they would have a pleasure in keeping and cherishing a half-frozen bird some wintry wind might have driven through their casement" (emphasis added).

Monday, January 24, 2011


Some people are naturally trusting; some people are naturally suspicious.  Most commonly, these congenital characteristics are most pronounced (at least so I've concluded as based upon my ten years' observations as a teacher) when confronted with authority.  I, myself, happen to be of the trusting disposition.  Despite this what-some-may-cruelly-call weakness, however, I have trained myself over time to harbor suspicion against one authority in particular: dictionaries.

Say it with me: DICTIONARIES

Naturally, dictionaries are uncommonly authoritative.  Just their presence intimidates.  Opening and searching their pages are in and of themselves acts of submission.  We, as a species, blindly assume that Dictionary (intentionally applied omission of either definite or indefinite articles) is always right, and that those who contradict it are idiots, unworthy of our consideration.  Well, only if the one who hasn't submitted to Dictionary isn't us and only if we have actually already submitted ourselves to Dictionary's overwhelming greatness and committed ourselves to its mastery.

Baloney (...or bologna.) --and just forget it if two dictionaries contradict each other, which is, of course, the whole point

some of my dictionaries
Despite my suspicions and disillusionment, I am an avowed Dictionary lover (for the sake of specificity, I will now shift away from my use of Dictionary to the more accurate, and appropriately less fawning, dictionaries; I have a lot of them, after all, and their differences are their greatest strengths!), so what I'm about to write may shock you, and all the more so if you happen to be one who doesn't own a dictionary or happens only to own one dictionary (which tome is likely dusty, neglected, and sadly uncracked), or you only use--heaven forbid! --the internet (hypocrisy admitted) for your references--and worst still if you only ever use just one site (and if any of this sentence applies to you, then squint your eyes and defensively shrug your shoulders):


Need me to say it again?


It's a lot like when I was in 7th grade and my teacher, for the first time in his existence-known-to-us, was late, and when he finally arrived he leaned casually in the door and waited until he had everyone's attention--even made eye contact with every single student in the room, one by one--and then, calmly, yet with clearly ill-suppressed glee, said the single word, and in all caps: "SEX."  Mind you, this was 1989 in a little conservative town in Ohio, and I think half the students in the room fainted--seriously: just fell right "out they chairs"; and the other half spent the next several minutes catching their collective breath.  None dared speak or utter question!  The shock of it!!  (Sex??)

Well, the above statement--centered and reddened--may be a little like the doorway dictum of my 7th grade pre-algebra teacher: verily, dictionaries are not always right; in fact, they are often wrong.  Why else do you think there are so many of them out there?  Every publisher thinks he can create a better assemblage of the English lexicon than all the others.

Unfortunately, woe betide me, I don't have a mountain of examples of such errors or shortcomings.  Though I stumble upon them regularly, I've never kept track.  That changes TODAY!  (It's like the years I worked for BYU Information, giving out phone numbers and information for staff, students, and departments and connecting calls, etcetera and I came across SO MANY crazy names, but I never kept track!  How sad!  Now, despite the dozens and dozens of quirky names I ever encountered, all I remember is the listing for one unfortunate student: Mr. GAMBLE LYNN MONNEY.  Yes.  Two Ns.)

What drew my attention to this, my lack of gathering and amassing, was one of today's posts at The Language Log.  Read it HERE.  Webster's dictionaries, which I've found are the ones most likely to disappoint (but don't get me wrong: they has their uses, and some more than that of kindling; and, yes, I even own one -- ultimately it's all about using the right dictionary for the right job, or better, using several dictionaries in tandem (and if you're curious what a dictionary's actual job is, look it up!; and if you've got lots of time, read The Professor and the Madman, which I've recommended before), is taken to task here for its inadequate definition of "passive," as it relates to English grammar and syntax.  Mark Liberman, who wrote the essay, takes the time to repair the misconceptions, about which I--yes, the English teacher--have had my own questions and failures.  His instruction is welcome, concise, and entertaining.  I recommend it (not to mention the entire "log"), and all the more so because the post makes it quite clear that teachers and professors are a lot like dictionaries.  (Yes, again: this from a teacher.)

They're often wrong.

Raise your hands if you've ever found penciled or, worse, red-penned on your hard-done paper recently returned from Professor So-and-So or Mr./Ms./Miss/Mrs. So-and-So the words "PASSIVE SENTENCE -- PLEASE FIX."  All of you?  (Okay, if you've never written a passive sentence, then you don't count; stop reading ... well, unless you're willing to repent and change your ways.)  Guess what: most likely they're wrong!  And best of all, they don't know they're wrong and would likely never admit they're wrong.

How do I know?


And why would you tell them, when you can relish in your rightness, their wrongness?  Trust me: don't explain it to them.  Ninety percent of them wouldn't get it anyway :: Websterians all!

Again, how do I know?  How can I be so sure?  Yes, I am a teacher.  Worse, I have been that very teacher who accuses and demands correction without fully understanding the issue.  I'm sorry.  And the dictionaries didn't help me.  Trust me; I looked.

If I'd only used more than one together....


So just like using the right dictionary and better and again, multiple dictionaries, really knowing your active/passive "voice" gives you a one up on your teacher--a reason to feel superior to those around you, most importantly of whom may very well be your teachers/professors, and which superiority SHOULD NEVER BE DISCLOSED.  Remember, only another in-the-know like you will understand and not disbelieve everything you say.  And let's face it, if they get it too, well, what's the point in showing off?

Read Liberman's article, buy a few extra dictionaries, and live.

Jane Eyre XXIX -- chapter 28: LOST IN THE MOOR-LANDS

"The Raven Tree," by Chris Lord
  1. Since the last Jane Eyre post, I am more convinced than ever that Jane is a bird.  Here, in the second paragraph of chapter 28, Jane stands at a crossroads examining her options.  She doesn't know where these paths may lead despite the signs' indications, because she doesn't know what may await her at any of the potential ends.  She is very much like the birds from Bewick's in chapter one: destitute, alone, and sedentary--at least temporarily--in points dark and dreary.
  2. "We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence."  Always?
  3. "Long after the little birds had left their nests...."; "I was a human being and had a human being's wants: I must not linger where there was nothing to supply them."
  4. In addition to her now past life, Jane has left all her fiscal earnings behind.  Considering the manner of her departure, would she have accepted her salary had it  been proffered?
  5. Interesting what one can become habituated to: compare (if you've read the latter) Jane, here in destitution, with the paisanos of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat.
  6. "Why do I struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester, is still living: and then, to die of want and cold, is a fate to which nature can not submit passively. Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid—direct me!"  What does she mean by this?
  7. ignis fatuus: I believe this is, by Potter lore, a "hinkypunk," which is a will-o'-the-wisp by the rest of English folklore.  (If you haven't read The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Doyle, this would be a perfect time.  Imagine you're lost like Jane somewhere within this moor-land as described so much more effectively by Doyle.  What might a will-o'-the-wisp or hinkpunk do to your paired hope and despair?)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Poetry XII (and Jane Eyre XXVIII) -- JANE EYRE IS A BIRD

For brevity's sake, I am not including the full poems I reference here.  Also, and as I've done before (even just last week), I'm going to leave the majority of dot-connecting to you.

The topic comes from our most recent Jane Eyre installment, chapter 27, which in its reference to birds as "emblems of love" throws back in a contrary manner (opposite really, but birds still the same) to chapter 1, where Jane is reading from Bewick's History of British Birds.  Before we get into the direct application to the book, however, I want to look at some more birds.

Birds, symbolically, are a lot like that of trees, at least on the positive end of things, where they can represent nature and God (often, and particularly in the case of Jane Eyre, the same thing) and love, and, in their movement between earth and Heaven, they can represent prayer and angels or spirits.  However, they have a freedom impressionistically lacking in trees, and their folkloric connection to deity is stronger than that of trees.  (Look at Quetzalcoatl and, on the less dramatic side, Mr. Stork -- video below.)

There is also a darker element to birds, which seems more appropriate, at least by first impression, to Jane Eyre.  Birds are often carrion eaters--consumers of the dead.  Blend this with their naturally spiritual element, and you have a symbol well worthy of Jane Eyre, and particularly chapter 1.  Crows, owls, vultures, etcetera are not birds associated with that which is pleasant and beatific and uplifting.  I posted this picture yesterday:

Here a man--one unlucky soul from the Book of Samuel--after being stoned gets taken apart by the birds.  It reminds me of that moment in Pirates of the Caribbean shortly before Jack SPARROW escapes (see? "sparrow": freedom -- though also, perhaps, idiocy -- in that name) where we see crows poking at the eye of some woebegone sailor in a cage.

Gustave Dore'
Pirates and birds, not to mention the illustrator of the above engraving, Gustave Dore (one of my very favorite illustrators, by the way, and thank goodness he was so spectacularly prolific!), brings us to Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (short version HERE; complete poem HERE (and, really, read the whole thing; it's worth it and will only put you out about ten or fifteen minutes).  Here we see the curse that follows the destruction of nature, and in this case, an albatross, symbol of good fortune as well as symbol of Jesus Christ (consider its shape against the sky, sun up and behind it, viewed from the deck of a ship far below).

What interests me here is the combination of hopefulness (the albatross as Christ) with the migratory nature, almost aimlessness, of the sea bird.  This and other sea birds are the subject of the chapter of Bewick's, which young Jane Eyre is reading.  But what about the most recent chapter we've read, where the birds are all about the Love?

Certainly that--love--fits birds just fine.  Read the smackingly sappy (sorry) Ode to a Nightingale, by Keats: HERE.

Note the mention of the dryad in the first stanza: bolster, as if it were needed, to the connection mentioned above between birds and trees (beside the fact that so many birds frickin' LIVE in trees!).

Joseph Severn
While I think these two poems do a good job reflecting at least a little of what Bronte was intending in their respective chapters, it does little to make connection between the two, because birds are such facile and even capricious symbols; they can be practically anything.  But perhaps if we forget about the individual symbolics of specific species or varieties, then we might make a general definition for birds (easy -- they fly, right? and flying is freedom, unfettered and irresponsible), and apply it to Jane.

Look at her circumstances in each chapter as they apply to freedom.  In chapter 1, she craves it, but freedom appears to be impossible, unreachable; hence the birds are dark, migratory, and carnivorous--drawn haunts of the derelict and dead.  In chapter 27, she is faced with the necessity of taking up her a new and undesired freedom, but she doesn't want to go!  She sees love--tweedly little birds, cute and white (I'm making that up)--but it, the love, is as unreachable--keen to fly just beyond her grasp--as was freedom back at the beginning.

Maybe this is stretching, but it works.  Birds are such instinctive symbols that, I think, even if Bronte didn't intend their application here, it works nonetheless.  What might not work, though I'm putting it out there anyway, is Jane's name:

JANE EYRE.  (And this is how totally I am going from the mark.  Read Ancestry.com's derivation of the last name Eyre, from Ayer: "English: from Middle English eireyer ‘heir’ (Old French (h)eir, from Latin heres ‘heir’). Forms such as Richard le Heyer were frequent in Middle English, denoting a man who was well known to be the heir to the main property in a particular locality, either one who had already inherited or one with great expectations.")  But say the last name aloud.  Eyre.  Say it.  Eyre; Air.  Birds!  Jane Eyre is a bird, folks!  Take her first name (which means gracious and merciful, by the way) and we've really got a pretty good description of Jane's character: a forgiving and benevolent bird.  Does she not travel here and there spreading the good of her soul?

I welcome you thoughts.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jane Eyre XXVII -- chapter 27: FAREWELL THORNFIELD

  1. What is the greater problem: the deceit or the first wife?
  2. Why would she forgive him so quickly?  Is she is so subject to her own fancy, injected as it is by his supercharged rhetoric and emotion?  Why does such quick revolution say about Jane and/or her love for Rochester?  Finally, how can she consider it forgiveness here if in the end she leaves anyway?
  3. Maybe I watch too many romantic comedies now that I'm married, but I can't help but wonder (and such supposition is, at its heart, ridiculous, since characters of a book or movie do not exist beyond their pages, film, or bits and bites and pixels) if Rochester had some nagging doubt that he might be found out and so planned only the smallest wedding to be as little publicly humiliated as possible.  Contradict me, please: It seems out of Rochester's character, especially in view of his efforts to flood Jane with all the typical aristocratic accoutrement, to not have the grandest of available pomp and circumstance for such an occasion.  
  4. I don't get this: Rochester has houses all over the place, right?  France, elsewhere in England....  Why did he keep his monstrous wife in the abode as his "home base?"  Why not put her elsewhere?
  5. Who is the antagonist of this chapter?
  6. "Birds were singing in brake and copse: birds were faithful to their mates; birds were emblems of love. What was I? In the midst of my pain of heart and frantic effort of principle, I abhorred myself."  Birds were a motif early on with that book she read at Gateshead, which put them in grave- and churchyards, and islands and shipwrecks.  Is there any connection between those birds and these now?
  7. "May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love."  But we all hurt those whom we love.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jane Eyre XXVI -- chapter 26: THE ROCHESTER TREE


I knew it was too good to be true.

(no, really)


Now apart from all that, let's throw back to that lightning-struck tree from chapter 23, because I think we've got all the pieces now.  See if you agree with me:
  • The shepherd in the picture is, in this case, a secret shepherd and in the form of one, and to this point much maligned, Grace Poole;
  • of course, if Grace Poole is the shepherd, then that would perforce render the lamb the wholly impure (or is she innocent by insanity? -- does it matter?) Bertha Mason;
  • the tree in the picture here is struck by lightning, of course, and by strain of metaphor and imagery, we have in the book a tree split by lightning, which tree is a likely metaphor for the otherwise perfect (perfect as in "complete" and, in this case, would-be seamless) union of Jane and Rochester;
  • the lamb is also the lightning.  Maybe.
But we run into a couple problems.  Is the tree truly irreparable?  Is it even dead?  And here again is the comparison to The Lord of the Rings, whose White Tree of Gondor represents the unity of a kingdom under rightfully inherited and ordained monarchy.  In the books the tree is dead, and Aragorn must solve the problem of no white tree, which, of course, he does.  Is there a solution to the dissolution of the Rochester kingdom?

The symbolism of trees generally is big, and nearly every culture in the world has some mythological application for them.  In Western culture (that's us) there are the obvious trees of Life and Knowledge; move Northward (and if we stick with proper name-bearing trees) and there is also Ygdrassil; more than that there all the various tree spirits and nymphs and a metaphors of strength and worship and so on from around the globe--at least wherever there are trees.  I think the most important piece of imagery here in Jane Eyre is that this tree, a chestnut and rooted as deeply in the earth as the Rochester line is rooted in the English countryside, and once reaching worshipfully into heaven, indeed represents not just the current Lord but the Rochester line.  This being the case, it can in no wise be Mrs. Bertha Mason Rochester who struck the tree, but Mr. Rochester who is the lightning, and not most importantly by the fall and death of the tree, but by the tree's dispirited failure to maintain devoted and worshipful arms extended to Heaven and God.  Mr. Rochester, as he admits in the chapel, has offended God with his presumption.  Is he without religious reverence?  


Finally, and about Jane now, is she still in love with Mr. Rochester?
  • "I should fear even to cross his path now: my view must be hateful to him."
  • "Be not far from me, [God,] for trouble is near: there is none to help."
Why didn't Mr. Rochester just tell the truth from the start?  Isn't that always better?


If you're at all interested in more tree symbolism, check THIS out, specifically about the chestnut tree.

chestnut tree

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jane Eyre XXV -- chapter 25: A YEAR AND A DAY

  1. Paragraph 1 is a fine example of existentialism.
  2. The cloven chestnut tree in its description here is like, though perhaps only in portent and not eventual outcome, the white tree of Gondor from The Lord of the Rings (either the original textual version or the cinematic.)  Thoughts?
  3. vampyre; vampire  -- application, then?  and is it more or less than the by-now so terribly stereotypical "modern" vampire tropes?  (Fascinating history, of course, but I wouldn't about more than etymologies in this case.)
  4. A year and a day.  This law has always boggled me, as much invented, seemingly, for its poetry as its legal application.  But considering its contextual use here in the book, what is Rochester actually saying (you may include exclude other listed English traditions ascribed to this legalese anapest?
  5. Interesting: once the tale is confessed and quelled (was it really?), the wind too has died down; but how could she possibly accept the lame, or at least incomplete, explanation from Rochester?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


In 1953 a man named Roger Price published a book he titled Droodles.  While this author/illustrator/comedian and his book may not ring any bells nowadays, consider this: he is also the co-inventor of the ever-popular Mad Libs.

But, lest we forget, today is Wednesday, and Wednesday's for Kids, so I'll skip the history lesson (though we might add "grammar" in the case of the Mad Libs).  Instead, here are a couple things to do with your kids (your own if you're a parent; somebody else's if you're a relative, babysitter, or teacher), both directly related to these two great creations, and both of which I've used in my classroom to great effect.


The already-written Mad Libs are fine (and they're free all over the internet, though most frequently called something else in the name of copyright laws; just Google "mad libs"), if somewhat hit and miss for the humor element; and if you've spent any time with these things on road trips or in classrooms, I'm sure you'll agree: sometimes they're funny, sometimes they just don't work.  However, I've found something that nearly always works to make a thing once less successful now more successful: PERSONALIZE IT, because, as we all know, kids--not to mention most adults and every flippin' teenager on the planet--like things better when they're about them!

So this is what you do (and all the easier if you happen to blog and write about your family or classroom, in which case the first step is just a matter of cut&paste): get a story about your kids.  Read it to them in advance, so they know what's going on (optional and dependent upon the age and intelligence of your children), then shoot the thing full of holes.  Finally, have them fill it back in--you know, just like a real Mad Lib.



Last night Mom and Grandma went to a church meeting.  Their departure could only mean two things: One, dad would let the kids watch more television and play more video games than was good for them, and two, Aunt Dianna would come over to hang out, eat food, and do her math homework. 

More than just the usual, Aunt Dianna spent most of the time actually listening to her iPod, her headphones stuck deep inside her ears.  But Dianna’s always really nice.  She pretended to listen carefully every time Rebekah came bouncing over to show off her three favorite stuffed animals: Piggy, Lamby, and Anne and tell her everything about their evening activities.  Meanwhile, Jacob played Super Mario Brothers on the WII, even though the controllers’ batteries were dying.

When Dianna was finally done with her homework and Jacob’s time was finally over for playing the WII and after Rebekah had finished giving all her animals a bath, feeding them their dinner, and putting them to bed, they turned on a movie: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The three kids (including the teenager) loved the movie, which is all about Dave, a nerdy physics student from New York, who is destined to become a very important sorcerer.  He is discovered by Balthazar Blake, an ancient wizard and apprentice of the famous Merlin.  And what Dave’s destiny?  To save the world from an evil sorceress, Morgana le Fay, who’s been trapped for a thousand years or more in a nesting doll.

Sometime in the middle of the movie, Dad interrupted the peace and quiet to announce bath time.  Surprisingly, Jacob and Rebekah agreed without fighting, washed themselves with lightning speed, and were soon back to finish the movie.  Rebekah snuggled with Aunt Dianna, Jacob jumped around the room pretending to be some crazy mix of a sorcerer and Spiderman, and Dianna kept listening to her ipod.

Dad worked on his blog.

(Obviously, it doesn't have to be anything fancy.)


AT HOME WITH AUNT [silly name]

Last night Mom and Grandma went to a [destination].  Their [noun] could only mean two things: One, dad would let the kids watch more [noun] and [verb] more video [plural noun] than was [adjective] for them, and two, Aunt [silly name] would come over to [verb], [verb] food, and [verb] her [adjective] homework. 

More than just the [usual], Aunt [silly name] spent most of the time actually [verb ending in –ing] to her [noun], her [plural noun] stuck deep inside her [body part].  But [silly name]’s always really [adjective].  She pretended to [verb] carefully every time Rebekah came [verb ending in –ing] over to show off her three favorite [adjective] [plural noun]: Piggy, Lamby, and Anne and tell her everything about their evening [plural noun].  Meanwhile, Jacob played Super Mario [plural noun] on the WII, even though the controllers’ batteries were [verb ending in –ing].

When [silly name] was finally done with her [noun] and Jacob’s [noun] was finally over for [verb ending in –ing] the WII and after Rebekah had finished giving all her [plural noun] a [noun], [verb ending in –ing] them their [noun], and putting them to [noun], they turned on a movie: The Sorcerer’s [noun].  The three [plural noun] (including the [adjective] teenager) loved the movie, which is all about [boy’s name], a [adjective] physics student from [city], who is destined to become a [adverb] [adjective] [noun].  He is [past tense verb] by Balthazar [noun starting with B], an [adjective] wizard and [noun] of the [adjective] Merlin.  And what [boy’s name repeated] Dave’s [noun]?  To [verb] [big place] from an [afjective] sorceress, Morgana le [silly name], who’s been trapped for [number] years or more in a [adjective] doll.

Sometime in the middle of the [noun], [adjective] [adjective] Dad [past tense verb] the peace and [noun] to announce [noun] time.  [adverb], Jacob and Rebekah agreed without [verb ending in –ing], [past tense verb] themselves with lightning [noun], and were [adverb] back to [verb] the movie.  Rebekah [verb] with Aunt [silly name], Jacob [past tense verb] around the room [verb ending in –ing] to be some [adjective] mix of a sorcerer and Spider[noun], and [silly name] kept listening to her [noun].

Dad worked on his blog.



Droodles are a cross between doodles and riddles.  But forget the riddle part.  Imagine you’re doodling on a cocktail napkin, and come up with something like this:

By itself, this is naught be a doodle.  Ask the audience to identify what it is, and suddenly *POW* it's a Droodle.  Draw a bunch of these on squares of paper and have your kids come up with as many possible titles as possible.  What do you think this one is?

Or this?

If you can't find the book, Droodles, or don't feel like waiting for Amazon to deliver it, Google around.  There are tons of them online to offer inspiration for your own (all the official Droodles are copyrighted; the two above are mine--use 'em if you want 'em).

Happy Droodling!

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