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Sunday, August 09, 2009
'Jane' by PF Jeffery (Book 1, Modesty's Camp, Chapter 3)

"The sun climbed towards its zenith, but remained well short – mid morning of my twelfth day in the camp.  Having made some progress with my audit, I was taking a break, pleased with myself.  This feeling the right time for another rosehip tea, I headed in the direction of the cooking tent." 

Weighing up the priorities of Jane's thoughts (making love to Modesty or the people she left behind to come to the camp or potential work with injuries) – suddenly a battle ensues. She may have to help the surgeon sooner than she thought!

In the midst of the activity, this inscrutable comment below from Jane, making us wonder who exactly is the omniscient one here, the head-lease author or the narrator?

"Call me Jane," I said.  "We're in this together.  And I'm not really an accountant, anyway – I'm, well, never mind…"'


"Then I realised that the foremost soldier wore a beard, yelling with a bass voice and slicing empty air with a sword.  He was male, as were his companions.  It was the first time I'd seen men girt for war.

For a moment, the sight struck me as more unnatural than alarming, as though beasts should engage in human activity."

"were surely insufficiently dense" – didn't like the double adverb.

"Whatever the cook's intentions, I felt ashamed of my immaturity and inexperience.  With some trepidation, I realised that these qualities were about to reach an abrupt end.  This was one of life's crossroads.  Usually, such moments come upon us with little or no warning – this had been signalled more than a week in advance.  My skin prickled, as though a physical storm were about to break.  Simultaneously, I dreaded what was about to befall and longed to become the person who would surely emerge."

Questions of  Jane's priorities now in battle and later when battle ceases. Honour and courage.  Whose injuries to tend? The danger of infection or ghosts? Putting the kettle back on! Jenny the Horse-tender and other characters milling about as the language and dialogue effectively mill about, too.

Mortalia: "She's an ..Essex.. goddess, her realm is the borderland between the living and the dead.  She protects the living from the dead, and the dead from the living."

 Thoughts of sex and love, or who gets into whose bedroll!  The Sapphic ethos is an easy one, a natural conduit of emotions after battle. We sense Jane's love for Modesty.

"Returning to business, May took a stick and cracked an expanse of bare clay – triggering the instant release of heat, steam and savoury smells."

Some telling dialogue:

"That's OK.  Just doing what I had to do."  Now that she mentioned it, the vaguest recollection came to mind of having tightened a tourniquet about someone's arm.
"It's not just OK, Jane.  But for you, I'd be dead."

"Glad to do what I could…  No worries…" there was something nightmarish in her knowing my name whilst she remained a stranger to me.

"But did I really wish to abandon my clean job for a lifetime of gory tasks?  Besides, it was all very well when the patients thrived, but how would I feel about those I couldn't save?"

Then Jane visits Modesty in her quarters – with involvement of Whisky as a prop in the Romantic business of the quiet night. Modesty is modestly sensible:-

"The loneliness of command – it can't be helped.  If I had a lover in my company, how hard would it be to send her into danger?  It wouldn't be fair on her comrades.  Then, I might over-compensate, and that wouldn't be fair on her.  Either way, I'd feel guilty, then I'd make mistakes.  No, Jane, there's no real alternative to keeping it professional."

followed by

"Jane," Modesty said in a serious tone, cutting through my thoughts, "I give you fair warning.  I've been drinking, and I'm coiled tight with post-battle tension.  If you stay here, I'm going to have sex with you.  For the sake of your career, you should go now – otherwise…"


I'll draw a discreet curtain at that point, although the author allows the narrator far more latitude! :)

Beautifully done. Meanwhile, one fears for Jane's career in having seduced the Modesty of Modesty's Camp...


'"Wisdom, my mother had taught me, is the Empress' most precious gem, yet you may find it in the keeping of whores and cart slaves."'

Links to all my JANE chapter comments:

Posted at 07:47 am by Weirdmonger

PF Jeffery
August 9, 2009   07:55 AM PDT
Jane really isn’t an accountant. She’s actually, a junior fiscal inspector – something altogether less grand and less well paid. This is amongst the few points in my fiction to arise directly from my personal experience. Employed, in recent years, as little more than a bookkeeper people sometimes referred to me as an “accountant”. I was painfully aware that, were I really an accountant, I would command a great deal more respect, and vastly more remuneration.

The point will later be made more clearly that Jane is ill-qualified for the task of auditing Modesty Clay’s accounts.

Jane’s reactions to seeing a male soldier, no doubt, arise from what have become deeply entrenched expectations. They tell us something significant about the setting in which Jane has grown up.

I agree that the double adverb in “were surely insufficiently dense” reads a little clumsily. Perhaps I will change it in the fullness of time. When polishing the chapter, I recall being brought up short by this, before thing “aah that’s OK…” I may have been wrong to think that, but I don’t dislike it sufficiently to treat changing it as a matter of urgency. The easiest way to amend it would simply be to remove the word “surely”. That is not a solution to appeal to me. In fact, I think that the word “surely” is doing a lot of work in this context. What it seems to me to mean is somewhat as follows: “as it seemed to me, but I’m only a junior fiscal assistant and not competent to gauge such matters”… Perhaps I could replace the phrase with “were insufficiently dense, or so it seemed to me”.
The novel is generally sparing with sexual detail, and certainly so (I think) in this chapter. At the occasional points where the novel becomes more sexually explicit (most notably in Book 2 Chapter 6) I think that there is a sense of wrongness. By that I mean conveying the idea that something is happening that shouldn’t have happened. The sexual action, here, is ill-advised, but loving and the result of understandable factors. One of those factors is whisky without which, I feel, many loving relationships would not arise. I will say nothing to the detriment of whisky as cupid’s agent.
“Wisdom, my mother had taught me, is the Empress’ most precious gem, yet you may find it in the keeping of whores and cart slaves.” …is something that stems from the wisdom of Ptahhotep. What the scribe wrote was along the lines of: “Dega medet nefert er wadj iw gem set ma hemwet her benwet” which translates as “Fine words are more sought after than greenstone, but can be found with the women at the grindstone.” (The original words, which I have rendered as, wadj and benwet are a lot less similar than greenstone and grindstone. Nobody now living knows what, exactly, greenstone [wadj] was. The word means “green” and, in this context, refers to a kind of stone.)

PF Jeffery
August 10, 2009   11:00 AM PDT

“Wisdom, my mother had taught me, is the Empress’ most precious gem, yet you may find it in the keeping of whores and cart slaves.”

...the reference to "whores and cart slaves" looks forward to the action of Volume 5 of "The Warriors of Love".

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