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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
'Jane' by PF Jeffery (Book 1, Modesty's Camp, Chapter 5)

As well as the generally present (so far) artful dialogue and crystalline passages of description taking the plot onward, each chapter seems to begin and to end with particular pungent atmospheric (almost) prose-poems, such as the first paragraph in this chapter:

 

"Bright sunlight, warm on my bare arms, shone from a sky of blue and wispy white cloud.  Geese, bustling through the marshes in huge numbers, filled the air with a honking cacophony.  The taste of a typical camp breakfast lingered in my mouth – sausages, eggs and mushrooms.  A plume of steam rose from the mug of sweetened rosehip tea, cradled in my hands.  Its honeyed scent teased my nose."

 

More telling onward plot in this striking passage:

 

"There was a sense in which Anna's imminent departure came as a relief.  My fortnight as Modesty's lover had been ecstatic, but an ecstasy mingled with aching worry.  For only brief periods could I escape a sense of our relationship as a fragile object, balanced so precariously that it might shatter with the slightest incautious breath.  The camp formed part of a larger world, and the gossiping despatch rider was not our sole peril."

 

I'm not sure I was before made aware (if I was, I've forgotten) that Jane is currently only 16.  This surprises me a little bearing in mind her job etc. Perhaps she is precocious.

 

Other characters, including talkative Becky (who replaces Anna while the latter is doing a sickie with Jill's help).Talk of healthy diet. Talk of going back into education, if Jane's sexual faux pas with Modesty should force her to quit as a accountant or book-keeper?  Going to Bluecoat Academy that is part of Jane's childhood memories.

 

"The surprising leniency with which we were treated left me feeling that our principal didn't like the Bluecoat Academy much more than we did."

 

Should that not be "much less than..."?

 

Modesty and her lover Jane go out on patrol on horseback. Lovely passage:

 

"After perhaps half an hour, and still within clear sight of the camp, we came upon a ruined village.  This place had suffered much from fire.  Blackened timbers, rising above tumbled walls, retained a strongly smoky smell.  Viewed from the cluster of tents, I had taken this for a large clump of the area's taller vegetation.  No bricks or stone – there remained too much soot to distinguish between these materials – rose above the level of my horse's withers.  The outlines of what had been were obscured by a riot of rosebay willowherb, its bright flowers and fluffy seeds lending the wreckage an almost festive air.  A broken child's doll, darkly smeared, clothed in dun-coloured rags, caught my attention.  Its blue eyes, surprisingly clear, stared vacantly.  Apart from this plaything, I was able to see no intimate memorial to the former inhabitants."

 

Talk of background history and a sinister 'old time godling' beginning J_____, which presumably refers to Christianity.  And a feminist ethos ('the future is female') and I admire the bravery of a head-lease author creating this I-narrator who deals with credos that may put off half the present population as a readership. :)

 

Build up of Modesty's character:

 

"My feeling was that Modesty now avoided places she knew to be the sites of slaughter or the burial of the slain."

 

And some more wonderful dialogue: 

 

"There you are!  Angels may be spotless occasionally, but more often they're dirty girls groping their way through this mucky world."

"Angel or not, May, that's what I am – a dirty girl groping her way through this mucky world.  I suppose I'm too young to have found the rules of life."

"More like, Jane, you're too young to have discovered that there are no rules."

"I wish the Ministry agreed with you, May," I said glumly – reminded that I would soon be in trouble.

 

More childhood memories beautifully told through dialogue etc.

 

Talk of the timing and details of menstruation in Modesty's camp, eg:

 

"You put a lot of women together and, after a few months, they… synchronise," May added.

 

Anna, who is about to return to the job of despatch rider after her fabricated sick leave, seems more friendly (more human) towards Jane, but there is oblique (sinister?) talk at the end (not all of which I understood) about combining the names of two horrible girls from Jane's past to at least partially create the name of Anna's replacement (Stephanie) as despatch rider. (And so were there two replacements: Becky and Stephanie? I'm left slightly confused?).

 

Despite a few confusions (which is because (as my wife says) I don't follow plots very easily at the best of times), this is impressive and enjoyable stuff.

 

=================

Links to all my JANE chapter comments:

 

 


Posted at 03:51 pm by Weirdmonger

PF Jeffery
August 15, 2009   02:27 PM PDT
 
The paragraphs describing what the narrator can perceive (through her five senses) at a given moment will probably occur at the beginning and end all but one of the “Warriors of Love” chapters. The exception will be the end of the final chapter of volume 5. At the beginnings of volumes (as in “Jane”) there may be a little matter before this scene-setting paragraph. Similarly, at the end of volumes (including “Jane”) a little matter may follow it. (One short paragraph precedes it at the start of “Jane”, two short paragraphs follow it at the end of “Jane”.)

In chapter one, Jane told Modesty that she is sixteen (in this passage):

“Yes, I suppose you can…” I replied, uncomfortable to think of the terrible things a soldier must witness in the bloody tide of battle – anxious to change the subject. “Miss Frobisher said that she was making me the youngest field inspector ever.”

“How old are you, Jane?”

“Sixteen.”

“You are young. Best get some rest after your journey. Sergeant Gates – show Miss Brewster to her tent.”

It was, as you can see, asserted that Jane was young for the work she was doing. Whether that shows her to be precocious is another question. The matter is aired in Chapter 6, and I won’t anticipate that by commenting upon it here.

When I started to write “Jane”, I expected the action to cover a couple of years. As it turns out, the whole novel falls in Jane’s seventeenth year. The start is (I think) a couple of months after her sixteenth birthday, and the end is maybe a month before her seventeenth birthday.

The following (queried) sentence is right:

“The surprising leniency with which we were treated left me feeling that our principal didn't like the Bluecoat Academy much more than we did.”

Jane, Nicola and (evidently) their headmistress all disliked the Bluecoat Academy. The Bluecoat Academy seems to be a rival school to the one Jane attended.

I don’t think that the reader is necessarily called upon to see eye to eye with Jane. I think that each of the “Warriors of Love” narrators will take a rather different attitude to men. The second narrator (Margaret/Tuerqui) comes to dislike men in general (although with a few individual exceptions). Jane does not seem to have any particular animosity towards them, viewing them (I think) as irrelevant and outmoded (a bit alarming, too, perhaps). The third narrator (Daisy Diamond) may possibly turn out to view men more positively than either of the others (but that remains to be seen, and my anticipations are often wrong).

I think that, as we come to know Anna better, she does seem more human. It is often so in life, I find.

To clarify some confusion, there were two replacements for Anna: Becky and Stephanie. This passage explained it:

“On the day after the battle, with Anna pretending to be ill, Modesty had sent Stephanie Miles with the despatches. Stephanie seldom approached nearer to making a remark than forming a shy half smile. Had Headquarters retained her as replacement despatch rider, I would have felt easier. In the event, a continuous stream of words seemed to bubble like marsh gas from the mouth of Anna’s substitute, Rebecca James.”

Essentially, Stephanie Miles is a quiet girl whom Modesty sent with the despatches (as a replacement for Anna). The talkative Rebecca James (Becky) is the replacement appointed by Headquarters. Stephanie (a member of Modesty’s company) would have carried the despatches for one day only. Becky (from the signals corps) would have done it for most of Anna’s sick leave. I hope that’s clear.
DF Lewis
August 15, 2009   06:29 PM PDT
 
Thanks for various clarifications required for my shortcomings as a reader.
However, I still can't get my head around the 'much more' or 'much less' sentence. 'Much less' still makes more sense to me. But you're probably right.
DF Lewis
August 15, 2009   07:23 PM PDT
 
I've now tried to visualise the same sentence with 'dislike' instead of 'like' but it gives me even less of a handle. It is definitely my fault.
 

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