Sunday, August 30, 2009
'Jane' by PF Jeffery, Book 2, Berenice, Chapter 5
This tells of the theatre date of Coral and Jane, all as ever seen through the eyes of Jane. It is scintillatingly evoked, a child-like excitement, and thrill of a theatrical visit. But we now wander – or are thrust directly! – into more salacious territory; the behaviour in the box (from where Jane and her companions watch the play) reflects to some extent what is happening on the stage. 'Snogging' in the backrow of cinemas in Fifties and Sixties England pales by comparison into insignificance! The art and limpid literariness (and dynastic plotting, creative auditing etc) of this book heretofore will appeal to one sort of reader, but will this type of behaviour (taken to literally striking realms of harder speculation and slave philosophy) appeal to quite a different reader? Will the two readers coincide? A rhetorical question. There may be millions of such 'coincidal' readers, in fact.
Jane Austen never wrote about what she didn't know. She only described women alone with other women, women with men, but never men alone with other men. I thought for a brief second that Captain Grant (the equerry) was male, but soon realised my mistake. Men in this novel so far are background creatures in the rat runs of 'unfictionalizability' as real characters. Still, Jane and Coral worry about over-filling their bladders before the performance begins. This seems to be more a male's anxiety in our own society?
Also liked this passage:
<< "Not at all!" Captain Grant sounded offended. "Her Majesty strongly disapproves of gambling – it is the means of weak persons finding themselves bankrupt and enslaved. You have won a prize in the Imperial Lottery – not chance, but careful selection for the honour."
"I see," Coral said weakly. "I've heard of… But never thought…"
"Anyway," Captain Grant grew noticeably more businesslike, "I am here to prepare you for meeting her highness, Lady Jenna Javelin. You will know of her?"
"Of course," said Coral, "she was a royal princess, Chieftain of the Blood Victoria."
"And legitimate ruler of Lundin," I added.>>
Talk of the strength of the word 'should', when in company in the Theatre Box with a 'highness', in the shape of Lady Jenna Javelin (perpetrator of much of the salaciousness therein). Also a sense of Jane being even more important than Her Highness Jenna, simply because someone (of importance?) had seen fit to conspire for Jane and Coral (still meanwhile cosying up for both sexual and conspiratorial reasons) to be seated with Jenna in the Royal box?
Sense of an OCD streak in Jane:
<<During the day we'd handled Lorelei Leveller's dusty ledger files, and my feeling was that my underwear couldn't be as white as it had been in the morning. Nonsense, I told myself, how could the dust work its way through your clothes?>>
Found this sentence difficult:
<<She must be aware, also, that Her Majesty could subject a lady who gave serious offence to torments compared with which the contrivances of the Usurper's bullies were less than the cruelties of little boys.>>
Links to all my JANE chapter comments:
Posted at 01:19 pm by Weirdmonger
|PF Jeffery |
August 31, 2009 06:07 PM PDT
Thank you that!
The sentence you found difficult is one with which I was rather pleased. It seems to me grammatically correct, elegant and doing a great deal of work. It makes statements about the terror inspired by Her Majesty and about the Usurpers’ torturers (depicting the latter as inconsequential, nasty, and contemptible). It may also say something of the way in which Jane regards little boys.
Yes, snogging in the back row in 50s and 60s cinemas pales into insignificance compared with the doings in the theatre box. I think you are right in perceiving a change in tone (of the book) at this point. Introducing Lady Jenna Javelin seemed to make a big difference. A forceful lady, she would not permit things to continue in their former middle class tracks.
It is notable that Lady Jenna Javelin is the first character to be introduced who is a member of the old aristocratic/royal classes. (Or unambiguously so, the social origins remain unclear of Ladies Tracey and Victoria Tigerfang, in the First Entr’acte. I suspect that they have middle class ancestry, but am not sure of this.) Her Majesty, Empress Berenice, is (like Jane herself) certainly of middle class origins. To fill in some background, much of which has (I think) already been stated or implied, facing powerful enemies, Surrey recruited military commanders from the middle classes, rather than the old families. These formed a new military elite, of whom the most brilliant (both on the battlefield and in politics) made herself Empress. (We will see something of Her Majesty’s rise to power in subsequent volumes of “The Warriors of Love”.) The background to this chapter is (clearly) that Her Majesty is keeping members of the old families on tight leashes. The terror Her Majesty inspires in them is the main thrust of the sentence you found difficult.
You may note that, while an equerry smoothes the way in Jane and Coral meeting Lady Jenna, no such foolishness was considered necessary when Jane met the Empress. Her Majesty is clearly no snob, but humours the snobbery of members of the old families. Or, at least, she humours potentially useful aristocrats in this way.
Bear in mind, too, that Lady Jenna has this to say: “And this is Anna, my chosen concubine. Although not of noble birth, she’s of good matriarchal stock. Exactly the blood Her Majesty likes to see mingled with that of royalty – when it comes to conception through gynogenesis.” Her Majesty is (paradoxical as it may sound) a long-term revolutionary. She looks forward to her daughter, or perhaps her granddaughter, ruling a very different Empire. It was stated in Book One that this is envisaged as a land without males. Here, there is a clear scheme to destroy some class divisions, royal blood to be mingled with that of the middle classes. Later, we will see another great lady urged to take a partner of (evidently) very humble origins. Where Her Majesty urges, great ladies scarcely consider demurring.
Lady Jenna commands a lot less respect from Jane than does the Empress (naturally so!) hence Jane is less sparing with sexual details here than she was in the First Entr’acte. Even so, much of what happens is more implied than stated.
As a warning (should it be appropriate), the most sexually explicit passage in the entire novel will be found in the next chapter. It is of brief duration.
What a strange thought that, in Berenice’s Empire, Captain Grant (the equerry) might be a man! The men mentioned as working in the city of Berenice serve as waiters, shop assistants, barmen, bus conductors. I suspect that they also occupy the humbler positions in factories and warehouses, but Jane never enters such premises (not in this novel, anyway).
I believe that women, as well as men, sometimes suffer from bladder difficulties. It is, in any case, not necessarily on account of trouble of this kind that Jane and Coral do not wish to over-burden their bladders. Have you never observed the length of the queues outside the ladies’ toilets during theatre intervals? While a theatre in the city of Berenice is likely to have more capacious ladies’ toilets than ones in twenty-first century England, there would be limits to what is possible (or commercially viable).
I wonder whether, had Jane Austen written of male/male interactions, would she have made them between gay men? Are her heroes closet gays? They certainly seem that way in television adaptations, but maybe that’s just the actors.
Rather than Jane being more important than Lady Jenna, I think that both are pawns in a game played by Her Majesty’s (unseen) agents. There is something sinister, almost Kafkaesque, about this. Her Majesty seems an essentially admirable person, although definitely not someone to displease. If there are villains in “Jane” they are plotters whom we never meet (working either for or against the Empress). It is possible to sympathise with Nurse Daley, or with Lady Jenna, but not with the sinister unseen figures who manipulate them. Yet, I wonder, were we to meet these hidden figures would we find something sympathetic in them? Is it purely their hidden status that renders them sinister? “Jane” brings me to wonder this, but provides no answers. But I don’t think that we meet anyone properly in the whole of “Jane” with whom we can’t sympathise. By meeting “properly” I mean seeing them well enough to glimpse something of their motivations. An example, from Book One, is Anna the dispatch rider. Once we hear her speak at length, she begins to seem likable. (Or, at least, she seems that way to me. Different readers may regard characters in different ways.)
I suppose there’s a touch of the obsessive compulsive in almost everyone (Jane included) although in most cases it does not amount to a disorder. In so far as Jane suffers from disorders, I think that they are simply youth and inexperience.
August 31, 2009 06:26 PM PDT
Thank you, dear author. I've read the above very closely and wonder if the novel already conveys all of these things in itself, or is it me as a 'weak' reader who needs these glosses? Are your notes above written just for me - or for oher readers, too? Or even written for the author himself who is here discovering things about the novel or elaborating new things he hadn't thought about before?
That sentence still seems difficult to me and liable to hold any reader up who is trying to fathom its structure and/or (as I see now) its subtleties.
Following your warning, I shall read the next chapter with trepidation....!
|PF Jeffery |
September 2, 2009 07:33 PM PDT
My notes are written for you, and for anyone else who cares to read them. They are also written for me, I need to think about some of these things with a view to writing subsequent volumes of “The Warriors of Love” (although they are not immediately relevant to Volume 2 Chapter 6, on which I’m currently working).
I think that a substantial proportion of my commentary on Book 2 Chapter 5 codifies matter contained in, or strongly implied by, “Jane” up to this point. My remarks, though, do also draw on the later chapters of “Jane” and (to a lesser extent) on the draft for “The Warriors of Love” Volume 5.
Here and there, my remarks draw on observations of the world (weak bladders and toilet queues) I claim no especial expertise in these matters. Any person is free to disagree. The reason I advanced for the rise of Surrey’s new military elite is pure speculation, based on no direct evidence in the books, but it seems likely enough.
I don’t claim any ultimate expertise on these novels even though they are my work. Right now, I suppose I am the leading expert on them, having devoted more time than anyone else (in the nature of things) to writing, reading and thinking about them. In time to come, perhaps someone else will come to know them better than I ever managed to do. Who knows?
Not only do I wish to disown the idea of authorial omniscience, but of omniscience on the part of my narrators. I have deliberately decided to present the world of “The Warriors of Love” through the eyes of three fallible narrators. While I think that the women who narrate the stories all respect truth (Jane is apt to write of “the goddess’ good truth”) they can sometimes be mistaken (wholly or in part). The earlier fiction from which I’m developing “The Warriors of Love” contained footnotes, which sometimes indicated that the (then single) narrator was wrong on some points. This now seems to me unnecessary, and perhaps counter-productive. The reader, I think, should be left to judge how far the narrator is correct.
Leaving aside the question of whether the narrators are mistaken, there is also the question of their editing what seems to them reality. It is not to be supposed that they set down everything they can recall. This raises questions about their motives in setting down some things and omitting others. There are questions such as: “What was the purpose of setting this down?” and: “To whom was it addressed?” In the case of “Jane”, the answers to these questions provided (within the book) are complex. By Jane’s account, composition started as a cover for her spying material (prepared in the office) for Nurse Daley. I imagine that this would have been an early draft for part (most? all?) of Book One. We never see this draft, as such. In the next chapter (Book 2 Chapter 6), if I recall correctly, Jane reveals the second stage of writing: essentially as a literary exercise. A third stage of writing, quite different from either of these, is revealed towards the end of Book Three.
In my comments, when I treat such matters as “What is Her Majesty like?” or “What is Lady Jenna like?” I assume that Jane is providing us with accurate pictures. Ultimately, I would prefer to leave a question mark over whether this is so. The text of “Jane” seems to have been written before Jane’s seventeenth birthday. Her judgments are those of a young person, but not necessarily unsound.
It will be a strength of “The Warriors of Love” that it has three narrators. All three will have met Her Majesty, and some of the other important characters. In so far as their impressions coincide, the presumption gathers force that they are essentially correct.
In these regards, I hope that the books will gain qualities we encounter in evaluating material concerning the world in which we live. Each of us lives in her or his own private interpreted world. Our realities are essentially subjective. There is an objective reality, to be sure, but it is not fully knowable. Taking evidence from more than one source takes us on the way to objectivity, but we can never arrive at that destination.
I hope these remarks will show how far I am from wishing to claim authorial omniscience. But I am, just now, the person who knows best the world of “The Warriors of Love”.
I hope that “The Warriors of Love” is (and will be) readable at many levels. One can read it as a fairly simple story, or as something enormously complex (with many kinds of sub-text). I don’t think that reading it at one level is better or worse than reading at another (or not in any absolute way, different levels may be better or worse for individual readers). My main hope is that people will enjoy the novels.