The first time I read Jane-Emily I was a child; what I remember is how creepy it was, the girl haunted by the ghost of a dead child and a creepy garden globe.
The second time I read Jane-Emily was about fifteen years ago, as an adult, and what struck me then was, yes, ghost story still creepy, but that the person telling the story was not the girl being haunted (or for that matter the dead child) but, rather, an eighteen year old cousin.
The classic ghost story was framed as a story by a teenage girl.
This time, I read it taking notes chapter by chapter, looking to see how it was put together; why was it so scary; and why was it put together the way it was.
So my first few posts are those scattered thoughts, meant to be read by someone who has already read the book. They are written by someone who half-remembers what happens in the book. And they are written in-time, without much reflection. That reflection will come later, when I sit back and sift and put it together.
So, let's begin, shall we?
"There are times when the midsummer sun strikes cold, and when the leaping flames of a hearthfire give no heat. Times when the chill within us comes not from fears we know, but from fears unknown -- and forever unknowable."
And that's how it begins: not with ghosts and scares, but with thoughts and memory. A spooky atmosphere is being created, and letting us know we are about to talk about fear. Known and unknown fear.
This is all "I," "I," "I." She's 18, she is upset to be leaving Martin Driscoll behind in the summer before he leaves for college, and it's June 1912. (Here's a fun game I play with books set in this time period, it's called "who dies when?" So I'm all "oh, so who goes to World War I in a few years?" I shouldn't be so snarky about Martin, all things considered.) (Jane-Emily never mentions the war, that's just a quirk I have in reading.)
Louisa is traveling with her nine year old niece, Jane, to visit the "elderly" Mrs. Canfield, her niece's grandmother. Jane's parents died the year before in a horse and buggy accident that sounds quite gory, but is described so sparely, that it's almost not noticed. Her mother was thrown against a tree; her father dragged; and with those few sentences, Jane is an orphan. She is also "unnaturally withdrawn," something that will come up again and again, but heck, she's an young child who lost both her parents.
(Note, while Jane's mother is the narrator's sister, so obviously older, as was her husband, no exact ages are given. Yes, I draw family trees as I go along, so this matters. Neither are ages for the narrator's own parents (Charles and Martha Amory) given, but since the paternal grandmother is "elderly" I assume she is older than the narrator's own parents.
And Louisa (that's her name) is such a teen girl! She's complaining about leaving Martin behind: "But Mother! Martin and I have a million plans for this summer." But this story is being told AFTER whatever happens ("that last rainy night") so is she playing up her own youth, before the summer? Poor Martin: He has "beautiful, deep thoughts."
OK, so now they are at the grandmother's house, which is big but a bit shut in and gloomy, but Mrs. Canfield and her servant (housekeeper/cook/maid all in one), Katie, are nice. Jane is staying in Emily's room...
Emily. Who died at 12, and Louisa is all "oh, yeah, I think I heard about her, but I forgot." And then Louisa says, about Jane, "that cool impersonality that children have for people they never knew." And here is what is brilliant: Louisa is as much describing herself as Jane; and also appears to be describing the reader, also. The reader who will see Jane-Emily as a story about a dead girl's ghost, rather than about a dead girl.
Oh and FINALLY a look in the back garden and the "large bright reflecting ball!"
Oh and Louisa looks into the mirror so we know what she looks like. Blonde curly hair. Blue eyes.
Now we meet Katie who has an "ample body". Oh! Katie started working for Mrs. Canfield since she was 16, and since Mrs. Canfield married, so "almost 40" years. I like figuring out timelines, so this means Katie is about 55; and assuming Mrs. Canfield was at least 20 when she married, she's now at least 60.
And Mrs. Canfield talks, well, it's just weird how she talks about dead Emily. Emily was "rather different" and "not particularly considerate of other people." This starts a pattern: considering Emily died at twelve, considering it's Mrs. Canfield's only daughter, considering both her children are now dead, Mrs. Canfield is almost cold and distanced in how she talks about Emily. Is this a way of processing grief? Maybe, but as a child reader it just meant that from the start, I was on guard against Emily, suspicious of her, because what type of mother talks about her child this way? None, unless it was true. Unless we should be wary of Emily.
And more of Martin and his poetry.
A letter from Martin! It seems like a long letter but it's really "a few lines scattered over several pages." BURN. Martin isn't what he tries to seem, is he?
And apparently there is a reference to her "rose-tipped hands" and all I can wonder is did she have sunburn when Martin wrote this?
The summer goes by, Jane is getting better, Martin is writing, and a bit of foreshadowing and impending doom ("how could I know there could be anything in that quiet Lynn household to hurt or frighten her?")
And there's a visit from Jacob, the weekly gardener. Now, as a kid, I was all "servants! wow, rich." But now, having been spoiled by Downton Abbey, I'm thinking "only one full time servant? And part time gardener? Mrs. Canfield isn't that well off after all, is she? Also does Katie ever get time off? I don't think so.
Oh, and the weird references from Jane begins, with Jane saying she looks like Emily even though she has apparently never seen a picture of Emily.
And we learn Adam Frost is back in town, the nice young doctor. HMMMMM. Oh, and Emily's playmate.
Excellent, I have more ages to work with to figure out a timeline. Adam is 24, which is how old Emily would have been; Emily died 12 years before, at age 12. Both Emily and her father died before John (Mrs. Canfield's son) and Charlotte (Louisa's sister) married. With Jane being 9, that means they married only ten or eleven years ago, so fairly soon after the deaths of John's sister and father.
This makes me wonder at John's age. The youngest he could have been -- if he married when 21 -- was 31, or seven years older than Emily. Also, given the length of time of his parent's marriage (almost 40 years ago), that would make his parents married nine years before their first child was born. Or, John could be as old as 39 (born right after his parents' marriage), marrying at 29. But this would have made him 15 years older than Emily, and there's a later reference that makes me think this is too old. Also, either way, if Emily would have been 24, her parent's had been married 16 years when their second child was born. That would have put Mrs. Canfield in her late 30s, if not older.
Wait, I'm the only one who figures this stuff out?
What's more important is that young Emily had a serious crush on Adam, and they were friends.
Also if Adam is 24, let's figure out if Louisa is too young for him. 24 divided by 2 is 12, add 7 -- 19. Louisa is 18, so that's close enough. Also as I'm thinking about it, Louisa is old enough to be out of school but school is never mentioned. Yes, Martin is going to college, but Louisa doesn't mention her school, any plans (it is 1912, I guess), and now that I'm writing this, I don't think Louisa even mentioned any teachers or friends.
Actually it's kind of interesting, what a blank slate Louisa is. It makes her the perfect narrator, and the lack of information about her, her interests, her ambitions, is why this isn't a story about an 18 year old and the ghost of a dead girl. She's just telling the story. But she's not that much a part of the story, more the person to tell the story and perhaps (as we'll see) shape the story so that the reader is scared when she is, worried when she is, angry when she is, bewildered when she is.
Louisa is a bit intimidated by Adam, he being a doctor. And she being someone who hangs out with a nine year old, doing needlework, writing letters.
Oh more creepiness! To Jane: "You think a lot about Emily, don't you?" Jane replies, "Emily thinks a lot about me."
And some fashion details, sashes and bows and such.
And he's holding a pipe. ADAM HAS A PIPE. Oh dear. Poetry Boy versus Doctor Pipe.
And Louisa is a bit intimidated because Doctor Pipe has traveled abroad, and knows so much, and she doesn't understand half of what Doctor Pipe and Mrs. Canfield are talking about. But hey, she's young and pretty and has great clothes so that all works in her favor. But then "boredom crept over me" and I giggle.
ARGH Doctor Pipe is talking about women's rights and the votes and just NO NO NO maybe I should call him Doctor Asshole. Because he's all women are too emotional to vote. And Louisa doesn't help at all by saying how "I wouldn't know much about voting, but some women are quite intelligent."
Not you, Louisa. Not you.
OK. Here's the thing. Doctor Pipe is the romantic lead for our Louisa, if you haven't figure that out yet. He's older, he's handsome, he's a doctor, he's all the things that someone can "look up" to. But seriously, who goes to dinner with three women (Mrs. Canfield, Louisa, Jane) and spouts off about how they shouldn't vote? And spoiler, he never takes this back or explains it. And further spoiler, since he let Emily boss him around all the time, he's known some strong women, so maybe this is a reaction to that? I don't know. I also wonder what this passage was doing, why it was here, in a book published in 1969, has this mini rant about the vote? And having something so negative coming out of the mouth of the hero?
Honestly it's the worst. He's the worst. He's patronizing and says worse things and it's set up as a sort of rom-com bit, with him saying "women would just vote emotionally" and they are so "unpredictable" but then being all "but I don't really know any women so maybe we can spend time together..." And so yes he's that guy. (His mom is dead, Emily is dead, and I guess he's been at same sex schools his whole life but ARGH. Seriously, would you want this guy as your doctor?)
And more on Emily. She was a "hellion."
And talk of moonlight BUT THERE IS NO MOON.
And the next day, breakfast, Mrs. Canfield rings a bell to summon Katie. I hope they pay her well.
Ha ha ha who am I kidding? I'm sure they pay her crap.
Also there is a lot of food: cinnamon buns! Melon on chilled plates! Eggs!
Jane is wondering if she is pretty and is told "when the time comes that prettiness is most important to you, you will have no cause to worry."
More wisdom from Mrs. Canfield; 'The young have no conception of death, yet it has a mysterious appeal for them." I love how she is saying this, and that it's true for Jane, and also Louisa, and I think even Emily, but also the reader who maybe won't realize that they are the ones being talked about.
More bad poetry from poor Martin. Thank goodness we don't have to read it.
ARGH NO NO WE DO.
And then Jane writes a poem about pansies that is a thousand times better than Martin's.
Wait, pansies? A poem? JANE WROTE THE SAME IDENTICAL POEM EMILY WROTE YEARS AGO.
Louisa is getting a bit suspicious of Jane's talking about Emily and the poem and stuff, but she rationalizes it all away.
Louisa clearly likes Doctor Pipe, though she pretends she doesn't.
Jane seems obsessed with Emily but insists she doesn't want to be.
Oh and a CAR. And Doctor Pipe and his pipe and oh, the days when smoking was so casual and OK and he never even asks about it as he puffs away. Anyway, he treats the ladies to a night of band music and fireworks and no lectures on their inferiority to women. He asks Louisa to dinner and he's pretty pushy about it, not taking no for an answer, but then Louisa is pretty wimpy and doesn't say no outright. He's all "do you like lobster" and she's all "yes" and he's all "it's a date." And Louisa is all "his confidence irked me" and I'm all "it's not confidence."
Do you know what's a great thing to do, on a hot summer day? Explore the attic! But it's more like a spare room on the top floor of the house? By Katie's room, of course. And another small bedroom.
And it's the perfect attic. It's full of toys and old clothes and books and all sorts of things to explore and discover. Trunks! Parasols! Dollhouses! Even a couple of ... ancient rifles?
Oh, more time -- apparently Mr. and Mrs. Canfield took a trip to New York twenty years ago (so Emily would have been 4), basically ending when Emily being so upset, tantrums, etc., about her parents being away that they had to return early. So part of me thinks, in 1892, they could find out about it so quickly to return home half-way? Also they left John and Emily with Katie and a nursemaid. OK, so I doubt John would be 39 now as that means he was 19 at that time, and Mrs. Canfield wouldn't be talking about leaving a 19 year old with a nursemaid.
This trip matters because it's to establish Emily being a brat, and her parents playing into it, but I'll be honest, part of me is thinking -- this kid is four. FOUR. She's been left with servants and a brother and I can get why she'd be upset about that. What does a young kid know about "oh, it's fine, I'll be well cared for by the staff while they're gone?"
And wow -- a casual mention that the problem was Emily never got a "firm hand in punishment." More on this later.
Oh, they got a telegram. That was pretty scary, I guess. So they went home. You know, it's OK for parents to go on a vacation, just them. And yes, Emily was a brat for making them come home. But... I think a four year old could be given a twinge more sympathy. More on this later, but Emily is given so little sympathy.
Also interesting set up: it's the indulgent dad versus the mom who wanted to discipline.
Oh! "Such indulgence [of Emily] was harmful." More on this later, but I kind of like how the child-reader is basically being told "your parents punish you so you don't become like Emily, someone who dies and haunts the living."
Also, all this talk of being more firm is, right now, coming in part from Louisa who is 18. And whose only experience with kids is young Jane. Hardly an expert.
More on Mrs. Canfield not daring to discipline Emily because it would have angered her husband. And I get that Emily is a brat but there is also a part of me feeling sorry for this kid, caught between this weird dynamic.
Also interesting to remember this sermon against permissive parenting is from 1969. And that all of Emily's problems are from being a spoiled Daddy's girl. But was she just spoiled? Or something more?
Let's see, Emily got pissed at a doll and melted its face. And I remember this being "ugh, Emily" but now I'm all, "oh, who among us hasn't messed up a doll?"
More stuff about the reflecting ball, and how it's linked to Emily, and how the distorted faces -- are they distorted faces? Or is it Emily's face? Is Emily's face living in the ball?
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy