“Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,” said Jane Studdock to herself, “for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.” (Page 11 – incidentally, the novel’s text in my edition starts on page 11)
What can I say? After a hiatus of quite some time, I’ve returned. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll do a better job, but I do want to finish. I hate not finishing. I’d never planned not to finish. I just took a break. Returning now. I plan to do a chapter at a time. But there will probably be rabbit trails. Chapters are long but I mean to keep summaries brief. I’d like to do it in the style of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian chapter headings (which I think are a play on Milton’s Paradise Lost “The Arguments” which begin each section). We’ll see.
Jane questions marriage – Mark and Curry – Bragdon Wood – Board Meeting at Bracton – Jane with the Dimbles
(I like that summary.)
I like the chiastic structure of this first chapter: Jane –> Mark –> Narrator perspective –> Mark –> Jane. I like chiasms in general. Its something I find nice. I doubt Lewis did it on purpose. I think he wanted to introduce Jane and Mark both in the first chapter. They are our co-protagonists after all. I think he also wanted to foreshadow the importance of Bragdon Wood, since it’s sale is discussed and we need to take that seriously. We also the Dimbles discussing that same parcel of land.
What is THS about? Several things. The general plotline involves a battle between to ideologically opposed groups of people in which God Himself seems to play a decisive role as good wins out over evil. But that’s not what the book is about.
Its about marriage, the mystery and the dance. Its about the evil working in our world through the mundanity of ordinary life. Its about that desire to be in the “inner circle.” Its about scientism. Its about the magic of tradition and the tradition of magic. There’s a lot in this book and that’s why I like it.
I grant that it starts out feeling a little “off.” There are a lot of pieces that don’t seem to work well together. Not the least of these is the central section about the narrator’s experience in Bragdon Wood. And who cares about this dumb board-meeting of a small fictional college? But these are themes and events that will build, as in any good narrative. I’m going to try and trace some of these themes throughout the book. Some will not show up in some chapters. There will certainly be themes that aren’t present in chapter one also.
From the beginning of the narrative, Mark and Jane have been married for about six months. The first sentence of the book is Jane thinking about marriage. For Jane, the first six months of holy matrimony have not been pleasant. I think this is partially Jane’s fault and partially Mark’s. The main problem is that neither of them really know what marriage is or why they decided to join together. I suppose they were “in love.” Jane certainly was, and wonders if Mark still is. “If so, ‘being in love’ must mean totally different things to men and women.” (page 12)
And yes, I would say, it does. That’s not to say whether or not Mark is still “in love.” But it does mean different things to men and women. Jane needs to understand this. (And so do all of us readers.) Men and women are not simply the same thing with different body parts. We think differently, feel differently, experience life differently. I’m painting with a broad brush here and I know there are many differences – many different types of men and women with many overlapping experiences. But generally there are two lanes and men and women stay in their own. I’ll continue to paint broadly here. And I am happy to grant that there are outliers without continually mentioning them, but I expect you to grant that, yes, they are outliers.
Men have a deep physical drive and need for sex. And also for emotional connection. The need for emotional connection is probably much greater but the felt need for the sex is generally greater. Women have a deep spiritual need for emotional connection. There is also a desire for sex, but the emotional connection is what drives them. Being in love mean two different things. And interestingly, men need the sexual fulfillment in order to connect emotionally, while women need the emotional fulfillment in order to really connect sexually. That’s part of what I meant when I referred to “the dance” a few paragraphs ago.
Jane and Mark live together but are growing apart. Keep an eye on this. Another married couple here is the Dimbles – Cecil and Margaret. Margaret is often referred to as “Mother” though they have no children (43). I won’t comment further on this couple now, but keep an eye on them as well. They play somewhat of a foil to Jane and Mark.
The Inner Circle:
Mark is eaten up with a desire to be on the inside. He subconsciously knows this is bad. He doesn’t want to think about how he got to the inside of his current circle, he focuses only on the next circle, further in. It seemed for a while that merely getting a fellowship at Bracton was the circle he needed. But that didn’t last long. He has recently gotten into the “Progressive Element.” That was a big step up for him. But it will soon come to mean next to nothing. There is always another circle, and then another.
He is seeking something here, but what? Some sense of fulfillment or accomplishment, some affirmation. He is seeking something in the inner circle that he will not find in the inner circle, that much is for sure.
The Mundanity of Evil:
I wish I had a catchier term for this but I think that’s kind of the point. Evil can manifest itself in ways that are complex and seemingly harmless. Terrible things are going on and all kinds of people participate, but it just seems so slight on the surface.
This meeting of the college board… from the outside its just a lot of administrative mumbo-jumbo. A list of items to discuss and vote. But that is just the packaging. There is deception and spite for tradition and elders. Two of the ten commandments are broken right there. But it all just looks like a business meeting – mundane stuff, crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s.
Each sentence was a model of lucidity; and if his hearers found the gist of the whole statement less clear than the parts, that may have been their own fault. (25)
It may have been their own fault but it was certainly Busby’s (the Bursar) intent. Illuminating the fact that dark deeds are procedurally conducted in sanitary environments was one of Lewis’s focuses. (See Prince Caspian’s slave trade.)
The truth wrapped within these lucid yet unclear sentences is that Bracton is selling off one of its oldest and most traditional tracts of land, an area that a great deal of respect and attention has been paid in years passed. Bracton College exists in part because of Bragdon Wood. And as the board throws it away to increase the fellows’ stipend, it also throws away the age and wisdom of their oldest board member, one who’s wisdom should be sought, not scorned.
Add to that the loss of the Dimbles’ home, all in one fell swoop.
I could say more about this type of evil, but will leave you this quote from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:
Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.