Thursday, February 4, 2010

Behind a Mask

So far my favorite book we've read. I really liked the pace and the style of writing. I was really intrigued by the character of Jean also both personally and as a symbol for new ideas. There were numerous things she did which I completely disagree with but at the same time I admired her spirit, focus, and dedication to going after what she wanted. I thought she was incredibly smart along with being quite cunning and devious.

Looking at her character and thinking back to the beginning of the story, I see now that she did the only thing she could do in that situation to get the financial security that she wanted. Being a woman of lower class in addition to an actress did not afford her very many opportunities during this time period. Without doing the things that she did what are the chances she would have become Lady Coventry? I think they would be absolutely zero. While I know a happy cheery ending would have been more appealing, I guess I liked the idea of someone looking around, taking stock of what they have and what's available to them, and then changing their life. In the end she didn't kill anyone so all that was really damaged were the feelings and egos of a few people. Plus I mean hey, she did the exact opposite for the vanity and ego of Sir John!

This story raised many questions and thoughts for me that I'm still mulling over. Probably can't answer them all here right now but I wanted to throw them out there.

One, I wonder how much of my not completely embracing this story and Jean has to do with the fact I've been raised on stories that place the emphasis of a marriage and relationships on love, specifically romantic soul mate kind of stuff. Would I have liked this more if this had been part of the story? If she had done the exact same things for the sake of love instead of money would I have been completely won over? I almost think I would be. Would the inclusion of love have led to that redemption of character as the attainment of money and position did not? I almost think it would have. I can't quite wrap my finger around this but just as I get the feeling that a story involving an atheist who lives a good life and dies a happy person will never be a sure fire hit in this country and neither will a story of a convenient marriage. I consider it that because Jean got what she wanted and I think Sir John was pretty pleased with the outcome also. Now if she had plotted to kill him for his money after marrying him that would be different but I didn't get that impression that she would do something like that.

Another thing it brought up that was also alluded to in Blithedale was the perception of the artist in society. The idea that being an artist was not a respectful profession. (we have writer and actress represented, I wonder what the view was of say a painter or sculptor...or composer?)
The Artist against society seems to be a common theme. Or rather against the idea that their chosen profession is not on the same scale of importance as say a doctor or banker. I did not realize that this was such a large idea back then.


  1. Jefferson, your connection between marriage and financial security gets at an important issue. Although we all like to think of marriage as being for love, the actions of Jean Muir expose it as an economic transaction, and that would have disturbed people then as now.

  2. I was also surprised at the turn that this story took. I definitely thought that Jane was a child of misfortune, but was going to find true love and live happily ever after. In the end though she turned into a gold digger, which isn't the biggest surprise because even back then marrying for money wasn't anything new.