Thursday, September 27, 2012
but, as night deepened, it took a new tone
"The wind was wailing at the windows," says Lucy Snowe, the representation of a young woman who is narrating Charlotte Brontë's Vilette, "it had wailed all day; but, as night deepened, it took a new tone -- an accent keen, piercing, almost articulate to the ear; a plaint, piteous and disconsolate to the nerves, trilled in every gust" -- but this is not enough for the author, she is impassioned, this wind should not be ignored, and so she makes a paragraph around it; this wind will not be an absence, this air needs to be noticed: "Three times in the course of my life, events had taught me that these strange accents in the storm -- this restless, hopeless cry -- denote a coming state of the atmosphere unpropitious to life" -- and now if the reader is asking O Ms Brontë, what kind of unpropitiousness do you mean? she tells them, she answers the unasked question, she makes the damage specific and not vague -- she fills a crack with epidemic diseases -- "Epidemic diseases, I believed, were often heralded by a gasping, sobbing, tormented, long-lamenting east wind" -- and if "I believed" seems too solitary, then she will attach this wind to other people's beliefs not only hers, it will be a legend that flies everywhere nebulously and it will have a mythical dimension. "Hence, I inferred, arose the legend of the Banshee."
Then she will enlarge the effect by attaching the wind to concrete things, hard, huge things, deadly fires, massive destruction, identifiable and romantic, scientific horrors, and inescapable global terrors: "I fancied, too, I had noticed -- but was not philosopher enough to know whether there was any connection between the circumstances -- that we often at the same time hear of disturbed volcanic action in distant parts of the world; of rivers suddenly rushing above their banks; and of strange high tides flowing furiously in on low sea-coasts." The character does not usually talk to herself in print but now she does, she breaks briefly into a new style, she is punctuating the end of this idea. ""Our globe," I had said to myself, "seems at such periods torn and disordered; the feeble amongst us wither in her distempered breath, rushing hot from steaming volcanoes.""
Yet the wind is not necessary: a woman named Miss Marchmont was already frail and sick, and then this wind blows and the next night she finally dies of a stroke that does not seem to have been caused in any medical way by the blowing of any wind anywhere.
We were prepared for that death pages ago but the wind is a moody poison running into the atmosphere and killing her; the reader sees this description of doom and they probably decide, since this woman's death is the most obviously bad thing that is likely to happen -- they believe, "That's it, she's going to die," or at least, "Something terrible is going to happen, she'll probably die although something else might happen too." But the woman's death will probably feature in their reasoning somewhere.
This emphasis on the wind has turned the wind into a clue.
A post at Languagehat quoted this from Herbert Fiegl: "The attempt to know, to grasp an order, to adjust ourselves to the world in which we are embedded, is just as genuine as, indeed, is identical with, the attempt to live. Confronted with a totally different universe, we would nonetheless try again and again to generalize from the known to the unknown. Only if extended and strenuous efforts led invariably to complete failure, would we abandon the hope of finding order. And even that would be an induction." A book is a ghost of that totally different universe; it's not the one where the reader lives, yet the rules of the known universe are the base rules by which the other one is judged: each book is the judgement of a mystery.