saucy Jane

I was certainly accurate in judging that I would not be a regular poster or a fanatical blogger, but I did not intend to let months pass by before I wrote again. As I have been residing in sunny Palo Alto, California for the past six weeks, I have not had as frequent an opportunity to cook for myself. This is not to say that I haven’t continued to have lovely food experiences. My mother-in-law, whom my husband and I have been residing with while he completes a summer internship, is a wonderful cook. Along with her natural ability and gastronomical talents, we have been fortunate to experience the bliss of a California garden. Fresh, tiny cherry tomatoes are readily avaiable in a large terracotta pot just outside the kitchen door, and one can hardly express the sheer pleasure of biting into one of them, especially in the mild heat of the day, when they burst into the mouth with a flood of warm juice. Alongside the tomato plants are pots for herbs, mainly basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, and cilantro. One of the dishes that my mother-in-law and I made together this summer was tabbouleh, and it was so wonderful to pluck the fresh mint leaves ourselves before adding them to the delicious grainy mixture of bulghur wheat, tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, and lemon juice. Tabbouleh is something that is extremely easy to compose, and highly addictive and satisfying to eat. I have decided that I need to make it more often-it’s so healthy, and it’s also quite good piled on top of warm whole wheat pita bread. To revert back to my earlier discussion of a California garden, one of the absolute highlights of being in California is walking around the neighborhoods and seeing large oranges dangling precariously on orange trees and tiny olives starting to grow on olive trees. Among other glorious food items that simply grow in typical back yards here are figs and Meyer lemons.

I have been rereading “Jane Eyre” for an evening course that I’ve been taking at Stanford, and I’m quite impressed, again, by its feisty heroine. In more recent times, (due not in small part to the stirring film performance by Keira Knightley) Elizabeth Bennett has been lauded as an admirable heroine, and while I certainly do admire her, she is simply no Jane Eyre. Jane is not only independent and absolutely certain of her strength and character, she is of extremely tough and unshakeable moral fiber. Even from the very beginning of her life she was rather saucy. Her response to her ruthlessly degrading and cruel cousins:

“Don’t talk about her, John: I told you not to go near her; she is not worthy of notice; I do not choose that either you or your sisters should associate with her.” [words of Mrs. Reed, in reference to Jane] Here, leaning over the banister, I cried out suddenly, and without at all deliberating on my words,-‘They are not fit to associate with me.’ “

I adore that scene, and relish imagining the young Jane in my mind, most certainly acting in a very rude, though justified manner towards her caretakers.

I especially love Jane later on in the story, just before the elusive, aggressive, and not entire attractive Mr. Rochester professes his love and intentions for Jane. She believes him to be preparing for a marriage to the cold, gold-digging Blanche Ingram, and she will not stay around at Thornfield Hall to see such a dreadful thing happen.

” ‘I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion. ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? -You think wrong! -I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: -it is my spirit that addresses your spirit, just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal-as we are!”

So saucy, that Jane! I am no feminist, but I admire her unwillingness to ignore her feelings, her absolute embracing of the opportune chance that she had to tell Mr. Rochester exactly how she felt, with no regard for rules and societal norms of behavior. Later on, when we are exposed to the secret that Mr. Rochester has been harboring, we are again given a chance to admire Jane as she, quite without hesitating, “does the right thing” in leaving Thornfield Hall, unwilling to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress or take part in an illegitimate marriage. There really aren’t enough Jane Eyres in this world, enough of us who will shoulder the burden of the hard, but right road, and go through inevitably difficult circumstances in order to keep our own moral compass intact. So many people take the proverbial easy way out, compromising themselves all along the way. God never intended for our way to be simple. Just a few days ago, in my C.S. Lewis devotional, I read these words:

“As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, ‘every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son.’ In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’ ”

So I have made a lovely segue from “Jane Eyre” to C.S. Lewis! This is part of what I adore about classic literature-so much more attention was paid to what is good, and real, and true, about the struggle to live a Christian life.

Perhaps I will have cooked a new dish by my next post, which hopefully will not be sometime in October!

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