Friday, August 29, 2014

Jane Eyre Deus Ex Machina

I was talking to a friend about the likelihood of winning the lottery.  When my spouse took statistics, he learned that if you booked a flight to Beijing and flew there on the same day and got off the plane and saw your best friend from high school in the airport in Beijing--that scenario is statistically more likely than the winning the lottery scenario.

I haven't bought a lottery ticket since.

"Where is my trust fund?"  I wailed.  But I have friends who have warned me of the danger of the trust fund--so many trust funds result in so many ungrateful recipients.

I said to my friend, "I wish I could get an inheritance.  Wouldn't that be a nice surprise?  But from a distant relative who dies, not from anyone I love dying.  A distant relative whom I didn't even know existed."

My friend winked at me.  "You mean like in Jane Eyre?"

I didn't even recognize that plot device until she said it.  But it's true.  Why yes, I'd like a distant uncle.  I'd like a small inheritance, one that's big enough to share, but not one that's big enough to be ruinous.

I recognize that I've been shaped by 19th century literature, by how many of those books I loved rely on this kind of deus ex machine deliverance of just enough money--but often only after some struggles.  It's enough money that the mail character doesn't have to keep doing whatever soul-deadening (and in some cases life threatening) tasks that must be done to keep bread on the table.  And that bread is often minimal, and on a very rickety table that's under a leaky roof.

The small inheritance allows them to live the life that will allow them to blossom--but it's not enough money that they can live recklessly.  For Jane Eyre, she can return to Rochester, the man she loves.  The money means she won't be dependent on him.  And his injuries from the fire make them true equals.

It's an amazing book, in its exploration of how gender and class inform issues of power.  But so many 19th century novels show this awareness.

In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte shows the corrupting power of money.  I'm in agreement with her.  So, no lottery winnings--but a small inheritance from an unknown uncle would be nice.

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