Author Archives: clemence

“And then there were none”

With The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins signed one of the first detective novels in English, and first published it serialized. What’s interesting with it, when we replace it in its time is that it opened the way for one of the most read genre today. The choice of the narration offers an exceptional possibility, and permits to eliminate the suspects one by one, just as in the Ten little niggers’ song. This song is an adaptation made by Agatha Christie of a minstrel American song published in 1868, written by Septimus Winner, and called Ten Little Indians. She modified the title for the needs of her novel; indeed, every time a death happens in the book, a statuette of a black person is broken. The word “nigger” is a reference to those statuettes, and not a way to qualify the characters of her book. It is also a reminder of where the action takes place : on an isolated island called “island of the nigger”, located in Devon, in England. Here is the song:

“Ten little nigger boys went out to dine

One choked his little self, and then there were nine.

Nine little nigger boys sat up very late
One overslept himself, and then there were eight.

Eight little nigger boys traveling in Devon
One said he’d stay there, and then there were seven.

Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks
One chopped himself in half, and then there were six.

Six little nigger boys playing with a hive
A bumble-bee stung one, and then there were five.

Five little nigger boys going in for law
One got in chancery, and then there were four.

Four little nigger boys going out to sea
A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three.

Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo
A big bear hugged one, and then there were two.

Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun
One got frizzled up, and then there was one.

One little nigger boys living all alone
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”

 

The great number of suspects in The Moonstone and the fact that they were all possible culprits immediately made me think of Agatha Christie’s famous novel. Wilkie Collins, in my opinion, hits stronger with his novel than Agatha Christie, by alternating the narrators, without whom it would not be possible to reunite all the clues needed to solve the investigation. . At every change of narrator, the vise it tightening and the list of suspect is reduced. We are leaded on wrong tracks by Sergeant Cuff and we do not have all the clues to solve the mystery by ourselves. Just as in Ten Little Niggers, we need deaths (Mrs. Verinder, Rosanna, Mr. Ablewhite) to move forward in the inquiry.

In both of the novels, it’s interesting to notice that the police is totally (Ten Little Niggers) or partially (The Moonstone) unable to help any of the characters. Indeed, Sergeant Cuff does help the inquiry but does not resolve it, and even suspects Rachel. He tells Mrs. Verinder with an amazing calm and certain confidence that her daughter is guilty, when all she did was saving Mr. Blake’s honor. A particular event, Mr. Ablewhite death, is necessary to guide the characters to the dénouement. The police, in Ten Little Niggers, do not find a solution nor a responsible to the ten deaths that happened on the island, the key of the mistery is given by an external help, a message in a bottle. We finally get a resolution but meanwhile, there were none.

Memento Mori

Through the reading of Jane Eyre, the way Jane envisages her own death caught my attention. Her thoughts about it evolve in the course of her life, and we are able to witness it. In the early years of her existence, Jane didn’t really wonder what is death. She knows it exists, but it only when she has to face it that she starts to realize the cruelty of it (p.67) : “it entered in my mind as it has never done before : “How sad to be lying now on  sick bed, and to be in danger of dying! This world is pleasant, it would be dreary to be called from it, and to have to go who knows where?”.

Thanks or because of the education she receives in Lowood, Jane dreads death but imagines it as a part of her Christian life. It is interesting to see how her convictions are challenged when she sees her death coming. On chapter XXVIII, p 281, Jane has been wandering for two days and her strength have abandoned her. She is starving, exhausted and sick; but the way she envisages death changes fast when she is on the verge to die :

“My strength is quite failing me,” I said in a soliloquy. “I feel I cannot go much farther. Shall I be an outcast again this night? While the rain descends so, must I lay my head on the cold, drenched ground? I fear I cannot do otherwise: for who will receive me? But it will be very dreadful, with this feeling of hunger, faintness, chill, and this sense of desolation—this total prostration of hope. In all likelihood, though, I should die before morning. And why cannot I reconcile myself to the prospect of death? Why do I struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr. Rochester is living: and then, to die of want and cold is a fate to which nature cannot submit passively. Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid!—direct me!”

 

Suddently, she realizes she wants to live, and the rigid moral she applied to herself during her whole life doesn’t appear in this passage. Jane has seen Helen and Mrs. Reed dying and always acted with cold-blood and standing back, but when it comes to her, she finally starts to act humanly, and to me, this passage is quite the only one showing another side of Jane. It also reminds me of a short novel by Tolstoï, called The death of Ivan Illitch. Ivan is a Russian lawyer very selfish and harsh with the people around him. He becomes ill and realizes he has no way out but death. When he is agonizing, he, like Jane, acts humanly and fears the next minutes of his life, because it might mean the end for him. In the following passage, we can notice the exclamations like in Jane Eyre, and the way Ivan uses his last strength (moral and physical) to survive. Here is the excerpt :

“From that moment the screaming began that continued for three days, and was so terrible that one could not hear it through two closed doors without horror. At the moment he answered his wife realized that he was lost, that there was no return, that the end had come, the very end, and his doubts were still unsolved and remained doubts. “Oh! Oh! Oh!” he cried in various intonations. He had begun by screaming, “I won’t!” and continued screaming on the letter “O.” For three whole days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force. He struggled as a man condemned to death struggles in the hands of the executioner, knowing that he cannot save himself. And every moment he felt that despite all his efforts he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him. He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it. He was hindered from getting into it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very justification of his life held him fast and prevented his moving forward, and it caused him most torment of all.”

Emma’s unadmitted feelings

Hi everyone, I chose to focus about Emma’s difficultly to know herself and her own feelings through her difficulty to understand the others’ feelings. The two excerpts I’m going to introduce highlight the fact that, regardless of her intelligence, Emma is unable to penetrate the other people’s feelings.

I am going to bear comparison between two passages of Emma. The first excerpt is chapter X, volume 1, during Emma, Harriet and Mr. Elton stroll. Emma is persuaded she should let Mr. Elton and Harriet on their own, and pretends she broke her shoe lace. Mr. Elton’s reaction is clearly understandable, he is really happy that Emma has to stop by his house: “Mr. Elton looked all happiness at this proposition…” (p.65). But she doesn’t pay attention to that, and still tries to leave her friends together for a little while. Then, when she realizes no progress has been made, she thinks: “Cautious, very cautious […] he advances inch by inch and will hazard nothing till he believes himself secure” (p.66).

The second passage that is an echo to the aforementioned one occurs on chapter XIII, volume 1, when Harriet caught a throat ache. Mr. Elton is clearly alarmed for Emma’s possible contamination, whereas he never mentions any complain towards Harriet’s state of health. He starts by a sentence one could think devoid of ambiguousness, when he speaks to Emma: “Indeed you should take care of yourself as well as of your friend” (p.79). But then he doesn’t seem to be very worried about Harriet, and when it’s time for him to leave Emma, we can read this sentence: “Mr. Elton was to go, and never had his broad handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment; never had his smile be stronger, nor his eyes more exulting than when he next looked at her” (p.79).

Actually, I think Emma might understand his feelings but doesn’t want to admit to the idea of someone being in love with her. The narrator hinted to the readers throughout the book that we can understand Emma’s situation.  Whereas Emma is either naïve or blinding herself. I hope my hypotheses will be confirmed in the 3rd volume.

 

Clémence