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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Chapters 5-10

October 18, 2014

strangeI know I’m running late.  A dear friend came into town, so I went off gallivanting with her instead of doing my blog post. But, here is the second set of chapters for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link to the reread written by Kate Nepveu. It is much more in-depth than I will be going. She has a summary of events, followed by commentary, and then a miscellany, including historical notes.
My sympathies, for the present, are firmly with Mr. Segundus, so I look on the fact that Chapter 5 focuses on Mr Norrell with sadness.

Chapter 5: Drawlight

Does Childermass remind anyone else of Severus Snape, or is that just me? Also, I’m assuming that he’s more than human, but time will tell.

“Besides, if such a magician had existed you would have long since found him out, would not you? – and discovered the means to part him from his books and put an end to his scholarship? You have done it before, you know.”

This quote from Childermass puts an even worse complexion on Mr. Norrell’s dealings with the York society.

The moral, as Mr Drawlight explained it, was that if Mr Norrell hoped to win friends for the cause of modern magic, he must insert a great many more French windows into his home.

Mr Drawlight seems to be quite the sponger. I don’t have a tremendous amount to say about this chapter, except that it contains two impressive footnotes and I don’t much like anyone in it.

Chapter 6: “Magic is not respectable, sir.”

The notion of country gentlemen muttering darkly about clever government officials feels very familiar. I’m picturing a sort of English Joe-the-plumber.
We get a great deal of background on Sir Walter Pole, but I find myself frustrated when we switch back to Mr Norrell. Is Sir Walter actually a good man? I know he is a collection of ugly features that somehow all come together into a pleasing whole. I know he is in deep debt. But I know nothing of his personal character despite several pages with him.
The descriptions of the Venetian paintings in Sir Walter’s rooms were beautiful, but the bizarre situation with Miss Wintertowne was very strange. I assume the girl has consumption, but a) no one in the room was acknowledging her coughing and b) why is her mother so interested in getting her married?
The situation did remind me of an epigram from Martial that I translated back in Latin class:

image from Wikipedia

image from Wikipedia

Gemelus doth his mistress pray
At once to fix the wedding day;
Sends gifts, and begs with all his might.
Is she so fair?– A perfect fright!
What is it then, that sets her off?
Why, Maronilla has — a cough.
(translation from Select Epigrams from Martial for English Readers)

Chapter 7: An opportunity unlikely to occur again

Miss Wintertowne has died, as was to be expected, but before the wedding, and thus has inconvenienced everyone.
Apparently, Mrs Wintertowne refused to acknowledge that her daughter was ill? At least, according to the slightly untrustworthy, but well-informed Mr Drawlight.
Mr Drawlight seems to pop out with small gems, much like Oscar Wilde, “Upon my word, there is nothing in the world so easy to explain as failure – it is, after all, what every body does all the time.”
The little play with Mrs Wintertowne entreating him and Sir Walter trying to ignore him is almost painful. And Mr Drawlight, though witty, comes across as more and more reprehensible.

Chapter 8: A gentleman with thistle-down hair

The negotiations with the fairy were very interesting;  half Miss Wintertowne’s life in exchange for her resurrection. I do notice, however, that neither party specified which half the fairy got. Maybe I’ve read too much Seanan McGuire, but I can’t help but feel like it was a bad bargain. Will he take her, Persephone-like, half of each of the next seventy-five years? Or will he take her now and bring her back in 37 years once she is no longer young and beautiful? I have a twisty mind.
Drawlight and Lascelles continue to be moderately horrible. Lascelles is actually offended that the butler and menservants are speaking to him. Bleh.
Miss Wintertowne is surprisingly calm. I hope I see more of her in the future.
I have no idea why the fairy took her little finger. I wonder if that will come up again?
Also, somehow I had forgotten that there were illustrations in this book. I find it sort of strange. I suppose I’ve read editions of Jane Austen that had pictures. And I think some of my Dickens did, but I’m not accustomed to pictures in my historical fiction. I think A Natural History of Dragons and Johannes Cabal, Detective are the only things I can think of that I read recently that are illustrated.

Chapter 9: Lady Pole

The narrator is a lady! (Which, I knew because Kate Nepveu mentions it in her analysis of the first four chapters, but still! It’s unexpected and cool.)
Mrs Wintertowne’s indignation on the very personal and intrusive notes she is getting following her daughter’s resurrection just tickles me. I love the notion of an etiquette book for a magical world. How to properly retract condolences after a resurrection. Does one write a birthday or a deathday note to a ghost? How to leave a calling card for a werewolf on the morning after a full moon.
Sir Walter’s hopes for mutual understanding with his future wife are both sweet and slightly creepy. He’s forty-one and expecting this bright, beautiful nineteen year old to be enthralled by his opinions. It’s nice that he hopes they will actually suit and that he considers that she might even have opinions of her own, but the age gap, though period accurate, is creepy.

Chapter 10: The difficulty of finding employment for a magician

Of course the government spends days arguing about what to do with their new magician instead of just asking how he thinks he could be useful or even what he can actually do.


Here are Kate’s thoughts on these chapters. I haven’t had time to read them yet, so I’ll post any thoughts I have tomorrow. I’m not fully invested in the book yet, but I am interested. Are any of you reading along too?


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