In The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde constructs a world in which literature is considered to be supremely valuable, a world in which literary allusion is common in daily conversation, and reading a text is an experience that vitally unifies individuals because of its reliance upon and its direct connection to the original manuscript. Enabling an even deeper experience of the text is the recent invention of the Prose Portal, allowing a reader to physically enter the textual landscape. The first description of the Ôinside’ of a literary masterpiece occurs when Polly, the aunt of protagonist Thursday Next, enters and becomes trapped in Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. Upon Polly’s arrival, we get a description of the poem’s landscape as it might be if one were truly standing with Wordsworth as he was inspired to write it:
On the other side of the Prose Portal, Polly stood on the grassy bank of a large lake where the water gently lapped against the shore. The sun was shining brightly and small puffy clouds floated lazily across the azure sky. Along the edges of the bay she could see thousands upon thousands of vibrant yellow daffodils, all growing in the dappled shade of a birch grove. A breeze, carrying with it the fresh scent of spring, caused the flowers to flutter and dance. All about her a feeling of peace and tranquility ruled. The world she stood in now was unsullied by man’s evil or malice. Here, indeed, was paradise. [125-26]
Shortly after the completion of this description, Polly happens upon an elderly Wordsworth with whom she converses about the scene. Remaking about the loveliness of the landscape, Polly ultimately murmurs, “I wish my memory was this good” (126). This off-handed comment, while serving as a means of further illustrating the beauty of the scene and the incredible nature of experiencing it directly, also produces some intriguing questions about the relationship between memory, literature, and experience. Why does Fforde place Polly in a text of memory? Are we to read this decision as a means of highlighting the way in which literature creates a common access point to the memory of another? Can memories remain vivid even when they aren’t committed to paper?
Throughout the text, multiple characters appear concerned with memory, often referring to it in terms of the Wordsworthian “inward eye”. In the aforementioned “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (a text that is referenced and experienced in Fforde’s novel, but not quoted), Wordsworth ends his reflection on the landscape with a stanza that establishes the rest of the poem as a remembrance:
For often when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils. [lines 13-18]
This figuration of memory as an “inward eye” is repeated throughout the text, including during an exchange between Rochester and Thursday while she is in Jane Eyre. In comparing the substance of their respective lives, Rochester asks Thursday if she relies “upon that inward eye we call a memory to sustain [her]self in times of depression”. Given that Thursday’s narrative is one often punctuated with memories of Landen, her deceased brother, and moments from the war, it seems unsurprising that Thursday replies, “Most of the time . . . although memory is but one hundredth of the strength of currently felt emotions” (332). Thursday’s addendum to her otherwise direct response is interesting, but is complicated within the text. If the re-experiencing of a memory is a severely reduced emotional experience in comparison to the original event, why is the text saturated with consideration of and new experiences of the past? Furthermore, how then does one read Polly’s reflections upon memory as she experiences what is itself a memory of Wordsworth’s?
Also of interest in Fforde’s text is the pliability of text. Fforde concretizes the reading experience, utilizing sci-fi-esque technologies to make tangible the process of metaphorically entering a book and becoming truly immersed in it, exploring the changes that both reader and text undergo. Exploring the exchange that Fforde’s textual maneuverings have made tangible, Thursday’s boss Victor comments that the “barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through” (206). Though this description clearly applies to the text-travel circumstances that Fforde has established in this alternate configuration of the world, how does it relate to the process of reading in general? Is it significant that this process of switching between text and world is limited to a particular pool of individuals?
Fforde is clearly preoccupied with literature as a whole throughout The Eyre Affair, weaving in references, allusions, characters, plot lines, and histories of a myriad of significant texts and authors.
Although we are reading it through a Neo-Victorian lens, it seems there are multiple “Neo-” lenses through which one could read this text, such as ÔNeo-Romanticism’.
What are the implications of reading the Victorian aspects of this text through a Neo-Victorian lens? What kinds of rewriting are actually occurring in a text whose protagonist is preoccupied with preserving texts?
- Dealing With Overtly Free Interpretation: Beyond Jane in The Eyre Affair
- Fforde on the end of narrative originality
- Jasper Fforde's Explanation of Miss Havisham's Character
Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin, 2001.
22 February 2010