Monday, April 14, 2014
We still have plenty of snow, but the driveway ice has melted, and bare ground is expanding outward from the warm roots of trees.
The crocuses have taken immediate advantage of the situation: they've sprouted and budded within the space of 24 damp hours.
This weekend I started rereading Jane Eyre for the thousandth time. Perhaps you recall the very beginning of the novel, when Charlotte Bronte describes the child Jane's reaction to pictures "of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland. . . . Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children's brains, but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking."
You might assume that those words drew me because of their wintry imagery, but no: what I thought about immediately was Nabokov and his novel Pale Fire, for which he created Zembla, "a distant northern land." Not surprisingly, Nabokov's Zembla feels distinctly Eastern European, but Bronte's Nova Zembla is a real place in arctic Canada; and now I am wondering how Nabokov's process of invention worked. Did he deliberately scan maps in search of an eloquent name? Did he come across the name by accident? Did he read Jane Eyre?