Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapters 47-48

Strange_RedIn these chapters, the story continues to move along nicely. We also get our first glimpse of Jonathan Strange since Arabella’s death; he’s not doing well, but he’s not doing well in a very highly functional manner.

The Madhouse

Following her attempt on Mr. Norrell’s life, Lady Pole is being packed off to a madhouse, accompanied on her way by Stephen Black. The place is Starecross Hall, which John Segundus has turned into a country asylum following Norrell’s sabotage of his school of magic. Lady Pole is Segundus’s first patient, and she, surprisingly, seems to think Starecross may be a good place for her. I suppose it couldn’t be much worse than any other place would be for poor Lady Pole.

The Blue Man

Stephen Black begins is on his way back to London when his horse breaks its back and he’s forced to hitch a ride. There is already another hitchhiker in the cart with Stephen and it turns out to be Vinculus, who the cart driver described as “blue” as Stephen is black. This isn’t the case, Stephen learns. Vinculus tells him the prophecy of the nameless slave, who will become a king of a strange country, and Vinculus also reveals that he isn’t really blue at all–he’s covered with dense writing, like tattoos, all over his body.

The Wolf Hunt

Stephen is unsettled by his meeting with Vinculus and still not quite recovered when the gentleman with the thistledown hair comes for him a few days later. This time, they are off to watch a wolf hunt.

Stephen asks the fairy about the prophecy Vinculus delivered, and the fairy responds that it’s a prophecy about the Raven King, so it’s already been fulfilled. I think the fairy gentleman might really believe this, but it seems like a misinterpretation. However, it’s not really clear in the book at the point if the fairy knows about the rest of the prophecy, that which concerns the two magicians. From some things he said very early on in the novel, I would think so, but it’s not mentioned here.

The Famulus

In Chapter 48, we finally get to see how Jonathan Strange is doing these days. Surprisingly well, apparently, though not quite himself. Since Arabella’s death, Strange has really thrown himself into his work. His book is coming along nicely, and he’s even begun his own periodical, The Famulus, to compete with Norrell’s  Friends of English Magic. He’s also gotten some somewhat famous engravers to do the illustrations for his book, and this has created some buzz around it.

Norrell, of course, is appalled by this development, convinced that Strange is out to destroy him and increasingly frantic to know what is in Jonathan Strange’s book. As always, when Norrell needs dirty work done–like spying–he sends Childermass to do it.

A Bargain

Childermass catches up with Jonathan Strange on a gloomy day in late winter, Childermass hiding as a shadow in a doorway across a street to watch as Strange goes about his business. Strange notices him almost immediately, but he isn’t displeased. Indeed, he’s been expecting Childermass for days, and he’s anxious for news of Norrell.

23 engravers house-1
Strange and Childermass at the engravers’.

Strange takes Childermass with him to visit the French engravers who are doing illustrations for The History and Practice of English Magic, and Childermass is dutifully impressed, asking intelligent questions about the engravings and about Jonathan Strange’s magical travels. Strange is only too happy to oblige, answering Childermass’s inquiries and explaining the magic he’s used so that Childermass could duplicate it if he wishes. He even offers to take Childermass on as a pupil and assistant, at which Childermass laughs.

Throughout the book it’s been pretty clear that Childermass is something more than just a simple servant to Norrell. He’s a magician in his own right, for all the Norrell chooses not to acknowledge it, and he doesn’t always agree with his master. It becomes clear that Childermass isn’t a Norrellite partisan–he has plenty of his own ideas and opinions on magic–but he’s not about to sign up to be a Strangeite, either. Instead, he makes a promise to Jonathan Strange:

“If you fail and Mr. Norrell wins, I will indeed leave his service. I will take up your cause, oppose him with all my might and find arguments to vex him–and then there shall still be two magicians in England and two opinions upon magic. But, if he should fail and you will win, I will do the same for you.”

Strange is pleased with this answer, and Childermass is sent back to Norrell with Strange’s compliments. The chapter ends with Strange reiterating his own opposition to secret-keeping and his optimism about the publication of his book:

“I really cannot see that there is any thing Mr. Norrell can do to prevent it.”

I love these sort of chapter endings, personally. I know that it heavily telegraphs what will happen next in a way that goes well beyond simple foreshadowing, but I almost never get tired of anything like this that elicits the response from me of, “well, we’ll see about that.

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