Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapters 68-69

Strange_BlackAfter the relative calm of the last three chapters, the penultimate chapter of the book contains another flurry of events described in short vignettes:

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell discuss their shared experience of wanting John Uskglass’s attention and their shared desire to impress their mutual master. To that end, they begin looking for a spell that might do the trick.
  • The gentleman with the thistledown hair approaches Starecross, bent on revenging himself against Lady Pole.
  • Lady Pole is furiously writing letters to expose Norrell’s treatment of her when she sees the gentleman and Stephen Black approaching and runs out to meet them. John Segundus follows her.
  • Back at Hurtfew, Strange and Norrell locate the book they’ve been searching for and begin their spell, targeting the “nameless slave.”
  • Outside Starecross, Stephen Black suddenly finds all the magic of England at his disposal. Quickly working through some of his complicated feelings about England, Stephen Black uses the enormous burst of magic to kill the gentleman with thistledown hair. While the gentleman warns Stephen that he will never know his true name now, Stephen has come to terms with being the nameless slave.
  • At a house in Padua, Arabella Strange steps out of a mirror and into the arms of Flora Greysteel.
  • Stephen wakes up to Lady Pole calling him from far away. He ignores her, “[casting] off the name of [his] captivity,” and walks further into Faerie, where he finds himself at Lost-hope. There, he is welcomed by the inhabitants as their new king, fulfilling his part of Vinculus’s prophecy.
  • Once more at Hurtfew, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell finally feel as if they’ve gotten the attention of John Uskglass, and they find it rather disturbing. Norrell locates Lady Pole (in Yorkshire) and Arabella (in Italy), but Strange doesn’t seem particularly interested in the news.

The final chapter of the book does two things.

To start with, it mirrors the first chapter of the book by focusing on a meeting of Yorkshire magicians. This one is every bit as raucous and argumentative as the first one, especially when they learn the reason for their having been called together. Childermass is there, and he’s come to tell them that their previous agreement with Norrell is null and void, that anyone can practice magic now however they like. When they complain of their lack of books, Childermass brings forth Vinculus, whose tattoos have been rewritten entirely.

Finally, the book ends in Padua, where Arabella Strange has been recuperating with the Greysteels. She and Flora have become fast friends, and they are getting ready to return to England when a spot of darkness appears, heralding the arrival of Jonathan Strange. Arabella goes to meet her husband, but this last reunion of the novel is bittersweet.

This, I think is my favorite part of the whole book, and I will love Arabella Strange forever for not going into the Darkness with her husband. It makes for an ending that is heartbreakingly sad, but also beautiful and just and completely perfect for the story. Because, ultimately, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserve each other.

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