Jane Journeys OnApril 7, 2017
I bookmarked Ruth Comfort Mitchell’s Jane Journeys On after reading Play the Game!, but the further away I got from reading Play the Game!, the worse I remembered it being, so my bookmark probably would have remained unread forever if Franziska hadn’t left me a comment telling me it’s full of things I like.
Life in Jane Vail’s small Vermont town offers her two choices: marriage (specifically to a handsome and devoted but otherwise unappealing young banker) or spinsterhood (of the literary variety, in Jane’s case). Jane isn’t excited about either option, so she goes to New York to try writing professionally. Jane is one of those characters who pull the world into place around them, so it goes well, but it also goes slowly, and with a level of nuance I didn’t expect. The first opportunity that presents itself is in vaudeville, so Jane starts out writing one-act plays, and over the course of about four years adds short stories, a novel, and full-length plays to her repertoire. It’s so nice when authors take time to develop things, instead of pushing success onto their characters too quickly to be believed.
I love the way Jane’s career is portrayed. It’s in the background for a lot of the book, pushed aside in favor of social work and a trip to Mexico, but it’s never in the background for Jane. There’s a great bit late in the book where an artist is like, “oh, you know how tough it is to find inspiration,” and she’s like, “no I don’t, I write four hours a day, inspiration or no inspiration.” I like Jane a lot.
Then there’s Michael Daragh. I can’t believe I’m 250 words in and haven’t mentioned Michael Daragh yet. He’s an Irish social worker who lives in Jane’s boarding house. She thinks he looks like a Botticelli, so you know where their relationship is going. Michael is Jane’s best friend, which is a nice thing in a love interest. He sees from the beginning that Jane has a talent for helping people and brightening things around her, and he doesn’t hesitate to make use of it.
I’ve read a lot of books where there heroine is like that. Sometimes it’s explicitly called out, like in Alcott’s Rose in Bloom, where Rose is sad that she has no special talent, and her uncle points out that she does, and it’s for supporting the people around her. But usually this is something the heroine does involuntarily, and one of my favorite things about Jane Journeys On was that this is as much work for her–as much of an effort and as much of a deliberate thing–as her writing. When she and Michael go to visit that artist, she’s hurt and angry, but at that moment being a bright and appreciative guest is her job, and she does it well.
I loved that part, and lots of others, but there were also parts that frustrated me. Books like this tend to slow down after the romantic resolution, and I think Mitchell knows it, so instead she makes a concerted effort to speed it up, and for me it didn’t work. Then there’s Jane’s best friend Sarah, who gets one of the book’s best moments (a telegram near the end) but seems to have nothing in common with Jane. But neither those nor my other frustrations stop from liking this book a lot. There are low points, sure, but the high points are very high.