ThreeOranges: Tastes Classical And Feels Trended (threeoranges) wrote in carol_goodman,
ThreeOranges: Tastes Classical And Feels Trended


Salve and welcome to THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES Reading Group! This will just be a bit of close reading for those who've enjoyed the novel and want to discuss it in a little more depth. Basically, the plan is this:

1) I start off with comments on the first three chapters
2) Comment with your own insights or corrections if you wish
3) If you want to take the next three chapters, just say so, otherwise I'll carry on with the next three next week
4) Lather, rinse, repeat until done

I should also warn you, before I begin, that I am not a Classicist: I never learned Latin or Greek at school, and the few Classical works with which I'm familiar were gobbled up long ago in English translation. Therefore I am working with the slight suspicion that Goodman's slipped in sly Classical puns or references here or there, nods to antiquity which fly right over my ignorant head :) If there are Classicists reading who'd like to contribute their knowledge to the discussion, please do! We would love that!


The lake in my dreams is always frozen. It is never the lake in summer, its water stained black by the shadows of pine trees, or the lake in fall, its surface stitched into a quilt of red and gold, or the lake on a spring night, beaded with moonlight. The lake in my dreams reflects nothing; it is the dead white of a closed door, sealed by ice that reaches sixty feet down to the lake's glacial limestone cradle.

Attention: Poet At Work :) This opening sequence looks at first like vivid writing for its own sake, but on re-reading we can see how much information Goodman's actually giving us. Her narrator, unnamed as yet, combines a poet's eye for beauty with a grounding sense of realism ("I dance the way skating looks, not feels") and carries a secret fear which works its way even into her dreams ("then comes the moment when I'm afraid to look down, afraid of what I'll see beneath the surface of the ice").

We also have the first description of a Goodman "body of water", here Heart Lake, characterized season by season like a length of cloth ("stained", "stitched", "beaded") before settling on the "dead white" of a "closed door". So what we have is the picture of our narrator skating - etching - a portrait of a face into that blank ice, and then seeing that same face sink into the water. A nice image of obsession, as if all our narrator's physical and mental efforts have only been for the owner of that face.

Chapter One

Our narrator, Jane Hudson (probably named after the Hudson River), describes her experiences of teaching Latin to the girls at Heart Lake. It's a great description of insecurity and nervousness on the teacher's part ("When they offer to show me the undersides of their wrists for traces of letters I am unsure if I should look. If I look, am I showing I don't trust them? If I don't look, will they think that I'm naive?") However, in my opinion there's something unrealistic about a group of girls who've got "troubled pasts" (to put it delicately) and yet decide to "go easy" on a new, insecure teacher. What is it about Jane which brings out their sensitive and empathetic side? I don't think we ever get that adequately explained, and for me that's a weakness.

Classical names for students:

Athena - Greek goddess of civilization, wisdom and war, though the Romans occassionally used this name for their equivalent goddess Minerva as well. Frequently portrayed with a helmet and full armour.
Vesta - Roman goddess of home and family, with the added connotation of "Vestal Virgin" from that goddess's followers
Aphrodite - Greek goddess of lust, beauty and sexuality
Octavia, the name of two Roman women betrayed by their husbands - Mark Antony's wife (he fell in love with Cleopatra) and Nero's wife (he fell in love with Poppaea). If I were that girl I would think about choosing another name for Latin class, wouldn't you?
Flavia, female form of "Flavius", meaning "blonde".

"Heart and dagger" imagery: it's a nice touch that Jane spots Athena's graffiti of "a heart with a dagger through its middle" and dismisses it as "cheap teenage symbolism" when not two pages later she'll be describing the Crevecoeur device which used to stand above the door: The fanlight is plain glass now, but when I went here it was stained glass: a red heart split in two by a green fleur-de-lis-handled dagger and the family motto in yellow: Cor te reducit - the heart leads you back. In other words, when the image appears in a teenager's drawing, it's "cheap", but when it's in stained-glass, it's suddenly worth remembering and describing in detail ;)

Portraits of the faculty: Heart Lake is such a "woman's place" that it's almost a shock to read it again and spot that there is a man amongst the staff - Simon Ross, the maths teacher. However, he's barely described in comparison to the other women around the table. It's another nice touch that Goodman gives quite a few of the teachers little disturbing touches in her descriptions - Simon Ross's fingertips are "stained red" from his marker; Gwen Marsh's forearms are bandaged (which she claims is due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but for all we know she might harm herself like many of the students); Candace Lockhart's eyes (and manner) are as "clear and cold as lake-water".

The Crevecoeur Legend: Crever = French, "to die"; coeur = French, "heart". So that would be the "DeadHeart" family, then? Notice the themes of "suspicious drowning" which occurs again in THE DROWNING TREE, and the name "Iris", which will be used again as the name of the heroine in THE SEDUCTION OF WATER. Nice ending, with the idea that this creepy legend is waiting for its inevitable fulfilment.

Chapter Two

This opens with a good solid portrait of domesticity, Jane's home-life with her daughter Olivia (Classical reference? No idea, unless it's to the olive branch as a sign of peace-making). Here Goodman introduces the legend of the Wilis, nymphs who seduce men and lead them to their deaths by drowning. Could this be the source of the phrase "it gives me the willies" (the creeps)? Probably not, actually, but it's fun to think so.

Entrance of the Three Naked Stoners: This is what, late autumn? Rather them skinny-dipping in a sub-zero lake than me :) Joking apart, I always find it hard to believe stories which have people diving straight into a still lake and finding it chilly but bearable - I tried that when I was a teenager, in a mountain lake in Southern Germany, and damn it was cold. My legs seized up, literally refused to move, and it took all my strength to haul myself out of the freezing murk and back onto the side of the lake again. If anyone here regularly swims in lakes, did you have the same first experience as I did, or am I just a sissy too used to swimming pools? :)

Domina Lacunae: In my day the girls routinely made sacrifices to the spirit of the lake. Sometimes we called her the Lady of the Lake... which we later translated to "Domina Lacunae", and in our senior year we called her the White Goddess. This I know is a reference to Robert Graves' study The White Goddess, in which he argues that the worship of goddesses is somehow hot-wired into humanity and occurred long before Christianity. It's very clever of Goodman to get in a scholarly reference for this student superstition, and even more clever to call this personfication "Domina Lacunae". Because the word lacuna doesn't just mean "lagoon" - in literary terms, it means "a gap" in a text. Jane Hudson's own understanding of her past is full of lacunae, missed-out snippets of information which, when found, will end up casting her whole history in a different light. So you see, Jane Hudson herself could be described as a "domina lacunae"! Very clever stuff!

Well, I'm done. Would anyone like to go next?
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