Book Fortytwo: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Yay, book #1 for the Everything Old is New Again Challenge!

I must jot down my thoughts on Jane Eyre before I delve into Wide Sargasso Sea, since I have a feeling my original ideas will be completely and utterly different once that happens. You know, because I'm suggestible like that.

First off, I've been meaning to read it for, like, ever, because of the striking similarities between it and my own name (remove the "a" from the end of Ara, and flip the two words and there you have it). (When people hear my name they often like to call me Jane Eyre because they think they're being funny. Everyone thinks they're funny.) Secondly, this book rules. I love being called "Reader" by the narrator, something that seems to have disappeared from modern fiction. It's a super story, and even though I knew of the main spoiler--crazy lady locked in the attic!--I had no idea about anything else that happened, so the story kept me riveted. Who knew so much happened to poor little Jane?!

Thirdly, I have all sorts of crazy ideas about the inner meaning of Jane Eyre and its commentary on feminism. Perhaps this is old news to everyone else who read this a long time ago, but I found the message pretty heavy handed. And this is what I think the message is: marriage is impossible without some kind of equality in the relationship. I think Jane first refused to marry Mr. Rochester not because of the crazy wife in the attic, but because she couldn't handle the inherent inequality in their relationship. She goes on and on about refusing the clothing and presents and attention because she's uncomfortable with the fact that she is still like a governess (and 18 years old!) while he is a wealthy landowner who was her employer (and almost 40!). And if she married him at that point, even though she loved him, she knew there was no way for her to be on equal terms with him. She spends her whole life being dependent on others, and I think her decisions at this point are driven by her desire to change that. Then, when she leaves and finds herself with Mr. Rivers, the point becomes even more obvious, given that he openly states he doesn't want a wife who he loves and who will be his partner, but someone to serve God and serve him. Ugh and double ugh. Who hated St. John as much as I did? Every time he started with the speechifying I felt my eyes glaze over and my brain freeze up. Jane was a smart, smart cookie to refuse to agree to marrying him. I love her seed of thought here as she contemplates marriage with him:

"... But as his wife--at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked--forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital --this would be unendurable."

And then (clearly spoilers abound here) when she finally goes back to find Mr. Rochester, it only makes sense that he is now blind and crippled, Thornfield burned to the ground, and clearly not as wealthy as he once was, living like a recluse. So when Jane arrives and finds him in this state, it puts them on more equal footing. She can help him in a way that he didn't need before, she can add something to the relationship that goes beyond being some kind of young, doting trophy or obligated slave, and now she is the one with the money. And the fact that crazyatticwife is now dead is kind of a moot point, in my opinion. Though perhaps that is supposed to be another example of what happens in a marriage of such extreme inequality of disposition and station in life, that one of you is going to end up crazy and then dead, but not after completely ruining the other's entire life?

Again, I say all this having not yet finished Wide Sargasso Sea and kind of ignoring the humanity of the crazyatticwife, so I might eat my words, but I still feel determined that this was her whole point.

Or maybe it's just a love story, pure and simple. Which is really kind of a nice love story on its own and I just pooped all over it by analyzing the bejeezus out of it. Sorry.

*Also, I just wanted to add how much I loved Dame Darcy's illustrations in the edition I read. Swoon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

NO!! You are SO right about Jane, and about Brontë's not-so-subtle goals in writing her the way she did! It's not a simple love story; it is FRAUGHT. And Jane is a feminist! She all but says so when she talks about women having needs equal to men and how they shouldn't be shut up in the house all the time.

Go with your gut on this one. I will passionately back you up!

P.S. - St. John I would like to punch in the face. Never has outward beauty so concealed such a glacial resolve! AGH!

September 19, 2010 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger raych said...

I'm with Tikabelle - St John is a tool and Charlotte Bronte was an uber-feminist. Men had all the power in a marriage (which is why Bertha is up in the ATTIC and not sueing Rochester's ass) and Jane, though she had power over him emotionally, wanted some sort of assurance that she could maintain her own identity against Rochester in a marriage. I think she would have married him sans Bertha, but she would have been uncomfortable the whole time.

So, good on you for seeing past the love story. Even though the love story is SO GREAT! *swoons*

September 19, 2010 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Lance Sleuthe said...

Your note about being addressed as "reader" made me think of Italo Calvino's wonderful book "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller ...", which is one of the few works of fiction I know written throughout in second person. Have you read it?

September 20, 2010 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger bellcurves said...

I loved this book so much! I do happen agree w/'re right on about Bronte's message about marriage and equality. Bronte and hence, Jane, were super feminists esp. of their time. Yeah, I hated St. John when I read this book in 11th grade, and nope, that hasn't changed. Nah, you haven't ruined it, b/c it still is a great story--or love story--and that's why this book endures!

September 24, 2010 at 4:17 AM  
Blogger librarianista said...

I recently read this for the first time, too, and I am so feeling you on the St. John hatred. What a butt. And, being the godless heathen that I am, I loved that the real villian of the piece was the religious guy.

I like your reading about what made their marriage possible, too. Like, it's clear that Jane is ACTUALLY, inherently Rochester's equal all along, but all the exterior differences of station make it impossible for them to really be together--until all those exterior differences are taken away.

October 4, 2010 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger jewelknits said...

I'm with you; I found that it's important for me to get at least a rough draft of my review set up before I go on to the next book, as each book puts you in a different mindset, and the lingering feeling you may get from one doesn't carry over once you're immersed in a totally different type of book.

Julei @ Knitting and Sundries

October 8, 2010 at 4:13 PM  

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