Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jane Eyre

I must be one of the few holders of an English degree who has never read Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's iconic plain-governess-loves-brooding-employer story.  Somehow or other it was never assigned to me, and I never felt any inclination during the past 25 years to read it on my own.  But now I have read it, and my reaction is:  what took me so long? 

I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would.  I was expecting something darker and more labored, maybe more tedious than what I found, which was actually a very cerebral love story, told by a narrator who knows she has a good brain and calmly insists on using it.  Victorian literature keeps on surprising me. 

The love between Jane and her employer, Mr. Rochester, doesn't hit them like a thunderbolt.  They neither of them find the other attractive at first, but they do find each other interesting.  They have long, amusing conversations through which their love grows:
"Not three in three thousand raw schoolgirls would have answered me as you have just done.  And then, after all, I go too fast in my conclusions:  for what I yet know, you may be no better than the rest;  you may have intolerable defects to counterbalance your few good points."  

"And so may you," I thought.  My eye met his as the idea crossed my mind...
Melodramatic events keep them apart for a while.  We don't know what happens to Rochester during this time, but for Jane it's a period of hardships and patience.  She wanders, starving and begging for a time, is taken in by a pious and studious family, is courted by the son, St. John Rivers, finds a teaching position which she enjoys. 

Just as we observed Jane's love for Rochester growing as she understood him better and better, we also follow her growing friendship with St. John, and see how knowledge of his character teaches her that she could not be happy married to him.
You should hear him himself on the subject:  he has again and again explained that it is not himself, but his office he wishes to mate.  He has told me I am formed for labour--not for love:  which is true, no doubt.  But, in my opinion, if I am not formed for love, it follows that I am not formed for marriage.  Would it not be strange, Die, to be chained for life to a man who regarded one but as a useful tool?
Not that Jane Eyre is without elements of mystery and fantasy.  The night before devastating events separate her from Rochester, she dreams of a child, and relates her belief that dreams of infants or children are always portents of disaster.  And her ultimate reunion with Rochester is effected through an apparently supernatural event. 

This is a melodrama, a romance.  But the romance is between intelligent, interesting, and morally courageous people who make mistakes and learn from them.  

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  1. I enjoyed reading this review as Jane Eyre is a favourite of mine. It's sometimes better to meet classics outside of school so you know that your opinions on them are yours alone, if that makes sense?

  2. Not only when you are out of school, but when you are much older, yes. So many books I thought boring in school are really resonating with me now. I can see why Jane is a favorite of yours; it's one of mine now, too.