(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: a Review

Spoilers! Don't say I didn't warn you. 
 For the record, there's probably nothing I can say about this book that ten other people haven't already said much more eloquently, but I'm giving it my best shot.  Because I have a blog, and that's what you do! Jane Eyre is amazing. 
So I first read it an eon ago in sixth grade, and even back when I was as twerpy a little ragamuffin as ever thought the cafeteria chicken nuggets tasted like rubber, this book was very, very special to me.  I felt like there was a whole world of books opened up to me when I read it because it was so Old-Timey, but at the same time why would I need to read anything else, because how could anything else be as good? This is basically how it went down the first time I experienced Jane Eyre (Oh, it's not just a book, it's an experience):
  • I wanted to befriend awesome, spunky little Jane.
  • I wanted  to befriend awesome, spunky big (though technically still little) Jane.
  • I was totally horrified when she slept in her friend's deathbed. This was before I knew that Weird Death Scenes For Saintly Young Girls are a staple of Old-Timey books.
  • I was totally horrified when she almost married her cousin. This was before I knew that Cousinly Romantic Entanglements are a staple of Old-Timey books.
  • I savored Every. Single. Jane-Rochester exchange (The fire and the intense flirtation that inevitably ensues after life-saving! The guy who gets bitten! The banter! The gypsy who is actually Mr. Rochester in drag! The proposal closely followed by the lightning-struck tree that is symbolic and foreshadowy! The attic-lurking ghoul who is actually his wiiiiifeee)

 photo tumblr_static_tumblr_mbd530nmxl1qmary5o1_500_zps406d383f.gif
Jane is the wind beneath my wings. She is resilient, passionate, fiercely intelligent, independent and determined to be true to herself. She stands up for her beliefs and finds a happy ending on her own terms, to which a lot of Victorian readers said "Booo!Someone fetch my smelling salts, a woman just asserted her rights as a human being!" In fact, Charlotte Bronte first published the book under the gender-neutral pseudonym Currer Bell because she wanted it to be recieved without any bias based on the author's sex. This plan sort of backfired because the mysterious name only generated more controversy about and interest in a book that was already deemed pretty controversial and interesting, and it became an even bigger ordeal for poor Charlotte when she eventually came forward as the author and SHE WAS A SHE!! (Credit for the Knowledge of Happenings in this paragraph goes to The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller.)
Necessary beloved quote:

  "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -I have as much soul as you- and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; - it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal - as we are!...I am no bird, no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you."

 photo tumblr_m0sudr4KLk1rrdywqo1_500_zps2ef7a85f.gif

I have revisited many times to memorize by heart all the "good parts" with Jane and Mr. Rochester, skipping over all the "bad parts" (which mostly had to do with St. John, obviously).  But speaking of the devil (just kidding St. John, please don't long-windedly berate me or icily shun me for mentioning the devil in reference to youuuuuu) this time around I have a slightly different perspective: a good deal of the story's appeal definitely lies within the intrigue and romance, but equally compelling is the examination of the moral conflict between passion and principle. When I was younger I saw no point whatsoever to Jane's entanglement with the preachy, drippy, decidedly unsexy COUSIN St. John (I may also harbor a slight grudge against him because the pronunciation of his name is dumb) but now I think I get that it's the culmination of Jane's lifelong struggle between the two extremes. Becoming Rochester-the-sleazy-tormented-dreamboat-bigamist's mistress would result in unhappiness because it would be motivated by an excess of passion, and a loveless marriage with St. John would result in unhappiness because it would be motivated by an excess of adherence to principles and duty. The deal is that the two have to be reconciled for everything to really be hunky-dory. Cool, right?


It strikes this magical balance between the page-turning deliciousness of a brooding Gothic romance (Mr. Rochester, guys, OMG OMG) and Brontë's super-smart examination of what it really means to find your place in the world and be a good person. What more can you ask for? NOTHING, that's what! Man, it's just my favorite thing. Now time to have an Eyre-athon and watch every single movie version I can find. And start Wuthering Heights by Charlotte's reclusive sister, Emily.

No comments:

Post a Comment