Thursday, November 03, 2005

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I started an "all things Jane Eyre" reading jag, beginning with the original. What a wonderful book. I love Jane Eyre!!! Jane is small and dark and smart and, sadly, unloved and unwanted. She was taken in by her uncle and aunt after the death of her parents. The uncle wanted to raise Jane as one of his own children, so of course, he bit the dust pretty soon after taking Jane in. His death request to his wife was that he wanted Jane to be raised and loved as if she were one of their other children. Yeah, that didn't happen. Poor little Jane Eyre, treated like crap, all strikes against her, you can't help but really feel for this sweet, smart, bullied little girl.

Rotten aunt ships Jane off to a charity boarding school where Jane at least gets to start off with a clean slate and prove herself. Well, sort of ~ the creepy headmaster has promised to make everyone aware of how awful she is, but by the time he actually gets around to it, she's already getting on pretty well. It's really not that nice of a place. Jane is used to being exposed to the finer things, although she was not included in them and now she's shipped off to this school where there's not enough food, not enough heat. When the cold and damp get to the girls, disease spreads taking a good portion of the student body. Of course, all those poor dead girls bring attention to the deplorable conditions at the school. Conditions improved greatly after people were made aware of the plight of the surviving students. Jane got her education and even affection. After graduation Jane stayed on as a teacher, until her mentor at the school married and left.

Jane finds a position as a tutor to one girl at Thornfield, working for Edward Rochester. The student in question was his ward, Adele. Mr. Rochester owns a number of properties and spends very little time at Thornfield. The limited servants live a pleasant enough life in the quiet household. Jane has the company of Adele, her nurse and the caretaker who runs the house.

Jane and Rochester meet and everything changes for both of them. I love these chaste old-fashioned romances. I love that little tiny Jane and big gruff Rochester have that "transcends all" kind of love. It's a meeting of the minds thing. They have complementary personalities, and stimulate each other's brains. As a thinking girl, this idea appeals to me, a lot, especially since I've never been one to suffer fools gladly. A pretty face and muscles just aren't enough for me. I need brains and personality and character and humor. Imagine my shock when I fell for the Handsome Honey. When he showed up at my door the first time I knew he was beautiful on the outside and I usually don't go for conventionally handsome men. They sometimes make me a little uncomfortable, but not HH, he is totally unaware of just how attractive he is. This is not me being biased either. However this stuff can be measured, my HH is gorgeous. You should see the reaction he gets from my extended family. I usually feel like I should explain to them that his inner beauty far exceeds his good looks, but they're not looking at his inner beauty and at the moment they are enjoying the view and could care less. When he's not standing in front of them they get to concentrate on how much they like him for me and then the fact that he is such a great guy matters more.

Okay, enough of that. Back to our story. Rochester gives Jane an occupation, a home where she finally feels like she belongs, but he also gives her his respect and becomes a good foil for her. This is a story that I can't imagine being moved out of its time. It's got its little space in the continuum (there is such a thing, isn't there?). You can't make a modern version of Jane Eyre. It just couldn't work, could it. What makes this story extraordinary is Jane and her situation. She's nobody, at least that's the way she's always been treated but she has self respect and brains and she's not afraid. She found her place in the world, she made tough decisions and had the strength to stick to them. Being a good person was her mission and she never strayed from her path. She wasn't all goody two shoes either, but such a good and warm little person. I just adore Jane Eyre, I can't help myself.

I've read some criticism recently about this and Wuthering Heights as great love stories. The last time I read Wuthering Heights I was not remotely loving it. I thought Heathcliff and Catherine were horrible. I wasn't rooting for them, I was repulsed by them. I just couldn't get into the story and put it back down a quarter of the way into it. I've read recently that Rochester is not a very nice guy. True, he wooed sweet little Jane, but had a wife chained up in the attic. I get that this would not be considered the definition of a nice guy. If he really was going to do this right, he could have divorced Bertha and put her in an institution, rather than lying and trying to involve Jane in a sham marriage.

Despite all of that, Rochester's story worked for me. Bertha was his punishment for being a greedy fool. His anger at himself and everyone else, along with his shame and pride created a perfect mix for him to corner himself. His shame and embarrassment make him keep Bertha a secret. His pride and sense of responsibility make him care for her. Bronte made a point of always portraying Bertha as violent and feral. She hasn't any humanity left. It's all been consumed by her madness. This certainly makes Rochester pitiable.

I like that Jane becomes her own woman, shares her inherited wealth with her newfound family and keeps on making the good, smart moral choices, even when they are really hard and painful. I really like that she gets rewarded for her goodness. Although, karmically she deserved an unmarried boyfriend who comes out of the fray with his vision and both of his hands. I guess for Jane and her simple needs, winding up with Rochester, despite his physical condition and the horrors of the journey toward that end, is hitting the jackpot.

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