Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Hooray! I finished Jane Eyre about a decade after I first tried to read it! I don't know about you, but I always feel such smug satisfaction after reading a work of classic literature. I can feel my snobbery increase.

And alas, I must confess that I actually enjoyed Jane Eyre quite a bit. Ten years ago I found the title character to be boring, but I think I quit reading too early. She didn't really win my respect until after Rochester proposes. There were certainly signs of her feisty independence prior to that point, but I was unconvinced. Then she really turned it on:

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.

Poor Jane! You give it to that big, rich oaf you're sure is cruelly teasing you! And what do you know, little Jane Eyre turned out to be quite the budding feminist:

"Oh comply!” [the inner voice] said. “Think of his misery, think of his danger, look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature, consider the recklessness following on despair; soothe him, save him, love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?

Still indomitable was the reply. “
I care for myself.

Love it. You've got to love Jane, if for no other reason, because she really knows how to stick to her guns. She is not immune to emotion and temptation, but she is a strong enough woman to make her own choices.

After reading Jane Eyre, I feel I am now well-versed in the great romantic literary heroes from the first half of the nineteenth century: Darcy, Heathcliff, and Rochester. (Was Pride and Prejudice written before 1800? Well, let's pretend here that it wasn't.) It seems like I read somewhere that Rochester was voted the most romantic literary hero. I guess I can see that. He's more passionate than Darcy, but less crazy than Heathcliff. Not a bad combo.

Like Jane, Rochester also had to grow on me as the novel progressed. It was very well done of Bronte, I must say. I loved this little description that really seemed up sum up Rochester's feelings towards Jane:

Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen to me incomprehensible; in the present instance he took no notice of my abrupt vocal response, but smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes; it was the real sunshine of feeling—he shed it over me now.

It's so romantic! He gives her his special smile! Sure, Rochester has some MAY-JA flaws, but as with Heathcliff, I'm willing to forgive them because I know his history. And poor Rochester! Married to a crazy lady for four years before he finally decides that he deserves to have a life of his own. But he can't escape her, and Thornfield becomes tainted with her presence:

The glamour of inexperience is over your eyes,” he answered; “and you see it through a charmed medium; you cannot discern that the gilding is slime and the silk draperies cobwebs; that the marble is sordid slate, and the polished woods mere refuse chips and scaly bark.

It is so tempting to hate Rochester for what he does to both Bertha and Jane. But I found that I couldn't hate him. In fact, the way he treats his mad wife is actually kind of endearing (once you remind yourself that mental health professionals at that time probably couldn't have done anything more for Bertha):

I could have lodged her safety enough, had not a scruple about the unhealthiness of the situation, in the heart of a wood, made my conscience recoil from the arrangement. Probable those damp walls would soon have eased me of her charge; but to each villain his own vice; and mine is not a tendency to indirect assassination, even of what I most hate.

My favorite passage in the book occurs after Jane and Rochester's wedding is thwarted, when he confesses to her in private. He pours out his heart to her describing the misery he's lived with and the hope that Jane brought into his life. It's so well done that you can easily forgive him for wanting to marry Jane despite the fact that his wife was still alive. He loves Jane so much!

Contrast that with the proposal Jane gets from St. John Rivers. Charlotte Bronte, I bow down to you. If the reader was unconvinced about Rochester's love for Jane, then this sealed the deal. When St. John bumbles his proposal so massively, you start to see how accurately Rochester saw Jane. Unlike St. John, Rochester looked past the exterior to the real person within, and that is who he loved. I was indisputably on Team Rochester at that point. When he said the following to Jane, telling her that he would continue to love her even if she went mad like Bertha, I audibly sighed:

Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken it would be my treasure still . . . . In your quiet moments you should have no watcher and no nurse but me; and I could hang over you with untiring tenderness, though you gave me no smile in return; and never weary of gazing into your eyes, thought they no longer had a ray of recognition for me.

Is that not the sweetest thing ever? And how ironic that Rochester is so willing to be Jane's nurse, but after he is blinded and maimed he doubts that she would want him in his state.

As far as the writing goes, I think Jane Eyre beats Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. It is so beautiful and vivid. But as far as the love story goes, I say it comes in third. I don't know; I really enjoyed this book, but I didn't fall in love with it.

BTW, I added the film version to Netflix queue, the one starring the actors in the picture I chose. Is it just me, or are both of them a wee too attractive to be Jane and Rochester? I mean, considering that the book hits us over the head again and again with the fact that they're both ugly? I don't care, I still want to see it. I'll just tell myself that what was ugly back then is seksi now. Kind of like when people used to tell me that I would have been the epitome of beauty two hundred years ago because I'm plump and pale. Gee thanks, that really helps me now in the twenty-first century.

(I really have to get this shirt now.)


JG said...

You are a much more thorough reviewer than I am. Yikes.

Lindsey Lou said...

Uh, check out my latest one-or-two paragraph reviews. You really have to be in a certain mood to write a thorough review.

Traxy said...

Brilliant review. Think you've managed to add fuel to the fire, though. Rochester! <3

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have made a better review :D
i absolutely enjoyed Jane Eyre its a nice love story.
And the characters in the movie were very nice looking to me too.

Goldenlaser said...

during last 3 days i also read Jane Eyre and 2006 version moive.
i read it more than 3 times.so much love!

Katie W said...

I love love love Jane Eyre. I love Pride and Prejudice also. But I would much rather have Mr. Rochester for a husband. Someone who tells you every day how awesome you are? You can't beat that. And the unrestrained passion? Got to love it! Great post!

KeriAnn said...

Good Review.
I am acting as Jane Eyre for Drama.
She has MAJOR mood swings!
Cool Character all up though!

I love that she is capable of doing everything herself, and love that she shows it too!

Great Character!

Kristine & Richard Low said...

I stumbled on your blog....I just watched Jane Eyre and now I'm dying to read it...kind of backwards...but the actress is not TOO attractive, I think, she does have duck lips. :-P Your post makes me want to read this book so badly.

Erin Landis said...

I was checking the internet for reasons why I should keep reading Jane Eyre. This gave me a reason too. Because reading this fablous blog i'm going to finish it. So I can have the pride of finishing a work of rather hard litature and to know whats so special about Jane Eyre. Your blog was well written and had a lot of voice in it, loved it!

bee said...

cant wait to see the movie! :)