After much hesitation and deliberation I am starting this blog and what better way than to start off with a mini review of one of my favourties, if not favourite book of all time : Jane Eyre.
I remember vividly turning my nose up at a Jane Eyre, at age 13/14, after seeing a copy of it lying around a friend's house. She proclaimed it was "boring and hard to read", I looked at it with equal contempt. The cover, which was a painting of a young woman clad in a dark grey dress and wearing a forlorn expression, was hardly inspiring.
I revisited the story with the BBC adaption, but it wasn't until the 2011 adaptation (a beautiful rendition of the novel) that I fully released how compelling the character of 'Jane Eyre' was and needed to understand her in further depth.
I find Jane Eyre inspiring for a number for reasons. But foremost, it is for Jane's deep set moral compass and understanding of herself, that transcends her own worldly desires. She is able to understand what is right and what is wrong for her, even if the decision is heartbreaking to make. Take example of Jane's decision to leave 'Thornfield Hall'. Jane takes up residence at 'Thornfield' as a governess, after leaving the school she both attended as a student and briefly as a teacher. Jane leaves 'Lowood' school a hardened and emotionally closed off young woman, after learning to reign in her tumultuous feelings of loss, abandonment and anger she endures as a child both in her Aunt's house (where she grows up) and at 'Lowood' school.
At 'Thornfield', she feels that she is able to shed all her former feelings of being insignificant, unwanted and is made to feel included as an equal. She finds contentment both in fellow kindred spirits who also live at 'Thornfield' and of course in the character of 'Mr Rochester' who moves her emotionally. Jane Eyre does have certain romantic and passionate elements, but I feel that often they play a main focus in how people interpret the story. The romantic relationship is integral to the progression of the story and of course to Jane's own growth and I feel that these particular elements, of how they affect her later actions, to be more interesting.
Jane leaves 'Thornfield Hall', after 'Mr Rochester', the master, owner of Thonrfield hall and also Jane's employer, proposes marriage. The two begin a passionate affair which ceases after Jane learns of 'Mr Rochester's' first wife, who has been locked away in the attic in entire secrecy. The theme of the 'Lady in the Attic' can be revisited and explored later, but her discovery sets things into motion to leave 'Thornfield' behind.
After this incident Mr Rochester, who can be likened to a half wild animal, professes his passion and deep love for Jane. And a plan is set in motion for her to stay with him. However what I find inspiring is Jane's understanding of what is right for her, of what is honest and dishonest to her own belief system. Despite being able to still live happily at 'Thornfield Hall' with the people she loves, who have given her employment and kindness, she flees in the middle of the night unsure of where to go and what to do. Although this move is highly dramatic, she is able to identify that what might make her temporarily happy will not satisfy her in the long run. As a result of her actions, Jane suffers degradation (begging, sleeping rough, starvation) and finds her own independence when she finds strangers who take her in. They of course turn out to be her cousins, but she finds friends in them who match her own sentiments, becomes a teacher of her own school and inherits her own fortune at the result of an Uncle's death.
It is only then, on these equal grounds: as a young woman with her own independence, peers of her own choosing and having lived her own life is she able to return to 'Mr Rochester' who has atoned for his own sins.
Another aspect of Jane's character that I find deeply inspiring is her ability to not let past incidents jade or corrupt her. Orphaned as a baby, she is left in the care of her 'Aunt Reed'. A proud, haughty and heartless woman who excludes Jane from being part of the family she grows up in. She is constantly told she "cannot be loved" that she is a "liar" and is often beaten as a result of being told these things. Jane undergoes psychological trauma at being locked in the 'Red Room'. Jane believes the room to be haunted and is certain something unholy occupies the room awaiting to swoop down and take her (Jane revisits this trauma as an adult after being locked in a room in 'Thornfield Hall') and is forced to stay in there night and day as 'punishment' for bad behaviour. Shortly after this, Jane is carted off to 'Lowood' school, a school that believes in a 'starvation diet' (a bare minimum of food to survive on) to correct its students. Here Jane is also told she is a "deceiver, a liar", despite being innocent and is told that she is incapable of being loved by anyone. However Jane seeks her own love and triumphs. She finds the acceptance of a teacher and the love of 'Helen Burns' a sickly girl who teaches her to control her anger and frustration.
As an adult, Jane closes this chapter as something that has shaped her into a focused and rational human being. She uses her weaknesses and insecurities to better herself. Instead of growing to be cold and heartless, Jane learns to understand the faults of others and how they may not necessarily be of her own doing. Jane re-visits 'Aunt Reed' at an older age and fully accepts that her Aunt's inability to love her was due to her own callous nature, that even at her death bed she cannot deny. Jane shows kindness to her Aunt who proclaims "even as a baby I could not love you" and instead of hatred, Jane shows pity at her tormented Aunt and forgives her.
Jane Eyre also touches on the subject of the 'Other'. The unknown. It is shown most clearly in 'Mr Rochester's' wife 'Bertha Antoinetta Mason' a woman from 'Spanish Town, Jamaica,'. A Creole woman. Although her ancestry is never delved into, there is much room to suggest that she is of mixed descent. ' Berthas' Mother is described as mad, livid woman. A woman with low standards, an uncontrollable, ghastly woman and 'Bertha' is described as inheriting these same defects. Is it possible that 'Bertha' was never mad, but a woman of her own independence, a woman who rejected the Victorian limitations set on woman in England? 'Bertha's' temper rises and when she is shipped off to England, 'Rochester' is unable to cope with her ripening temper and is therefore locked away in his attic, never to be seen again.
'Bertha' is described as a woman with strong features, a "creature" with long, matted black hair. But nonetheless was a beauty in her prime. The character of 'Blanche Ingram' plays into this idea of the 'Oriental beauty' with being described as having "olive skin" and "an Oriental eye". She is used to highlight Jane's meekness and plainness, a rival for 'Rochester's' affection. 'Ingram' is no doubt a beauty, but also the kind of beauty that 'Rochester' would be interested in. No doubt Charlotte Bronte was influenced by the work of Byron, in constructing the elaborate character of 'Miss Blanche Ingram'. But again, 'Ingram' is described as being a hideously arrogant young woman, a threat to Jane's own stability. An external threat, brought in from goodness knows where.
What I find interesting about 'Bertha's' character, is how it relates to the shutting away of cultures that were colonised, how anything that did not fit in the status quo imposed was conveniently shut away and disposed of. The relationship between the coloniser and the colonised.'Bertha' can also be explored in the way she mirrors Jane, as an alter ego. 'Bertha' represents all of Jane's 'locked away' anger and frustrations, quietly bubbling away and ready to rise. Anger at her limitations of being a woman subservient to a man who both employs her and loves her, anger at never being his equal, anger at being mistreated as a child and anger at having to endure her uncertain and wavering social position. 'Bertha' visits Jane one night when she is sleeping and rips her wedding veil infront of her (she appears as a ghostly vision, I must admit I was a little terrified at reading this particular scene) and only when 'Bertha' dies after setting 'Thornfield Hall' alight is Jane able to make peace with all aspects of herself.
Jane Eyre serves as a proto-feminist novel, one that explores the nature of women in a restricted Victorian society and touches upon the idea of women holding their own private inner monologues- without the influence of men . Thinking, feeling and deciding for themselves. It was the first of its kind to explore this idea and even in the present day, much of it is relatable and identifiable. Jane Eyre flows beautifully, with rich language and expression. The Gothic horror element is of notice too and is genuinely terrifying at times. All in all Jane Eyre, a novel by 'Charlotte Bronte' is one that cannot be dismissed.
*sidenote: Jane Eyre flows much better and has a more agreeable storyline than Wuthering Heights, if you feel that you are not a fan of the other Bronte sister's work!