Category Archives: Brontë, Charlotte

Jane Eyre: Read from May 05 to 15, 2013

My favorite part of the novel was the time Jane spent with the Rivers’. Though I didn’t know that these people would ultimately turn out to be her relations, there was an easy, comfortable homeyness to their relationships. I also enjoyed how St. John was, aside from marriage, able to get the better of Jane. I say this not so much that I felt Jane needed any due, but rather because she, as written, had no real faults. This lack of fault in Jane, aside from a stubborn streak, is in part what keeps the novel as a whole from being a true masterpiece; the other nibbling quibble I have is Charlotte’s inability to fully describe a setting better than a rough sketch.

I could better forgive the later (the sketchiness of the descriptions) had Jane been someone who was not so astute, so observant, and also so taken by passion. I could also better understand it had Jane not been an artist. Yet this inability of the author to really let us see (see better than Mr. Rochester in the finale) coupled with the fact that Jane isn’t an unreliable narrator – people who are mean to her are not because of any oversight of her’s, they just ARE bad people – all this weighs the novel down and keeps it from rising to what I was expecting to be a much more brilliant novel.

Jane’s lack of faults and an overall lack of any sense of humor in the story (I can’t have more than passingly chuckled only a handful of times, and then it probably wasn’t even intentional) makes the novel a bit dull. Not even the unending pun of Jane (as in one who is plain) and Eyre (as in air, ire, heir) could get a rise from me.

Yet when the story is really going, when Jane is as passionate as the terrible weather that soaks every page with rain and snow and storm, when things are hot, the novel is really good and it’s hard to not get caught up in it. I did believe she loved Mr. Rochester and I believed he loved her.

But what I loved was the complicated relationship between her and St. John. I liked him even better than strange, ugly Mr. Rochester because he was flawed in a way that real people are flawed. He was sort of unbearable, intolerable, proud, and haughty. Add in that he thought himself blameless, that he believed his name was already written in God’s book, made him interesting – more interesting than Jane or her cousins.

In fact, Olivia, who loved St. John but whom he denied, as nice but dim as she was, served as sort of a metaphor for what a person the author didn’t believe people should be yet made Jane, in many ways, just as dim and dull.

As for the tendency towards melodrama in the novel, I kept wondering if Charlotte was writing a novel she was hoping to see herself in or was speaking to some greater truth of the human condition that 150 odd years since its writing no longer is able to get across well. There are moments, especially the fire at the end that are so over the top that the novel felt indulgent, however, it was such a good scene that it was entertaining. I wonder if Charlotte was just trying to spice things up a bit after pages and pages of interesting, but rather long-winded dialog.

I do understand that the novel has political and social consequences that in their historical context are quite important, and as a feminist tract this novel is very important in the western tradition. However, with fresh, modern eyes, I never felt that Jane was doing anything worthy of even a mild blush. No consideration was made for what other people in the novel felt about Jane’s situation so to learn that the novel was met with social resistance is purely a matter of the times the novel was written, an interesting societal footnote, but not at all indicative of the text on a larger scheme. There seems to be little intention on Charlotte’s behalf to ‘shock’ readers otherwise she would have put Jane’s travails in a larger, more controversial frame.

To better explain, it’s like talking about very early season episodes of The Simpsons: they were controversial at the time but there is nothing controversial in them, they just caused an uproar because they showed a rougher side to family humor. It was much ado about nothing.

And so I feel too is Jane Eyre: much ado about nothing.

Yet I did really enjoy the novel too. The endless dialog was, unlike Dostoevsky, never dull, seemed natural, and never dragged even when it was far from brief. Characters seemed most ‘in their element’ when conversing and when the story demanded action that Charlotte didn’t take into melodramatic waters, the situations were very interesting, such as the death of Mrs. Sarah Reed (another great character). Here the novel shines and though there may not be anything earth-shattering in its observations, that’s not what the book was going for. Charlotte wanted to draw us in, make us live with these people, make us feel that love she felt, and in that regard I was quite convinced.

83% done with Jane Eyre

I swear to molasses, if Charlotte ends this novel with everyone too proud to let love have its way I’m going to be very annoyed.

Is this what pious virtue is – to reserve oneself in the presence of true love because their are some strings attached?

If you love someone, be with them. Quit being a proud pain in the butt and stop thinking you have to be miserable in this life to please the master of the next.

77% done with Jane Eyre

In Nostromo, Decoud is stuck on the island for only a week yet commits suicide out of loneliness. Oliver Twist spends most of the novel recovering from some ailment that anyone else would brush off without a thought.

Here Jane is described as emaciated after only a day without a meal. A day. It’s all beautifully written and heart wrenching, but it’s only a day.

The constitution of protagonists is questionable.

71% done with Jane Eyre

Ah-ha! Back to the good stuff!

I’ll admit the relationship is teetering on the melodramatic and sometimes goes quite over the hedge, but it’s really hard not to get caught up in the affair. To love someone and to be loved that much, especially these two people, plain as she is and rough as he is. I really want to see them resolved.

And the way he could so well articulate his love for her is beautiful.

60% done with Jane Eyre

There’s really no good way to keep a story interesting when the two lovers finally express their feelings for each other and spend the next month being all happy. The tension and drama from the previous 200 pages deflates like a sad balloon. Charlotte tries by here and there confusing the dialogue of the two so you’re not sure who’s talking, but she only does it a few times.

Let’s get back to the good stuff.

48% done with Jane Eyre

Mr. Rochester is quite fun. Dressing up as an old gypsy fortune teller woman is to draw Jane out is unique.

However it’s not wholly unusual. Levin was only ever able to express his love to Kitty with the 19th century Russian equivalent of Scrabble.

It seems it’s now forgotten how difficult it can be for us guys to express ourselves in love. We’re expected to be so fearless declaring, but we’ve never been.

39% done with Jane Eyre

Charlotte plays a neat trick with the character development of Jane that I love.

After the typhus outbreak, the next 8 years are skipped over until she leaves. We see nothing more of her struggles with her hot head. Yet we remember she’s still willful. When Mr. Rochester leaves, we then get her inner monologue as she steadies her mind with what can only be from her years of schooling. Those years fill right in.

33% done with Jane Eyre

Though I’m not one for romance novels, I get the impression that many a romance novelist has tried to capture the essence of the fire in the bedroom scene. I doubt any of them have ever come close to capturing the perfection of it too.

On another artistic front, while I love the bad weather of the novel, Charlotte loves the pathetic fallacy even more. Everything happens during a storm. King Lear would be proud.

25% done with Jane Eyre

I’m very curious as to why Jane is always thinking about or imagining ghosts and phantoms. Perhaps it’s because of her time in the red-room, but there does seem to be something deeper too. Perhaps it’s in a way a manifestation of her desire for something interesting to happen? Excitement? Or maybe even further down she is hoping for some spiritual contact with her parents?

Loved the meeting of Adele.

17% done with Jane Eyre

Now this is more like it! Unlike that blathering buffoon Dickens and his tepid dishrag of innocent banality Oliver Twist, here’s an orphan with some life in her, some depth, some fire and emotion!

I already like the character Jane, she’s rambunctious, doesn’t suffer fools, and is a fighter.

My only quibble is that I’m not sure she’s unreliable as a narrator – the people being mean to her do seem a bit flat.