22 September, 2010

The Thing about Jane

Back in the day, girls like Jane Eyre were considered subversive and not fit for the eyes of young ladies, especially young ladies of the governess persuasion who might have designs on their employers' hearts. This, my precious ones, is important: without once removing so much as a hairpin (modern temptresses of employers, take note!), Jane winds Mr. Rochester around her tiny, sprite-like finger, where he stays - despite the temptations of the beautiful Blanche, his *SPOILER* wife, and various foreshadowy things like a sundered horse chestnut tree.

I love this book. Every time I read it, Jane becomes more quietly plucky and more her own woman - it's as if she is more than the sum of her chapters. Mr. Rochester becomes more smitten, leaning on Jane's little steel frame figuratively and literally. The entire story has this beautiful arc and in some places comes full circle (see above re. leaning) that makes me feel as if the world ends up in the right place if you just follow your own staunch moral code.

This time through, I noticed some stuff about Jane that I maybe hadn't picked up on before. This, tangentially, is the beauty of books that stand up to multiple readings: once you know the story, you can immerse yourself in the world, seeing things that you didn't see because you were caught up in the DRAMA and the SUSPENSE and perhaps the AWFUL and DEGRADING PROPOSAL by St. John (pronounced "sen-jin," btw) on page 354 of my text. Seriously, that scene drops my jaw every time. And every time Jane says in her quiet way, "no, thank you, I will not marry you," I cheer a little harder for this most subtly feminist of Victorian novels. Remember, at this point Jane has no prospects of ever being married - the pinnacle of existence for the Victorian woman - and chooses to reject St. John anyway. That's ballsy. Y'anyhow, this time through I noticed all the bird and fairy references. In the first 3 pages of the book, Jane reads about sea birds in Bewick's History of British Birds, and it's off to the races from there. Everyone compares her to a bird. She is small, grey, has a bright eye, and perches on chairs instead of sits in them. She is a dove or maybe a sparrow.

And then, when all her dreams are about to come true in the least fulfilling way possible, Jane flies her nest. This realization hit me like a blow to the chest (I have had a blow, Jane!). Touché, Ms. Brontë, touché. (Tangent: I had a good time putting all the different little accents over all those E's. English needs more åccéñts.)

There is a reason that Jane Eyre and her first-person account of her life has grown in my estimation over the last few years (needless to say, it grew quietly.) Despite the giggles that inevitably escape 12-year-old me when Jane says that her "organ of veneration swelled," it's mostly a book about changing your station in life WHILE holding your morals together. I read this paragraph about Jane's struggle to leave Thornfield and promptly sent it to my friend who was going through a similar struggle involving leaving a man she loves but cannot be with*. Here, my chickadees, is the heart of Jane's character:

Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth - so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane - quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can counts its throbs. Preconceived notions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot.

It seems quite modern, doesn't it? And that is why I love Jane.

*because he's a stupid stupidhead who doesn't see how "we should date other people" also means "I don't think you're the one, but I don't want to get rid of you until I find her."


  1. And her REASONS for not marrying St Tool! Not because she didn't want to go to India where she would surely die, not because she didn't want to work hard under his penetrating, unyielding gaze, but because it would be a sham marriage. All the trappings of love but WITHOUT THE ACTUAL LOVE!!! She's no hypocrite, Jane.

  2. I haven't read this or watch a movie of it in years. The last time I did I was in high school and all I remember is my younger cousin popping in right at the most romantic end moment of the film, oblivious to her weeping mom, aunt & cousin watching the movie, and going: "Anybody want a hot dog?" It was hilarious, but has diminished the story's romantic effect for me a little.

  3. Raych - I KNOW. So noble and true. I also played with the idea that Helen Burns represented Jane's true belief in God, and she DIED. Thus, Jane had to take her destiny (density?) into her own bird-like hands (wings?). Not sure if that one would hold up in court, tho. I like one reader's idea that Bertha = Jane's pent up feminist rage, but then it would be a tragic ending instead of a happy one. I like happy endings. Also I realized that Jane all but attempts suicide by nearly agreeing to St. Tool, and then Rochester saves her - thus putting them on even footing for reals. And lastly, Jane visits the Sundered Horse Chestnut tree before she leaves Thornfield and says (wait for it...) "I think there may be life in you yet!" OMG SPOILER!

    Also I wrote "St. Tool!" in my copy the first time he's mentioned. When I teach this book to my HS students, I'mma think of you and then giggle. They'll think I'm crazy.

    Dinah - Oh no. That's like an earworm for when I watch the movie next time! GAH!