Or is that my memory is failing me so that the pleasure is the same as the first time because I hardly remembered it? I read it about twenty years ago when I was living in North Carolina. I remember where I bought the book (the Duke University Bookstore in the Bryan Cente; oh, I loved that place).
Be that as it may, I got to the famous “Reader, I married him” as if that was the ultimate goal all along. However, Jane seems to have had so many goals to conquer that true happiness surely did not depend only on marriage? But as one of my previous posts talked about, women’s choices were quite restricted in those days. Brontë tries to challenge some of the restrictions with this novel by having Jane make some choices quite on her own: leaving Lowood to become a governess, leaving Thornfield with no money, proposing to St. John that she accompany him as a missionary without them getting married, which quite appall him. Two young unmarried people could not set out to go half way around the planet then… in some circles, it is now normal to do so.
In The Fiction of Relationship MOOC, it is also suggested that Brontë takes on the beauty industry by putting forth a heroine who is repeatedly described as not being pretty, as possessing no beauty, and as surely not having any power of attraction. That she is obviously appreciated by others, and even loved, seems to defy the equation of “beautiful” to “lovable”. But even making that possible seems to require retirement from the world in an isolated manorhouse, surrounded by woods so thick that they absorb sound rather than carry it. Must one live in seclusion in order to be different and to free oneself from social expectations?
There are so many other themes to discover through reading Jane Eyre, I certainly recommend it.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 2nd edition. Originally published in 1897. Downloaded from the Gutenberg Project.
I love reading 19th century English literature, the detailed description of the life of minor gentry, budding cities, country lanes… but I am always disturbed by the plight of women in those days, assuming fiction provides a faithful depiction of it. There were so few choices available to them. For many families, marriage is a matter of economics or political alliance. Young women with no fortune may become nuns, or governesses, or remain as a dependent of a more fortunate relative. Not to speak of orphans… of which there may have been a lot given the state of medical knowledge at the time and the prevalence of death in childbirth for women.
Jane Eyre is an orphan. Both her parents died when she was young and she was left in the care of an uncle, brother of her mother. While her family had shunned the mother for marrying a poor clergyman (too low for her in their opinion), the brother dearly loved his sister and maintained contact with her. Unfortunately, this uncle also died young and his wife resented having to bring up this orphan as one of hers. The way in which she treated Jane for the years she remained under her care could be qualified as child abuse: constant accusation of lying and misbehaving even in the absence of proof, and frequent physical punishment or confinement. At the age of ten, Jane is sent to a school for poor children and is left there even during holidays. At the age of eighteen, with some basic education, Jane seeks a position as a governess.
Once a governess, what are the options for the future? Going from family to family as children age, or maybe marrying? In Jane Eyre’s case, she and the gentleman who employs her mutually fall in love and there are no close relative to counteract their plans. Well, of course, the matter of the mad first wife does eventually come out…
I started reading Jane Eyre again and it struck me that in the first part, where she tells her story as a 10-year old girl, that the maturity displayed by the character in her depiction of her surroundings and of the people she encounters is beyond her years. The tone of the narrative voice hardly changes when we meet her again as an eighteen year-old who is ready to leave the Lowood Institution and who gets a position as a governess.
She does sound very much like a child in the severity of the judgment she casts on others and the impulsiveness of her reactions and rages. However, she uses an incredible amount of detail to describe her aunt and cousins, the maids at her aunt’s house, Brockelhurst who runs Lowood, as well as the teachers there. She also relates or contrasts their appearance to their character and seems to notice all this at a glance.
The way in which she adapts to her new circumstances shows an incredible resilience to change and a strong will to make the best of the chances she is given.
I am greatly enjoying rereading this book and I nearly missed getting out at the right metro station at least three times this week because I was totally engrossed in the book.