Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Just FYI, I couldn't and didn't read all of Poldark. Too much of a yawner. 
My friend loved it so much but I simply could not read another word. 
Maybe I'll pick it up again at some later date.

I don't know how it is that I have never read Jane Eyre before. It seems like one of those books that I would have devoured in my youth, yet I did not. This 500-page book caught me and held me, though the language was heavy and dense and Gothic. I can honestly say that it took me about two weeks to read the entire book...and that's saying something. Some of the language was incredibly ponderous; I'll bet I looked up 100 words that I did not know!

So what kept me reading if it was such a challenge?
It was Jane!

What a surprising character for the time period. At a time when female protagonists were fainting all over the place, Jane Eyre never so much as blanches at the many, many challenges that her sparse life presents to her. As a reader of many a Gothic novel, I found her rebellion as a child inspired and unexpected and surprisingly modern. In the dark and cold of her childhood in the orphanage of your nightmares, our Jane manages to actually develop and grow a sense of self that surprised me, Dear Reader. (I'll be referring to you, the reader, several times in this blog post because Jane frequently urges you, Dear Reader, to understand her points of view and choices.)

In the earliest chapters Jane is raised by an unloving and harsh aunt who has no affection or time for this small wisp of a girl. Jane is forever being misunderstood, blamed, and punished in this family of bullying and selfish cousins. Jane's aunt continually refers to Jane in such undeserved terms as deceitful and untrustworthy. Our hearts break as, again and again, in her efforts to win her aunt, little Jane is brushed aside or punished or even tortured in a scary, death-haunted room. When circumstances change and Jane is passed along to a boarding school/orphanage our hopes, Dear Reader, are high that someone will claim Jane and give her the love and affection that she is so desperate for.

Alas that charity orphanage offers an indifferent set of authority figures and a harsh reality for this young heroine. Jane and the other girls are subject to such nightmarish circumstances that I found myself completely hating England for about a week and mocking England for its false reputation of being cultured. Here Jane endures painful losses and continued deprivation.

Finally a welcome change when Jane chooses to leave the school and to seek a position as a governess for a child at Thornfield Hall. She is hired by a household with a child named Adèle Varens, a young French girl. Jane finds a home, a welcoming group of people, and a meaningful purpose for her life for the very first time. We are delighted as she learns better and better ways to interact with Adèle. Jane learns about herself and asserts her own sense of identity under this roof. I'm not at all sure why this section of the book moved me so much, but it did. I'm sure it had something to do with her resilience and her hope.

It is at Thornfield Hall that Jane meets Mr. Rochester for he is the guardian of Adèle. Jane seeks to understand the confusing social life of Mr. Rochester as well as the many events in the house that seem to be strange, mysterious, and secretive. But none of the mysteries of the house can stop her from maturing and falling in love with the enigmatic and unusual Mr. Rochester.

I won't report anymore on the story line, only to say that it worth the slogging. The purity of Jane's voice and her search for identity,  usefulness, and maybe integrity are quite refreshing and engaging. Because of the difficult language and writing style I'm sure the read is well wasted on most high school students who are required to read it.

It was news to me that a movie has recently been made based on the book. Can it hold up? Can Jane come across as likable and engaging when we don't read her autobiographical musings ourselves? How will we feel about the other characters? I have no idea. As for the book, I give it a strong eight stars.

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