10.13.2007

Re-reading Jane Eyre


I've had little time to post, what with all the reading I've been doing for my two literature classes, and some writing projects I've taken on. In one of my classes, The Brontes, we're reading one book by each of the Bronte sisters: Jane Eyre (Charlotte, right), Wuthering Heights (Emily) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne). I hadn't read Jane Eyre since high school, I think, and reading it this time around gave me a whole new perspective not just on the book, but on Charlotte Bronte. I now understand why it's become such a magnet for feminists. When you consider that it was written during a period (mid-nineteenth century) when women's roles were immensely limited and proscribed, Jane was definitely not a typical young woman of her times.

For one thing, she's always truthful and extremely direct. I was particularly impressed by the latter, since Jane's contemporaries in literature (and, by extension, Charlotte's) were expected to be circumspect and to avoid unpleasantess of any kind (which included saying anything that was less than pleasant or cheerful).

It surprised me how often Jane speaks of wanting freedom, liberty, adventure. Here she decides to leave Lowood (where she's been a student and for two years, a teacher) and advertise for a position as a governess:


"...now I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils."
She's practical enough to recognize the limitations placed on her by the fact of her gender and by her circumstances, and that becoming a governess is simply another form of service, but still she yearns:
"A new servitude! There is something in that...I know there is because it does not sound too sweet; it is not like such words as Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me."
And when Jane, now at Thornfield, Mr. Rochester's estate, ruminates about her situation, which is, in fact, much better than that usually accorded the typical governess, she says:
"...the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes..." and
"...but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties; and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
Pretty radical assertions for the times during which Charlotte was writing. It's a wonderful novel for many reasons, most of which I'm sure I missed when I first read it. Now, in a very different way, I'm falling in love with Wuthering Heights and Emily Bronte.

Note: BookGirl is traveling all next week, and will be unable to post. Sigh...
She'll have to content herself late at night reading Wuthering Heights and Howards End (which she's reading for her other class).


2 comments:

Riverlark said...

I love this perspective on Jane, BG. And it's really true.
I really hope your travels go well and that you can find a happy balance among all your different kind of "works."

Ann K said...

Couldn't agree with you more about Charlotte Bronte: a woman way before her time. If you haven't yet, read Villette too, which I think is better than "Jane's Ear," and far better than Emily's Wuthering Heights.