Thursday, February 14, 2013

Re-reading Jane Eyre

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: 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 restraint, 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 see to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. pp.129-1230 (Penguin Classic)
I'm surprised by the amount of longing Jane has for a larger life. Windows feature a lot in the novel and Jane is nearly always staring out of them, yearningly. This yearning is not for a different landscape, but for wider experience. Bronte is at great pains to let the reader know that Jane's yearning is no different from a man's.

Throughout the childhood section - Chapters 1 - 11, Bronte emphasises Jane's singularity - she is not submissive, nor is she pretty. She is governed by wild passions - an insistence on truth and fairness and anger when these are denied her.

Rochester and Jane are aligned in this - he is not handsome, nor is he 'stainless'. But he recognises in her (and she in him) - authenticity - a very modern word for this nineteenth century novel, I agree. But then, as we've already seen, this is an interestingly modern novel, despite the traditional nineteenth century narrative.

I wonder if you remember the ending of the novel as I did, before this re-reading? I remembered it having a Rapunzel-like ending with Rochester and Jane - the former unexpectedly being able to see his first-born son. The lovers, united, are now looking happily towards family life.

The novel, however, actually ends with Jane contemplating St John's death. St John - exacting, ambitious and stern - the white heat of asceticism opposed to Rochester's earthed and sensual passions - his anticipated death is an odd place for the novel to end in some ways. Was Bronte merely tying up loose ends, as it appears?

No comments: