Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jane Eyre: Finally read the great classic (in 2009)

Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am very glad I read Jane Eyre--it is a wonderful, complex classic novel, with gothic themes of class injustice, morality, disability, and religion. I found it hard to put down, and I found myself thinking of it when I wasn't reading it--signs of a great novel!! I didn't LOVE it the way many other readers have, however.

Hailed as a great feminist classic, I couldn't get away from the unsettled feeling I had about Jane's love for Rochester. 20 years her senior, and he treats her like crap, at least initially, and doesn't even try to defend her when his "friends" are horrible to her. I found it very difficult to understand what she saw in him. Essentially, he was the first man who took any kind of interest in her. And although it is clear that Jane very much wanted to be an independent woman (and did stick to her principles at all costs), I found their relationship to be condescending. He kept talking about how tiny she was, and she could not help but call him "sir" and "master." It seemed much more like a father-daughter relationship than one of two lovers.

Also troubling was the madwoman in the attic. I am curious to read Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a "prequel" to Jane Eyre, about Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason. As such a tragic figure (and it's also interesting to note the frequent [racist?] references to her Creole heritage), I wanted to know more about her story. What made her go mad? She was depicted as a villain...but having read enough stories about mental illness and women, I couldn't help but wonder what caused women in that era to go mad. Perhaps it was the likes of Ms. Ingram and other such shallow snobs!

I also found it very interesting to discover that Charlotte Bronte scorned Jane Austen (one of my favorites). Austen's books are funnier and lighter, and do not offer as much social commentary as Jane Eyre. I found an interesting article about types of literature in view of enneagram personality types. My enneagram (2) tends to prefer romantic comedies. Another article I read theorized that Bronte was a "4" on the enneagram, the type of person for which depth of feeling is the most important pursuit. I'm not generally one who is drawn to deep, dark tragedies--I was happy that the movie "The Piano" had a (sort of) happy ending.

Here are the links to the articles, in case you are interested in enneagrams and literature:



Given the complicated themes in the novel, isn't it interesting how things are all neatly tied up in the end, and there are some amazing coincidences going on? In summary, I would recommend that everyone read Jane Eyre. It's a classic.

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