Tag Archives: Jane Eyre

For the Jane Eyre obsessed, or perhaps not?

I had a small Jane Eyre geek-out a few weeks ago. That is, reading books related to Jane Eyre, not the actual book since I reread that 3 times last year already. (I have to admit though, I am tempted, especially after finally watching the movie adaptation). It was fun mostly, not completely satisfying, but how can an adaptation or book-inspired novel really ever fit the expectations of the original?

Jane - April Lindner // Poppy, Little Brown and Company 2010

“What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?” is really all the explanation you will need. Jane is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre: Jane as nanny to the daughter of rock star Nice Rathburn who lives at Thornfield Park. However horrible it may sound to purist Brontë fans, the retelling is really very cleverly done, written in modern language Lindner* manages to update the story to modern times pretty well. She does cut out some of the more controversial scenes in the novel and I really don’t know how convincing the storyline of having to keep the wife in the attic is in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, I wonder why Lindner chose to set the story in the US rather than England? And clearly Lindner’s associations with the word rock star are very different from mine. Apparently Bruce Springsteen inspired her, but I kept thinking Bon Jovi or other too polished rock. Eek. No, not my kind of rock star at all, but the story works well enough for what it aims to be. I do not know how I feel about her taking on Wuthering Heights next, I think it may have been better to stick to one book instead of turning it into what I am afraid will be a formula.

Becoming Jane Eyre - Sheila Kohler // Corsair 2011

Meh. It is really all I can say to this fictional biography of Charlotte Brontë. Becoming Jane Eyreit is called, but it moves well past Charlotte writing that novel. Yet, it was the part of the novel that described her writing Jane Eyre that annoyed me most. It was almost as if Kohler could not settle on what she wanted this book to be, or on how to portray Charlotte in it. I could go on a tangent about the apparent need to draw parallels between author’s lives and their works of fiction, the need to have women writers have one passionate love affair before they can truly comprehend the world enough to write a novel, but maybe this frustration was influenced by recently re-watching Becoming Jane (about Austen). What bothered me about Becoming Jane Eyre was the gap between the reader and the character in the novel. It was as if I was never allowed to identify with Charlotte Brontë, not even really know her. I assume this was a conscious decision, because it’s there in the way the book was written. It is ‘she’, ‘she’, ‘she’ all over the place: as in she does, she feels, she longs, she writes. Is this describing instead of showing? I do not know, but I do know I got tired of reading ‘she’ every two sentences. And then there is the passion that is no passion, as Sasha wrote about before. Perhaps because the reader is not allowed to identify with Charlotte? Perhaps because the prose reads clunky when it tries to convey feeling? I can turn open the book at any passage in the first 100 pages to show you this. Take:

How she had trudged through the damp streets of Brussels, half-crazed with longing, lust, and jealousy, reluctant to return to the school. She lingered there in the dark and the rain to escape black thoughts. She walked to forget her Master and beloved friend who had replaced her father and her brother – her black swan, the first to discover her talent and encourage her art. How she has waited for his letters!

Charlotte’s perspective is not the only one covered in the book. Many characters are featured, for example the nurse of Charlotte’s father when he is operated on his eyes. And later on, Emily and Anne. Somehow, the book improves when Charlotte’s sisters enter the scenes. They take the story to a new level, allow more sympathy, allow a more direct glimpse in their lives. Their role is short, but it is what momentarily improves the experience. It is where the book started to remind me a little, a very very little, of The Taste of Sorrow. I tell you, if you want a fictionalised account of the lives of the Brontës, of Charlotte Brontë even, go look for Jude Morgan’s book.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde // Hodder 2001

So. Much Fun. Everyone has read The Eyre Affair*. It looks like everyone enjoyed it. Most even seem to love it. I did not love it, but I did enjoy it a lot. It was the perfect light read at a time when my world was too busy to make much sense of anything. Thursday Next, an agent who works for a bureau that tries to solve crimes, crimes of literature. In an alternate universe, the world takes literature so seriously that criminals start kidnapping fictional characters. I know, I know. Fun. And silly, but in a good way, I think. Not the most Jane Eyre related book, but in a way it was (trying to avoid spoilers here). I enjoyed reading about this world where literature is taken so seriously that it becomes almost scary. People who believe Marlowe or some other author has written Shakespeare’s plays knocking on your door, to convince you of their point of view, like Jehovah’s witnesses. Etcetera. It can border on the ” *sigh* now don’t be ridiculous!” – reading experience, but it never crosses the line into that world of annoyance. I am looking forward to reading the next installment in the series, although I do not think I will go out of my way to get my hands on a copy.

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Comfort Reading

Comfort reading is a very broad concept to me. I never realised this. Last year (I cannot believe it has been almost a year already!) when I was in Sweden, alone and homesick those first few weeks, I read YA book after YA book, until I became so fed up with them that I never bothered to review them all. Young Adults books can be real pleasures, but reading too many at a time can have them become predictable, especially if, like I did, you concentrate on only vampire-ish fiction.

After that, I became slightly obsessed with Jane Eyre. I guess that mood lasted. I cannot help but feel lately that all I wish to do is reread Jane Eyre. But this is the thing with blogging, it makes you keep track of your reading. And ever since I started writing about what I read, I want to keep doing that – even if I am rereading a book. But can I really reread Jane Eyre when it has been only eight months since I read it twice, or wait a minute, three times in a row?

Lately I am reading many many books at a time. This has several reasons: I listen to one while running, I am reading for the Feminist Classics project, I read on the couch at night but prefer my ereader in bed, etcetera. There is no clear pattern and there are few books that truly seem to engage me. Like Ana mentioned in a blog post of hers last week, if I read a book I really really like, I usually wait to long to write about it and I forget too much to actually make a proper post. I was never big on note-taking while reading and most of the time I simply remembered enough to write about the books, but now I feel like I may as well review the books I never got around to last year, since they are about as fresh in my mind.

Back to comfort reading. The only books that I feel are safe enough to explore at the moment – I often feel some books are too complicated, or perhaps too harsh and bitter and angry and sad – are those I at this moment consider my true comfort reads: Books in line of Henrietta’s War (Bloomsbury Group books), or Virago Modern Classics (Elizabeth and her German Garden was simply wonderful), or Persephone’s or well.. you’ll understand what I mean. They are gentle. I think gentle is the perfect word for them. They do contain problems, bitterness even, but the characters are often so easy to feel compassionate with, to identify with, and their settings never get cruel in a black-and-white thriller & horror movie manner.

Oh, and anything Jane Austen related. Rewrites if they are good enough, books about her life and work. But the problem with Jane Austen’s original works at this moment is that I know them too well, and sometimes familiarity can be a problem. I am longing for that passionate feeling, that feeling of “oh wow, Mr. Darcy” or even just “oh wow, I cannot possibly put this novel down in the upcoming three hours.” I love my comfort reads, but a lot of them are comfort reads at this moment when I have little time for reading because they are also okay to put down for a while. I would like to be caught up in a book once again, feel I need to read it NOW. But perhaps this will have to wait for more quiet times.

What I am currently reading:

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari
I am listening to this while running. It was on offer for free a few weeks ago from here. I thought it would be nice to listen to a Young Adult book while running, nothing too complicated. But ugh, those scenes about the pox and the turtle that refuses to be killed make me feel sick to my stomach.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
I am reading this for the Feminist Classics Project. I was supposed to host the discussion on this in July, but only one person managed to finish the book in time. I am not sure I will finish it by the end of August. It is interesting. Simone de Beauvoir is clearly a very smart person. But she is also very hard to follow at times. Plus, and I’m sorry to say it, this book is loooong.

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
This book is a gem. I am forever grateful to Danielle for making me aware of this author. His travels in Eastern Europe on the brink of the Second World War – fascinating. It is not a fast read though, it needs time and dedication. Almost feels a little like meditation.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
I wanted YA with dept. I think that is what I am finding here, if this is even YA, does anyone know? The writing style is beautiful. But I am a little scared for the scene. You know, that scene, that everyone talks about when they review this book. I really need to start reading this again. Writing about it makes me feel I neglected it this past week.

Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein
When I saw Teresa was reading this on goodreads, I hurried over to netgalley to request my own copy. Teresa has recently reviewed it. I just started reading (have read 30 pages) and find it very interesting. But also a slow read, lots of literary theory so far.

Consequences by E.M. Delafield
Last night when I was still awake at 3 am, I did not really feel like continuing in “Why Jane Austen”, so I reached for a Persephone. Ah – these books are true wonders. I am only 15 pages in, but I feel like I just know I am going to love this. I know it will be bitter. It is the setting and period I love. Lately, novels set in 1900-1920 seem the thing for me. I never really understood people’s obsession with the period, now I cannot get enough.

See my problem here? I am reading too much at a time. Some of these books I am enjoying too little, but most of them I really like. But for those I cannot find the time they truly merit.

What are you reading this Sunday?

The Brontës, a Reading List

I recently fell in love (or fell in love all over again) with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I also love making reading lists. So what is a better way of keeping myself occupied than combining the two? I decided to add the other Brontë sisters to my list as well, but I do admit that I have mainly focused on Charlotte Brontë.

Original Work:
Shirley – Charlotte Brontë
Vilette – Charlotte Brontë
The Professor – Charlotte Brontë
Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë: reread?
Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings – The Brontës

Related Fiction (even if only a title reference):
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Thornycroft Hall – Emma Jane Worboise
Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago – Mary Taylor
Nine Coaches Waiting – Mary Stewart
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
The Brontës Went to Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson
Teas with Mr. Rochester – Frences Towers

Jane Airhead – Kay Woodward
Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler
Romancing Miss Brontë – Juliet Gael
Wuthering Bites – Sarah Gray
Jane – April Lindner

The Life of Charlotte Brontë – Elizabeth Gaskell
Selected Letters – Charlotte Brontë
Brontë in Love – Sarah Freeman
The Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan (fictional biography)
The Three Brontës/The Three Sisters – May Sinclair

Note 1: I want to acknowledge the very useful and informative Brontë Blog for providing links to lots of works on the Brontës.
Note 2: This list is by no means complete. As you can see on the Brontë Blog, there is an endless amount of texts on the Brontës, this is just a very small selection of books that I think I would like to read.
Note 3: Please feel free to give me any more suggestions as to what you think I should read!

Religion in Jane Eyre

Another misunderstanding. I think this one came with my idea that the Brontës were quite patriarchal in their religious attitudes. Or maybe it is because her father was a clergyman and in my mind that turned into “strictly religious”. Prejudices all around, on my part.

"I said my evening prayers" - F.H. Townsend, http://janeeyreillustrated.com/

But how could I ignore the religious themes in this book? Or, how could I have missed them before? In my first reading of Jane Eyre, I must have been too occupied with the love story and the gothic qualities of the book. Knowing the story, at least a little, reading it for the second and third time, I think I had more patience to look at the other aspects of this novel. And religion is a big aspect, or at least, it seemsd to be so to me. Maybe it is because I’m a religious studies student? But really, it is everywhere in Jane Eyre.

Intermixed with humor, when Mr. Rochester exclaims:

In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?

Humor, but not mocking humor. No glaring disrespect for anyone who as a Christian still has a sense of these ideas. Later on, when Jane hears Rochester’s plea for her, through nature, or somehow, I could not help but wonder if part of this isn’t Brontë’s worldview as well. Or at least, she understands it enough to have Jane Eyre feel that way. And I was left wondering how this idea of religion back in the nineteenth-century works. Is it the influence of the Romantics? It is so easy to forget that there were other takes on religion, apart from the stricter line that came with the (re)awakening of pietism, the line I so often have to study.

There is prejudice as well. Catholicism is something that Jane Eyre, or is it Charlotte Brontë? (we’ve discussed this before), clearly does not respect. When her cousin explains that she will go into a convent, Jane says:

“You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent.”

But when Protestantism is taken up, or rather, when Catholicism isn’t mentioned and there is talk of religion, I admit I’m fascinated. Since I study missionaries, the observations on St. John were very interesting to me. Somehow, I always assumed that people would be in awe of missionaries back then. These were people who were so convinced of their faith, of their calling, that they abandoned their home and went “into wild and unknown land” (that is not a quote from Jane Eyre, btw). And St. John is seen as a good man, a very Christian man, a man with a calling. And yet, through his righteousness he forgets to love the people that surround him, really love them, really feel. He only feels and loves his calling, so it seems. He is painted as an incomplete person. You could almost pity him. Almost, if he hadn’t suffocated Jane as he did.

And there’s Rochester’s redemption. Which is truly redemption, in a sense. He suffers, he loses his sight and his arm, and then when Jane returns to him, slowly, ever so slowly, he recovers his sight. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time in high school, I admit I couldn’t really deal with this. And in a way it still gets to me: why did he have to lose his arm and his sight? But I understand it better now, I understand the message. It might not be my worldview. I do not share it a 100%. But I do respect it for what it means to Jane Eyre, as a character. And that is such an important part of the story.

There is one more thing. In the preface to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë defends her portrayal of a person who tries to commit bigamy, she defends her novel against those who feel that such works will always be sinful. If only for this, I feel for Charlotte Brontë, and respect her. I think I haven’t read something written in the 19th century before, by a woman, that is so forceful, so clear in its intentions, so much an opinion, on such a big topic as religion.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

There must be books written about the Brontës ideas on religion, right? If not, please, someone, write that book. I, for one, would love to read it.

Jane Eyre and the Plight of Women

What makes Jane Eyre such a great read? In the middle of my reading and rereading of Jane Eyre, I would have said Mr. Rochester. Rochester and Jane, maybe, but definitely Rochester. I will probably always feel that way, but lately I have been thinking if it isn’t Jane Eyre that really makes the book. Duh, OBVIOUSLY, I hear some of you thinking, THE BOOK IS CALLED JANE EYRE, RIGHT? And yes, so it is. But she is a hidden presence at times, I feel. Subdued almost. At times irritatingly so. But in the end, I think she wins out. Not in a weak, “I want to serve my master” way, but because she holds to her ideals, makes her own way in the world. If she wasn’t so annoying at times, she might easily be the greatest literary role model.

F.H. Townsend, source: http://janeeyreillustrated.com

Somehow, for years when I thought of Jane Eyre, I thought of a meek woman. I silently accused the Brontës of a very patriarchal perspective that doesn’t leave any space for women’s self-development. I know, I know, how wrong I was! Blasphemous, almost. I wonder if it is because for years I solely concentrated on Jane Austen, or if it is just a weird personal twist in my thoughts. Either way, looking back, I do kind of see where this idea came from. If the passages you remember are things like this (which, by the way, make me gasp and want to shake some sense into the girl all at once):

“I like to serve you, sir, and to obey you in all that is right.”

and the rest of the story gets muddled into: falls in love with her “master”, the man has his first wife locked in a tower, she runs away, then comes back to him and forgives him. Somehow, somehow, I forgot the most important parts of Jane Eyre’s character or twisted the situations in the book into ones in which she is an almost helpless bystander. Now, I don’t feel she is annoying at all. But certainly, I like her better as the story progresses, as she learns to stand up for herself.

Example: Jane’s inner dialogue when she listens to Mr. Rochester pleading for her to stay with her, even if he already has a wife, was surprisingly similar to my own reaction while reading these scenes. Part of me wanted her to stay with him, to hell with virtue, let’s choose love! But you know, just know, that that is what she shouldn’t do. And Jane comes out all the stronger for not giving in. Maybe you could see her as an uptight, rather prim and small-minded girl who is following the rules far too often, but I disagree. Even if part of me wants her to give in, step into that room to see Rochester before she leaves Thornfield Hall, I know she would not have been happy. I know that had she done that, she would truly have given herself up. She would have defined herself solely on her relationship and love for Rochester.

I started to like Jane even more when she confronts St. John and tells him that she will not accompany him as a wife to help him in his missionary work (even if I was surprised that she would consider accompanying him anyway, what happened to not wanting to have too much distance between her and Rochester?). Her resistance, and once again keeping to her principles, keeping to her experience of love, even if no one else agrees, touched me. And St. John might very well be one of those characters that redeems Rochester along the way.

And let’s not forget about the many times Jane saves Rochester. Literally, from a fire, but most of all, from a wasted and miserable life.

Rereading this, I learned to admire not only Jane Eyre, but Charlotte Brontë. Her text can very well be read as a feminist text, even if the word was non-existent at that time. She enables her heroine to create her own life, her own space and her own character, in the limited space a woman at that time had. I love the thought that Jane Eyre asserts herself, not as a woman, but as an individual. I think this quote, on Jane’s feeling of dissatisfaction with her life at Thornfield before she met Rochester, even though she knew people would say she should be happy with what she had, pretty much sums it up:

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. 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 seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”