Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Something, Dear Reader, Besides Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXIII

So, what else shall we talk about?  Contrary to what my blog may lead you to believe, I don't sit around all day reading Terry brooks and trying to recover my lost childhood.  Life goes on and there are other things to be interested in.  Recently, my wife and I decided that it was time to go back and read Jane Eyre together.  Jane Eyre was the first book my wife and I read together after we were married and it was also my mother's favorite book for years and years.  I first encountered it in tenth grade at a time when most of my subsequent literary tastes were being formed (I'd already gotten to know Tolkien and Homer, and was just meeting Tennyson) and I've loved it ever since.  Subsequent readings always bring out some new treasure and here are a few of the things we've noticed thus far(we're about half way through):

1. Blanche Ingram shares many similarities of person and personality with Bertha Mason.  In selecting her to make Jane jealous, is Mr. Rochester also offering Jane a chance to see that she wins out over Bertha via proxy?

2. Bronte excels at writing witty, flirtatious dialog.  Look especially at the scene where she asks Mr. Rochester for leave to return to Gateshead.

3. Fire is a key image in Jane Eyre, but it is a bivalent symbol.  Sometimes, as with hearth fires, it's a positive thing, but then there's also the volcano imagery that's twice used of Rochester is a very dark and hellish sort of way.  Jane at one point remarks that she's drawn by this fiery undercurrent and is tempted to "stare into the abyss" without fear, an unnervingly diabolic image.

4. The three pictures in Bewick's British Birds seem to furnish the inspiration for Jane's three Miltonic paintings that she shows to Rochester later in the book.

5. Jane, as a character, really does act and think like a nineteen-year old.

6. Jane Eyre is a novel that has its heroine constantly seeking a via media between strong opposites.  There's Eliza and Georgiana, Brocklehurst and St. John, or St. John and Rochester, but who pairs off with Helen Burns?  Is it Miss Temple, Jane, or does she not have a pair?

7. The novel's more fantastic elements are held up by a strong vein of psychological realism.  There's a lot to read between the lines here, especially in terms of navigating abuse and dependency.

8. Why is Jane the only one of the household staff who doesn't know that there's an invalid at Thornfield.  Even the charwoman knows!  Is it because they don't know if she'll stay very long and might bring news of the scandal beyond the confines of Milcote?

9. Jane can't fix the "Byronic Hero" (Mr. Rochester), only God can do that.  This could have been a story about a good woman reforming a wayward man, but Bronte's too clever for that.  Both Jane and Rochester need to die to themselves and give up on one another, that God then chooses to bring them back together is seen as a mercy, not a necessity.

10. Re the "mistakes" in the book: are they all just a matter of Bronte's ignorance, or can we place them on Jane as an inexperienced narrator?  

To see earlier musings on Jane Eyre, look here.


Jessica Snell said...

Those are all interesting observations, but #9 makes me want to stand up and cheer. :)

James said...

Hurray! "Jane Eyre" is at rock bottom a religious and devotional work. Because of that, it's also a highly subversive work as it calls into question all the cherished shibboleths of Gothic, Romance, and Romantic literature. The book ends, not with Jane's marriage, but with a white martyrdom and allusion to the Revelation of St. John the Evangelist. Jane's marriage is subsumed into an intimation of the Eschaton.

Interestingly, in terms of asking "what is to be done with George Gordon," Gaston Leroux offers his own take in "The Phantom of the Opera" where the heroine is allowed to "save" the Byronic Anti-hero, but only by giving up her own happiness. Leroux explicitly links this with Christ in the name of his heroine, Christine, and by having her read "The Imitation of Christ" as she sits in the Phantom's lair. A compare and contrast of the two Christian approaches to the Byron question might be fruitful. We could also throw in Emily Bronte's approach to the Byronic Hero in "Wuthering Heights" (the Byronic Hero won't let God save him).