Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Period Piece Challenge: Jane Eyre

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I know some of you are groaning a little bit inside and thinking that I can't possibly be serious about this book.  We all read it in high school with the obligatory level of loathing.  I'll admit that I was among you.  After the first read I wanted to throw my dog-eared paperback across the room and never read another word of horrid Gothic over-description ever again.  Then, something strange happened.  I just couldn't get the story out of my head.  I kept going over and over Jane's awful childhood, her abused adolescence and the fact that her life contained possibly the worst string of bad luck any human being has ever endured.  I kept thinking about the impossibility and the illicitness of her relationship with Mr. Rochester.  This story lolled around in my head for weeks and months; long after the AP English Literature exam had ended and I should have purged the novel from my mind.  So I finally relented and I re-read it.  Oh yes, I subjected myself to Charlotte Brontë's annoyingly obsessive writing voice once again for the sake of the brilliant characters and chillingly stark world she creates.  It turned out to be a delightful experience the second time around.

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I readily admit that the book has its faults; however, I attest that it has many more merits.  First and foremost would be the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester.  They have SO MUCH CHEMISTRY it is ridiculous.  It is one thing to create that type of chemistry on-screen (and I will be interested to see how well it was achieved in the 2006 version when I review that next week) but it is another thing to create that sort of electrifying tension in a book.  Jane moves to Thornfield Hall (why are period pieces the only place one finds AMAZING names for houses?  Official Victorian Swag Decree: This needs to be a part of every day life!!) to work as a governess for a little French girl whose benefactor just so happens to be the dark, gothically chiseled and ever-so-slightly grizzled, Mr. Edward Rochester (yet another fantastic character name).  As Jane works for him, they develop a deep and frustratingly chaste relationship.  After a few foreboding events in the rising action you are tricked into believing that something good might actually happen to Jane Eyre.  And then you have a serious face-palm moment when you continue to read as Charlotte-Brontë rips that tiny morsel of happiness in an otherwise desolate life away from you Jane.  Then comes a few agonizing chapters of severe depression and one of the most obnoxious male love interest ever written - St. John Rivers - followed by a welcome if not altogether cop-out of a happy ending (don't get me started on the "happy ending" this book tries to pass off as a decent conclusion).  All of that being said, I still cannot help but love me some Jane and Mr. Rochester (smelling salts and mournful sighs).
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Another reason why I love the book?  Miss Jane Eyre, herself.  I am not going to lie, I do not consider myself to be a feminist in the least bit.  But for some reason I really enjoyed this portrayal of a down-and-out "plain Jane" (pun not intended) who works hard to pick herself up from a terrible situation to really make something of her life (working as a  governess and eventually marrying above her station).  There are times when I wanted to scream at her for quietly accepting the horrible things that life dished out and then there were other times when I just wanted to yell "You go, Jane Eyre!"  As you will see, life was not at all kind to Jane (I HATE HER HORRIBLE FAMILY, THE REEDS!!).  Yet she remains strong in her faith, steadfast in her morals (which makes the whole Mr. Rochester affair even more complex and intriguing) and an overall level-headed, independent woman and I just love her character for it.  Jane never tries to prove anything, she just wants to lead a decent happy life.  You kind of want to hate her for being so good but you can't help but root for her; especially when it comes to her relationship with Mr. Rochester.  I mean, please!  The girl deserves one ounce of happiness.  Part of the fun of the book is the frustration that builds due to the obvious inequality dealt to Jane throughout her life.  The girl can't catch a break and it is maddening to read her life unfold (maddening in a good way).   

Ahhh!  There is so much more to this book and it is going to be impossible to cover the rest in this post (and I really don't think you want me to go on).  So I will give you a few highlights: undying love, deceit, and insanity; misty English moors; dark, scary manors; ghostly supernatural events; and finally, a truly amazing (if incredibly depressing) love story.  

Jane Eyre is really a unique experience.  While it started out on my Most Loathed list, it soon weaseled its way onto my Most Loved list.  Trust me on this one, once you get past the boredom induced by the actual words on the page (sorry Charlotte, but you were just not that captivating) and start paying attention to the bigger picture, you will find yourself engrossed in a deliciously dark gothic novel and an epic love story.  So the next time the forecast calls for 4 days of rain, dim the lights, light a few candles,  put on a kettle of Early Grey tea and curl up with Jane Eyre.  You might actually enjoy yourself.  

3 comments:

  1. You have just taken a load off my mind, Ali! I love the story (as in LOVE), but I had a difficult time reading the book. I often found myself going, "Enough with the adjectives! Just spit it out already!!!" This is with the exception of all of Jane and Rochester's interactions, which are all underlined with hearts beside them- haha.

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  2. Not captivating?! From the first page, I couldn't put it down! Granted, it was not required AP reading for me; I read it by choice a few years back.

    Have you read The Jane Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde? It's weird, but very very very good.

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  3. Jane Eyre. Where do I begin? I'll admit that I do love this book, but I always want to skip the first part with the reeds and Lowood School because they make me angry. I'm basically like Sally with my little hearts drawn next to all the Jane/Edward action. I also have an obsession with re-writes of the story. I just finished The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which was a rather good read, and the modern-day YA equivalent, Jane, is excellent too!

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jasper Fforde! His Thursday Next series (of which the Eyre Affair is the first) is an all-time favorite!

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