Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Club: Jane Eyre Pt 2

Didn't you love this book?  I did. This isn't the first time I've read Jane Eyre and there was something about already knowing the story that made some other things easier to spot in the book.  I've done some reading online about what other book clubs have discussed (they mostly just compare it to Pride and Prejudice and really, other than them both being written by British women I don't see too much of a connection between them.  And, for the record, they all liked P&P better.)
I'm going to list the themes that I saw in the book and a couple of thoughts on each.  Feel free to comment of these themes or whatever it is that you thought about when you read the book

Psudo-science. Ahhhh the science of Phrenology.  I loved it.  I loved how they sized up everyone's character with the shape of their heads. In some ways it reminded me of Moby Dick and Ismael's description of the whale class and family distinctions.  Everyone believes and subscribes and it is so totally wrong. I have undertaken the study of my own head shape.  Here is a helpful graphic for you to discern your own character.  

As an advertisement at the time ran--know yourself.

Gothic Novel:  This is one of the things that, in my mind, so distinguishes this from any of the Jane Austen books.  This novel is a refreshing thriller of sorts.  There's not too much blood or gore but it is tense.  The descriptions of Bertha that are things like "the clothed hyena," "the maniac," "that purple face," and "the lunatic" are downright scary.  And isn't "the clothed hyena" such a great description? 

Coming of Age:  This is another theme that distinguishes this book from the Austen books.  We get to see Jane grow up.  She goes from a young girl who yells at her Aunt Reed and is tortured by her cousins to a well educated, thoughtful, informed pleasant young lady.  I love how we get to see that in the book.  Sure, she skims over much of her Lockwood experience but we still get to see her come of age. 

Religion/God: This is a problematic area for me.  Jane refuses to go with Mr. Rochester on moral grounds but she is not really a pious person.  Jane does seem to have some mysticism in her though. She shows an uncanny knack for seeing the future.  She knows that if she goes with Mr Rochester he will fall out of love with her.  She knows that she and St John wouldn't be happy if they married.  These seem like religious premonitions but religion doesn't really play any other role in the book and the two examples we have of clergy are hardly flattering (St John and Mr Brocklehurst)

Passion and Love: I have to start out by saying that this read through any page that contained even the mention of St John was painful to read. He's just  And arrogant.  He drives me batty.  And Jane even thinking about going to India with him made me sick. 
St John is passionately in love with Mary Rivers and he won't marry her because of the passion. Jane and Rochester are passionately in love but, as I mentioned before, Jane knows that if she goes with Rochester before they are married it will be ruined. 
That being said, when Jane and Mr Rochester finally are reunited the dialogue that ensures is one of my favorite literary moments of all time. Here's just a snippet, 

"This St. John, then, is your cousin?"
"You have spoken of him often: do you like him?"
"He was a very good man, sir; I could not help liking him."
"A good man. Does that mean a respectable well-conducted man of fifty? Or what does it mean?"
"St John was only twenty-nine, sir."
"'Jeune encore,' as the French say. Is he a person of low stature, phlegmatic, and plain. A person whose goodness consists rather in his guiltlessness of vice, than in his prowess in virtue."
"He is untiringly active. Great and exalted deeds are what he lives to perform."
"But his brain? That is probably rather soft? He means well: but you shrug your shoulders to hear him talk?"
"He talks little, sir: what he does say is ever to the point. His brain is first-rate, I should think not impressible, but vigorous."
"Is he an able man, then?"
"Truly able."
"A thoroughly educated man?"
"St. John is an accomplished and profound scholar."
"His manners, I think, you said are not to your taste?--priggish and parsonic?"
"I never mentioned his manners; but, unless I had a very bad taste, they must suit it; they are polished, calm, and gentlemanlike."
"His appearance,--I forget what description you gave of his appearance;--a sort of raw curate, half strangled with his white neckcloth, and stilted up on his thick-soled high-lows, eh?"
"St. John dresses well. He is a handsome man: tall, fair, with blue eyes, and a Grecian profile."
(Aside.) "Damn him!"--(To me.) "Did you like him, Jane?"
"Yes, Mr. Rochester, I liked him: but you asked me that before."
I perceived, of course, the drift of my interlocutor. Jealousy had got hold of him: she stung him; but the sting was salutary: it gave him respite from the gnawing fang of melancholy. I would not, therefore, immediately charm the snake.
"Perhaps you would rather not sit any longer on my knee, Miss Eyre?" was the next somewhat unexpected observation.
"Why not, Mr. Rochester?"
"The picture you have just drawn is suggestive of a rather too overwhelming contrast. Your words have delineated very prettily a graceful Apollo: he is present to your imagination,--tall, fair, blue-eyed, and with a Grecian profile. Your eyes dwell on a Vulcan,--a real blacksmith, brown, broad-shouldered: and blind and lame into the bargain."
"I never thought of it, before; but you certainly are rather like Vulcan, sir."
"Well, you can leave me, ma'am: but before you go" (and he retained me by a firmer grasp than ever), "you will be pleased just to answer me a question or two." He paused.
"What questions, Mr. Rochester?"
Then followed this cross-examination.
"St. John made you schoolmistress of Morton before he knew you were his cousin?"
"You would often see him? He would visit the school sometimes?"
"He would approve of your plans, Jane? I know they would be clever, for you are a talented creature!"
"He approved of them--yes."
"He would discover many things in you he could not have expected to find? Some of your accomplishments are not ordinary."
"I don't know about that."
"You had a little cottage near the school, you say: did he ever come there to see you?"
"Now and then?"
"Of an evening?"
"Once or twice."
A pause.
"How long did you reside with him and his sisters after the cousinship was discovered?"
"Five months."
"Did Rivers spend much time with the ladies of his family?"
"Yes; the back parlour was both his study and ours: he sat near the window, and we by the table."
"Did he study much?"
"A good deal."
"Ah! here I reach the root of the matter. He wanted you to marry him?"
"He asked me to marry him."
"That is a fiction--an impudent invention to vex me."
"I beg your pardon, it is the literal truth: he asked me more than once, and was as stiff about urging his point as ever you could be."
"Miss Eyre, I repeat it, you can leave me. How often am I to say the same thing? Why do you remain pertinaciously perched on my knee, when I have given you notice to quit?"
"Because I am comfortable there."
"No, Jane, you are not comfortable there, because your heart is not with me: it is with this cousin--this St. John. Oh, till this moment, I thought my little Jane was all mine! I had a belief she loved me even when she left me: that was an atom of sweet in much bitter. Long as we have been parted, hot tears as I have wept over our separation, I never thought that while I was mourning her, she was loving another! But it is useless grieving. Jane, leave me: go and marry Rivers."
"Shake me off, then, sir,--push me away, for I'll not leave you of my own accord."
"Jane, I ever like your tone of voice: it still renews hope, it sounds so truthful. When I hear it, it carries me back a year. I forget that you have formed a new tie. But I am not a fool--go--"
"Where must I go, sir?"
"Your own way--with the husband you have chosen."
"Who is that?"
"You know--this St. John Rivers."
"He is not my husband, nor ever will be. He does not love me: I do not love him. He loves (as he CAN love, and that is not as you love) a beautiful young lady called Rosamond. He wanted to marry me only because he thought I should make a suitable missionary's wife, which she would not have done. He is good and great, but severe; and, for me, cold as an iceberg. He is not like you, sir: I am not happy at his side, nor near him, nor with him. He has no indulgence for me--no fondness. He sees nothing attractive in me; not even youth--only a few useful mental points.--Then I must leave you, sir, to go to him?"

Okay, that quote turned out to be really long.  But isn't that just so romantically perfect?

Love it.

Okay.  How did you feel about Jane Eyre?  What struck you?
And for next month we're reading A Visit From the Goon Squad.  It's back to the Pulitzer prize winners people. I just downloaded it on the new Kindle I got for Christmas.  Thanks hubbs.  You're the best. 


  1. Oh, Jane Eyre. I've read it several times, but not recently, so I'm not sure what I can think of off the top of my head to add to the discussion. I just love that she is a strong woman, and brave too. And that creepy house. I remember watching one of the movie versions with Jordan once, and when he saw Mr. Rochester's bed on fire, he guessed he was a vampire or werewolf or something like that. Not quite! But it is still dark and gothic, as you put it. I like that. I agree about the St John parts. Those are my least favorite, partially because he really is insufferable, and also because I miss Mr. Rochester and his house.

    I have always loved Jane Eyre way better than Pride and Prejudice. PP is a great book, but I think Jane Eyre is a step above in creativity, characters, and atmosphere, and sadly underrated.

    P.S. I also got a Kindle for my birthday last month, and I am loving it. This is coming from someone who used to be a huge skeptic.

  2. Get excited for A Visit from the Goon Squad! A few of the chapters were a bit off and it seems to get weirder and weirder as the book progresses, but overall it is an enjoyable character study.

  3. Sallee, you should read Wide Sargasso Sea, it's a sort of prequel to oJane Eyre, it was an interesting read. I have always loved Jane Eyre 2 bits especially touch my heart, the evening party when Mr. Rochester acts as the gypsy and speaks to Jane and second: when he says Sometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. Especially when you are near me as you are now. It feels as though I had a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you in a similar fashion. And when you go to Ireland, with all that distance between us, I am afraid that this cord will be snapped, and I shall bleed inwardly.

    That's a quote from the movie, I don't have my copy on me in the states, but oh how beautiful is that.

  4. I have always loved this book, though not as much as P&P, but I loved the romance of it, and on this reading I couldn't even enjoy the romance because I knew Rochester was misleading her--not to be mean and dishonest, but he was doing wrong. This time I took away some different messages.

    "To this crib I always took my doll; human beings must love something, and in the dearth of worthier objects of affection, I contrived to find a pleasure in loving and cherishing a faded graven image, shabby as a miniature scarecrow. And Jane Eyre does find other objects to love and other people come to love her. I think Jane comes to understand through her friend Helen that she is loved--by God. On this read, I found the book more of a testament to the power of God, goodness, and redemption and less a romance. There are good people in the book; Miss Temple, Helen, the girl cousins, etc. Of course, the power of good had to have its opposition in the Reeds, the St. Johns, and Mr. Brocklehursts of the world. Both kinds of people are still with us.
    Jane moves through different contexts--and learns lessons about bearing difficulties and being supported and coming out ahead. Helen tells her, " would be your duty to bear it,, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear."
    I found myself relearning lessons about life being too short to be spend "nursing animosity or registering wrongs," and yet, I see people and myself doing that every day.
    Jane is a strong child and she learns to understand the fountain of her strength through goodness. Helen again tells Jane, "I am sure there is a future state; I believe Good is good; I can resign my immortal part of Him without any misgiving. God is my father; God is my friend: I love Him; I believe He loves me."
    The book also uses the contrast of outward appearance with inward quality. Mr. Rochester is not handsome and Jane even admits that she would have been frightened to speak to him if he had been. However, Mr. Rochester--a certain weirdness aside (pretending to be the gypsy woman, etc.)is a good man. St. John is handsome on the outside and not so inside. Jane herself is not beautiful outside but has inner beauty and strength. The book states," God has gen us, in a measure, the power to make our own fate, and when our energies seem to demand a sustenance they cannot get--when our will strains after a path we may not follow--we need neither starve from inanition, not stand still in despair: we have but to seek other nourishment fro the mind..."
    Jane learns to seek nourishment and make decisions based on her own needs, and that is what brings strength to all people...having a degree of control over our own lives. I believe she does come to a place where she is truly happy even though she does state in the book "Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in their world." Jane does, in the end. I was happy going on the journey with her.