Monday, November 21, 2016

Classics Club 35: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is the 35th title in my Classics Club Challenge. It's also a perfect choice for the "Classic you read for School" section of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. Not only do I remember reading and enjoying it in 6th form English many years ago, but Miss 16 had recently read it and was looking forward to watching the movie with me. It also gave me  something to work with for another reading challenge - a book and its prequel or sequel.Sadly, I did not enjoy Wide Sargasso Sea.

While my memory of the basic plot and characters was accurate I  hadn't remembered all the fine details and had clearly mis-remembered some details. I wonder which novel had the butterfly imagery I strongly remember studying since it wasn't Jane Eyre!

Apart from this my main surprise on this reading was that my reaction to the character of Jane herself was more diffident and ambiguous than I recall from my previous reading. I cheered for the young plucky Jane who stayed strong and true to herself despite being mistreated by her aunt (who was raising her after the death of her parents) and cousins, and then facing harsh and spartan conditions at the boarding school to which she was sent. I especially cheered for her striking back against her bullying cousin even though I knew (and I'm sure she knew too) that any punishment would be meted out to her alone. This Jane is also seen the latter part of the novel after she is taken in by St John Rivers and his family. She is eager to find any work she can, determined to support herself and not rely on their charity. And she refuses to marry St John, despite him being in many ways a suitable match, because she does not love him and knows he does not love her.

However, the Jane in the middle of the novel, the governess who falls in love with her enigmatic and aloof master at Thornfield, is a somewhat different character. Her tolerance of his rudeness (forcing her to attend a party with his wealthy friends and then ignoring her), lack of trust (he does not divulge the secrets of himself and the house even after she has saves his life and later nurses his badly injured friend), and especially the fact that he put her life in danger (by leaving her in the attic without telling her the truth of the situation) is hard to fathom. I guess love conquers all but I found her level of acceptance and lack of questioning to be inexplicable.

Mr Rochester goes on to commit the ultimate betrayal by trying to marry Jane, despite already being married. His deception is only revealed at the altar. She refuses his request to become his mistress and flees, only to nearly lose her life as a result of cold and hunger. Eventually , after much time and a significant reversal of both their fortunes, she finds her way back to him and they apparently live happily ever after.

Thankfully  ambiguous feelings about a title character do not have to prevent enjoyment of a novel and I did enjoy and can recommend Jane Eyre. It was beautifully written and the descriptions enhanced, rather than detracted from the novel as a whole. There was plenty of excitement which kept the plot moving along and the conflict - both within and between characters  -felt believable and gripping. Even though I had read the novel before I was still able to get caught up in the intrigue surrounding the attic. In many ways the romance between Jane and Rochester had a fresh feeling about it, largely due to Jane not being a stereotypical demure female. Plenty to think about as well - love, trust, forgiveness, reason vs emotion , the care of the mentally ill, and the importance of class status among other things.  And everyone likes a happy ending!

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