Today is the day, after reading two excellent books, that I bend my brain comparing the two to see what sort of connections I can draw between them. I should be honest and say that I haven’t read or heard really anything comparing the two, except simply that they often are. I’ve never done something like this, really, so I’m not sure where I’ll end up by the end of this…but hopefully for those of you who’ve read them both will find this interesting, and perhaps have some further insight on some points.
Jane Eyre VS Rebecca
Published 91 years apart, both are told through the eyes of a young and inexperienced woman in the first person. Although both novels are both technically ‘Gothic’, Rebecca had a much darker tone throughout. Because of the bleak opening describing an abandoned and desolate mansion, the tone was bleak straight away. Although many of the first events should have been happy, exciting moments, they were overshadowed by a future gloom. In Jane Eyre there is no such foreshadowing; we start in her childhood and only later find out she’s telling the story after the fact. Although Jane is faced with much cruelty and hardship in her young years, it is nothing compared to the looming shadow over the beginning of Rebecca.
To me, there are more differences than similarities between these two novels – the only major similarities I noticed on my first reading of Rebecca, is between Rochester and Maxim de Winter:
1) They both married the wrong woman first.
2) They both own glorious estates which they cherish, and then lose.
Rochester and de Winter have very different circumstances in their young adulthood::
Both are filthy rich; Rochester has to marry in order to maintain his status, because he has an older brother who inherits all the family fortune. His father finds a suitable woman for him to marry in the West Indies, and Rochester is sent off straight away. Wooed mostly by the woman’s family, not getting much alone time with the wife-to-be, he hastily proposes and the consequences soon become apparent.
de Winter is an only son in his family, and always knew he would inherit the family fortune and estate, and is only expected to marry a woman of high stature, is not in need of the match. Rebecca is incredibly popular and well loved by all who she meets, but after Maxim marries her, she shows him her true sinister qualities, and he is instantly and forever horrified by his mistake.
Edward was betrayed by his own family to marry someone they knew was insane, while Maxim came to Rebecca on his own with the support of his family, throughout his lifetime. With these things in mind, it is easy to see how the men end up when met by their new love interests; Rochester incredibly moody and grim when he meets Jane, and de Winter distracted and seemingly indifferent when he meets the unnamed narrator.
Jane and Rebecca’s narrator are also differ greatly::
Jane knows her own mind, she discovered her spirit when she was 10 years old, and never lost the confidence it gave her. Though she knew her place in the world and acted accordingly, she never let anyone push her around, nor anyone she loved.
Rebecca’s narrator had no backbone whatsoever. She, also coming from very bleak prospects, she has no self-confidence whatsoever, and is constantly pushed around and bullied by those around her.
The courtships themselves are vastly different as well::
When Rochester returns home, he finds that Jane is now a resident in his household, as the tutor to the child who has become his responsibility, Adele. Their relationship starts out conventionally, as a master and governess should be aquatinted, and then it grows in their hearts, slowly and torturously until neither one can deny it from themselves any longer. Although Rochester is a very confident fellow, he plays love games with his dear Jane, testing her admiration and quite how far she will go for his love without outright declaring it (as she could never do). As no one knows Rochester is married (besides perhaps a select few in his own house), there is nothing, memory or guilty conscience, to plague her mind – although if it was widely known that he was married and his wife yet alive, I’m sure Jane would not have fallen in love with him, at least not to the full extent she ends up doing. As in Rebecca, the proposal happens much earlier in the book as you might expect, although Jane Eyre is not quite as early as Rebecca. The proposal also doesn’t go quite as you’d expect – on Rochester’s part, he is entirely romantic – swoon worthy, really – and yet Jane can’t get out of her mind the other woman he tricked her into thinking he would marry. Some of my favorite lines in the book come from that scene :-)
The narrator and Maxim de Winter’s courtship wasn’t much of one, in my opinion. Basically they meet by chance because of the manipulation of the narrator’s employer for her own benefit. It is awkward then, as it was awkward on nearly every car ride we’re able to ‘see’ in the pages, and the proposal comes only because the shortness of time makes it necessary. Honestly I thought he did more to save the girl from an undesirable fate, as she would have had if she’d stayed with her employer, and it isn’t until nearly the end of the book that we find out that he really did love her. He makes almost no sign of it whatsoever – he is distracted and a little bit rude for most of the book, and although that is explained later on, it still doesn’t fully make up for it in my opinion. The innocence of the narrator alone would have let her love him despite himself.
While Jane Eyre has several antagonists, non are quite so terrible as Mrs. Danvers, who is an absolutely wicked and haunting character in Rebecca. Jane Eyre faced a lot of hardships and social blockades (Mr. Brocklehurst, Aunt Reed, Blanch Ingram), but the narrator in Rebecca had someone who was really out to get her in revenge of her former mistress in Mrs. Danvers. Really, that book is quite dramatic – a perfect spooky read for October.
I absolutely loved both novels in different ways, and continue recommending them to everyone in sight, and although they’re not very similar at all, they’re both worth their weight in gold. If you’ve not read either or neither, then I suggest you get reading ;-)