Who knew? Who would have remotely guessed that I, a tomboy from childhood, only recently becoming feminine in the least, would find her absolute literary companion in a Romance novel from the 19th century in the form of Jane Eyre. Not I, I can assure you, but that is exactly what happened.
So far, I have been unable to wait to situate my thoughts into a focused and coherent blog entry, which I intend to do here. If you have not yet read this incredible novel, please, refrain from reading this until you do, as I mention and analyze many aspects of the plot, to the very ending, which will surely spoil the story for you. If you are a student, trying to find an adequate summary of the plot and characters, I urge you to look elsewhere, as what I write here is completely biased by my experiences and reflection. Sparknotes.com will contain any information you may require for your project (and in fact I encourage readers who’ve already read Jane Eyre to consult it as well, to catch some things you may not have, and get an impartial eye to events, though not as you read, because it is bound to spoil it for you as well), and yet I’ll urge you, student, to read the book yourself instead of idly searching the Internet for insight. What better place to gain it than from the source?
This post is going to be intolerably long and rambling, because when you love something, you never tire of talking about it. I wrestled with the thought of breaking this down into several posts, and after I began writing, I realized it was necessary…This first post outlines specifics of the book and the plot through Jane’s days at Lowood school (about page 78 of 418). I will try to keep my thoughts fairly organized for the outside reader::
Let me begin by amending the opening I’ve presented, this is not just a romance novel. Sparknotes calls this novel a hybrid of three genres: Gothic, Romance, and Bildungsroman (Yeah, I haven’t heard of it either).
Since I have little to no experience with these genres, I did a little bit of research, which I’ll share here (each source is linked to the title):
This type of category fiction dates back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Contemporary gothic novels are characterized by atmospheric, historical settings and feature young, beautiful women who win the favor of handsome, brooding heroes—simultaneously dealing successfully with some life-threatening menace, either natural or supernatural. Gothics rely on mystery, peril, romantic relationships and a sense of foreboding for their strong, emotional effect on the reader. A classic early gothic novel is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The gothic writer builds a series of credible, emotional crises for his ultimately triumphant heroine. Sex between the woman and her lover is implied rather than graphically detailed; the writer’s descriptive talents are used instead to paint rich, desolate, gloomy settings in stark mansions and awesome castles. He composes slow-paced, intricate sketches that create a sense of impending evil on every page.
Also known as the category romance, the romance novel is a type of category fiction in which the love relationship between a man and a woman pervades the plot. The story [is often] told from the viewpoint of the heroine, who meets a man (the hero), falls in love with him, encounters a conflict that hinders their relationship, then resolves the conflict. … Romance is the overriding element in this kind of story: The couple’s relationship determines the plot and tone of the book. The theme of the novel is the woman’s sexual awakening. Although she may not be a virgin, she has never before been so emotionally aroused. Despite all this emotion, however, characters and plot both must be well-developed and realistic: Contrived situations and flat characters are unacceptable. Throughout a romance novel, the reader senses the sexual and emotional attraction between the heroine and hero. Lovemaking scenes, though sometimes detailed, are not generally too graphic, because more emphasis is placed on the sensual element than on physical action.
Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical Bidungroman work, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is considered to be a direct descendant of that title, for points of reference.
1. A Bildungsroman is, most generally, the story of a single individual’s growth and development within the context of a defined social order. The growth process, at its roots a quest story, has been described as both “an apprenticeship to life” and a “search for meaningful existence within society.”
2. To spur the hero or heroine on to their journey, some form of loss or discontent must jar them at an early stage away from the home or family setting.
3. The process of maturity is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the protagonist’s needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order.
4. Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society. The novel ends with an assessment by the protagonist of himself and his new place in that society.
And here are the rest of the necessities::
Author: Charlotte Bronte – Originally published under Currer Bell, a pseudonym
First Published: 1847, London
Publisher: Smith, Elder, and Co.
Setting: Early 19th Century, Contemporary to the Author
My Edition: Barnes & Noble Leather-Bound Classics Edition, 2012 (includes works from Charlotte’s Sisters Emily & Anne, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively)
What generally follows is a journal of my thoughts whilst reading, not a plot summary or review. I am no literary analyst, just a mildly inexperienced reader.
Reed Family – Jane’s Childhood at Gateshead::
The first thing that bothered me about John Reed wasn’t the bullying at first, but his remark about the house and all its possessions belonging to him. How old could this boy be? 10? 12? Older? It is astounding to me that a child so young is given to know his power and responsibility at such a young age – not only to know it, but to give him that power so young. Mrs. Reed, from what I can tell, lets the boy walk all over her – all of her children, in fact do. Does this contribute to her hatred of Jane? Does she need one to take out her exasperations on? Later in the story we learn of why Mrs. Reed was never able to stand Jane, but could that reason hold to her throughout her life, no matter her actions? Poor John Reed’s early power over the Reed estate obviously came too early to him. He was not able to handle such absolute freedom, and turned him to a bossy child, a bully, and eventually a poor, desolate, destitute man. One of the saddest people we come to know in the book, and I believe a large contributor to it is the way Mrs. Reed makes him out as a saint through his entire childhood.
The Red-Room incident was interesting to me. As a child, or anyone for that matter, forced to be left in a room you knew someone had died in against your will, all alone, at night…it would shake anyone’s nerves. I love the exact moment just as Jane is most frightened.
“Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern carried by someone across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world.” … “’Are you hurt? Have you seen something?’ again demanded Bessie. ‘Oh! I saw a light, and I thought a ghost would come.’”
First, I love Jane’s reply there at the end (of course, why it’s included). “I thought a ghost would come.” How innocent and truly terrifying for her, for some reason the phrase was very striking to me. Somehow it embodies the time period, Jane’s honesty, and her childlike endearment. I really like how the scene unfolded, that Jane was able to get out of her sentence in the Red-Room, although not without obvious consequence to her nerves all the same, and was almost pampered afterwards. That Jane is looked after by the Apothecary is significant as well (as it is said that apothecaries are sent for to tend to servants only, and real doctors or surgeons for the family). It’s easy to throw Jane in with the servants, isn’t it? But we forget that Jane is directly descended from the man of the house (through his sister), who just happened to die before being able to properly situate the young infant into the family. Jane is not destitute. She is not a beggar, or even deserved the life she was made to have by her vindictive and spiteful Aunt. It turned out, of course, that the visit by Mr. Lloyd (the apothecary) delivered Jane’s salvation in a way, and was critical to Jane’s life overall (who knows what would have happened to her if she was made to stay at Gateshead). It was Mr. Lloyd who planted the seed in both Jane’s and Mrs. Reed’s minds of sending the young one off to school, which was then done, promptly.
Jane’s time at Lowood school opened my eyes to a lot of things about her era. The subjects studied by girls of the time, the boarding school type education received by them, the nature of teachers vs pupils that I’m sure was fairly accurate, at least for the most part. At Jane’s school, there was one man who presided over the rules and practices of the institution (for it was a school for orphan girls), Mr. Brocklehurst, who was a very religious, proper man who did not let earthly feelings of sympathy or kindness concern him. One passage in the book was especially chilling::
“My dear children,” pursued the black marble clergyman with pathos, “this is a sad, a melancholy occasion; for it becomes my duty to warn you that this girl, who might be one of God’s own lambs, is a little castaway- not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an alien. You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example-if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinize her actions, punish her body to save her soul-if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut-this girl is-a liar!”…”This I learned from her benefactress-from the pious and charitable lady who adopted her in her orphan state, reared her as her own daughter, and whose kindness, whose generosity the unhappy girl repaid by an ingratitude so bad, so dreadful, that at last her excellent patroness was obliged to separate her from her own young ones, fearful lest her vicious example should contaminate their purity.”
I was utterly outraged by the end of this scene. What on earth would have possessed him to spread such a terrible, possibly life altering rumor? He interviewed young Jane himself previously at Gateshead and her answers were nothing but honest (I have to say I chuckled when she answered she was to keep in good health as not to die and go to hell). How were her answers then to show she was such an evil spirit, because she didn’t like the psalms? Ridiculous! If anyone should have been made to burn in the fiery depths of hell, I should think it far more likely him than Jane, personally.
As I read through the cruelties enumerated in the beginning of this book, I could not help but wonder how children survived in times such as these. How terrible we were to our own race! Did no one have sympathy on children? When Helen came and spoke to Jane after the declaration of her wickedness, I was so relieved. It meant to me that this book would not just be terrible to be terrible (as many contemporary copy-cats tend to be, I will leave that topic for another post), that there were good people in the world being woven through these pages. I have no interest reading a book that will do nothing but depress me. Who wants to read a book that has no satisfactory resolution, a story that leaves a feeling of sickness at the pit of your stomach whenever you think of it? Not I. I’ve done it before, and have no wish to repeat the experience.
Now we are brought to Helen Burns, who shines like a light to young Miss Eyre. Helen encapsulates a new way of considering things to Jane, a fresh perspective. To every negative unendurable thing Jane can think of, Helen transforms it to nothing with only a few words. Jane is acting childish (but also understandably), and Helen stands as the epitome of wisdom, by contrast.
“’Helen, why do you stay with a girl whom everybody believes to be a liar?’
‘Everybody, Jane? Why, there are only eighty people who have heard you called so, and the world contains hundreds of millions.’
‘But what have I to do with millions? The eighty I know despise me.’
‘Jane, you are mistaken: probably not one in the school either despises or dislikes you: many, I am sure, pity you much.
How can they pity me after what Mr. Brocklehurst said? ‘
‘Mr. Brocklehurst is not a god: nor is he even a great and admired man: he is little liked here; he never took steps to make himself liked. Had he treated you as an especial favorite, you would have found enemies, declared or covert, all around you; as it is, the greater number would offer you sympathy if they dared.’”
Helen was Jane’s first friend in the world, and it is cruel to be removed from one under such circumstances, but at least her ending was as beautiful as she was. I hope that heaven exists for angels such as Helen Burns.
Perhaps what really made me invest my interest in this book, at first, is Jane’s sensibility in the face of the absurd practices of her time, which came apparent to me at her time at Lowood. She was so honest and spoke her heart (couldn’t help to), and it made her a ‘wicked child’ because of the position she was in. I noticed though (recollecting Gateshead), all the other children were able to pursue whatever they liked…John, a bossy jerk and Eliza, with her juvenile marketing and money obsession – her mother even ordered the gardener (and other servants?) to buy anything she offered to sell to them. She then had her mother be her own banker, to the extent of charging her interest! I wonder how long that was allowed to go on…
I have to say that I’m glad Charlotte skipped Jane’s remaining years at Lowood School. As she states quite clearly at the close, “a few lines only are necessary to keep up the links of connection.” This, I think is a good time to mention one reason I love this book over all others: Not one bit of it is boring. Everything recounted in the story Jane tells us is integral to its conclusion, I believe. If the book had not opened so early in Jane’s life, we would not have been able to see the hardships she had to endure to get where she is by the conclusion. This book, if you’ve read the genre’s descriptors, and if not I’m telling you now, is a tale of coming-of-age more than romance, although (in this case, and I truly believe in all others) one cannot completely have one without the other. How is that for a long sentence? I cannot think of one single scene that I’d have omitted (well, perhaps one of the multiple times St. John urged Jane to marry him I could do without). All characters and scenes are interesting and relevant. It is masterful storytelling, and to say anything else would not compare it to the vast landscape of written word.
I was glad to hear that Jane and Miss Temple became good friends, and when Mr. Rochester remarks later on that she had stayed at Lowood an entire 8 years in aghast, I know it was because of her. Jane of course knew nothing else in the world. The only other place she could remember was much more horrible than that place, so it’s completely understandable that she didn’t wish to leave without the catalyst of her friend’s departing. I was very happy for her, to have found someone in this world who brightened it for her. I do wonder though, why there was never mention of her ever keeping correspondence with anyone, though letters are mentioned throughout the book. Perhaps it was too expensive to send regular correspondence? I wonder at that.
A word on the writing, before this post concludes: This, probably, is what swept me away so fully, and yet it is what deterred me so greatly for so long, away from this story. To me, this book (and others of its time) completely breaks all of the conventional rules. In school, we are taught to write as sparingly as possible. Countless times I’d receive papers and essays back with words deliberately crossed out with none to replace them. Over time, I learned that the words were not necessary for what I was trying to accomplish. This, then, is what is being taught to the children of our day. Less is more. Get to the point. Perhaps, once I got past my first reservations concerning this point, the contrast created the beauty; but I don’t think so. The sentences are beautiful in and of themselves.
I am one who adores language, and English being mine, I appreciate entirely the beauty in which Charlotte created such long and flowing sentences. It’s astonishing to see the length of some of them in these pages, and that they make perfect sense? It’s incredible to me. Why has modern writing, and speaking for that matter, steadily gotten more precise and less beautiful?
A sign we’ve gone too far: we have a dictionary to understand text messages now. LOL (laughing out loud), JK (Just Kidding), NM (Never Mind), TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday), TY (Thank You)…is it really too much effort to type out your objective? I’ve been rebelling against this phenomenon since I got my own cell phone to participate in such practices.
Some phrasing in this book did seem a little over the top: ‘Installed his person in the armchair’ seemed a little too much for me when I stumbled upon it. Why not just say ‘took a seat’ or ‘sat down’ instead, saving descriptors for something else. At other times, I thought the choice of using the more elaborate phrasing made an action infinitely more beautiful, such as the phrase, ‘The door unclosed’, which is used several times throughout the novel. In fact, I’m unsure that any doors actually ‘opened’, as I never noticed those occurrences. Ah, perhaps exactly the point.
That is where I’ll cut myself off for today, if only for the sake of length.
It may be good or bad news to you, Reader, to know that several more of this length and longer, will soon follow.