Hi everyone! Happy Wednesday! Wednesdays are the best, because you know that once you’ve made it this far, the weekend is only two short days away, and then you can FINALLY sleep and watch all the BBC miniseries that you want!
A housekeeping thing, and then we shall begin: thanks to my fellow blogger Keely (whose adventures in Hobbiton are just as exciting as mine!), I have finally figured out how to allow you lovely people to subscribe to my blog, so you never have to leave the comfort of your inbox. You will see a little subscribe button aaaaall the way on the right hand side of this page; just type in your preferred e-mail address, and you’re all set!
OK. So, I’ve been thinking of doing this sort of post for a while. See, I like a lot of things, and not all of them necessarily crop up during conversations about my time at Cornell. So I decided that once in a while, it wouldn’t hurt to press the “pause” button on my senior year and talk about things outside of classes and the like. And thus was born Things I Like! A very inventive name, I am well aware.
As I have probably already mentioned, I am an English major concentrating in 19th century literature. There aren’t very many of us: most of my fellow English majors tend to fall on the very tail ends of the spectrum (medieval literature or modernist literature). What made me decide I wanted to study the Romantics and the Victorians? Well, Jane Eyre kind of decided for me.
I would be lying if I didn’t state that this gorgeous man had nothing to do with my interest in the 19th century. But really, can you blame me? That cocked head, those discerning eyes…Mr. Darcy, to paraphrase Elizabeth, is all yumminess. Photo credit: http://mybeautifulbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/yawn-i-loved-this-book-pride-and-prejudice-by-jane-austen/prideandprejudice1/
I was twelve, and my parents decided that I read too many fantasy novels. This was a fact more than a belief, but that didn’t mean I saw anything wrong with it. Finally, I got sick and tired of being told to read classics, and I began reading them with a vengeance. Jane Eyre was one of those classics, and it has been one of my favorite books since then.
For those of you who haven’t read the book…go read it right now. Seriously. There is no excuse…oh, I’m just kidding! Jane Eyre is an orphan who lives with her horrible aunt Reed and her equally horrible cousins. Her aunt finally has enough of her and sends her off to Lowewood School, where she eventually becomes a teacher. But Jane has never been one for the settled life and so she advertises as a governess. She is hired by a Mr. Rochester, who she falls in love with and who falls in love with her. BUT ARE THEY FATED TO BE RENT ASUNDER BY THE FORCES OF CONVENTION AND SOCIETY? DUN DUN DUUUUUUN!
That summary was getting a little bit boring, so I decided to make it more dramatic, teehee. Anyways, while my very cursory synopsis most likely makes Jane Eyre seem dry and tedious, I promise you it is anything but. The almost-Gothic atmosphere Charlotte Bronte evokes is haunting and chilling; I had nightmares for days the first time I read it. An example:
A dream had scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted, scared by a marrow-freezing incident enough.
This was a demoniac laugh–low, suppressed, and deep–uttered, as it seemed, at the very key-hole of my chamber door. The head of my bed was near the door, and I thought at first, the goblin-laugher stood at my bedside–or rather, crouched by the pillow: but I rose, looked round, and could see nothing; while, as I still gazed, the unnatural sound was reiterated: and I knew it came from behind the panels (pp. 113).
OK, so in the age of “Scream 500,” I suppose Jane’s half-dream isn’t that creepy, but imagine being twelve years old and reading this at one in the morning under the covers with a flashlight! But even if you aren’t creeped out, you must admit to the eloquence and fluid nature of Bronte’s writing. One of my favorite moments in the novel is when Jane returns to Thornfield Hall after a long absence:
A lover finds his mistress asleep in a mossy bank; he wishes to catch a glimpse of her fair face without waking her. He steals softly over the grass, careful to make no sound; he pauses–fancying she has stirred: he withdraws; not for worlds would he be seen. All is still: he again advances: he bends above her; a light veil rests on her features: he lifts it, bends lower; now his eyes anticipate the vision of beauty–warm, and blooming, and lovely, in rest. How hurried was their first glance! But how they fix! How he starts! How he suddenly and vehemently clasps in both arms the form he dared not, a moment since, touch with his finger! How he calls aloud a name, and drops his burden, and gazes on it wildly! He thus grasps and cries, and gazes, because he no longer fears to waken by any sound he can utter–by any movement he can make. He thought his love slept sweetly: he finds that she is stone-dead (pp. 306).
Bronte paints an incredibly moving and beautifully sad scene with her words, a skill that very few writers have. I suppose it is a bit indulgent and sentimental. But no one who knows me well has ever called me ascetic or practical. And besides, is my heart made of stone?! She’s dead for God’s sake! And he is left alone in this world!! (Granted, this passage is all one extremely long metaphor…but still! Have some heart, people!)
Fine writing aside, I suppose my real reasons for my attachment to this book, and the reason I’m bringing it up now, are a bit deeper. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been in a relationship, but of course, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been in love. And no book or movie or song more perfectly encapsulates my romantic experiences than Jane Eyre.
Well, except the “Oh isn’t this swell, we love each other, let’s get married and have children” part. That hasn’t happened for me yet. Coincidentally, this is a still (from http://esotericsips.blogspot.com/2011/10/jane-eyre-2011.html) from the 2006 version of Jane Eyre, which I highly recommend you watch…after you read the book!
I love love. I have a lot of it for friends and family, I love reading about it, I love talking about it. I understand that love, especially first love, can be consuming, encompassing, even painful, especially when it is seemingly unrequited.
“Unrequited?” you say. “But Jane and Rochester look so happy in the above picture, I am seething with envy.”
See, Rochester is a complicated man. “You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?” he asks her. “Of course not: I need not ask you; because you have never felt love” (pp. 108). His plan to make her realize her feelings for him? Pretend to take up with another woman, the honorable Blanche Ingram, and watch Jane suffer the little green-eyed monster’s wrath. Which she promptly does.
Hey, I never said either of these characters were angels.
Anyways, the point is that Jane’s reaction to this test is probably very familiar to anyone who has ever been in love without being loved back:
I saw Mr. Rochester smile:–his stern features softened; his eye grew both brilliant and gentle, its ray both searching and sweet. He was talking, at the moment, to Louisa and Amy Eshton. I wondered to see them receive with calm that look which seemed to me so penetrating: I expected their eyes to fall, their colour to rise under it; yet I was glad when I found they were in no sense moved. “He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;–I am sure he is–I feel akin to him,–I understand the language of his countenance and movements…I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him…Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have, gather’s impulsively around him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me…and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him (pp. 131).
Even just typing this passage out brings up so many feels…where to begin? Bronte has crafted a stream of consciousness that speaks to anyone who has ever been in love: the way in which Rochester’s smile draws Jane’s eye, the fervent wish for that smile to be directed at her rather than other women, the belief that for the rest of her life, no matter what she does, as long as she lives, she will never think of Rochester without love of the most passionate kind, the admirable but unsuccessful attempt to “smother hope.” Perhaps what I like best about this passage–and about the book as a whole–is that we as readers get why Jane and Rochester are attracted to each other. While attraction almost always has something to do with the physical, for Jane, her love is based upon the melding of minds, of souls, even; she has found her intellectual and spiritual equal, and who cares if he’s considered ugly and above her station?
And that brings me to the number one reason why I love this book to pieces: the love Rochester and Jane hold for each other is passionate and intense, but it is a meeting of equals, of individuals who are both fiercely independent and who will be part of one another’s worlds without being one another’s worlds. I think Bronte can say it better than I can:
“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield:–I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life,–momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright, and energetic, and high. I have talked…with an original, a vigorous, and expanded mind. I have known you Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is looking on the necessity of death” (p. 186).
While Jane might be a little high-flown at the prospect of leaving Rochester, the gist of her outburst rings true. Love is finding the person you want to call home for the rest of your life: wherever that person is, as long as he/she is there, you are home. And especially with first love, the idea of being torn away from that person, that imagined home, is incredibly painful.
And yet, Jane is adamant about leaving Rochester when staying would go against her principles and morals. “I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you,” she tells him when he asks her to marry him (pp. 186). In that moment, she consents, but when she realizes they cannot be married (I know, I know, most of you already are aware of this “obstacle,” but for those of you who aren’t, I refuse to ruin the surprise!), she makes her own way in the world, despite the pain it causes both her and him: “What unutterable pathos was in his voice! How hard it was to reiterate firmly ‘I am going’” (pp. 232).
Though it’s not made explicit in the book, I think I could make a case that it is love that allows Jane to make this decision. While at first her abandonment of Rochester seems callous, I think his love for her brings out the best in her: her passionate nature, her kindness and her principles that allow her to leave him when she knows that to stay would be morally wrong. They are both better people for having loved each other. And that, in my mind, is exactly as it should be.
Well, thanks for reading! Please let me know in the comments whether you have read the book, and if so, whether you liked it or disliked it!