Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ReView of 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte

Classics - 578pgs
Penguin Books (first published 1847)

I would probably advise you to NOT to read this entry if you truly desire to read Jane Eyre with fresh eyes.  I have posted some quite lengthy passages from the book.  Why? Because I cherish them enough NOT to leave them unseen, and unread.  ;)

Be ready to immerse yourself... otherwise you will find this entry lengthy.... but I promise that if you are patient with it, you will find there's a beauty to the words.

This book has really taken me a while to begin reading.  Why?  I don't exactly know.  I do remember when I was around ninth grade in high school I took an interest in it, now I don't quite remember why.  There must have been something that really appealed to me, and if I would have to guess I think it would have to probably be the resiliency of the character, Jane Eyre.  Some things just take time to happen.  A few days ago the time came.  I have to say it is one of the best novels I have read so far, and I've been reading pretty frequently, even more books that I have chosen to post because it isn't their time yet to become famous my blog.  ;)

I have a hard time even choosing a point to begin from.  The novel is just so supremely rich and beyond depth.  It is soulful and enriching. You go through a transformation of love for the book and for Jane Eyre as you read through it.  It's also such an empowering and spiritual book.  I think Jane Eyre might just become my point of reference for many other novels, that's how high of a standard I have given it.

There's a lot to go into depth about, but I will only delve into just a few themes that really peaked my interest in this book beginning to end.

I was watching Friends one time and I remember Pheobe taking a literature class, and they were reading Jane Eyre.  The professor classified as 'ahead of its time'.  I thought, 'Wow, I really MUST read that book, now.  I wonder what he means by that."  I mean, it is probably, definitely, even ahead of OUR time NOW.  It has such a sophisticated outlook on what we nowadays call 'feminism' but I would say it isn't quite 'feminism' (this word I feel comes with a hard connotation) as much as female dignity, freedom, empowerment (in a softer more feminine sense) to be who they truly desire to be in their hearts and minds, as independent individual women.  Charlotte Bronte was, is, a remarkable writer in the way she could, can, explain such intellectually appealing passages, like this one:

"It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth.  Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them; if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."

One of the most beautiful things about this book is we see Jane Eyre's transformation through different stages of her life: her childhood at Gateshead, her education at Lowood Institution, her position as governess at Thornfield, her time with the Rivers family, and at last her reunion and marriage to Mr. Rochester.  It almost feels like I was living right there with her.  The way it's written adds to that, of course. It just draws you in with its wide and descriptive vocabulary, with its vivid depictions of thoughts, feelings, events, occurrences.  The way Charlotte Bronte addresses the reader directly, as 'the reader' also makes you feel part of the story, not just an outsider peaking in.  The way you're taken through every single step of her life, literally, I felt like I never missed a moment.  I literally felt as though I was Jane Eyre in her own body, soul, spirit, mind and heart.

What happens at each of the stages of her life is what's most profound about Jane Eyre.  As an orphan, at Gateshead, she finds herself dependent on her wealthy relatives, but it is a miserable dependency as she is humiliated and abused for the mere fact of who she is, the daughter of Mrs Reed's husband's sisters whom Mrs Reed has despised and loathed. This is something Jane Eyre doesn't find out until later in her life, and until then she struggles with this unexplainable struggle that comes with feelings of inferiority.  She goes through emotions of opposition: submission and rebellion, passivity and self-assertion, restraint and freedom (freedom she finds is when she stands up for herself and stands her ground).

'Why was I always suffering, always brown-beaten, always accused, forever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one's favor?"
"They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathize with one among them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment-of contempt of their judgment.  I know that, had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child, though equally dependent and friendless, Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scape-goat of the nursery."

"How dare I, Mrs Reed?  How dare I?  Because it is the truth.  You think I have no feelings, and that I can live without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so; and you have no pity.  I shall remember how you thrust me back-roughly and violently thrust me back into the red-room, and locked me up there-to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, 'Have mercy! Have mercy, Aunt Reed!' And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me-knocked me down for nothing.  I will tell anybody who asks me questions, this exact tale.  People think you are a good woman; but you are bad, hard-hearted.  You are deceitful."

Her time at Lowood, for me, took the form of two things: Helen Burns, someone she entrusted fully and who she considered one of her true friends, and secondly, her isolation and solitary confinement.  I loved the character of Helen Burns, she said some of the most wise and profound things to Jane Eyre, I almost wanted her to be the main character in the book. It just shows you, though, that sometimes the most secondary of characters can be the most primary of influence in someone's life.  Here are some of the things Helen Burns said:  this by the way, is someone at the age of about eleven, and someone who is about to die from a horrible disease....

"It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hastly action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you-and, besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil." 

"A great deal; you are good to those who are good to you.  It is all I ever desire to be.  If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but grow worse and worse.  When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should-so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."  
"You will change your mind, I hope, when you grow older; as yet you are but a little untaught girl."  
"But I feel this Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly.  It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved."
  "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despite-fully use you." 

"She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because, you see, she dislikes your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine.  But how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you!  What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings.  Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited?  Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.  We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world; but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain, the impalpable principle of life and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature; whence it came it will return-perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man-perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph!  Surely it will never end, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend?  No; I cannot believe that; I hold another creed, which is no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention, but in which I delight, and to which I cling; for it extends hope to all; it makes Eternity a rest-a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss.  Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last;  with this creed, revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low.  I live in calm, looking to the end."

"If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."

"Hush, Jane! you think too much of the love of human being; you are too impulsive, too vehement; the Sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you.  Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits; that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits watch us, for their are commissioned to guard us; and if we are dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides and hatred crushes us, and angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence ...., and God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward.  Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness-to glory?" 

"I am very happy Jane; and when you hear that I am dead you must be sure and not grieve; there is nothing to grieve about we all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is gentle and gradual; my mind is at rest.  I leave no one to regret me much; I have only a father; and he is lately married, and will not miss.  By dying young I shall escape great sufferings.  I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world; I should have been continually at fault."

The second part of her stay at Lowood was more so dedicated to her growth as an intellectual:
Then she taught herself.... "During these eight years my life was uniform, but not unhappy, because it was not inactive.  I had the means of an excellent education placed within my reach; a fondness for some of my studies and a desire to excel in all, together with a great delight in pleasing my teachers, especially such as I loved, urged me on.  I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me.  In time I rose to be the first girl of the first class; then I was invested with the office of teacher....; now I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse to seek real knowledge of life amid its perils."

"It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world; cut adrift from every connection uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that senation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it; and fear with me became predominant when half an hour elapsed and still I was alone."

Her time at Thornfield is at times dull, but there are some exciting events that you get caught up in.  I really think it it here she truly transforms the most as a female and as an adult (even though she is only nineteen-way beyond her years).  She discovers more about her own self, about her own spiritually, and she even learns some things from interacting and knowing about Mr. Rochester.
This is one of the quotes that really describes 'feminism', as we call it in our modern day world.  She says this as she feels caught up in restlessness and in dullness and inactivity of the day-to-day existence of her life.

"It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth.  Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them; if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
After a period of inactivity she finally stumbles onto a moment of excitement when Mr. Rochester arrives at Thornfield and accidentally bumps into her somewhere in the outskirts of the palace.   One of the most interesting things I found about her curiosity for him, was her interest in his 'peculiarity' as she said it.  This man turned out to be greatly misunderstood.  I found the reasons for being so even more capturing.

"He is not very forgiving; he broke with his family, and now for many years he has led an unsettled kind of life.  I don't think he has ever been resident of Thornfield for a fortnight toghether, since the death of his brother, without a will, left him master of the estate..."

"When fate wronged me, I had not the wisdom to remain cool; I turned desperate; then I degenerated.  Now, when any vicious simpleton excites my disgust by his paltry ribaldry, I cannot flatter myself that I am better than he; I am forced to confess that he and I are on a level.  I wish I had stood firm-God knows I do! Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life."
"Repentance is said to be its cure, sir."
"It is not its cure.  Reformation may be its cure; and I could reform- I have strength yet for that-if-but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am?  Besides since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure our of life; and I
will get it, cost what it may."
Then at some point in the book, they no longer belong independently, but to each other, and I found this one passage by Jane Eyre to perfectly describe her point of view, but also his, I believe to have been the same.
"He is not to them what he is to me," I thought; "he is not of their kind.  I believe he is of mind; I am sure he is-I feel akin to him-I understand the language of his countenance and movements; though rank and wealth server us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him.  Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands?  did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have, gathers impulsively round him.  I know I must conceal my sentiments; I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me.  For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feeling in common with him, I must, then, repeat continually that we are forever sundered; and yet, while I breath and think, I must love him."
Unfortunately, some turn of events happen and Jane Eyre decides to leave Thornfield. I just couldn't believe how deeply moving it was to see her make this decision.  It is best said in this passage, otherwise I will give away some of the plot.
"I care for myself.  The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained, I am, the more I will respect myself.  I will keep the law given by God, sanctioned by man.  I will hold to those principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad-as I am now.  Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise to mutiny against their rigor; stringent as they; inviolate they shall be.  If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth, so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane, quite insane with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.  Preconceived opinions, forgone determinations, are all I have this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot."

This is one of my MOST FAVORITE MOMENTS, and most profound of moments, because I can literally feel what she is saying and writing....
"Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt!  May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine!  May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love."

After leaving Thornfield, she survives and finds a place to stay with the Rivers family.  There are some SHOCKING events that transpire from here on.  It's a must read book for that reason, you'll see.  Just when you think it will resolve into an ending, it will make you crave for more answers.  When she arrives at the Rivers family we can see once again that she has transformed once again, she has matured, and her ways have evolved.  When she was younger she said she would equate the poor with the degenerate, but I think having found herself in a poor state when arriving at the Rivers family she had realized it, the poor weren't necessarily degenerates but quite the opposite.
"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm, as weeds among stones."

"Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime' even though when she was little she considered poverty the same a degeneration.
While at the Rivers family she finds herself in sort of undesirable situation and she feels that the questions demanded of her are a little strict and rigid.  And I love how she describes her reactions to them.  I have felt more than once what she is saying, but have never been able to put it so honestly clear.
"Reader, do you know, as I do, what terror those cold people can put into the ice of their questions?  How much of the fall of the avalanche is in their anger?  of the breaking up of the frozen sea in their displeasure?"
And finally, she reunites and marries Mr. Rochester.  When I read this next passage, I realized this is what all women, I think, desire to have with a man, I know I certainly do..... it's the ultimate, and most soul touching resolution to our lives....when it does happen....
"I have now been married ten years.  I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth.  I hold myself supremely blessed-blessed beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine.  No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.... To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company.  We talk, I believe, all day long; to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking.  All my confidence is bestowed on him; all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character; perfect concord is the result." 

Lastly, I want to mention two more themes are sort overcast throughout the whole book.  I'll forever remember these two statements....

"Genius is self-conscious."  I think it is this self-conscious nature of Jane Eyre that makes the novel such a timeless art of words.

"All is not gold that glitters." This is something we learn throughout the book at every point in Jane's life.  I'll leave it to the readers to see what I mean.

This is a must read novel, at least once in your life. 

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