Allison Reads Bronte: Jane Eyre, Part Two

And now for another edition of the Brontesaurus.  (Yeah, I don’t think I’m keeping that name….)  I don’t know why I’m sharing this blow-by-blow reaction to Jane Eyre, but I think this blog’s the best place to do it.

I finished the Lowood School story arc in Jane Eyre.  One thing that really jumped out at me at the final chapters of this arc is the irony of the spring season at Lowood.  Inside the school’s walls, the students are stricken with a devastating plague, but on the outside, Jane vividly describes the beautiful changes in nature, the renewal of plant life, that comes with the new season.  Oh, and Helen Burns dies from the plague.  That’s pretty tragic.

Following the plague, people in power take note of Brocklehurst’s corruption, and start making improvements in the students’ living conditions.  Things take a turn for the better in this regard.

Jane spends the next eight years toiling at her studies in Lowood, which has transformed into a much healthier and positive environment.  In this time, a fine and reserved young woman develops.  But the butt-kicking, chutzpahdik child I adored from the previous chapters dies away.  Jane is still appealingly clever, but I’m not a fan of the self-righteous, ascetic qualities she’s developed in this time.  I feel like Jane’s spirited nature died away as she sought to conform to the school’s routine.

When the kindly Miss Temple leaves to marry, Jane’s connection with Lowood diminishes significantly.  Despite the revolutionary changes made to the school by the new committee, I think what truly kept Jane tethered to this place were the people she loved there.  Helen – a kindred spirit of Jane’s – is dead for some time at this point, and now Miss Temple is gone, so Jane decides to seek respectable employment in the big, scary world as a governess.

At this point, Jane also reunites with that awful Bessie woman.  Again, I still don’t get how these two are friends.  Bessie shares some gossip about Jane’s aunt and cousins.  Most notable is cousin John Reed who carries the reputation of an irresponsible deadbeat and his mother knows it.

At this point, I came to an interesting conclusion.  At least two of the Bronte sisters seem to have a tendency towards writing two particular types of male characters: ne’er-do-wells that share characteristics with their brother Branwell, and tall, dark, morally ambiguous, Byronic men.

In Jane Eyre, I assert that John Reed is meant to parallel Branwell with respect to his irresponsible tendencies and gambling problems.  And though I’ve yet to read it for myself, Arthur Huntingdon in Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is said to be a Branwell-analogue as well.

In Jane Eyre, if this isn’t already obvious, Mr. Edward Rochester is Charlotte’s tall, dark, Byronic dude with questionable morals.  Emily’s is Heathcliff, obviously.  I’ve yet to find Anne’s, since I haven’t read any of her books, but I’m sure he’s out there too,

The Bronte sisters had very sheltered upbringings, if you ask me.  They attended boarding schools and had brief stints as governesses, but otherwise it seems they didn’t get out much. So they wrote about the disappointing young man in their lives, and the type of man they idealized in their expansive imaginations.  Just like teenage girls today dream of relationships with famous people without much thought to whether they’d actually make compatible partners, the Brontes must have daydreamed of adventures with these Byronic heroes (or villains), and I think this shows in the leading men they wrote in their stories.

Going back to the narrative, Jane is hired by an elderly lady named Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall, to teach a young French girl named “Adela,” or Adele.  Adele’s character intrigues me, mostly because I’m rereading this book with knowledge of her background.  (I’m definitely interested in exploring other authors’ interpretations of the character, if only I can find those of the PG-rated variety.)

Adele gets disregarded by our oft-parochial narrator as “not bright” and far too melodramatic and extravagant, the antithesis to Jane’s ascetic Lowood upbringing.  I think Adele is simply healthily naive, as befits her age.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like this character, because she reminds me of what Jane could have been.

Let’s do a quick comparison.  Adele and Jane are both orphans, neglected by their guardians to some extent.  There’s definitely speculation that Adele is the child of Mr. Rochester, whom he refuses to acknowledge as family out of gentlemanly weirdness.  But she is welcome in his home nonetheless as a ward.

Jane, on the other hand, was treated like a leper by her uncle’s family, and subject to neglect and abuse at their hands.  These trying experiences hardened her, made her grow up too fast.  That said, I don’t think Jane is qualified to make statements about Adele’s character based on the child’s maturity (or lack thereof).

At this point, we also get some epic foreshadowing for the Grace Poole / Bertha Mason subplot.  I remember getting such chills when I first read about the mysterious, ominous “ha ha ha has” that Jane heard on her first day of work.  This doesn’t faze me as much this time around, but this was one of the creepy elements that first motivated me to read this book in full, unabridged splendor.

As Jane grows accustomed to her new position at Thornfield Hall, she admits she has become bored of its repetitiveness.  Here’s an interesting excerpt, which is a nice, pro-feminist gem:

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.

The boredom (and feminism) ends when Thornfield’s master, Mr. Rochester, shows up suddenly, returning from one of his long excursions to “the Continent.”  In the famous scene where he and Jane meet, he orders her around a lot, and she just does as he says.  I’ve read that in more recent film adaptations, the interchange is far more heated.  Jane is less demure and compliant – she talks back to Mr. Rochester like her nine year old self.

Where I stopped reading, Jane was starting to converse intellectual with Mr. Rochester about various things.  Outwardly, she’s so shy and reserved, letting Rochester feel like he’s in charge, but inwardly, her clever mind still works.  Nonetheless, I fear the last remnants of the clever, butt-kicking Jane I adore is about to get lost as the unlikely romance with the morally ambiguous, tall, dark, and not-exactly-handsome dude of Charlotte’s imaginings blossoms.


P.S. This is the point where I lost interest in rereading the book.  I kept going to the point where Jane rescued Mr. R. from arson, but her pining for him started to get on my nerves.  The book’s gone back to the library at this point, so I’ll either continue from Project Gutenberg at a later point, or let the book be for a while.  I’m told ‘The Professor’ by Charlotte is also interesting, and offers a very different perspective on religion.  Perhaps I’ll seek that out on PG when I have the time.

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