7 April 2014

Love

"Jane Eyre" was written by Charlotte Bronte when she was thirty years old and was first published in 1847. She was born in 1816 in the West Riding of Yorkshire, one of the daughters of the Reverend Patrick Bronte. Her mother had died when she was five years old. She outlived all of her siblings - the more famous sisters Emily and Anne as well as Maria, Elizabeth and her troubled brother Branwell. Charlotte herself died when she was only thirty eight having married the previous year.

Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" is a brilliant novel with many layers, different narrative techniques and secret corners. At times its grammar is complicated and some sentences have to be read more than once to secure understanding. In contrast, I found "Jane Eyre" to be a very straightforward novel - fluent and easy to read which - given its age - was somewhat surprising. I had expected it to tax my powers of concentration to the limit.

What motivated me to read this nineteenth century classic for the first time was recent walks I have taken by North Lees Hall near Hathersage in Derbyshire. It has often been said that Charlotte Bronte modelled Mr Rochester's home - Thornfield Hall upon North Lees but having read the novel very carefully I submit that it is far more likely that she had North Lees Hall in mind when she created Moor House - the family residence of the Rivers family. It is altogether a more humble, smaller property than the Thornfield Hall she describes and Moor House is located, like North Lees close to open moorland in sight of the parish church.

Jane was a governess at Thornfield Hall where she gradually fell in love with the master of the house - Edward Rochester. These loving feelings were reciprocated and they were about to be married but at the last moment Jane discovered that the house contained an awful secret - her husband to be was already married and the wife he had acquired in the West Indies was a violent lunatic living in a secret attic room. Rather than follow her heart, Jane obeyed her Victorian moral code. And in this extract you see Rochester expressing his growing and desperate realisation that he will not alter her will. He has in effect lost her:-

"Never," said he, as he ground his teeth, "never was anything at once so frail and indomitable. A mere reed she feels in my hand!" (And he shook me with the force of his hold.) "I could bend her with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent, if I uptore, if I crushed her? Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild free thing looking out of it, defying me with more than courage - with a stern triumph. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it - the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its clay dwelling-place. And it is you, spirit - with will and energy, and virtue and purity - that I want: not alone your brittle frame. Of yourself you could come with soft flight and nestle against my heart, if you would: seized against your will, you will elude the grasp like an essence - you will vanish ere I inhale your fragrance. Oh! come, Jane, come!" (page 417)

Reading good books can be a strange affair. Motivation is important - you have to be in the right frame of mind and sometimes you have to be at the right point in your life. Having unfettered time to devote to "Jane Eyre" was important. Many times in the past my appreciation of good books was spoilt by the interruptions of everyday life - mostly in the form of work with its hamster-on-a-wheel urgency. Good books deserve good quality attention - not snatched and sleep-tainted chapters at midnight before you turn off the bedside lamp.
1943 film credit
"Jane Eyre" wouldn't be right for everyone but for me at this particular point  in my life it was a very good read. I enjoyed the way it gave me glimpses of the author's being as she walked in Jane Eyre's dainty shoes and I also appreciated the historical by-products of the novel - indicating something of northern English life and manners in the first half of the nineteenth century. As I have suggested before, the blurb and cover design of the Penguin paperback make this classic novel look like romantic pulp - aimed at an entirely female audience ("Love can overcome anything") and that is - I think - insulting to such a trailblazing  writer. Besides, as a subject, love should not be seen as the exclusive domain of women readers. Just like Mr Rochester, male readers are also keenly interested in love - this core aspiration of human life.

12 comments:

  1. So agree with you on what you say about good books needing us to be in the right frame of mind for them. Admittedly, I am not always in the mood for that, which partly explains my rather un-intellectual choice of reading material.

    Like you, in reading books from times past, I very much appreciate the glimpses of what was life like in those days and that particular part of the world.

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    1. I am pleased we are on the same wavelength with this Arian and when you are busy in the workaday world "un-intellectual" chick-lit books are permissible. I won't report you to Big Brother.

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  2. I agree with you YP. How insulting! Jenny Colgan is a chick lit writer and although I have enjoyed the odd chick lit book, I would never read the same one more than once. I could read the Bronte sisters' books over and over again and still love them. The cover of that book is equally insulting to the very intelligent author.

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    1. To use Jenny Colgan's name on the front cover is a rather sick joke and it is clearly there to attempt to boost sales and profits by reining in chick-lit addicts who may otherwise have overlooked the Brontes.

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    2. Just a thought. Is it a Bad Thing to get the chick-lit addicts, for whom you appear to have a certain contempt, to experience better literature which they may not otherwise read? And why not boost sales and profits so that books can be affordable for everyone and not just a few with the money to indulge themselves. And if someone managed to find a way to market Robert Tressell's must read epic so that it was bought and read by a wider audience would you not applaud? Sorry. That's three thoughts.

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    3. Interesting points GB but I am not entirely sure that you got my drift. It's not about affordability, it's about misleading people. By the way I think that "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" is an over-hyped, amateurish novel and not one that I would personally recommend.

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    4. Had you not qualified your statement with a reference to profits you might have a point but as you did qualify it my statement about affordability is equally valid. I disagree, too, with the import of your statement about TRTP. I think however unreadable it might be (and I think it is hard going) it is one of the few novels that really goes into the nitty gritty of what it was like in that period to be part of that sector of society. The way votes were 'bought' and the grubbiness of politics on all sides was also rather well portrayed I would have thought too. After all we blame (rightly in my humble opinion) the bankers and financiers for the mess the world economic situation has got into now but we are not blameless either. Most people in the home-owning classes base their financial lives on house prices rising. That is an inflationary situation which disadvantages everyone who is either not a home-owner or is retired on a fixed income. We are none of us guilt free.

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    5. The subject matter of "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" greatly appealed to me when I first read it but the literary craftsmanship on display was very disappointing. Characters tended to be unconvincing - cartoonlike and that's one of the reasons I didn't rate it in the end.

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  3. So totally agree with your comments about the front cover design.

    I've noticed that book jacket art seems to go in phases; last year was metallic colourings and before that it was butterflies or moths in dark greens and purples, whether they had any relation or bearing to the matter of the book itself. No doubt based on deep psychological research as to what attracts the consumers' eye, but very bizarre.

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    1. The people who commission book covers must be in league with the people who design new supermarkets - all geared towards raking more money in. Thanks for dropping by again Elizabeth.

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  4. I love "Jane Eyre". I had to write an essay on it when I was in high school and I received top marks for my effort and then had to read it out to the class. I was thrilled pink and felt quite proud of myself, although I did my best to hide said pride!

    And as for the late brilliant Orson Welles...I've always been a fan of Welles.

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    1. You must have been a very good schoolgirl Lee and if I had been your teacher I would have taken you for a drive in the country as a reward. We could have stopped for a picnic.

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