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Friday, November 20, 2015

Yeah I'm Pretty Much the Only Person To "Get" Jane Eyre No Big Deal

Do you remember how a couple of days ago I got all downer hour on everyone and I was like "ooh maybe we should stop worrying for one tiny second about if your tv show gets cancelled and start thinking about people living lives of quiet horror?" I know, I'm the worst. I got on that kick because I was thinking about this book I read. You might have heard about it. It's called The Sears Wishbook. No. I mean Jane Eyre. Poor Jane, you guys. What a life. It works out ok. I mean, she's dead now because it was published like 170 years ago. So that happened. But the book ends kind of nice. Spoiler alert.

If you read the Goodreads  reviews for Jane Eyre you’d think it was all about a romance between two central characters. (Goodreads! Manufacturing drivel in exchange for nothing! Misunderstanding even basic literature since 2006!) There’s a lot of talk about Mr. Rochester in the same hushed tones as the endless discussion of Mr. Darcy. All these misters in Victorian literature rarely seem like fully fleshed-out characters. Instead they are a well-dressed symbol of escape from poor life in a world where for a woman there is no other option.


It’s a shame that so many people read Jane Eyre in high school and never look at it again. To a young reader, it could come across as a treatise on how with enough wit and intelligence, even a plain girl can marry into money! Just as Les Miserables somehow cast off its discussion of French history, religion, philosophy, social justice, young radicalism, and Parisian architecture to become a trite story of two people who fall in love even though one of them is a personality-free blank-slate, Jane Eyre somehow becomes about Mr. Rochester. O Mr. Rochester!

Jane Eyre is not about Mr. Rochester, who is for the most part a whiny spoiled diaper baby. It’s about a young woman who overcomes impossible odds to become someone whole in spite of everyone around her telling her from a young age that she was born wicked.  Early in her life a good friend sees value in her. “If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.” It’s basically Harry Potter if Harry wasn’t useless without Hermione and if magic were raw intelligence and tuberculosis was killing everyone.

At the time, Jane Eyre was considered pretty subversive. It critiqued virtually every aspect of agreed-upon society. According to one review from the time, it committed “that highest moral offence a novel writer can commit that of making an unworthy character interesting in the eyes of the reader.” The reviewer goes on to say, “It is true that Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is perceptible upon her.” In other words, even though Jane consistently chooses the path that is best for her, because she does it without being told to by a religious figure, she’s wrong.

“We cannot help feeling that this work must be far from beneficial to that class of ladies whose cause it affects to advocate.” Sound advice for men who are concerned about what fool ideas these “novels” are putting into their previously docile wives’ pretty little heads.

In Victorian times, the poor were an underclass with no chance of mobility, and women doubly so. In a side plot we see a beautiful girl throw herself at one rich man after another, as was her duty. In this time having a lovely daughter was the potential to save your family from a life of squalor. To have Jane, a poor woman with no prospects, serve as the moral core of a mainstream novel is interesting. To have her represent so-called “masculine” traits is downright astonishing. She firmly asserts herself to her monstrous governess. She’s the rational one compared to the emotionally driven and often pathetic Rochester. The voice of reason compared to her religious zealot cousin. In one scene, Jane calmly puts out a fire without panicking or screaming for help.

 “I can live alone,” she says, “if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.” I mean how dare she?