Wow, it’s been way too long since I last posted. I’m sorry for the wait – now that I’m back in school I’m much busier, but I also have a lot more to talk about. So I want to try to talk a bit about a book I just finished for school that’s left me with a lot to mull over.
When my Victorian Literature professor told us we’d be reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, I will admit that I had no idea what to expect. And, when I started the book, it didn’t appear to be anything special.
Well, I can say that (at least in this case) early impressions are not always the most indicative of what your final assessment of the work will be.
Jane Eyre is a “passionate” young girl growing up in the Victorian era and right away we see that she is regarded as different, troublesome, defiant, and so on.
I admit, given the autobiographical setup the novel takes on, I didn’t fully understand the focus until I’d gotten a good way into the book. Jane was the exact opposite of the ideal Victorian woman – mainly in the fact that she exhibited a lot of traits that would be admirable today, but were not so back then.
She was outspoken (or “passionate” as the book calls it), to the point where she would try to argue a point and often refuse to be silenced by an authority figure. She had self-respect, which is something that was not considered desirable in a woman, and she would not yield to something that she felt was wrong or unjust.
One of the things that I really loved about this story was that Jane’s outspoken nature would eventually be rewarded and provoked. While this is somewhat tempered by the fact that it is a man leading the discussion instead of her, her headstrong nature and argumentative practices are seen as desirable (at least in some cases).
Her complex relationship with her boss Edward Rochester is intriguing to me. I was interested in his character as a whole – while he does have flaws and behaves in certain ways that can’t be excused, you see how their relationship grows and changes and it’s gripping!
I admit, I was interested in the mystery surrounding him and Thornfield Hall, but I was conflicted because I knew that finding out the answer to that mystery would take away a degree of the attraction Jane felt toward him.
Finding out the answer to this mystery was just as horrifying as I had feared. Rochester’s locked-away wife Bertha is a tragic yet terrifying being. The fact that she is like Jane (mainly in being passionate herself) to the point of insanity is incredibly disturbing!
The double is a device used a lot in Gothic fiction. I think the main appeal of it as a device is that it adds to a horror or creepy element the story is going for. While Jane’s romance with Rochester is important, it is underscored by Rochester’s secret, as Bertha does end up getting in the way of their relationship.
In class the other day we were discussing this double and how Bertha affects Rochester as a character. I was horrified about the secret, but at the same time, it explained a lot of Rochester’s elusive and secretive behavior.
Why would he not allow Jane to speak with Mason, one of the house guests? Why would he say that he can only tell her everything about himself a year after they are married? What bit Mason when he was attacked?
All these questions added to the appeal of Rochester’s secrecy. Again, his behavior cannot be excused, but I found myself wanting Jane to at least have closure with him after she left Thornfield.
She didn’t necessarily have to marry him, but I wanted to see closure. If that closure meant that they would decide to never see each other again, that would be fine. If that closure was them deciding to get married, that’s okay, too.
That being said, she does marry Rochester, and there is still power imbalance when she does. He is disabled and Jane holds all the cards. At this point in the story she is very rich, and we see how Rochester is subordinate to her.
And I actually don’t have a problem with that – let me explain why.
The story is not necessarily about the happy ending in my eyes. It is Brontë drawing a parallel between Jane and Rochester’s relationship before and after she left Thornfield.
While she was at Thornfield, Rochester had power over her in the mystery surrounding the wife in the attic. He had power over her when he led her to believe that he was planning to marry another instead of her.
Now, take Thornfield away. The house is burned down by the end of the story. Take that away, and we find there’s an intriguing contrast between their relationship then versus now.
When Thornfield was standing, Rochester had the power, but its burning down takes away that power and gives it to Jane, because Rochester is now disabled and dependent.
The ending could possibly paint Jane in a bad light – after all, we get only her perspective in the story and she could manipulate Rochester during their marriage in a similar way he did her.
However, that is also closely tied into the dynamic of their relationship. The power dynamic is that of sadomasochism, so there could be manipulation from one side (which plays into the sadistic aspect) and the enjoyment of being strung along (satisfying the masochistic aspect).
I cannot in good conscience excuse all of Rochester’s behavior, but I can appreciate the dynamic of the relationship they share. Even when he was leading Jane to believe he would be marrying someone else, that is pretty sadistic, and the fact that Jane never really did anything to stop him from behaving in that way hints at her own masochistic tendencies.
The Gothic elements are the icing on the cake, so to speak. Having the romance set up against the creepy backdrop makes for a very intriguing dynamic that I really loved exploring.
All in all, I actually really enjoyed this story (and that’s saying a lot – I usually despise romance). Brontë clearly knows how to write intriguing stories and I’d definitely recommend this story to any Victorian literature fan.