|Jane Eyre turns out to be a different book than I recall.|
When a friend recently suggested rereading Jane Eyre, my first thought was dismissive. Such a well-worn tale, with its hyped-up unlikely romance between an oppressed, repressed governess and super-manly lord of the manor.
I remembered the poor madwoman hurling herself off the blazing ramparts, and the sad little governess reclaiming her maimed lover for an equally unlikely happily-ever-after ending. A story so often retold in many guises, so often parodied. Well! I don't remember when I last read the book, but it was obviously long before I was able to absorb its pure brilliance.
Jane, it turns out, is not the meek little governess of my memory, but one tough little cookie who tells off her cruel aunt at the age of 10. She thinks in her heart that she is equal to Mr. Rochester, lordly as he may be. She is a feminist. She stands up for what she thinks is right, at great cost to herself. And finally, yes, she does end up with the love of her life. But the relationship between her and Mr. Rochester is so finely and carefully drawn, from the time of their first meeting on an icy road outside Thornfield Hall, to the time they marry at the end of the story, that it rings with psychological truth.
Romantic, yes, but over and over Bronte emphasizes that these are two plain -- possibly even ugly -- people. The connections are all beneath the surface. Any modern writer would be lucky to draw such a deeply textured, finely honed portrait of a relationship. The moral? The classics are classics for a reason, and well worth revisiting.
A couple of favourite passages:
"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 just as much as their brothers do... it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings...." (Jane's restless reflections as a governess)
"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." (Jane on her marriage)