Friday, January 14, 2011

Jane Eyre reading notes

I just finished Jane Eyre after two nights of staying up far too late because I just couldn't put it down. I can't wait till everyone else is done. In the meantime I don't have much coherent to say; but thought I'd post some of the notes I made as I was reading.

First, this passage amused me-- I actually chuckled out loud as I sat in the OB's office attached to the fetal monitor for my non-stress test-- because although the language is not at all contemporary, the sentiment expressed by Miss Ingram against pretty men who are concerned only about their appearance is similar to one I've heard in rants against "metrosexual" men:
"Oh, I am so sick of the young men of the present day!" exclaimed she, rattling away at the instrument. "Poor, puny things not fit to stir a step beyond papa's park-gates; nor to go even so far without mama's permission and guardianship! Creatures so absorbed in care about their pretty faces and their white hands, and their small feet; as if a man had anything to do with beauty! As if loveliness were not the special prerogative of woman-- her legitimate appanage and heritage! I grant an ugly woman is a blot on the fair face of creation; but as to the gentlemen let them be solicitous to possess only strength and valour; let their motto be: -- "Hunt, shoot, and fight: the rest is not worth a fillip. Such should be my advice were I a man."

And another bit that amused me is the way Jane and Mr Rochester bicker a bit over money before she sets off to see Mrs. Reed:

"You shall walk up the pyramids of Egypt!" he growled, "At your peril you advertise! I wish I had only offered you a sovereign instead of ten pounds. Give me back nine pounds, Jane; I've a use for it."
"And so have I, sir," I returned, putting my hands and my purse behind me. "I could not spare the money on any account."
"Little niggard! said he, "refusing me a pecuniary reuest! Give me five pounds, Jane."
"Not five shillings, sir; nor five pence."
"Just let me look at the cash."
"No, sir, you are not to be trusted."
My edition, the Signet Classic, has an afterward by Arthur Zeiger of The City College, New York in which he complains about how stilted Bronte's dialog is to a modern ear. I didn't notice it to be stilted at all; but then maybe I'm used to reading period novels. In any case, the above exchange is certainly one of the better bits of dialog.

Another of Zeiger's complaints I found much more apt and that was about the plotting. I'll agree that I found I had to turn a blind eye to the improbability of Jane's turning up at her cousins' doorstep when she flees Thornfield. That did strain the limits of my credulity and I just had to accept it. Though at the same time, I wasn't really bothered by the telepathic communication between Jane and Mr. Rochester which leads her to reject St John's proposal and instead return to Thornfield. So perhaps I'm just an inconsistent reader.

One last unconnected thought was about the nature of Bertha Mason's mental illness. Especially after working as a receptionist and doing the billing for a group of therapists for a while after college, I am fascinated by the way mental illness is portrayed in literature. Sometimes you can guess what the condition would be in today's diagnostic terms. At other times, it seems so hard to figure out. A large part of the barrier is just that mental illness was understood so differently that I think the symptoms are even perceived and described differently. In the same way, I also sometimes have a hard time figuring out physical ailments in older novels.

All this is really random. I hope someone else has a bit more focus than I do right now.


Enbrethiliel said...


Melanie, when it comes to the language in Jane Eyre, I think I agree with you about most of the dialogue. But Bronte often gives Jane some really metaphorical language--the kind we may think in but probably not speak in--and I think the proposal scene is a prime example. I don't think the imagery of having one's drop of living water dashed from one's cup would stand up well anywhere but an Emily Dickinson poetry reading. And I might be wrong, but I think all the movie adaptations take that one out.

Incidentally, the proposal scene is the one I always worry about when I watch an adaptation--or even when I try to "adapt" it in my mind. I keep thinking that nobody really talks like that.

(Then again, there's that other INTJ Sheldon in the sitcom The Big Bang. If he can make his oddness work, then there's hope for Jane! But of course, Sheldon is a comic character . . . and I had one professor who insisted that Charlotte Bronte had no sense of humour. During my reread, I think I found one very dry joke, but I'll need to go back to be sure.)

Emily J. said...

I third the opinion that the language of the text doesn't give you pause, but some of Mr. Rochester's speeches do. He goes on and on about his love for Jane, while she's silent fpr the most part, except as E points out, in her poetic response to Mr. R's profession of love.

That part about fussy men was funny, as was the set up of the charade scene. All that acting to show "bride"?! Surely that was Bronte laughing up her sleeve a little?

Any guesses about Bertha's madness? I'm not well-versed in forms of insanity, but did you ever read "The Yellow Wallpaper" about the lady shut up in an upstairs room to recover from her madness, which sounds like postpartum depression. She was supposed to be having a rest cure, but the inaction caused her more suffering. Can Mr. R bear any guilt for Bertha's condition because he shut her up (like Mrs. Reed shutting up Jane, which caused her such psychic stress), if there were no known cures available? But this is interesting:

Enbrethiliel said...


It's interesting to think that Jane possibly makes a subconscious connection between Mr. Rochester's shutting up of his wife and Mrs. Reed's own punishment for her. And when she sees Bertha fly at her husband in a fury, perhaps she remembers herself reacting to the injustice she received from her cousin John. No wonder she decides to run away as soon as possible!