Tuesday, January 25, 2011

jane's ideas on marriage

warning: Spoilers ahead

Can I say how much I enjoyed reading Jane Eyre? How little I wanted it to end--and yet, I also didn't want to stop reading. This is the dilemma I always hope for in a book, and it's so hard to come by on the NYT notable book list. Why do I keep looking there when the best books are sitting on my shelf unread? I won't make the mistake again soon.

Anyway, I've been thinking about the ending of Jane E. and how it could easily have ended with Jane's discovery of Rochester's secret--a tragedy. I wonder what editorial decisions went into to turning the narrative around, giving Jane a new life, giving her a family and money. I wonder if Bronte always knew that that was where she would take her heroine.

That image of the tree, struck by lightening, two separate trunks cleaving to one another until they both decay--I couldn't decide if this was a beautiful metaphor or a depressing one. On one hand, we all decay--as Mrs. D so beautifully noted in her last post. Isn't it better to meet the inevitable with another self at our side?

On the other hand--with all of Jane's comments on not wanting to lose her independence, and of not being Rochester's equal, at this stage in the narrative the decay aspect of the metaphor looks like a condemnation of marriage.

I know I'm drifting dangerously close to a feminist reading of JE, but what does it say that a marriage did not take place between Jane and Rochester until she had acquired a fortune and been wooed by another man, while Rochester lost half of his fortune, was physically maimed, and shunned by society? Is this really a marriage of equals? And if so--why is the cost of equality so high for Rochester? I realize that his loss of looks, sight, fortune and esteem all serve to bring down his pride, and give him a taste of the suffering that Jane has experienced for her entire life. But the book gives me enough faith in Jane to assume she could be his equal even without all his loss (perhaps even an equal in pride--which is perhaps what Bronte wanted to avoid).

Found myself a bit jealous of the later descriptions of their marriage--spending all day reading to one another and describing the scenery. I suppose, as with everything else, there can be too much of a good thing--but I don't see it happening soon.


Enbrethiliel said...


I always thought it was excessively cruel for Bronte to demand so much from Mr. Rochester before letting Jane return to him. It was almost as if she was punishing him.

And I think they were equals even when he was master of Thornfield and she was "poor, obscure, plain and little"! She was able to talk to him in a way she had never been able to talk to anyone since Helen died (and even then, I wonder what a grown-up Helen Burns would have thought of Jane's romantic art and desire for "action"). I think Mr. Rochester feels a similar deep kinship with her--and he certainly doesn't seem to mind when she calls herself his equal during the proposal scene.

That she needs gently-bred relatives and money to round her out before the story ends seems a bit superficial. I never liked the third part of the novel much; it always felt a little forced to me.

Emily J. said...

The funny thing is I had totally forgotten the ending. I remembered the Reeds, Lowood, and Bertha, but not the Rivers. The book seemed much lighter this time around - that trailer in the last post makes the new movie look too dark. So I'm in agreemetn that the third part seems a little too ideal, and the marriage part - really, how long can you sit and read to one another? Although I wouldn't mind trying to find out...

But to match up their souls, naive Jane does need time to rise, and Rochester must need to see how much he needs her - I think he probably would have bored of her if she had been his mistress as she assumes. He's the first decent man she's met - except the dr I guess. So maybe getting involved with St John helps Jane to see how not every good man would be good to marry. It is interesting that Jane declares she needs to remain independent and not lose herself in marriage - but Mr. Rochester does lose his independence, and Jane willingly puts herself at his service to be his eyes. She seems to say one thing and do another.

mrsdarwin said...

You might say, Emily, that Jane willingly gives her independence to Mr. Rochester the second time around. He rather claimed it a bit the first time.

Also, I think Mr. Rochester was a bit too inclined to make a pet of Jane at first, and she did chafe a bit at that. He was charmed by her innocence, and he was pleased at her freshness, but he was a bit inclined to patronize. I mean, how incredibly jerky was that interval with Blanche Ingram? He yanked Jane's chain around just to see if she liked him. That's high school games, not an adult courtship. If anything, he needed the shock of the bigamy revelation and the loneliness of Jane's leaving -- and the self-giving of risking death and mutilation to rescue Bertha, his responsibility -- to make him realize that people were not his playthings. Let's just out and say it: Mr. Rochester behaved abominably. Too bad they weren't Catholic, though -- that kind of deception would totally be grounds for an annulment.

I've always loved how Jane stands up to St. John Rivers. He has an overbearing personality, but Jane refuses to let herself be subsumed into his missionary zeal, though the creepiest part was when he made the loving gesture of drawing her to him, without any love behind it. Frankly, I feel that pretty Miss Oliver had a lucky escape -- that sort of man should marry no one. What an emotional manipulator.

I don't begrudge Jane her happiness with her cousins, though -- the poor child deserves some unadulterated joy after the misery of her life.