Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading Jane

Ladies, I'm still reading. This is my third or fourth go-round with Jane, so this time I'm taking it in a leisurely fashion, trying to catch nuances and themes that eluded me in my younger days. This paid off on the first page or two -- I'd never realized that the pictures in the book Jane reads in the breakfast room (the book John Reed throws at her) are the unconscious basis for the paintings that Jane shows to Mr. Rochester. (I say "unconscious" because although I haven't reached that scene yet, I believe Jane tells Mr. Rochester that she didn't paint from models but from her imagination.)

Oddly enough, on this reading, Mrs. Reed became a much more human character to me. Before she'd always seemed a monster of injustice, barely short of a caricature. Now I could see her frustration, dealing with a child she didn't understand, cognizant enough to know that Jane is different but not intelligent or compassionate enough to learn how to best manage her. I confess: the moment where Mrs. Reed holds Jane down in her bed and dares her to speak another word resonated with me. I've done my share lately of dealing with fractious children behaving in ways I can't explain, sassing me (so it seems) when I'm tired or cranky or in pain, and the temptation to grab them and make them shut up is great. I don't sympathize with Mrs. Reed, but she's become a more complex character to me, and I admire Charlotte Bronte's ability to create a character, even one who only features in a few chapters of a long book.

No more human now than before, however, is the odious Mr. Brocklehurst, that paragon of hypocrisy -- and that's odd, because he is apparently based on the real head of the school Charlotte Bronte attended, the school at which two of her sisters died of tuberculosis. Perhaps the horror of those schooldays was still too raw to Bronte to allow her to give nuance and subtlety to the man who perpetrated such injustices.

I had to buy a new copy of Jane Eyre, having lost the one my grandmother sent me ages ago. Ladies, Penguin has a new line of clothbound hardcover classics that are a delight to look at and hold. I bought Jane Eyre and Little Women (which cover is charmingly patterned with images of scissors), and I can't stop looking at them and picking them up.


Enbrethiliel said...


When I reread the first chapter, my first thought was that the birds in the book mirror Jane as she is in that moment. Her little reading nook in the window is as much a "solitary rock or promotory" as where the birds make their nests. But of course, she herself isn't nesting yet.

(On the clothbound books . . . I'm reminded of one celebrity chef saying that many of his colleagues often forget that food should appeal to the sense of hearing as well as to the expected senses of taste, smell, sight and touch. I think someone in Penguin realised that the sense publishing neglects the most is touch--especially with the rise of the e-reader--and acted accordingly.)

mrsdarwin said...

E, if only the Penguins were signature-sewn, they'd be just perfect. But I suppose the glues they use are designed to hold up under a significant amount of wear -- I hope. Having just inherited a shelf full of older books, I see how even the lesser works are bound with care, and it saddens me to think that many of my treasured books won't last as long because of having cheaper bindings.

Enbrethiliel said...


My own copy of Jane Eyre, a Signet paperback purchased over a decade ago, is now held together only by prayers and scotch tape.

(I once knew a fellow who thought it was silly to care so much about a book's physical condition. Why bother with the body, when the point is the soul, etc. A mutual friend shared the story of the time her father was reading a thick paperback that didn't fit into his briefcase: he solved that problem by taking a pair of scissors to the book and cutting it in half. The first fellow congratulated her for having a father who didn't let his love of books get in the way of his love of reading. Which--if you don't mind the way I hop around like this--reminds me that our Sanctus Christopher recently mused that he probably likes books more than he likes reading. Now where was I . . . ?)

Since you've also mentioned Little Women . . . My copy is one of those hardbound two-in-one Reader's Digest editions: Little Women on one side and Little Men on the flip/other side. The pages started falling out in sections (still held together by glue, but no longer attached to the spine) years ago. I am stunned that after almost twenty years of that--because I never bothered to repair the damage--I've not lost a single page.

mrsdarwin said...

Which--if you don't mind the way I hop around like this--reminds me that our Sanctus Christopher recently mused that he probably likes books more than he likes reading.

Hey, I hear him!

Your Little Women sounds like the copies of Lord of the Rings I read for years. Finally a year or two ago I bought a nice boxed set of hardcovers (no movie photos, thank you v. much), but we still have three tattered paperback sets on a shelf upstairs. How can I throw them away? I READ those!

Emily J. said...

I love those copies! My own is an old library sale reject - plain cover, but nice thick pages - so thick that the type seems almost embossed. An edition from the 50s. Our Little Women is the same kind of thing, but I've always coveted the edition with illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

Just yesterday I blew steam out my ears at my kids because our fancy edition of Lord of the Rings - a hardback of all 3 bound together with the illustrations by Alan Lee - was lying on the floor torn from its cover because it had been used as a weight for a blanket tent, had fallen, and then been trampled. Woe.

I keep seeing art made from books - lately I saw an ad for a class in repurposing old books into new art, and in a magazine, a photo of a stack of books drilled through the center with lampworks inserted. Easy DIY! But it made me sad.

At any rate, I like your comments, Mrs. D - didn't catch the connection between the book at the beginning. I also had some sympathy for MRs. Reed and wasn't surprised that she didn't repent because it made her seem more real (although I guess it would secretly be pay back for Jane's cruelty that she didn't?).

Lately I'm becoming a bigger fan of rereading, even though there are so many fascinating books I haven't opened yet. It had been so long since I read this book that it felt brand new.

Enbrethiliel said...


Art made from books can turn me off a lot, too . . . I like to imagine that books are sentient and want to be read and not just used for decoration. =P There's a blog I read that regularly features "book art"--which some of the commenters call "book abuse"!

Emily, my editions of Little Women and Little Men featured illustrations by Anna Marie Magagna; and for good or ill, that is how I've always pictured the characters in Alcott's universe. When the Winona Ryder movie came out, it messed with my world a little. (Claire Danes is not Beth! And don't get me started on Winona herself . . . I always thought Katherine Hepburn did Jo best; unfortunately, she was in her late twenties or something when they cast her. At least I think she was!)

Emily J. said...

Winona Ryder as Jo = sellout. boo.

Bittner said...

I have purposely not been reading your blog this whole time because I knew I was going to be starting Jane soon and I didn't want to read your blog until I had started to read the book. I had read half of it a few years ago but never got around to finishing it so now I am thrilled to start reading it again and I just started yesterday.

I am completely in love with these opening scenes because it immediately sets up that even though Jane is just a little girl, she is strong and smart and clever and she can keep her head even when she gets emotional and she can express herself without fear or shame. And when you look at some of the other female characters in old classic novels, hardly any of them come close to showing the courage Jane shows at 10!

So since this book is still new to me, I was so captivated by Jane that I hardly noticed Mrs. Reed at all. But I do see what you guys are saying. I don't think it was easy for any of the women in that time. A relative dies, sometimes one you weren't even that close to, and their kid is just dropped on your doorstep and you are forced to raise them yourself. But it was still hard for me to sympathize with Mrs. Reed when you look at how spoiled her own kids were and how even the maids and servants showed more kindness to Mrs. Reed's kids then to Jane.

I can't wait to read more of your blogs and comments as I get further into Jane Eyre.