Monday, September 29, 2014

Jane Eyre Read Along Chapters 1 - 5

We have begun to read Jane Eyre!

Please do not forget to use the widget at the bottom of this post to list your posts so we all can read them.

Our first week’s questions are below followed my answers.

Mrs. Reed's cruelty would have been noticed and reported, had it taken place in our contemporary society.  What factors do you think might have contributed to its tacit acceptance at the time?

I think that it is more likely that authorities would address Mrs. Reed’s cruelty in our time, but I do not believe that it is certain that they would. It seems that quite a bit of abuse of children goes on that is not reported or addressed these days.

Nevertheless I do agree that such cruelty would not be nearly as acceptable today. I do hold what seems a controversial opinion that our world is slowly becoming less violent and people are becoming more kind. Though such things do still go on, draconian punishment of children is no longer socially acceptable. Most of us consider this to be immoral and even unthinkable. As a result of this change in attitudes, we of have of course, laws that help reduce the frequency of abuse. In the time that Jane Eyre was set, such abuse was simply more acceptable. This supports my contention that the world is getting less violent and cruel. Many people, based upon their own consciences were kinder then Mrs. Reed was, but I think that based upon what we know about the period, such moral people with such views and gentle dispositions were less common.

The novel opens on a very dreary, rainy November afternoon.  How do you think this contributes to the general mood of the first chapter?

I think Bronte is portraying a Universe where there is something dark and perhaps out of balance at work. Obviously the fact that this darkness is manifested in the form of weather indicates that whatever it is, it is ingrained in the way that the world is put together. This ominous background to reality seems to be reinforced when Jane sees the ghost. I am not sure that I completely comprehend what Bronte is getting at in terms of this dark nature yet. I expect that I will have better idea about this as the story progresses.

Jane speaks more like an adult than a child, especially in the scene with Mrs. Reed, after Brocklehurst leaves.  Do you think this is because she's a very intelligent, precocious child, or is this simply an unrealistic aspect of the novel?

I buy into Jane’s character as a child. I do think that we stereotype children too much. Every so often a child does exhibits enormous intelligence and maturity. Obviously Jane is a special person. I can believe that she had special attributes as a child.

How did Bronte show hypocritical vs. true Christian behavior in the characters of Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple?

Obvious the two are opposites. Mr. Brocklehurst is not just a hypocrite, but he is also completely un - empathetic and cruel. He preaches hellfire and damnation and thus his malicious persona does indeed exude hypocrisy. In contrast, Miss Temple is kind and is not overbearing in her espousal of Christianity and virtue. She not only displays kindness, but she dispenses good advice and wisdom. Bronte seems to be portraying Miss Temple as an ideal Christian. I actually think that had the contrast been a little subtler and less extreme between the two, it might have been more realistic and even created an aesthetically  stronger narrative.

What literary function do curtains and draperies have in the opening chapters?

Several characters, most particularly Jane, seem to be using curtains both in reality and symbolically, to hide themselves the world. Jane uses them to escape the abuse of the Reeds.

At one point she observes this herself when hiding from John,

It is well I drew the curtain,” thought I; and I wished fervently he might not discover my hiding-place”

At another point John scolds her for hiding behind curtains.

All this seems to reinforce something about Jane’s character, which is to some degree separated, alienated and “curtained off” from the world.

Bessie's attitude toward Jane is inconsistent; at times, she's kind toward the child, while at others, she scolds her unfairly.  Why do you think she acts this way?

Bessie is employed by the Reeds and is surrounded by people who mistreat Jane. I think that at least early on, she just goes along with this mistreatment. This seems morally questionable. On the other hand has she been too overtly sympathetic to Jane, the Reed’s might have dismissed her, leaving Jane much worse off. 

It is clear however that Bessie often, and eventually always, feels sorry for Jane and her basic goodness sets in. I believe Bessie to be a mostly sympathetic character. Her going along with Jane’s mistreatment does add a little complexity to her persona for me.

Next Week we will be reading chapters 6 - 10, The questions are below.

What are your impressions of the way that Helen Burns endures punishment and abuse?

What are your impressions of the way that Jane sees punishment and abuse in comparison to Helen?

Would Mr. Brocklehurst have been a more realistic and interesting character had he been less overtly fanatical, cruel and hypocritical and just deeply flawed instead?

Helen Burns exudes confidence and is sure of her personal beliefs. Do you find it realistic that such a young person exhibits such traits?

Miss Temple seems to influence Jane’s personality and outlook on life during her stay at Lowood. Would Jane have developed differently without her influence?

Jane’s time at Lowood  is marked in the narrative by the seasons and the description of weather. Does this have any significance?

Once again, please do not feel compelled to answer them all, just the ones that you want to.

Post & Reading Schedule

Announcement/Signup Post
Sept. 9th
A Night's Dream of Books
Babbling Books

Week 1: Sept. 22nd

Reading: Chapters 1 - 5
Thoughts on Reading Jane Eyre 
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 2: Sept. 29th

Reading: Chapters 6 -10
Discussion Questions: Chapters 1 - 5
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 3: Oct. 6th

Reading: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions: Chapters 6 - 10
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 4: Oct. 13th

Reading: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 5: Oct. 20th

Reading: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 6: Oct. 27th

Reading: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Questions: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 7: Nov. 3rd

Reading: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Question for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 8: Nov. 10th

Reading: Chapters 34 - 38
Discussion Questions: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 9: Nov. 17th

Discussion Questions, Chapters 34 - 38

Week 9: Nov. 21st

Book Reviews Posted


Felicity Grace Terry said...

I have often wondered about some of the language and actions etc of characters in such books. Certainly not always something we would get away with today.

To concentrate on the use of the 'n' word as I often find myself struggling with this. Even though it may have been common to that period I know I sometimes find myself winching reading it.

Maria Behar said...

Very interesting answers, Brian! I especially like your view that people are kinder nowadays, and the world less violent. Although we've had horrible events like the 911 tragedy, it's certainly true that the horrible punishments meted out to children in years past are no longer acceptable. Ironically, there are verses in the Bible that advocate corporal punishment for children. I am totally against this!! I firmly believe that this is a culturally-influenced part of the Bible. I don't have children, but if I had been blessed with any, I certainly would NEVER have struck them!!! Even the thought is totally abhorrent to me. However, Mrs. Reed's cruelty was mostly emotional and verbal. Words can hurt nearly as much as physical blows, however. What's more, they can leave permanent emotional scars.

The heaviness of the weather is entirely in keeping with this novel's rather depressing themes. They also point to Jane's inner dilemma of encountering and having to deal with evil circumstances she has no control over.

Your view on how Bronte presents Brocklehurst is thought-provoking. You feel she made him too much of a cardboard character. You might be right, although I think she seems to be saying that this type of person was fairly common in her time. Through the contrast with Miss Temple, she was pointing out how the true message of Christianity was distorted by certain clergymen of the time.

We certainly agree on the topic of the curtains and draperies; they certainly serve the function of hiding and protecting Jane. In the Red Room, thoug,h I do feel they have a more ominous meaning.

As for Bessie's attitude, we are also in agreement. It certainly is puzzling, but of course, it becomes more understandable (although not thereby acceptable) when one realizes that she was afraid of being dismissed by Mrs. Reed.

This is certainly turning out to be a very interesting reading experience! Thanks again for co-hosting!! : )

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. One of my favorites. I reviewed it a summer ago. I don't know if I can agree with you that the world is less violent. But it's not more violent. I think we're pretty insulated here in America and take a lot of liberties for granted. I wouldn't want to be a Christian or Jewish in most of Asia or Africa.
I think Helen Burns was supposed to show those traits of Christianity that Jane herself at that time lacked due to her bitterness against her abusive and neglectful aunt and cousins.
Helen in fact is an inspiration to me. Someone who humbly accepts her harsh conditions and has hope even unto death. Indeed, this is the great Christian hope. No matter how brutal life gets, this isn't the end of our existence.
Take care!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - One thing about the mistreatment of Jane is that the author is not condoning it here. In fact she is condemning it so that the modern reader does not need to just go along with an author's immorality.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - We definitely saw a lot of these things in similar ways, perhaps from slightly different angle.

In regards to things getting kinder and less violent, it is relative. I believe that almost every kind of violence is less common though it still takes a terrible toll. In terms of terrible events that take enormous number of lives, I think that it is events such as the Rwanda Genocide that really are the most terrible. '

In Steven Pinkers Our Better Angel's: Why violence has Declined, the author argues that as terrible as these events are, they are much less frequent then they used to be. We also pay a lot more attention to them (It is a good thing that we do pay more attention to them, it is a sign that the world is less tolerant of such terrible things).

Piinker's views are close to mine. I blogged about it here.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - The violence issue is complicated. I put a link in my answer to Maria.

I am looking forward to reading your review of this one. I am going to hold off until a little later in this event as I always fear that I might inadvertently appropriate your ideas.

Suko said...

I stopped by earlier but ran out of time to leave a comment about this interesting discussion of Jane Eyre. It's worth noting as you do that what was "acceptable" in the time period of the book would not be tolerated today. Your posts remind me that I should reread this classic novel.

Maria Behar said...

Hi, again, Brian! I went to this link, and now remember this book. I commented on that post. I need to get this book!! Thanks for the reminder!! : )

JacquiWine said...

Hi Brian, just dropping by to say that I'll be following your posts on Jane Eyre with interest. I reread the novel about ten years ago, so my memory of it is a little fuzzy, but I'm sure your posts will rekindle those memories.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Some things do change for the better.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - I do remember the lively discussions some of us had over that post!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jaqui - I always think that I wish I could remember all books perfectly. Unfortunately they fade!

James said...

I agree with your assessment of the status of Mrs. Reed's cruelty; while your comment on Mr. Brocklehurst is quite perceptive -- he is appropriately seen by Jane as a "black pillar".

The darkness of Jane's universe and her alienation are aspects that we should probably expect to see again.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I am getting a bit more into the book. The darkness is there but it seems to be not all pervasive.

Harvee said...

This readalong is such a good idea. Wish I had had the time to join in. Have fun with the rest of the book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - I certainly understand being busy!

This Read Along really has been fun so far.