Monday, October 6, 2014

Jane Eyre Read Along Chapters 6 - 10

Another week of what is turning out to be a great read for me.

Once again I would like to thank my Co - Host Maria of A Night's Dream of Books for all her hard work.

This week we are discussing chapters 6 – 10.

This week’s questions and my answers are below.

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

The initial impression that one gets from Helen’s acceptance of her terrible treatment is that she responds to it with a Christian mindset. She quotes from the New Testament as she explains why one must forgive their enemies.  She is forgiving of those who do her harm.

But I do think that there is more going on here. In addition to her Christianity, there is stoicism in Helen. She endures punishment without complaint and detaches herself from emotion or reaction. She is very passive in this way. Even when one reads Christian stories of martyrs, there is often a little, understandable in the context of the stories, self - righteousness and sense of sacrifice involved. I detect none of this in Helen and thus the stoicism. As I am actually a little further through this book it seems that this is one of several examples of Bronte mixing in several belief systems in what may be an attempt at constructing a coherent worldview.

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

Jane is more aggressive then Helen in the way that she reacts to injustice. In contrast to Helen, on several occasions in the novel she boldly speaks against oppressors.

At one point she explains her reaction,

“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. “

And later,

“I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. “

While I have enormous respect for people like Helen. On a visceral level I find it much more satisfying when reading about Jane.

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?

I think that I am a little unusual in that I often prefer subtlety in characters. Through there are indeed some people as malicious and hypocritical as Mr. Brocklehurst, I think that had he been more nuanced, the aesthetic and thematic effect might have been stronger. If he unfairly punished the children, but if his language was toned down a little, in an ironic way, it may have projected a stronger message.

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

In the previous week’s questions I argued that Jane, though extraordinary, was realistic. I think that Helen’s case is different. Helen shows stoicism, poise and self - confidence as well as a unified philosophical outlook that only comes with age and maturity. Perhaps she is too perfect even for an older person. But as child she is difficult to believe. Obviously Helen represents something. As I wrote above I think that Bronte had mix of ideal Christianity mixed in with a little stoicism in mind when she fashioned Helen.

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?

Miss Temple is a kind and moral person who helps shield Jane from some of the hardships at Lowood. I think that Jane was headed to forming strong moral traits even without Miss Temple. These traits were also encouraged by Helen. However, I think that there is also a darkness and anger inside Helen. While not completely extinguishing this, by displaying noble virtues I think that Miss Temple’s influence tempered some of Jane’s inner darkness.

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

The seasons and the weather seem to be playing an important part in this novel. Jane’s early days at Lowood take place during a cold and bitter winter, these dismal conditions reflect the conditions at the institution. When spring arrives, Jane’s experiences also reflect the weather to a degree. She comes under the protection of Miss Temple and finds something of a place at the school. Life becomes a little brighter along with the weather.

At one point Jane laments the conditions at the school as she hears the desolate howling wind. There are other examples of this.

All this connection with nature gives me the impression that Bronte is trying to get at something that is basic and fundamental about nature and the Universe. We shall see as we progress through the book.

Next week will read chapters 11 – 15.

Our questions are below. As always please feel free to answer as many, or as few as you want.

Jane meets her pupil, Adele Varens, in Chapter 11, and we learn more about her in subsequent chapters. How is this little girl contrasted with Jane herself, when she was a child?

How does Bronte set the general atmosphere surrounding Jane's  awkward meeting with Mr. Rochester, in the country lane, which takes place in Chapter 12? 

Jane states that she would not have offered her help to the fallen rider, had he been conventionally handsome. What does this tell the reader about Jane?

What further information about Jane's personality, and her philosophy of life, do her paintings convey?

What do you think is the real purpose of Mr. Rochester's interview of Jane? Or do you think it's the typical interview an employer would conduct, when hiring a new domestic employee?

Do you see any hints of foreshadowing in Chapter 14? Please explain. 

Post & Reading Schedule

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

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Felicity Grace Terry said...

Another thought provoking post. You know Brian one of the problems I have with these so-called classics is that I've always found the women to be a bit, well, wishy-washy. In Helen it sounds like we have a character who is something more. Thank you for challenging my perceptions, who knows I may well give some of these books another try.

James said...

We both seem to have seen the stoicism in Helen's behavior joined with her Christian meekness. Your observations were fascinating and mostly spot on. However I appreciate the appeal of an over-the-top Brocklehurst a bit more than you do.

Suko said...

Such interesting discussion! I really need to reread this classic novel (I'm sure I have a copy of it tucked away, somewhere). Your post brings back some of the things I remember about the book, like that the weather is tied to the mood of the story and characters.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I just wanted to point out that I think the questions over this work are fantastic. If I weren't hosting a book club meeting this week and finishing things I have to read, I would love to join you.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I am a bit further along in this book that I am supposed to be. I can tell you that Jane is not wishy washy, I would even say that in some ways she is powerful.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Weather is indeed important in this book. It seems so very much tied to everything.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I have not yet read your commentary but I will do so shortly. I am just a grouch when it comes to certain types of characters :)

I would like to say that people are not that bad in real life. But sadly some of them are.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Heidi - Thank you so much.

I definitely understand being busy. There have been more then a few events that I have wanted to participate in that I just should not because of time.

Maria Behar said...

You know, it never occurred to me to reference stoicism, but you're absolutely right -- Helen does act as though she subscribes to this philosophy, although she obviously has not been exposed to it. I find her attitude to be one that only someone who has been actively practicing this philosophy for years would have. The same goes for her Christian beliefs. So this is why I consider her a saint. She's actually a "holiness prodigy", if I can coin a term. Lol.

You know, my use of the term "masochism" to describe Helen's attitude is not really correct, as she gets no enjoyment from her suffering; she just patiently endures it. Now I feel so bad about having used such a term.....

I love the quotes you referred to in the second question! This is exactly how I feel! Yes, Christianity says that we must do good to our enemies, but this doesn't always work in the real world. When people persist in disliking you, or doing harm to you, in spite of your kindness and good behavior toward them, this is abuse -- plain and simple. So there comes a point when you have to say -- ENOUGH!! (You know I'm speaking from personal experience here.)

As for Brocklehurst, yes, perhaps he should have been more realistically-drawn. I do think, though, that Bronte was trying to drive home her point, which was that she was criticizing the hypocrisy and class prejudice of her time. I actually find this guy more realistic than Helen, though. Reading about him really got me upset!!

Your other answers are more or less like mine, with some points unique to you.

Isn't it great how we're all kind of saying similar things, and yet, we also have different angles on these questions? That's why read-alongs are so much fun, and I'm greatly enjoying this one!! : )

Maria Behar said...

P.S. I LOVED your thought-provoking answers!! I really should have said that n the previous comment! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - Thanks so much.

There are some commonalities in the book that we are indeed both catching.

Your mention of masochism is interesting. I do not recall who, a goggle search would likely help, but some have commented that within the accounts of the lives of the Saints, which often ended in horrendous torture, there is a streak of masochism.

As a non believer, I have tremendous appreciation and respect for the Christian approach to forgiveness and peace. I agree that it does not always work for most of us in the real world and that evil needs push back, otherwise it triumphs.

It does take all kinds of people, to make the world work however, and folks who do practice forgiveness and non violence to the point of Helen, still have my admiration.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Hi Brian,
I'm glad to see you are enjoying the novel so much. Just reading your answers made me realize I've forgotten a lot of the details. I look forward to next week's discussion.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia - i am indeed very much enjoying this book.

I sometimes fret that when it is been so long that I begin to forget the details of a book :) Such is the life of a bookish person :)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Very nice analysis, Brian. I need to reread this whole part with Helen again. I had never given it a whole lot of thought, my primary interest always being the relationship between Jane Eyre and Rochester-who I find to be the most interesting character in the story.

I don't think Bronte was trying to incorporate other beliefs with Christianity so much as being a product of her Victorian environment.

Based on what I've read about the era, through non fiction and fiction books, I think there was a lot of stoicism in Christianity then. It wasn't necessarily Biblical and I'm not sure where it originated, but I also saw it evident when living in the Deep South. Women were not allowed to have "aggressive" emotions.

Alcott's Little Women shows this as well. Joe's mother never loses her patient calm, even though her husband is fighting in the Civil War.

Your comments on Helen are certainly food for thought. Thanks.

One other thought: While it is tempting to consider Brocklehurst as too exaggerated I think that such tyranny is possible when there is no accountability. Frederick Douglas talked about this in his book Up From Slavery. He saw the transformation of seemingly gentle, kind people turn into monsters when given absolute power over others.

Also, I've been reading some biographies of CS Lewis. He had a similar experience in the boarding school he attended as a young boy. It later turned out his school master was insane.

Take care!

Sharon Wilfong said...

I'm sorry. I'm leaving another comment. You and Maria spoke of the ineffectiveness of forgiving enemies. That is to misunderstand the meaning of forgiveness. As a Christian I believe in a loving, holy and also a just God. That is what the whole point of Christ's crucifixion pertains to. The need to be forgiven to avoid God's fair justice upon us.
When I forgive my enemies, I'm not enabling them. For instance, if I got mugged or robbed, I would still call the police and press charges. It would not be love to do otherwise. To forgive means that I pray for that person who offended me and love is unconditional.

JaneGS said...

Interesting to read your impressions of JE as a first time reader.

I absolutely love the character of Helen Burns. I first read JE when I was about 12 and the scenes with her and Jane were the most memorable to me then and now, after many rereadings. Having read a few biographies of CB, I think it's safe to say that Helen is an idealized version of Charlotte's oldest sister Maria, who died shortly after leaving the school on which Lowood was based. I think you're right in the Helen comes across as unrealistic, even saintly, but I believe that is how CB honestly viewed her martyred sister.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Please do not be sorry. Your comments were great.

I will say that Helen's level of passivity leads me to believe that she would not even press charges if she were attacked. I do think that there are folks like that, though they are rare. Though I do think "ineffectual", I also have an enormous respect for such people. As I have enormous respect for those who are forgiving. Though mot a Christian, I try to be forgiving as reasonably possible myself.

I do agree that there are, sadly, people like Brocklehurst.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Please do not be sorry. Your comments were great.

I will say that Helen's level of passivity leads me to believe that she would not even press charges if she were attacked. I do think that there are folks like that, though they are rare. Though I do think "ineffectual", I also have an enormous respect for such people. As I have enormous respect for those who are forgiving. Though not a Christian, I try to be forgiving as reasonably possible myself.

I do agree that there are, sadly, people like Brocklehurst.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - I did not know about Bronte's sister. U can understand the tribute to her.

The Bookworm said...

Interesting post Brian. I love that you are looking at this classic from different angles.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - That is one of the nice things about the Read Along. There are lots of different points of view communicating.