Monday, November 24, 2014

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Read Along Wrap Up.

Our Jane Eyre read – along has come to end. What an insightful and fun event this was! I feel that, due to the exchange of ideas, I have reached a better understanding of this novel then almost any other piece of fiction that I have read.

I want to thank my co – host, Maria of A Night's Dream of Books for all the hard work that she put into the event as well as for some great insights and discussion of this novel. I also want to thank everyone who participated.

This post contains spoilers.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the story, told in first person, of the title character. This novel is an impressive and important work of art that shines on many levels.

The narrative begins in Jane’s childhood. Jane is an orphan who is neglected and abused, first by her pernicious relatives, the Reeds, and later in the oppressive institution /school of Lowood.

As she reaches young adulthood, Jane strikes out into the world and comes to be employed as a tutor in Thornfield Hall. Her employer is Edward Rochester. He is a man of strong and dark emotions who sees great depth in Jane and eventually falls in love with her. Jane is also attracted to Rochester’s charms and reciprocates.

Unfortunately for the pair, a wedding day revelation reveals that Rochester is already married. He had a wedded the unfaithful and vindictive Bertha Mason on the island of Jamaica. Shortly thereafter, Rochester’s wife descended into a homicidal madness. She is kept and cared for, locked up in Thornfield Hall.

Though not able to legally marry, Rochester begs Jane to run off with him to the continent and live as man and wife. Though very much in love with Rochester, Jane is unwilling to take this path. She flees alone into the world.

Jane is desperate, penniless and exposed to elements. She nearly dies of exposure. She eventually finds sanctuary and is taken in by young clergyman, St. John Rivers and his two sisters. As time goes by St. John is shown to be a gentle, moral but an extremely puritanical and willful man. He plans to travel to India where he will devote his life to missionary work. He eventually proposes marriage to Jane. Though he does not love her, he admires her strength of character and believes that she will be the perfect missionary wife. Jane also does not love St. John. She realizes that such a life path will be stark, hard and eventually fatal. Thus, she initially refuses the proposal. She is however, increasingly pressured by St. John, whose strong character and sense of purpose is attractive to her. At the moment when she is most tempted to offer herself to him, an extraordinary psychic connection to Rochester manifests itself.

Fleeing St. John, Jane sets off to find Rochester. She finds that Bertha Mason is dead. She was killed in a fire that she set herself. The inferno has blinded and lamed Rochester. Jane and Rochester marry and the novel ends on a mostly optimistic note.

I can write volumes about this work. Please see some of my detailed comments that I made in the weekly read- along posts. I will only talk about one aspect of Jane’s persona below.

Jane’s character is a monumental artistic and aesthetic achievement.  Many people who have read this book have expressed enormous admiration for her. I concur that there is much to admire, however I find that her determination sometimes has a high cost to both herself and to Rochester. Adding to Bronte’s wonderful creation is the fact that Jane’s psyche seems to me, to represent a view of the Universe that is thoughtful and sophisticated.

Jane is a unique literary creation. There are several key components to her makeup. As the book covers a good stretch of her life, the development of her persona is a wonder to read.

First, I think that Jane develops a strong and surprisingly complex worldview or theology. She never actually spells it out, but we observe its development and we are doled out tidbits throughout the course of the narrative.

Unsurprisingly, Christianity is the major component of Jane’s belief system. Her thoughts and actions often reflect Christian ideals such as forgiveness, humility as well as the concept of sin. She does often make reference to, and pray to, a masculine God.

But I think that there is more going on in this novel. At several points she seems to give more credence to nature and a feminine force as a power in the Universe. At a moment of great physical and emotional distress, instead of praying to a Christian God she exclaims,

“I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose. “

I think Bronte further establishes a mixed theology within the confines of these pages as Rochester and Jane refer to one another using such pagan imagery as elf, fairy and sprite. I would contend the psychic connection that reveals itself between Jane and Rochester indicates that these mythical elements are indeed in play in the real world.

Though never spelled out, Jane’s expression of faith seems to be an odd composite of a belief that is mostly Christian, but that embodies a kind of Feminine nature worship. I am not arguing that if Jane were asked what her views were that she would articulate that she believed in anything other then Christianity. Instead I think that, as I describe above, there is vague unexpressed undercurrent, both within her psyche, as well as within the Universe that governs the book, that there is also something else about. Something older, more feminine and more tied to nature, then the Christian God.

Jane has what I would describe as an extremely strict and unwavering moral code that she never wavers from. This is tied to an enormous sense of self worth and dignity that comprises her core. During her childhood she bravely and defiantly takes her abusers to task for their actions and even gets them to occasionally back down.

Whatever form Jane’s belief in God takes, it is combined with this strong faith and belief in herself that translates into a monumental Will. This Will, and how it formed is one of the cornerstones of this work. It makes her larger then life and a wondrous literary creation.

Jane’s powerful personality and determination is best exhibited when she chooses to leave Rochester. The two are love and came within a hair’s breath of marrying. When it is revealed that Rochester is married, but married in a mostly nominal way, he gives her what seems like a viable alternative to run away with him. Though she is temped to do so, she concludes that this choice violates her own morals and dignity. She makes an alternate choice that causes both Rochester and herself, terrible suffering. This choice seems to really illustrate the incredibly powerful force of will that Jane possesses.

I must point out that I am oversimplifying in order to illustrate my point. Jane’s character is so very complicated and nuanced. We see her during a broad swath of her life, which makes her even more multifaceted. For instance, despite her strength of conviction she sometimes allows herself to be temporarily dominated and even consumed by strong personalities. She experiences this at various points with both Rochester and St John. At one point she makes an observation that speaks volumes about this contradiction.

I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt.   I have always faithfully observed the one, up to the very moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence, into the other;”

Yet in the end, Jane never follows a path set out by another and never compromises. This may sound admirable, but as I pointed out above, the calculus of her choices does not really take in to account her own well being or the harm that she does to others. I am not writing this in judgment, rather in admiration of Bronte’s complex achievement. Finally, as we discussed during the read – along, if one accepts an interpretation that at the ending of the book, Rochester has lost his dark side, a key component of his powerful persona, then one can argue that Jane’s will has overpowered the one personality that seemed a match for her.

There is a lot more going on in this book. I have only commented here about one of its many interesting points. Many aspects I have barley mentioned. Even Jane’s personality has many more angles that I have not touched upon. The writing style is brilliant in a highly stylized gothic sort of way.  Rochester’s character would lend itself to volumes of analysis in itself. The book has a strong but complex feminist message. For the brilliant literary creation that is Jane Eyre the character, and also for the additional above reasons, Jane Eyre the book, is a brilliant literary achievement.


JacquiWine said...

Bravo and congratulations on a very interesting series of reviews covering many different aspects of this novel. I've enjoyed following your progress and commentary on this one.

James said...

A wonderful review of a great novel! Thanks again for all your insights over the weeks as we read this book together.

James said...

A wonderful review of a great novel! Thanks for all your insights as we read this novel together over the past weeks.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui- Thanks for the good word. This really was a great experience!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - Thank you so much for participating. We really sparked some great discussions!

Suko said...

Brian Joseph and Maria, I have enjoyed all of these discussions about Jane Erye. I think literature students will find them helpful and entertaining. I learned a few things as well. Thank you for these posts!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko- Thank you so much. I am not sure how much literature students should be using what are at times, my wild speculations!

Maria Behar said...

Brian, you have absolutely BLOWN ME AWAY with your brilliant analysis of this GREAT classic!!

Your comprehensive explanation of what are clearly Jane's complex religious beliefs is so well thought-out! I am indebted to you for all the points you have raised here. It was so obvious, too, that Bronte had something else going on beneath the surface. I don't know how I could have missed all the hints! You are quite right -- there is indeed an underlying feminine spirit threading through this novel, which, of course, makes it very much a part of the modern feminist movement. It also ties in to the modern revival of Goddess worship, which was itself influenced by the feminist movement.

I am also indebted to you for your equally detailed analysis of Jane's very strong character, including the assertion that her choices are not always the right ones, in terms of causing suffering to the man she so deeply loves. However, I feel, coming from a strictly Christian viewpoint, that she made the only correct choice, given the circumstances. Also, from a feminist viewpoint, she made the correct choice, as Rochester had already begun to objectify her.

I admire how you have pointed out that Jane's character is as much under the influence of feminine power, in the sense of her reverence for Nature, as it is of a masculine power, in her reverence for the Christian God. It seems Bronte is saying something very important here -- that human beings need BOTH types of spirituality in order to achieve spiritual growth and balance. Of course, this was a VERY revolutionary message for Bronte's time, and I don't think her contemporaries were aware of it. Otherwise, her novel would certainly not have been praised as much as it was, at the time. so she never stated this boldly, but veiled it throughout the narrative, instead. Paradoxically, I now think that this might have been one of the reasons for the novel's great popularity at the time. This is yet more evidence of how the unconscious mind works! Bronte's contemporaries had no clue that they were being exposed to such things, which then would have been considered totally heretical!! Goddess spirituality is still considered heretical today, as a matter of fact,

I'd like to thank you for being such a GREAT co-host during this wonderful read-along, and I'm definitely looking forward to further collaborations with you in the future! However, I'd like to especially thank you for this last post, as you have definitely enhanced my understanding of this novel! I now see just what an INCREDIBLE feminist masterpiece "Jane Eyre" is!!

Thanks again for everything!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - thank you for the kind words.

I will say that I felt that I was going out on a limb with the nature worship and feminine spirituality thing. At the very least I thought that maybe it was just something still embedded in Western Culture at the time and that at the very least it manifested itself here.

I did not connect this to modern feminism but I think that you are on to something there are elements within the spirituality of this book that connect.elements.

I very much agree that we need both the masculine and feminine whether one calls it spirituality culture, psychology etc.

Thank you for being a terrific co - host too! You worked so hard on this project! Also thank you for choosing such a great book. We will have some great collaborations the future.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

A wonderful event and extremely well organised. I've loved getting to know the books and its characters through your eyes.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tracy - it really was a fun event.

I must credit Maria for the organization.

Caroline said...

Absolutely fascinating, Brian. I loved what you wrote about Jane's religion and how composite it is. I'll ber this in mind when I re-read it, which I will sooner or later. I'm sure I'll return to your posts then. I wish i could have read along.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - Thanks so much.

I did go a little out on a limb with my interpretation. I would love to know what you think if you do a reread.

Anonymous said...

You have made me appreciate all over again what a unique character Jane Eyre is and especially so because of time period Bronte was published. I think she is a character that stays with us long after we finish the book.

Brian Joseph said...

You raise a really good point as it has been weeks since I finished this book and I still think about Jane.

She is one of literatures great creations.

Richard said...

I recently finished rereading Jane Eyre, Brian, and was gratified to rediscover how juicy it was. However, the book's finale struck me as particularly powerful and truly surprising given the theological backdrop you touch on this post: it's almost as if Jane can be seen as the earthly, romantic Messiah to Rochester in the parallel Brontë draws to St. John's religious marriage to Christ. Kind of shocking in a way but a testament to the novel's cryptic power even to secular folks like me!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Richard - I too am secular. i am also impressed, at least in a literary and aesthetic sense, by profound changes to Rochester that were brought about. I also find them a little disturbing. That seems to be a testament to the complexity of this work.

Lory said...

You are right, there is so much in this book to discuss -- Jane's self-determination is definitely central, and a stunning achievement for a woman author of the time. Every time I read it it impresses me with its compelling storytelling, powerful, dreamlike images, and its complex array of characters.
I hope you will hop over to, she is doing a Bronte event this week with many interesting reviews and discussions -- including a guest post from me tomorrow! :)

Brian Joseph said...
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Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - You really hit so many of the major points of this book in your short summery. It is over a year since I read this and I am thinking it is one of the greatest novels that I have ever read.

I will be sure to head over to the reading event.

John said...
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