The last time I read this book was when I was a teenager, I didn’t think of it much until I had to reread it for “Fiction of Relationship”. But now that I fully comprehend the title and its content as an adult, I didn’t think I’ve changed my initial perception on this book. Its a difficult book in content and atmosphere. The title are more appropriate autobiography of Jane Eyre unlike the Manon Lescaut. The more I studied the novel, the more I find its harder for me to completely dislike the book and completely like it too. I find its puzzling when people constantly associate this novel with grandness of love. Sure the most memorable part of this book was a romance but I find the majority of the book quite hard to define on certain trope genre except to say that the book is just about Jane Eyre’s life herself. If I were to classify the novel, its a fictionalized autobiography divided in parts from a broken childhood where a child grew up too fast, a romance about the plight of a grown girl in face of a man who tempt her soul, the come of age of a child-woman into adulthood, a deeply religious novel with various embedded indoctrination, a satire and rebellion on the polite society and also a gothic tale of horror.
The book started with Jane reminiscing about her childhood in Gateshead Hall where she lived with her abusive cousins and unloved by her stern aunt who took delight in making a 10 year old suffer in misery. After a traumatic experience inside the Red Room (a word pun for “Murder” dont you think?), the apothecary who treated her recommended that Jane should be sent to a school. Instead, her aunt gave her to Mr Brocklehurst who managed the Lowood Institution where he believe that the more abusive nature he cause against the students, which are essentially by beating, starving them and depriving them from many things, for the sake of building good Christian ‘habits’ among the students. It was until an epidemic that wipe out nearly half of the students that left Jane mourning after a dear friend and the Lowood shift in management that Jane began to appreciate a new life in the school. She stayed for more years as a teacher until she decided to leave the school when she lost her reason to stay after the leaving of her teacher, Miss Temple, who somehow became a mother figure to her. Then she came to Thornfield Manor to teach the ward of a Mr Rochester, Adele Varens and found herself intrigued by her new master.
Jane Eyre is a very deathly long book to read for studying and as an assignment. Although I do enjoy the descriptive of the book, from the details of the interior of the manor, the fashions and textiles of 18th century which made Brontë a faithful contemporary writer of her time and also the beautiful nature the book explores which complement to the darker side of the novel where supernatural theme are quite prominent in dreams, interpretation and the secrets that alluded Jane so much.
As a character, Jane Eyre are quite a passionate proud independent woman and ahead of her time in a society where woman are encouraged to be sensible, demure and submissive. Even as a child, she basically reduce her aunt into tears and fears when Jane was accused to being a liar and spiteful child by her aunt which guarantee Jane a difficult life in Lowood. Although she soon grew up and leaving her childish fits, this streak of rebelliousness is obvious in her interaction between Mr Rochester, her reaction against the guests in his house who belittle and insulting her status as a governess, her fight with inner demons, her confrontation against the difficult St John Rivers and her stubbornness and loyalty with the Rochester in the end. Since I remember the story more from Ruth Wilson’s take on Jane Eyre, I do find its hard to completely interpret Jane into any adaptation. I became more sympathetic towards her in the book and understand her world and her personality more than I do from the various novel adaptations I chanced to watch. Its hard to not like the obvious fire inside of her which became alive when someone torment her enough until she reach her limit. I do find its intriguing between the polarity of Jane and Bertha, especially the fact that they virtually mirror each other. I guess thats the purpose of the author.
Personally, I don’t really care for Jane Eyre and her relationship with Mr Rochester. I know, that he’s supposed to be a Byronic fallen hero figure and the story have been emulated into hundreds of historical romance with governesses and their liaison with their masters. But I do find Rochester simply too hateful to be liked by me. I do notice he had moments when he was too sarcastic, too masculine, too abrupt. He even enjoy torturing Jane to gauge the level of her love for him instead of giving her hints or even seduces her or display some sort of kindness for her. He even flaunt his past rendezvous and listing his lovers to Jane who seemingly perfectly fine with a guy detailing his past romances and neglected to mention about his marital status at the same. As much I love reading Alpha male dominance, I don’t think being jackass is right up in my alley. And although he completely changed after Jane left him and became what he is in the end after he lost her, I dont think its healthy to anticipate some God-like convenient intervention to punish the character. In fact, I am puzzled by Jane’s reaction on his sexual activities and she only took it as his “passionate nature and manly needs”. Up until she was back to Thornfield, she seemed to be accepting that about it and the fact he’s readily wanting to commit adultery with her and the fact she accept it as she convinced that Rochester have been outside England and back to his wicked ways. Which made Jane’s complexity and mood swings bewilder to me as her reader. But one thing I like about the two of them is that Jane saved his life from the fire and douse it alone without him waking up. That’s really impressive even to me.
As a prominent male historical romance figure, I keep drawing a comparison between Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Mr Rochester and Mr Thornton (North and South). I still insist that Mr Thornton are realistically more appropriate and admirable male figure rather than the other two and probably because Elizabeth Gaskell choose to write in third-person omniscient than the first-person narratives between these two novels. I seriously don’t get the whole excessive hero worshiping between Darcy and Rochester who apparently doesn’t do much except being richly inherited (Thornton grew up poor and work his way up and are married to his work unlike the other two romantic heroes). Although I do find Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale (North and South) with obvious similarities but I think Jane are more concerned about her own welfare than the world around her unlike Margaret. Margaret were born in an easy middle-class life only to have her world, family, reality crumble all around her even when she tried to make some differences and try to understand it. Jane however instead of confronting her problem, she kept it all in her inside until it burst or until she couldn’t handle it anymore and run away and keep making everything worst and leading everyone around. Throughout her novel, its so apparent that the things that drove her on was her own need, her happiness and the fault of her pride which kept getting in her away which was often confused as being passionate. This book is maze of confusion and the fact that it kept jumping multiple genre until the author gave up the charade near the end which reminded me of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey at some point.
I think the only thing that made me emotionally invested with the story was when Jane found out that she’s not alone in the world and that she has living relatives. The story started as a story of abuse on a child who are so alone and unloved and jealous of others with family only to be a grown up teenager trying to be an adult and only to find the world continue to disappoint her happiness again. At this, I had wished the book explore that side of her more especially her solitude and loneliness instead of diverting toward longing for a male companion and the endless descriptive on the weather and insertions of constant foreboding Gothic descriptive atmosphere, and observance of people, religion and Jane’s monologues et cetera. For a thick book, it does feel like a patchwork of stories compiled into one. But as a thick book, I wished it could have been more revolutionary instead of a master guide toward modern romance writing.