Monday, October 06, 2008

Reader's Diary - Jane Eyre

I'm reading Jane Eyre as part of the Classics Bookclub at 5 Minutes for Books. If you are stopping by as another carnival participant - welcome!

By way of explanation, I'm doing some "heavy reading" this fall (classics with 400+ pages) and so I've decided that, for these particular classical works, I'm going to "keep a diary" as I read instead of writing a conclusive book review once I've finished reading any particular book. My first Reader's Diary was of Wives & Daughters..

Day 1: Read chapters 1-10. Jane is young and lives a depressing life. While reading these first few chapters, I suffer flashbacks of being forced to read Wuthering Heights in high school and hating the darkness of it all. Jane Eyre has that same dark tone to it. I can't think that the Bronte sisters had many friends in real life. If their books have anything to say about their personal lives, I would hardly be attracted to their company.

I also remember that some friends of mine made me watch the BBC version of Jane Eyre (staring Timothy Dalton) when I was 13 or 14. I was invited over to spend the night so we could make a special Jane Eyre party out of our gathering. We agreed we'd watch Part I before going to bed and Part II the next morning. We finished Part I and I spent the next half hour bawling my eye balls out. The next morning, after finishing Part II I asked them why they made me watch it. Why am I reading this?!


Day 2: Depressed. Couldn't bear to pick up the book again. Read something else.


Day 3: Read chapters 11-17. I loath Mr. Rochester. He is obviously a perceiver, by natural gifting (i.e., he is quick to perceive character strengths and weaknesses in those around him). He is arrogant and bossy. Contrasted with Jane's inability to speak up for herself and desire to do as she is told, I am excessively annoyed. A modern American woman Jane Eyre does not make. For this I would not fault her except she shows no outward backbone. Internally she may question the directives flung her way, but she says nothing. I have a hard time understanding and sympathizing with passive aggressive personalities, which Jane seems to own. As such, I care little for Jane Eyre herself. And DID Charlotte Bronte enjoy her life AT ALL?!


Day 4: Read chapters 18-25. Am so glad Jane's mean aunt died. I started to admire Jane for the grace and dignity which she displayed in her aunt's final days. Despite the pain her aunt caused her in life, Jane exhibited a tender devotion (even if it was out of duty more than anything else) that is admirable. Jane's consideration of her cousin's fragile feelings was also worth noting. Although she was not given any kindness from her family in her younger years, she extended a type of forgiveness to them and showed them what is Christ's love. That could only have been accomplished as a result of forgiveness towards them and surrender of her own personal "rights." Nicely done.

But then there is Rochester. I really, really, really don't like him. Not just because I know what's coming but because of the way he treats women. He flirts, he banters, he confuses. He is selfishness personified and Jane is not rational when it comes to him. Even if Bronte spends time telling the reader how very rational Jane is, when it comes to Rochester - she is not. Perhaps you could argue that she is loving as Christ would love - faults and all. But wisdom should shoo her in another direction.

At this point of the book, I'm captivated by the story. But it's already growing darker. It's a momentary peak of light instantly overwhelmed by shadows. I find myself enthralled and repulsed all at once.

Day 5: Chapters 26-33 Rochester exposed as a cheat and a lout. But he admits it! My sympathies are not aroused. He plotted and executed his plan without a bit of remorse, as is evidenced in his "begging scene." Jane still loves him. Stupid girl. One could possibly argue that she is showing true Christian forgiveness and grace. Forgiveness is required of us and is something to strive for. However, she "defends" his sin by not allowing arguing that her former master (and almost husband) is "not what they think he is." Rather she calls for grace from everyone instead of allowing justice to be done. Perhaps I am too harsh. But sin is sin. Grace is grace and forgiveness is wonderful. Jane is definitely the savior figure but I'm not impressed by the fact that she still feels an emotional pull and attachment to him. I'm glad she obeyed her conscious and left him. That's something. I admire her for doing what was the only right decision.

Life looks bleak for her until finding shelter with St. John, Diana and Mary. Peace restored and true happiness seems to have been found. She still obviously feels a pull towards Mr. Rochester but she is pursuing life, happiness and ultimate fulfillment without him. I'm currently impressed and have hope for liking this book on the whole.

Day 6: Chapters 34 - The End! I don't want to say I liked the book. I can't exactly say that I disliked it either.

St. John was amazing. He had something of the same exacting personality as Mr. Rochester and Jane was therefore equally unable to refuse to obey a command. Transfixed was she by St. John's expectations of her, she again became the wilting lilly of a character that I so despise. Still, when push comes to shove and he too makes a demand that she marry him - she stands her ground. His arrogance was too overwhelming.

The ending was melodramatic. Jane hearing the voice of her beloved calling to her across the miles to come and save him from his humbled state. Ha! Ha! Pleasing to the female emotions and absolutely satisfying as to the end of the story. I was afraid the ending was going to be depressing and it wasn't. Even though I had seen the movie, I couldn't remember how it ended so I was surprised and pleased at the way Bronte tied up the loose ends. It will allow me to sleep in peace.

I still don't like Mr. Rochester but I cannot deny that I myself wish to be absolved of my own sins and therefore I can't hold a grudge against him. He repented and I believed him to be sincere. With true repentance, true forgiveness can be granted and Jane was at liberty to be supremely happy - and she was!

And so am I!

This book redeemed the Bronte sisters in my eyes -- a little! Subsequent research on Charlotte Bronte's life revealed that she did indeed lead something of a miserable life. That would explain why she writes about dark subject matters in such a believable (and disturbing!) way. She has lived it and therefore is better qualified to write about it. I don't really admire her person and I'm not in love with the book. I am glad I read it though and I'm relieved to say that much.

On an interesting note, Charlotte Bronte was a friend to Elizabeth Gaskall who wrote a posthumus biography of Bronte. (Gaskall is the author of Wives & Daughters.) I wasn't aware of the connection between the two authoresses before but I think it very fitting that I'm reading their books in succession of one another.

My next Reader's Diary will be of Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.


Anonymous said...

I'm wondering now how much my view of Jane Eyre was colored by having read it the first time as a teenager (and thus more likely to think it romantic than to want to yell at the characters...) Because I can totally see your side of it - even though thats not what i get from it at all... Anyway - if you ever get a chance to hear any of the musical based off of it - the music is wonderful and it really fits the book well (it has this tumultous undulating accompaniment that really reflects the feeling of the book in my opinion)

Sherry said...

I so enjoyed reading your "diary" of Jane Eyre. Mr. Rochester is annoying and dishonorable, isn't he? I think he must have been really good looking and intelligent to make up for the lack of other redeeming qualities.

Not that handsome and smart are enough.

Unknown said...

I LOVE this reading diary thing, because your thoughts aren't colored by your overall impression, but colored right at the end.

So, you're a fan of St. John? I found him too creepy and cold -- and just too practical. I struggle myself with the rational over the emotional (being too ruled by ration instead of emotion).

ibeeeg said...

I enjoy reading your diary entries.

It is very interesting for me to see ways others view things differently. It certainly gives me pause and I then reflect on my thinking.

I saw Mr. Rochester's negative and Jane's as well. However, I did not see him as evil or her to be weak.

I see your side but when I read stories such as these, I tend to keep in mind the time of the story and how things were viewed. For me, that helps me to keep balance in my thoughts as to how women should be viewed as equals, strong, etc as we do in this day in age with the fact that those thoughts were not prevalent and well acknowledged in the early to mid 1800's. This is why I see Jane as very strong person and Rochester, well he does become a well intended person at the end IMHO.

St.John, I did feel was far worse than Rochester. He, did not have any love for Jane but still tried to manipulate her for his own purposes. That is worse IMHO.

Look forward to your next Diary.

Carrie said...

Oh no. When I say "St. John was amazing" I meant that sarcastically.

I couldn't stand the man.

Amy Guerino said...

My first time through the novel in college had similar reactions to yours. The darkness of the circumstances and Jane seemingly settling for someone twice her age, ugly, and gruff. As a very young person I was hoping for much more from life.

Now that I've lived more of the realities of life I enjoyed the circumstances that lead to some redemption.

Alyce said...

Great thoughts! I wish I would have kept such detailed notes. I did catch the sarcasm about St. John. :)

The melodramatic voice across the distance was a bit unrealistic but worked as a literary device. I like happy endings so it worked for me.

Lindsey said...

Ohhh, another reader's diary! That's kind of how I've done it, too, although mine are much longer (probably too long, lol) and in separate posts. I enjoyed reading about your impressions! I had a love/hate relationship with Mr. Rochester - sometimes I would be annoyed at him for acting abominably but then other times I was really impressed with him. Hm, much like real life... lol

Sarah M. said...

I've never seen the Timothy Dalton version, but I did see the 1996 (around then) version with William Hurt and I liked it. I just watched the 2007 version by Masterpiece (how is it possible that such a story can be remade so many times?) and I liked it even better. It wasn't 100% true to the spirit -- some of the characters seemed a little too modern for the time, but over all I liked it. I think the ending is why.

Anonymous said...

It would seem this book was similar to Pride and Prejudice in that it starts out slow for most people then picks up...

Unfortunately my patience failed me this time.

Great review though, I'm thinking I should have stuck with it after all!

Ronnica said...

I read this when I was younger and have been wanting to read it again. But then again, I also really liked Wuthering Heights.

Unknown said...

This is a great post! I really like the idea of keeping a reading diary. I enjoyed reading your views. :)

Colleen said...

I enjoyed reading your honest thoughts. I too find Jane Eyre a little overdramatic at times.

I love your choices of books for your journals! Victorian literature is my absolute favorite. I am going to read your post on Wives and Daughters after I finish this comment.

Sometime when you're looking for something to read (not that I expect that to happen soon or anything) you might want to check out Anne Bronte's novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne is the lesser known of the Bronte sisters, but she is very interesting. I think you might have a different reaction to her; she's not as big into the drama.

~teachmom~ said...

Well, at least you gave me the slight motive, lol, to bring out my copy of this book from my hope chest. It's been sitting there, never read....mmmmm...maybe when I can clear my mind...maybe after the Holidays.

Nise' said...

I liked how you kept a diary of your thoughts as you read. I try to do that but get too involved in my reading and forget to make notes.

Anonymous said...

I will add my enthusiastic response to your diary-formatted review! I want to try this myself. A review at the end misses the questions and thoughts that come up as I am reading, and those questions and their answers are often much more insightful that a simple overview.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as Pride and Prejudice, mostly I think due to it's dark qualities, but it is one that I highly recommend.

Anonymous said...

Considering the day and age, Jane was a very strong female, who knew her priorities. That is one reason I like the book so much. I never could stand Pride and Perjudice. For one, I simply detest Darcy!

Petunia said...

I too love your diary review. And I highly recommend you watch the new movie version starring Toby Stephens. He is the perfect Mr. Rochester.

Rivers Daughter said...

I have to say this is about the only Bronte book I like, can't remember which of the others I've read but a couple.

Their lives were rather sad and their brother a jerk if not insane so probably the men in the books are draw from real life pictures.

Oh Bleak House...sounds like fun, you'll have to let us know what you think. We watched a rather good movie versions of this book.

Right now for my literature class, I'm having them read Nicholas Nickleby. Pretty much all of them fainted at the length but I'm deaf to their cries, insisting that we will read this book all the way through, or die trying.

Mirlandra said...

I was curious when I realized you were reading a few of my favorites all in succession. Jane Eyre and Bleak House are some of my staple loves. Jane is an amazing woman to me, and I love Mr. R very much. I appreciate his flawed nature. One of the most important aspects of the book is a plea for feminism - there is a desperate need to break from the traditional and set out for a new age. She was one of the first true feminists, and a woman who actually got what it was about. It was also interesting to see your experience of reading it through day by day . . .

Top  blogs