I can’t recall if I had ever read this book when I was a teenager. I know the story well, and might have caught different versions of the movie. I am no fan of Victorian novels, preferring authors like Charlotte Lamb (of Mills and Boons :)) when I was a teen. I am ashamed to confess I even took Pride and Prejudice for O’levels English Literature without reading the original book, relying only on the abridged version.
So it’s ironical now that I am picking up this book, not on my own accord, mind you, but as part of my course under Coursera’s The Fiction of Relationship with Brown University. Not only am I digesting every scene in detail, I am also analyzing the characters, the relationships, as well as the conversations (note the post-its sticking out from the book).
Just to make my post complete, this is an autobiography of Jane Eyre, a poor orphan girl who was took in by her maternal Uncle Reed but was abused by Aunt Reed and her cousins upon his death. She was described as plain (is that why we have the phrase plain Jane?), a depart from the usual Victorian novels where protagonists are usually pretty and beautiful. She was sent to Lowood Boarding school and graduated at eighteen, after which, she advertised and took a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall to a French little girl named Adele. She fell in love with Rochester, her employer who is twenty years her senior, only to discovered that he was already married to a mad woman, Bertha, who was kept in the attic, on her wedding day. Jane ran away, found some new cousins, inherited some money and returned to Thornfield only to find the mansion burnt, and her lover widowed, blinded and handicapped. But now she has the wealth, status to marry him.
Reading a book as a literature subject is different straight reading, that is, just reading for the story, and perhaps appreciating the proses along the way. Perhaps that’s why Victorian novels are popular. Jane Eyre gives us an insight to the role of women in Victorian society and their limitations. By marrying Rochester, Jane Eyre is considered to have succeeded in her endeavor. By making him poor and handicapped, Bronte has equalized and made Rochester and Jane compatible in society. Students are to make inferences, compare and contrast, and look for metaphors.
But beyond that, there is even what is known as ‘shadow reading’, by insinuating that Bertha, the mad woman, is the alter-ego of Jane.
Jane Eyre is also a subject of study by others and spawned books like ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’, a book by Gilbert and Gubar, as well as psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud.
Studying Jane Eyre has made just plain reading the book more interesting. Although I cannot fathom, as an Asian, how Rochester’s father and brother could have conned him into marrying a woman who has a known insanity/idiotic gene just to give Rochester some wealth. Darwin wouldn’t be able to explain this move of sabotaging your own gene pool.