Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jane on Jane

When we first started this blog I made the rash promise of talking about Jane Eyre, because it's such an important book in the evolution of women's fiction, the alpha and omega of romance.

This book has the most kickass opening sentence of any nineteenth-century (or later) novel:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Boom, wham bam, right in the reader's face--a challenge, that you might have to put a bit of effort into finding out who "we" are, and where they are, and so on. At the same time it's a statement of something that is not possible, not allowed, the theme, that for me, epitomizes Jane Eyre. It's the story of a woman who is denied affection, family, and love, yet triumphs at the end of the novel, in love and married, wealthy, and...happy?

I've always found Jane Eyre an angry character, all that passion seething away under her ladylike exterior. When I first read it as a child I loved the beginning sequences with the Reeds and then at Lowood School, and even now, I'm sorry when she leaves. It was all that discipline... and frankly, I've always thought of Rochester, with his infantilization of Jane and the mind games (remember when he dresses up as a gypsy? Never mind the mad wife in the attic) as a bit of a jerk. I've had far more fruitful sexual fantasies about Mr. Brocklehurst and Lowood.

I played around a bit with Jane Eyre and wrote an erotic novella, Reader I Married Him (another of the great lines from the book) in which Rochester was the one chained up in the attic and Jane was the one playing games. You can follow the link to read the PG beginning on my website. One editor at a major NY publishing house sent me and my agent a rejection that sounded like I'd reduced her to tears: I don't want Jane to be a slut.

So what's your take on Jane Eyre? Icon, potential slut, courageous and principled heroine, or something else?

8 comments:

Kate Pearce said...

I loved this book when I was a teenager because I loved Mr. Rochester, and like you, I was fascinated by the whole 'school' thing (reminded me of a little Princess) maybe it's our English upbringing that gives us a school thang, Jane?
As an adult, I'm not so keen on it. He doesn't seem quite so magnificent anymore and a bit manipulative.

Lenora Bell said...

Jane, Jane...fantasies about Mr. Brocklehurst? How could you? Now the shapely Miss Temple and her stern, yet tender, discipline...but I digress.

I'm a Rochester woman through and through. Give me a hulking, powerful hero with questionable motives and dark secrets and I'm yours--but give me a fiercely intelligent heroine with barely checked passions, and I'm doubly so.

This is one of my favorite books in the whole world and I will cherish it over and over until the day I die. Yet my sensibilities are not so tender as to be offended by the idea of Jane taking charge. Your novella sounds delightful and I'm rushing over to your website to take a peep...

Colette Gale said...

I haven't read this book for a long time, so I'll pulling it off my shelf for a re-read.

But I do recall feeling much the same way you did, Jane--that Rochester wasn't a very nice guy. I hope Jane was happy in the end!

And as for your Reader, I Married Him, as one of the lucky few who have read and enjoyed it, I think I definitely will have a new take on Ms. Eyre when I reread it.

And I'm not the least bit surprised that it was the discipline that caught your attention at the beginning of the book.

Considering the way you wield that whip around here........

Pam Rosenthal said...

Helen Burns was one of the first literary characters I fell in love with. Poor, suffering, Helen Burns... first time through Jane Eyre (I was eleven or so) I put down the book after Jane leaves Lowood, not to pick it up until much later when I was an adult.

I'm with Colette, btw, about Reader, I Married Him, which I also want to see in print.

Hmmm. Just now thinking what a perfect sentence that is -- "Reader, I married him," I mean. Which is interesting, since in A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf takes Charlotte Bronte to task for letting her anger clot her writing, while (Woolf says) the less subversive Jane Austen had the internal freedom to "[devise] a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use."

And yet none of Austen's heroines could have shaped the sentence "Reader, I married him."

(Even if they had expressed themselves in first person, but isn't that also part of the issue?)

Celia May Hart said...

I'm with Lenora. I'm a Rochester girl too. However, it's pretty clear that while Jane adores him (why wouldn't she adore someone who gives her so much attention), she also doesn't take any crap from him either.

Already married? See ya fella.

He has to be in a position where he submits utterly to her will: which appears to be blind, defenceless.

Dang. And I was just thinking the other day that there was plenty of passion but nothing sexual in Jane Eyre. I've lost count of the number of times I've read it. It had a large part in forming my psyche, I think. (I should post the cover I have)

Jane George said...

I guess I'm a Rochester girl because I always thought it heavy-handed justice that his house burns down and he's blind. Harsh!

Always loved the psychic connection over the moors part. The world's first paranormal romance.

The nasty injustices at Lowood fueled my young sense of righteousness, (loved Oliver Twist, too.) Although I recently watched the Ciaran Hindes version with my ten year old daughter who shares the same name as the little girl who dies, and that was hard for her.

And I wish I had the version i read as a kid because the illustrations were incredible. Woodcuts, I think. I remember one of Rochester's hair blowing wildly along with the tree branches. Yes, Celia, very *formative.*

Jane Lockwood said...

He has to be in a position where he submits utterly to her will: which appears to be blind, defenceless.

I see this as a symbolic castration--there's a very strong fear of sexual desire in the book. (Not a real one of course since there is mention of Jane and Rochester's children.) Also Jane offers to go with St. John Rivers on his mission but on a purely asexual basis.

For my money, "Villette" is by far the stronger book by Charlotte Bronte--very intense and subversive of HEA conventions. And it's far more open about desire--I think it's the first time in literature a woman describes a man as being beautiful

ERiCA said...

One editor sent me a rejection that sounded like I'd reduced her to tears: I don't want Jane to be a slut.

Bwa! That cracked me up.