If you enjoyed the Reading with RJ posts that Rachel and I wrote while reading Jane Eyre, you should check out readingchallenge.wordpress.com. In it, some colleagues and I will be blogging about what we read throughout the year. This morning, I published a post on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. If you will be blogging about what you read this year, let me know, and I will put you on the Reading Challenge blogroll.
After RJ and I finished Jane Eyre, I decided to watch the movie that recently came onto DVD. As with most movies-based-on-novels, it wasn’t as good as Brontë’s classic. However, I believe that there are legitimate reasons for this. It is, in my opinion, impossible to condense a thirty-eight-chapter novel into two hours of cinematic experience without losing something. If they were to stay true to the book, the film would take far more than one hundred and twenty minutes.
What suffered the most was the dynamic between Jane and Edward. Scenes of the main couple interacted are the obvious things to cut, since there are so many of them. However, if I hadn’t read the novel, I’m not sure I would have been as fond of the two of them as a couple as I am. Granted, the makers of the film probably assume that most viewers will be familiar with the novel, since a) it is something that every high school student (except, apparently, me) is required to read; and b) why would you be interested in the movie if you were uninterested in the novel? So it makes sense to take for granted the relationship between the two main characters. The interaction that was portrayed was very strong. I am not a crier at movies, but when Jane pulled away from Edward after she learned of Bertha, my eyes were a bit watery. It was a very powerful scene.
They cut out the revelation that Jane and the Rivers were cousins, which was, I suppose, due to modern sensibilities about cousin marriage, since St. John proposes to Jane. That wasn’t really an issue at that time. While I do understand the reasoning, I thought it an important plot point that Jane finally finds family.
Adele wasn’t exactly as I pictured her (I pictured her as a younger, Frencher Georgiana Darcy of the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), but she was still adorable. Bertha was as eerie as promised (though I’m not certain the vampire rumors were necessary).
At the end of the film, I was satisfied. The writers managed a much more successful conclusion than Brontë had (read RJ’s last post for more on that subject), and the story ended happily, not perfectly (perfect endings leave a bad taste in my mouth). I would suggest this film, even for lovers of the novel.
Jane Eyre Part III: Conclusion
For those of you who are new, my good friend RJ and I have been reading Jane Eyre together. You can find RJ’s blog here, and my previous posts can be found in the “Reading with RJ” category of this blog. This is my concluding post on the novel, because we have finished it this week.
When I finished Jane Eyre, I was not sure what I should write about. My previous post concerned the novel as a whole, so I didn’t want to do that again. I could write about the last chapter, which struck me as more of an epilogue than a chapter, and, in any case, I did not care for it. It was an ending that did not fit the rest of the novel. I could mention the excitement I felt at the uncertainty of Jane’s fate. Unlike with most romances, I did not know whether Jane and Edward would be together in the end. I like that. I like having doubt about a happy ending. I could write about the film, which I watched this evening, but I would rather this post focus on the novel (though perhaps a later post will be about the movie). After all this deliberation, I decided to write on St. John (whose name, I learned, is pronounced “Sinjun.”).
St. John both fascinates and repulses me. When he first appeared, I liked him very much. He is kind to Jane when she needs kindness, and is very generous toward her, despite the fact that she is a stranger. He is introverted and a bit harsh, but gives every indication of being a good man–which I still believe that he is. St. John, however, is not a nice man, though a good one he is. His expectations of others are too high, and while he is generous with his wealth, he is stingy with his forgiveness.
There are many things about St. John’s part in Jane’s tale that I was expecting: as soon as St. John asked Jane to learn Hindostanee, the language of the people to whom he planned to bring the gospel of Christ, I knew that he would propose to her. Since Jane had earlier proclaimed to herself that he would make an awful husband, I knew that she would reject him. I did not, however, anticipate the nature of St. John’s proposal.
That proposal goes down in (literary) history as the worst proposal of all time, beating out even Fitzwilliam Darcy’s to Elizabeth Bennet (which, if you have forgotten, was along the lines of, “I have struggled to smother my feelings for you because you are not worthy of them, but I cannot stop loving you; will you marry me?”). It takes an idiot to come up with a worse proposal than that, but St. John E. Rivers managed quite well. It was to the effect of: “I don’t love you, but you would make a great missionary’s wife, so will you marry me, so that I can take you to India? Now, remember, I don’t have feelings for you, but God wants us to get married.” What self-respecting woman would acquiesce to that? None. Only a desperate woman, one so desiring to please others that she would reject herself, would agree to such a marriage. There are many good reasons for marriage, not all of them eros, but allowing yourself to be bullied and following a cousin to India do not count as good reasons, at least not to me. So I am glad that Jane turned him down, and not only for her own sake. St. John is the type of man who is happier when he has responsibilities towards no one.
I think that I can learn many things from St. John, despite the fact that I lost my respect for him after that monstrous proposal. I will settle for describing only one. I, like St. John, tend to hold my personal standards and expectations high, and I am disappointed when others do not try to hold themselves to the same standards (though I like to think that I am not quite so difficult as he is). Watching St. John has shown me what an unattractive trait that is.
St. John is not a nice man. He is not even a reasonable one. Despite these things, however, St. John is
a good man. He worked hard to do what he thought was right, even when it meant sacrificing his happiness. I respect that.
[On an unrelated note, this is my first attempt to write in HTML. I just thought that I would share that.]
My friend RJ and I are reading Jane Eyre together. You can find my previous posts under the category “Reading with RJ,” and you can read RJ’s blog here.
One of the things I like most about Jane Eyre is the way it smoothly flouts the borders that separate genres from one another. Jane Eyre is a gothic novel: a lunatic is imprisoned in the attic of a dreary
mansion. It is a romance: the relationship between Jane and Edward is the central focus of the story, after all. It is a bildungsroman: Jane grows from a young, immature child to a grown woman who is in many ways the opposite of her childhood self. Finally, it is the modern young adult tale: Jane discovers that she cannot trust the person closest to her, a theme found in most young adult novels these days; she is disliked by her guardian, another characteristic that many young adult novels have; and it is written in first-person. While the last of those may not be strongly associated with adolescent literature, I have noticed that much of the young adult literature that has become popular in the last few years are all written in a casual first-person voice; therefore, while the pair is not always together, I believe that the first-person voice belongs in the young adult category, in this instance.
This blending of genres makes Jane Eyre a novel that appeals to an enormous demographic. While I am not fond of romances, and I am picky about my adolescent novels, I enjoy gothic novels and a well done bildungsroman story. The novel’s characteristics of the latter two work in such a way with the former that I can appreciate all four genres that contribute to the story.
I am a character-driven reader. If I do not like the main character of a novel, I cannot continue reading it. Usually for me, liking a character requires identifying with said character in some way, understanding why they choose the actions that they choose. Jane Eyre, however, is different. I like Jane because I am fascinated by her actions, because I do not always understand why she does what she does.
At the beginning of the novel, I was slightly annoyed with Jane: I saw her as whiny and self-pitying, though understandably so. There are so many novels with whiny protagonists, however, that even understandable fussing is too much. However, as she grew older, Jane become more tolerable, though also more distinct and, therefore, more mysterious.
While I can understand her behavior towards Mr. Rochester when she first moves to Thornfield–she is a governess for his ward, much lower than Rochester is socially, and has been told her entire life that she is ugly–when she has not only ascertained Rochester’s affection, but is engaged to him, she becomes even more distant from him. She refuses treat him as her fiancé, or to allow him to treat her as his fiancée.
This and other actions throughout the Thornfield portion of the novel rouse my interest, so that, despite my differences with Jane, I can read her character with ease. She and I are different enough to keep me on my toes, never able to guess what she will do next, or where it will take her.
While I consider myself a fairy-tale connoisseur, I have never been drawn to the story of Cinderella. I never considered the reason until yesterday.
Cinderella is a passive character. She reacts to what goes on around her, but never starts anything. Her stepmother tells her to become a servant: she becomes a servant. Stepmother tells her to stay home from the ball: she stays home. Her fairy godmother tells her to go to the ball: she goes to the ball. The most proactive thing she does is lose her shoe, and that was an accident. Many retellings try to make her spunky, but that falls flat when Cinderella is only spunky when her stepfamily isn’t around. The closest I’ve seen to an active Cinderella is Ever After. Danielle has moments of proactivity, but she still allows herself to be victimized.
Because Cinderella is so passive, the writer has to find a way to make the audience like her that is not based on Cinderella’s actions. The answer writers come up with is: get the reader to pity Cinderella. They caricature the stepfamily, make them so “evil” that no one could possibly like them. For me, this has the opposite effect than writers intend: I get annoyed with Cinderella for being so passive, and annoyed with the writer for creating an obnoxious and unrealistic villain. How many people base their actions around making one person miserable? People are cruel to others when they believe that they will get what they desire due to their cruelty. Villains are people, just like protagonists. If their actions are unmotivated, why be afraid of them? Eventually, they will get bored and antagonize someone else.
Perhaps I will one day write a retelling where Cinderella is proactive. I’m not sure how–it would take a lot of reworking of the story–but I’m sure it’s possible. Perhaps I’ll add it to the set of fairy-tale and myth novellas I’m working on now.
My friend RJ and I have decided that this year, we will encourage each other to stay diligent in our studies by reading together. Our first book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Yesterday was our deadline for the first fourteen chapters. At first, I was cautious: though I love classic literature, I am not fond of Wuthering Heights, and I was unsure if my dislike would apply to all Brontë novels. However, once past the first ten chapters or so, I was able to really get into the story.
The first few chapters, which focus on Jane Eyre’s childhood, were not enjoyable for me. I like novels that start right before the action, giving the reader just enough background information to know what is happening. I was also annoyed with child Jane, who, while mistreated, was whiny and self-pitying. The poor, mistreated child is a common protagonist, and I’m a bit sick of it (though, as RJ pointed out, Brontë was probably one of the first to use this type of character. Now, however, it has become the staple of YA literature). For me, the novel doesn’t really begin until Jane reaches Thornfield Hall.
As soon as Eyre arrives at Thornfield, the novel gets interesting. There is strange laughter in the attic, an adorable French child (who, while being entertaining, also helps me work on my French), and the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Things are happening, and Jane is learning and changing.
Mr. Rochester, thus far, is a character who I like very much. He is the type of person I was friends with in high school. While being rude and having rather extreme shifts in mood, he is hilarious and imaginative.
As to the piece as a whole, there are both things I like and things that I despise. I love that Jane is unattractive, as is Rochester. Attractive heroes are the norm, and so less than beautiful protagonists tend to make me uncomfortable for the first few moments (for various reasons, including, but not limited to, suspicion of what the author is going to do to balance the character), but once I am used to the character, I like it. I dislike, however, Jane’s constant asides to the audience. “Don’t talk to the audience!” I mentally scream. “The fourth wall is there, I promise!”
Overall, I am thus far intrigued by the novel, and I am looking forward to the rest. I have a few theories on what will happen/be revealed, and I can’t wait to see if I am right.
You can read RJ’s blog, including her Jane Eyre post, here.