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.
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.
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.