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Spade & Dagger

My first outing with Jane Eyre and I was immediately taken with the very modern tone of the thoughts of the young woman making a life for herself, such an internal dialogue would not be out of place now. I was slightly irritated that a previously unknown inheritance smoothed the social path, but impressed by Jane's striving attitude and determination to determine her own destiny, which seemed so unusual in that time.

Dark Puss

This is the first time I have read the book. The positive aspects are the quality of the writing, the "readability" (for want of a better phrase) - I had no problems reading this book with enthusiasm. Of course one absolutely admires Jane's views on the place and role of women in society and her insistence of being in charge of her own life. John Rivers is a splendid invention and surely a candidate for a charge of non-physical domestic violence.

To borrow from Spinal Tap> I felt that the melodrama was sometimes turned up to 11 and that occasionally detracted from the overall style. I found, like "Spade & Dagger" the sudden arrival of the inheritance a rather pat device. I thought I was going to like Rochester more than I did and that was slightly a surprise; he comes across as more flawed than I expected (and that's to the advantage of the novel as a whole) and perhaps that is why I felt Jane herself was just too good to be true.

lovethosecupcakes

Unless my memory is worse than I think it is, this was my first reading of Jane Eyre (though, having seen many of the film and TV adaptations, I opened the book feeling very familiar with the story). I loved it, there's so much more in there than I was anticipating - child abuse, social class, mystery, love, hardship, power, mental illness and just downright blummin' nastiness. Like a previous commenter, I was surprised by how much I disliked Rochester. The man is vile and does he really love Jane? Would he have married Blanche Ingram if Richard Mason hadn't appeared? I'm not sure.

Ursula

As you, Cornflower, I had read Jane Eyre in my teens. I had not liked it at the time, and after having re-read it I am certain that it will never be one of my favourite novels. I suppose the main problem for me was that I found neither Jane nor Rochester very likeable. In particular, I could not really comprehend Jane’s lack of fondness or empathy towards Adèle, the little girl who is in her care. Towards Mrs. Fairfax Jane shows a rather unjustified, condescending attitude.
However, there were some aspects which I could appreciate more now than I had as a teenager, in particular Jane’s view on the role of women in society and how revolutionary they must have seemed to the contemporary reader.
I have also re-read Wide Sargasso Sea which I enjoyed very much. I always like to see a character from a completely different perspective and to imagine what has caused them to be how they are when we meet them.

Christine Harding

This is one of my favourite 'return-to' novels, and every time I read it I find something new to think about. I was going to do a blog post on some of the minor characters, but didn't have time so here are some thoughts on Jane, Rochester and poor Bertha.

As you say, Jane is searching for a 'wider and richer life than that traditionally accorded to her sex in Victorian society', but as part of that she demands intellectual and emotional equality and respect in a relationship with a man. She's not prepared to accept anything less than that, and she won't let herself be pushed into doing anything she knows is wrong. But she's not a goody-goody - she's a much more complex woman that I originally thought, and I've come to admire her more and more over the years.

On the other hand, the older I get the less I like Rochester (I suspect my view has been influenced partly by the passing years, and partly by Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea). He marries Bertha for her money, brings her back to England, shuts her away in the attic, then abandons his responsibilities and takes off for the Continent where he keeps a string of mistresses. And this behaviour is considered to be justifiable because a) his father and brother forced him to marry, and b) she is mad...

I think he's actually very selfish, and rather cruel, and every bit as controlling and manipulative as St John Rivers, but in a different way, because he's more passionate. What about that odd incident during the house party at Thornfield, where he dresses up as a gipsy and tells fortunes, and the way he treats Blanche, stringing her along to think he will marry her?

And however much I love Charlotte Bronte's writing, I'm appalled at her depiction of mental illness. Bertha no longer seems human. She looks and behaves like an animal, but is not treated as well as Rochester's dog and horse. There is no comfort or gentleness in her life, and there's the same reference to 'bad blood' that you find in Lady Audley's Secret (they both have mad mothers). I'm left wondering if the harsh treatment meted out to her resulted in her acting down to people's expectations of her, if that makes sense.

If this all sounds like criticism, it's not, because I love this book. Charlotte Bronte is such a fantastic writer, and the characters are so well draw, and the story itself is wonderful. Rochester is redeemed, and Jane gets her man. "Reader I married him," she tells us. I love a happy ending!

Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

I loved this reread too. I thought I knew this book much better than I did, but it still surprised me. I saw a fascinating theatre production years ago in which Bertha was on stage all the time representing the hidden, unacknowledged side of Jane, and while that interpretation was somewhat one-sided, it was very revealing. This is not a realistic tract on the socially acceptable treatment of the mentally ill, but a psychological drama, a dream. It was written by a young woman with a dangerous longing for subjugation as well as a passionate desire for freedom. Jane's journey involves both, as she gradually frees herself in body, soul, and spirit from those who would limit and fetter her, but equally from her own lesser nature. It's an extraordinary book, its excesses redeemed in my view by its amazing psychological insight. Thank you for the impetus to read it again!

Alison


I enjoyed this book far more now that I am a lot older and more experienced. It was much, much longer than I remembered and with a far more detailed story line than I had noticed in my teenage years.
What did everyone think about the whole name issue Jane or Janet and why does he call her Janet? Do you think Rochester nicknames her Janet as a term of endearment? Maybe he doesn't see her as plain Jane, as in looks and personality but sees her as the opposite and so gives her a non plain nickname hence Janet.
Love the gothic drama, romance, hardship, the twists and turns and atonement. A book with something for everyone.

Alison

Should read: as in her personality but....

Julé (Gallimaufry Book Studio)

Thank you for giving me a good excuse to reread 'Jane Eyre'! These days I'm more aware of the simmering emotions underlying the book; they must have startled some when it was first published.

I very much identified with Jane on my first reading, now I especially admire her strength in following her own path and mind, but feel a little sad when Jane seems to accept her lowly status all too readily. But it is pretty amazing to see how Brontë's 'plain Jane' has transformed into a beloved heroine.

Mr. Rochester - well, he has done some awful things during his life, but he's aware enough of his faults to want to change. No matter all the mistakes he's made, I still love the character. It's strange to realize how voiceless Bertha is. She's more of a plot device than a character - wonder if that's due to Brontë or attitudes when the book was written or both.

The character who has changed the most in my mind over the years is St. John Rivers. From a mild dislike to realizing what a complex character he is and admiring Brontë's portrayal of him.

Your question asking if we see the book differently from our first reading got me thinking about a slightly different version of it which I've posted about.

Anji

I can't say that I enjoyed the book. That being said, like all good novels it did get me thinking about the status of women and Charlotte Bronte's own history. As a child I read a graphic novel of the history of the Bronte family and I found myself recalling that finally image of Patrick Bronte alone in the vicarage window, having just buried his last child. It all seemed to be rather grim, living on the edge of the moors.

Mr Cornflower

Two strands which emerged from this re-reading: the intense awareness of the natural environment; and the use of coincidence as a magic key. On the first, I had not remembered quite how lyrical were the descriptions of landscape and weather and houses. This would have been particularly poignant to readers in the 1840s, aware of how rapidly the pre-industrial England which the author evokes was retreating before the march of steam trains and sooty chimneys. And the coincidences! You run away, as far as you can, in a country where you have as far as you know no friends or family; and on whose doorstep do you finally arrive, in the last stages of hunger and desperation? Your cousins'.

Dark Puss

The coincidence indeed! An early example of the "with one bound she was free" school of writing perhaps (OK probably not and apologies for a slightly facetious comment). One thing I did mean to comment upon, which also struck me through the book, was how often Jane and other characters comment upon how plain she is (looks, dress etc.) Now I assume that Bronte here is making the point that the conventional benefit (in achieving a "good match") of beauty and being fashionable is exactly what she is wanting her heroine not to have. She wants us to look beneath the surface gloss (which is clearly absent) at the mind beneath. However I did feel that this was slightly overused; perhaps at the time of writing it would have been a much less obvious message and needed to be reinforced often.

Alison

I would agree with Dark Puss on this point . Plain in looks but not nature/mind hence Rochester calling Jane by the name Janet.

Claire

A first time read for me although I knew the bones of the story but I knew nothing of the year Jane spent after leaving Thornfield and returning to a blind Rochester. For me that was when Jane became herself truly and surely she was then Charlotte Bronte and Diana and Mary were Anne and Emily Bronte. And then St. John Rivers - what a marvellous character to introduce and what amazing writing. (Reminded me of the Rob/Helen scenario in the Archers!) Anyway, although I knew the ending of the book I was inwardly screaming no Jane, no, don't go, don't marry him. I didn't want her to go and find Rochester either but she did. The most disappointing words "Reader, I married him". Hey ho, of course she did - it was 1847 after all. Without getting inside the head of Charlotte or reading a biography which I'm now tempted to do, I couldn't understand or criticise why she depicted Rochester in such a harsh light. She'd had or was having (don't know dates)such a tricky time with brother Branwell perhaps she couldn't see men in a good way. Anyway, she gave Jane a huge moral code which I can admire. Or maybe simply to achieve the Gothic effect, stick a badly treated mad woman in the attic. Anyway, thank you Cornflower I did really enjoy Jane Eyre but still wish she was back living with her cousins and enjoying a private income. (I hope she and Rochester had children by the way).

Spade & Dagger

As my e-book of Jane Eyre came without explanatory notes, I borrowed a guide from the library to help unravel the references embedded in the text. I was fascinated by the sheer number of references to other literary works, classical and contemporary (to Bronte), as well as to the wide range of social customs and opinions. The author's own breadth of education was clearly evident and I found this side of the novel (along with the environmental & pre-industrial descriptions - definitely agree with Mr C on that) more engrossing than the overall plot construct.

rj

This is my second full read of Jane Eyre, although I had many stops and starts while reading it in my teens. Each point in the book where I had to put it down (in the past), popped up like a little signpost. My heart still sank when the girls in the school were forced to have haircuts. I still wonder where any decent man could be hiding in the fringes of the novel (and I still secretly feel that Rochester needed to be flawed because Jane needed a project). Of... if she had to be a missionary, it was better to be the angel of the house. It definitely was worth the reread, especially since I got to read the 1890s edition, complete with illustrations. I can't remember if my paperback in High School had them.

Chiara

This was an enjoyable and a surprising re-read for me - I used to read Jane Eyre regularly as a teenager, it did seem longer this time. I have fallen seriously out of love with Mr Rochester, what a shock, he was rather creepy and unpleasant, all that bossing and watching and not taking no for an answer, how did I not see that 30 years or more ago! I loved Jane and so enjoyed the read, I'd forgotten about Mrs Fairfax and Bessie, though St John Rivers was as awful as I remembered him. I loved the depth of the characters, creepy or not, the house, the countryside and her descriptions of Rochester's friends and Jane's cousins, marvellous. Thanks for suggesting it.

Margaret M

This was a reread for me too which I have greatly enjoyed; I think I was still at school the only other time so it was probably nearly fifty years ago. My memories are dim of how I felt then, apart from feeling caught up by the "romance" of the happy ending. I had forgotten St John Rivers and I think he may represent no small number of available would-be husbands of that time. I am now aware of the complexity of the main characters and their faults, and above all appreciate the work as a plea for women to be allowed to "seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced for their sex" - a message which for some still has resonance in 2015. I too enjoyed the descriptions of the natural world and weather, so much more important to those living in wild places than sheltered by urban landscapes.
I have Wide Sargasso Sea waiting at the library, and will now read Villette and Shirley too during this year, as well as the Gaskell biography and maybe a more recent biography too. Thanks so much for suggesting this read and re-introducing me to Charlotte B.

Mrs Ford

Thank you for suggesting this, and apologies for rather late comments. It's been very interesting to see what everyone else thought of it; I liked it, but not as much as when I first read it in my early teens (when I had genuinely no idea what was going to happen, and was quite swept along by the drama of the story). As others have noted, there aren't very many likeable characters, but Charlotte Bronte seemed better (and surprisingly entertaining) at creating characters we aren't meant to like (Mr Brocklehurst, Lady Ingram, St John Rivers) than supposedly romantic heroes (I really didn't like Mr Rochester AT ALL). I admired Jane's struggles for independence and respect, enjoyed her deadpan wit, and sympathised when she wonders about doing more with her life, but couldn't help sometimes finding her rather judgemental and dismissive (as others have said, especially of characters like Adele and Mrs Fairfax). I'm very glad to have re-read "Jane Eyre" as an adult, but am not sure that I will read it again.

Elizabeth

Just wondering if your book group is still a going thing. If it has 'died' is there any hope of a revival? I always enjoyed reading your posts and the comments, and of course your choice of books was wonderful.
Regards, Elizabeth Guster

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