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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three unconventional thoughts about Jane Eyre

Some (unconventional?) thoughts about Jane Eyre - first of all, what's with the character Helen Burns, the young woman, highly intelligent, solitary, picked on mercilessly by teachers, suffering from some form of TB apparently and surely soon to die, whom Jane is drawn to and whom she befriends: Jane repeatedly asks how Helen is able to put up with so much abuse and mistreatment, and Helen responds - not sounding like a 14-year-old but never mind - with almost a Christian sermon about turning the other cheek and being better than those who try to harm you, etc. I actually found this quite insufferable. I don't know if Charlotte Bronte is using Helen to express her views - the conventional piety of her era, no doubt - but it all rings phony to me. And - it's not the kind of advice Jane needs to hear: I know this would be entirely another novel, and not within the English tradition of novels that incorporate the outliers into the mainstream of society, but they should be rebelling against their oppressors, rounding p the other girls and maybe some of the sympathetic teachers and pushing for change - that's what would happen in America, or in France (think of the great Zero de Conduit, with the boys on the roof at the end hurling things down on their heads of their tormentors). And, second, what about the few sympathetic teachers? Aren't they, in a way, more to blame than the horrible phonies who run this prison-like school for young women? There's one sympathetic teacher - I can't remember her name - who invites Jane and Helen into her room, nice and toasty, and, unable to get an extra serving of bread to feed them, cuts up a little piece of seedcake that they all share. Are you kidding me? She can't do any better than that - letting these poor girls go on living in misery and thinking she's so kind and thoughtful by sharing a crumb with them? Why doesn't she stand up to power in some way, in any way? (Same with the "freindly" maid in the house of Jane's aunt, where she lives a life of misery and no one speaks up on her behalf - until she speaks for herself.) Finally, what about Jane? She's a totally sympathetic and believable character, but, through all that she suffers under her mean aunt and in the oppressive girls' school, doesn't she see that the servants may have it even worse than she? Does she ever notice that there's a whole "underclass" who have no hopes or prospects whatsoever - girls or young women getting no education, living in near slavery, serving their "betters"? Shouldn't Jane recognize this in some way? For all Jane's forthrightness and spirit, she doesn't seem to have a sense of social class and its inherent oppression and injustice.

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