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

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Author, Don't Marry Him: How would an American author have written Jane Eyre?

A weird anti-pastoral interlude as we near the end of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - after Jane leaves Rochester and Thornhill behind and heads off to the countryside with literally no money and no connections, she is taken if by a family - two girls and their dour brother - - a family very much like the Brontes, we have to imagine - who live on the moors, and Jane is struck by the beauty of the moors and their desolation - which both consoles her and serves as a "romantic fallacy," as if nature itself expresses the feelings of loneliness she has within her. The brother, St. John, who's a local and rather puritanical minister with dreams of life as a missionary, sets her up as the teacher in a one-room school for village girls: at first Jane is contemptuous of their lack of learning and manners, but over the course of a few weeks comes to like the girls, at least some of them, and also strangely enough Jane plays matchmaker, letting St. John know that the village beauty is interested in him: there go the plans to carry the word of God into China or wherever. So what does all this say about Jane Eyre - is she in some ways better off living independently rather than depending on Rochester and his whims? She's still in love with him, it seems, but any reader, I would think, should be warning her: Author, don't marry him. She's a stronger person and a stronger character when on her own - not as his little pet, his little puppet, his little lost lamb, as he so "endearingly" calls her. But of course we know that's not where this novel is heading. Jane Eyre is the patron saint of many feminists and other women readers, as she's a model of intelligence, integrity, and independence - and as her narrative stands as one of the first great works of British literature by a woman - but is Jane really a role model anyone should follow? Should she really give up so much for to experience the apotheosis and be lifted into a "higher" social class? As noted many times during these posts, I have to wonder how differently an American author would treat these materials: in Wharton's hands, Jane would be a tragic figure. In Cather's, perhaps a heroic figure - setting off to the city to make her way and find her fortune.

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