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

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Did Charlotte Bronte change her mind while writing Jane Eyre?

One would have to surmise that Charlotte Bronte got tired of the novel she was writing (Jane Eyre) and decided to "switch gears" a few chapters in; there's no doubt that she could have begun the novel with JE's arrival at Rochester's estate (Thornhill?), and that would in fact have been a fairly opening for a genre novel of its day or, for that matter, ours: a stranger arrives in town. In this case, an impoverished, solitary governess about to meet her new, her first, charge - a beginning somewhat like Turn of the Screw, or in a different way like Dracula - but there's also no doubt that the novel is much, much better because CB set us up in the first 80 pages or so with the story of JE's childhood as a abused, mistreated orphan. But clearly she, CB that is, reached a point where she knew she'd made her point: she jumps forward by 8 years in a paragraph, completely eliding the years of JE's maturation into young womanhood (CB must have had fears that she was heading down the Tristram Shandy road and if she were to apply the same level of detail to all the years of Jane's life the novel would take longer than the life to complete), and she also kind of miraculously and off-handedly says that the horrible school for girls was reformed and became a much more nurturing and supportive place for Jane and the other consignees: My guess is the CB just didn't have it in her to write another hundred pp of wicked abuse, so the mean school manager is put in his place, Jane reunites with the one somewhat kind maid from her aunt's house, and JE heads off into a new world. For the vast # of readers who already know the story of JE either because we're re-readers or from one of the adaptations, the trickery will begin to seem a little heavy-handed (Jane keeps hearing noises and seeing servants walking around on the darkened third floor), but CB does a really great job establishing the milieu of Rochester's mansion - the book, accessible and engaging though the first chapters are, really comes into its own as the plot gears engage on Rochester's arrival: all before is prologue.

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