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

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

The first great feminist scene in British literature?: in Jane Eyre

So at last Rochester calls Jane Eyre into his library or dining room to engage in some after-dinner conversation - he gives a little present to daughter Adele, who is fascinated with the little toy and prattles on in French, background noise to R and JE's conversation. Rochester gets it off to a great start by asking Jane is she finds him to be "handsome," and she quite forthrightly answers: No. That leads on to a conversation about beauty, morals, ethics, faith - and Jane shows herself to be every bit his match, and beyond - her comments are sharper than his, funny, thoughtful, wise, and pointed. What does this tell us? First of all, the dialogue is almost Shakespearean - can't help thinking of JE as a 19th-century novel v. of Beatrice - even if Rochester is a sour-puss who feels sorry for himself and is no match of wits for her, he's no Benedick. Of course the wit is not really "Jane's" but Charlotte Bronte's - and in part what I think she's doing is showing us her hand, showing us her own intelligence. She, through Jane, is like the voice of all of the female narrators and authors who have been silenced by "manners" or convention. In a sense, she - i.e., CB, is not really engaged in conversation w/ Rochester but with the literary world - she is showing that women (authors) have a rightful place, and that their role is or should be to speak out and speak up (lean in, we would say today). Think of CB, and of her sister, and later of G Eliot, adopting these absurd male personnae, and for what reason? CB was unable to shed her personna at this time - not if she wanted to publish, anyway - but she uses the occasion to make the case for women writers. Wyf of Bath, Much Ado, and Emma aside, this may be first great feminist scene in British literature.

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