Friday, October 26, 2007

"Reader, I Married Him."

And so begins the final chapter of one of my favorite books of all time. To me, Jane Eyre has become as familiar as a friend and as comfortable as a worn pair of jeans. It's one of those books that I can curl up with on any given day and know that I won't be disappointed. It is a story of love and passion, betrayal and redemption, joy and suffering, and a nice dose of Gothic mystery. While Jane Eyre is not as sparkling as Pride and Prejudice, nor quite as warm and cozy as, say, Anne of Green Gables, it is still a wonderful love story that smolders like a pile of glowing embers, warming its readers on a cold winter's day.

The Plot:

This book describes about twenty years in the life of its heroine Jane Eyre, an orphan who for about the first ten years of her life is raised in the home of an indifferent aunt and horrible cousins, all of whom make her life miserable. She is then sent to a charitable boarding school where living conditions are horrible and life drags on in a terrible monotony. After eight years, she has become a teacher and decides to seek a position as a governess. Her advertisement is answered and she journeys to Thornfield Hall where she finds that her pupil is a little french girl named Adele and the ward of Thornfield's owner, Edward Rochester. A few months after Jane begins, Mr. Rochester arrives. He is gruff, rude and haughty, but Jane likes him anyway and a friendship soon grows between them. It is also at this time that Jane becomes aware that not all is right at Thornfield Hall. She hears a menacing laugh in the night and many other accidents occur that leads Jane to suspect a recluse servant as the culprit. As time passes, Jane's love for Mr. Rochester grows, and she then discovers that he feels the same towards her. They become engaged and preparations are made for them to leave England as soon as they are married. But as they approach the alter to take their vows, a disastrous secret comes to light and in order to keep her purity, Jane is forced to run away from Thornfield.

After wandering for a few days, she is taken in by the two Rivers sisters and their clergyman brother St. John. She takes a position as a teacher in a local school for the lower class. A year passes and Jane suddenly becomes an independent women thanks to an unknown uncle. Then, St. John asks her to marry him and to accompany him to India as a missionary. Now Jane must choose whether to become the wife of a man that she knows does not really love her but will open up a life of purpose; or to seek out her old master, learn of his fate, and discover if she can recapture the happiness that had once seemed so close.

My Review (Caution: Spoilers)

I guess that since I have already told you how much I LOVE this book, I shouldn't continue to gush. Instead I'll look at some of the things that I like (and dislike) about the three principle characters. As in A Room With a View our heroine must decide between two fates, one based on passion (life with Mr. Rochester), the other on reason (life with St. John Rivers).

Edward Fairfax Rochester is one of those complicated characters that your mind says you should loathe, but your emotions say you should love. He is rather rude to the people around him, has had way too many mistresses, and he even implores Jane to be the next one. In his self-pity, he has decided that he deserves the happiness that life with Jane would bring him and is willing to sacrifice Jane's morality for his own pleasure. Life has cheated him out of many years of happiness, so why shouldn't he try to attain some, even if it means breaking not only man's laws but also God's. But let's not write him off as a complete cad just yet. I believe that the real Rochester can be seen in his relationship with his wife Bertha. Though he bad-mouths her and certainly does not love her, he obviously has some pity for her. When she attacks him, he never strikes her, but rather he simply overpowers her. He decides not to keep her at the dark and dank Ferndeen Manor where she would likely be slowly killed by the dampness. And finally, he rushes up through the flames as Thornfield Hall burns, and tries to save her, even when her death would have freed him. In the end, Rochester is brought, like all sinners, to repentance a crippled and blind man. It is only then that God restores him and gives him the joy and happiness that he had spent years trying to gain on his own. "I thank my maker, that, in the midst of judgement, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto."

St. John Rivers is unlike Mr. Rochester in every single way. He is handsome, cool and cultured. He is completely governed by his reason and what he believes his calling to be. He is bent on going to the mission field of India, and he spends the majority of his time in the study of Hindustani. He helps the poor and procures for Jane the employment of teacher at the girls school. On the surface, he seems to be wonderful. Perhaps, a bit too wonderful. While he is certainly a likable man, he has tempered his passion to the point of which it is virtually non-existent. While he does "love" the daughter of a local factory owner, he will not allow himself to pursue her because he does not believe that she would be suitable for the mission field. Jane, however, would suit it excellently. While he does have a certain friendship for Jane (especially after they discover their kinship), he has none of the feeling and passion that Rochester had for her or her for him. While in the end it would seem reasonable, even from the Christian standpoint, for Jane to accept St. John, one would hope that marriage would not be based solely on reason. "He prizes me as a solider would a good weapon; and that is all. Unmarried to him, this would never grieve me; but can I let him complete his calculations-coolly put into practice his plans-go through the wedding ceremony? Can I receive from him the bridal ring, endure all the forms of love...and know that the spirit was quite absent? Can I bear the consciousness that every endearment he bestows is a sacrifice made on principle? No: such a martyrdom would be monstrous."

It is Jane herself who seems to be the balance between passion and reason. While she does have an independent and passionate nature, she learns to use her reason to control it without really quenching it. It is only once in her adult life that she lets her reason go and allows her passion to overcome, and this is when she faces the threat of leaving Thornfield for Ireland and claims her place as Mr. Rochester's equal and love. When she again faces leaving Thornfield, she lets her reason and morality guide her. I have read reviews from people who a) think she was crazy and should have stayed on as Rochester's mistress or b) think that Jane is a feminist and will not stay with Rochester unless she is the dominant partner. I don't believe that either of these are true. Jane is not crazy, because the social and moral laws of the time would definitely forbid her from being a mistress. Neither is Jane a feminist; if she had wanted to be the dominant partner, why would she have agreed to marry Rochester in the first place? Jane knows that staying on as Rochester's mistress is wrong and she cares too much for herself and her eternal future to gamble her purity on fleeting happiness. She also knows that once Rochester has her, she will soon become as distasteful to him as every other mistress and would not have the security that marriage would bring. "Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they will be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth...Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Jane Eyre is such a wonderful story filled with immortal characters, but it is Jane herself who stands out of all of them as an independent spirit, a loving heart, and a strong character. So grab a blanket, curl up on the couch, and immerse yourself into her world. You won't want to leave!

The Movie:

There are TONS of versions of this story ranging from the movie screen to the television screen and the stage. Unfortunately, I have only seen one version and that is the most recent; the 2007 Masterpiece Theatre version starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It stuck pretty close to the story, however it did gloss over Jane's childhood and her time at Moor House. This version focuses mainly on Jane and Rochester's relationship rather than Jane herself.

  • Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephen's chemistry. His side glances and smiles! Her looks and playfulness! There was such a great vibe in every scene they did together.
  • St. John Rivers is not played as a horrible character. He is likable and somewhat charming, if a little distant.
  • The cinematography. Shot in the lovely, but still foreboding British countryside, each scene (indoor and out) is shot with beauty and simplicity.
  • The costumes. Absolutely gorgeous dresses for the British upper class and simple yet sweet dresses for Jane.
  • A sweet and wrapped up ending. All smiles and sunshine!
  • Made me remember my love for this great book.

  • A Ouija board instead of charades. Where did that come from?
  • A short but still a little graphic scene where Rochester discovers that Bertha wasn't quite faithful to him.
  • The scene were Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him is a little bit more spicy than the book. Nothing graphic, but a little on the sensual side.
  • No reason is given for Jane's leaving, she just leaves.
  • There isn't exactly a redemption for Rochester in the Christian sense. He is sorry he tried to make Jane his mistress, but not really for the right reason.
  • I think I would have shot Rochester's proposal scene a bit differently. Probably at night like the book describes.
  • Okay, maybe this should be a pro but Toby Stephens is a little too good looking to be playing Rochester. While he does bring a certain feeling to his character, he doesn't really give a sense of danger.
Overall, this was a good and passionate retelling of a classic tale. Probably a good first introduction for those who don't know the story. But don't take it as the gospel, read the book!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am reading Jane Eyre right now and I absolutely love it. I started to read it a little while ago, but I couldn't get past the first couple of pages because I thought it was terribly boring. But thankfully, my dad told me to pick it up and try it again. He guaranteed that I would like it. Thank goodness for that. I didn't know what I was missing! I love this book so much!