Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jane! Jane! Jane!...I am Coming!

(Susan, this one's for you. Grin.)

I have distant memories of Jane Eyre from my first time through the book years and years (and years) ago. I will here confess that I wasn't completely eager to dive in a second time and was fairly certain that I would find it unendurably dark and haunting. In fact, 75 pages into the book, I constructed a scathing review in my mind while still determined to plow through for the sake of book club.

The first 10 chapters of Jane Eyre filled me with passionate dislike. Certainly the writing is exquisite, but it only served to swell in me an exquisite hatred for all but a couple of characters, for whom I felt only ache and pity. No hope, no beauty, not even a love for Jane herself. Is it because I already knew (or thought I knew) Jane's future that I despaired?

Along came Rochester: the quintessential dark and brooding romantic lead. Except that this time around I found him irresistibly engaging, passionate, larger-than-life, and Jane's ultimate match. They both were able to be themselves, their whole selves, more than themselves, when they were together. Their witty, quirky conversations thrilled me. I loved that Rochester called her an elf and a sprite, that Jane amused and enchanted him. There was none of the restrained and proper Austen-esque dialogue. It was edgy and loaded. I loved the interchange when Jane was leaving to visit her dying aunt, and Rochester gave her money (and then asked her to return it). I find it fascinating that Jane herself did not charm me until she had Rochester to draw out her spunk.

Still, though, I waited for the despair to come. And come, indeed, it did. More ache. More hopelessness. I knew already the mystery, but had completely forgotten what happened between the discovery and the very end of the book (parts of which were seared in my memory). I thought to myself, I should only read the middle of this book if ever I visit Jane again.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a little story completely forgotten. Tragic desolation melted into a home, friendships, a position, and eventually family. St. John was a consummate illustration of righteousness without grace, making way for a sublime conclusion of grace, redemption, and a love that frees rather than imprisons.

The 'let us be desperate and hopeless together' ending for which I was steeling myself seemed foreshadowed by these words earlier in the novel:

pg 223

It was not without a certain wild pleasure I ran before the wind, delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air-torrent thundering through space. Descending the laurel walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut tree: it stood up black and riven; the trunk, split down the centre, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed--the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead, and next winter's tempests would be sure to fell one or both to earth. As yet, however, they might be said to form one tree--a ruin, but an entire ruin.

"You did right to hold fast to each other," I said, as if the monster splinters were living things and could hear me. "I think, scathed as you look, and charred and scorched, there must be a little sense of life in you yet, rising out of that adhesion at the faithful, honest roots. You will never have green leaves more--never more see birds making nests and singing idyls in your boughs; the time of pleasure and love is over with you: but you are not desolate; each of you has a comrade to sympathize with him in his decay." As I looked up at them, the moon appeared momentarily in that part of the sky which filled their fissure. Her disk was blood-red and half overcast: she seemed to throw on me one bewildered, dreary glace, and buried herself again instantly in the deep drift of cloud. The wind fell, for a second, round Thornfield; but far away over wood and water poured a wild, melancholy wail: it was sad to listen to, and I ran off again.

And yet, and yet.... Grace abounds. Contented sigh.
pp 361-362

"I am no better than the old lighting-struck chestunt-tree in Thornfield orchard," he remarked ere long. "And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?"

"You are no ruin, sir--no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop."

Read it. You must.

Shannon and I spent two evenings together watching all four hours of the Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre (wahoo, Netflix) after reading the book. The movie was quite faithful to the story. Mr. Rochester was perhaps more handsome in the movie than as described in the book (no complaints from me, however), there was possibly one or two passionate scenes in the movie that weren't completely faithful to the original story (again, no complaints here...), and they reduced the first 10 chapters of the book to about 10 minutes (NO COMPLAINTS!), but overall a very good representation. I am not positive I would have loved it so much had I not just read the book (not so much as Pride & Prejudice or North & South), but I would still highly recommend it. (Advocating, of course, that one read the book first, if at all possible...)


Skeller said...

You know I've been waiting ... ;-)

And, WHEW!!! [wiping my brow with relief!!!]. I'm so glad the book didn't fall flat with you again. Y'know, I like to think we're kindred spirits with our reading materials :-). And I LOVED Jane Eyre when I read it for the very first time a couple years ago. In fact, I believe I immediately put in on my mental top ten list.

Of course, it's been more than 2 weeks since I finished it, so I don't remember much. Perhaps it's time to reread it ... or get the movie ;-).

ps. I'm currently watching North & South and enjoying it...

Molly Anne said...

My college roommate first loaned me Jane Eyre. I loved the book and immediately bought myself a copy. Haven't seen that version of the movie though!

If you really want to blow your mind with these characters check out The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Literary brainy silliness. Fantastic!

Jen Rouse said...

I think you've just described my thoughts exactly on both the book and the Masterpiece Theatre presentation. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books, but sometimes when I re-read it I *gasp* just skip the first 10 chapters and go straight to the good stuff!

carmella said...

And, for the second comment from me in one day(!), can I just say how MUCH I need a good book to read and a good movie to watch right about now?! Ever so many thanks!

carole said...

Last night I asked Tim if he remembered which year we were required to read Jane Eyre. He thinks freshman (of high school). I was an avid reader and I struggled so much with the book. So I got it out on tape (yes, cassette tape). It was the first 'grown up' book I remember listening to instead of reading. And the narrator brought Jane Eyre to life for me - made me fall in love with the story. Now that I love the story it's easier to go back to the book from time to time to savor moments ... but I don't revisit the beginning section ever. :)
Now you've inspired me to revisit the 2006 BBC version via youtube (of all places!) while I prep for dinner tonight.

Chelsea M said...

Oh I LOVE that movie version. I'd seen another version years ago and developed a similar dislike as yours. Dark and hopeless - not entertaining. (as an aside, that's still how I feel about Wuthering Heights...have you any insight to shed on that one?) My whole outlook changed when I saw this version, came to better understand the characters and story and then re-read the book with enjoyment.

PS. I recently read The Squire's Tale and LOVED it. Thanks so so much for your book reviews/recommendations.

Heidi said...

Chelsea~ Wuthering Heights? I abhor it. How is that for insight? LOL. Glad you enjoyed The Squire's Tale. I'm about to pick up the next book in the series. Levi has already finished 5 of the 8. I need to get busy. :)