Out with the Old and in with the New

Seeing as Brontë spent a great deal of time emphasizing class inequalities, she took great pains to convey the disruption of this norm, in the form of Mr. Rochester proposing to Jane,  as an extreme deviation, indicative of possible, future change. I could be reading too much into it, but it seemed to me that the substantial symbolism, on top of Jane’s complete disbelief, was heavily accentuated for this very reason.’

Before they even start talking about the pseudo-marriage, Mr. Rochester entreats Jane to notice the wings and eventual flight of a moth. As, earlier in the novel, Jane likened her station to that of one constrained by chains, the moth is analogous to the freedom she would obtain if she moved classes by marriage. Following this moment closely, they sit and allow their relationship to blossom underneath an old chestnut tree which becomes important by the end of the chapter. Almost immediately after Jane says yes to the proposal, rain arrives. Storms or rain is almost always used in literature to symbolize rebirth, a new beginning, In this case, it appears as if rain is not only there to usher in the start of a fresh relationship but also a society which permits class mingling. This idea is solidified when the storm causes the old chestnut to split, the same way Jane and Mr. Rochester did from their cultural norm. Out with the old and in with the new.

A Caring Home

I’ve read this book before. However, I truly enjoy the story and am excited to read it again and pick up new things from this reading. One of the saddest parts of Jane Eyre, that I’ve never noticed before is her attachment to her doll.

Jane does not have the same kind of he that most of us have. She is lonely, deprived of love, and without the self-confidence to stand up for herself  for most of this book. However, she still know the affection of having a little doll. To me, this is a basic feminine joy as a child. While it might be faxing out of style, I expect it will continue for a long time. As a little girl myself, I had a multitude of dolls because the one thing at that point in my life that I wanted to be was a mother.

For many girls, this is the first female character in their lives. Jane is no different. She dreams of a sweet and caring mother, unlike the terrible Mrs.  Reed who is neither her mother or compassionate. The sadness here is in a little girl, who knows she needs to be loved and to love something. She find this affection in her doll. She can be the nursing mother figure she craves and gain love in her imagination.

Unpretty yet beautiful

There was one thing about Jane Eyre that stood out the most.  The thing that struck me as extremely different is the fact that Jane is not described as being beautiful.  Of all of the main characters that have been studied thus far, all have been described as being beautiful.  I guess this stood out as different because all of our female heroines have had that quality of beauty; beauty, for a long time, had been associated with status as well as a major quality of good virtuous woman, as if virtue is at all correctly calculated through appearances.

Instead of being beautiful, Mrs. Reed refers to Jane as a toad and further compares her beauty to Georgiana’s.  Georgiana’s beauty seems to be the typical beauty that all the other heroines must have acquired.  Jane’s description of herself is more imaginary.  She refers to herself as having the appearance of an imp or a fairy.  While an imp or a fairy may not be fully associated with beauty, these characters certainly represent Jane’s zeal for imaginary ideals.  Jane may not be beautiful as compared to societal ideals.  I feel as though Bronte is trying to make point with this.  Beauty is nothing more than an appearance.  Bronte may be showing that true beauty lies in the passionate heart of Jane Eyre.

Who could resist Rochester?

I was reminded when reading Jane Eyre the second time what I didn’t like about the book the first time—Jane and Rochester’s incessant conversing about things I neither cared for or understood.  However, this time knowing the ending of the novel, I was most struck by the language Rochester uses toward Jane.  How is Jane ever attracted to Rochester when he speaks to her in such a way and calls her such names?  He begins by calling her a witch and  continues to make several comments about her witchcraft.  I don’t think Rochester actually believes she is a witch, but I think it is odd that this is Rochester’s way of flirting with her and Jane seems unaffected by it.  He follows this by insulting her education, and says that at an all girls school, they must have worshipped the priest because he was the only male they encountered, implying that women are dumb and boy-crazy.  Then he bosses her around, and apologizes but not really.  He says he “cannot alter his customary ways for one new inmate” and then continues to give her orders—how nice!  Then he calls her prideful and criticizes her artwork—very alluring indeed.  In the next chapter Jane begins seeing some attractive qualities in Rochester, such as his eyes.  She then rather comically says that he is not handsome, and he follows that with telling her she is no more pretty than he is handsome—what a compliment!  He calls her “dumb,” “stubborn,” and “annoyed” (which I would be too if someone talked to me like he does), and explains the superiority he feels over her.

While it is hard for me to separate what I know happens later in the book and what I’ve read thus far, I think you can tell that Jane is beginning to be attracted to or at least interested in Rochester.  It bothers me that Jane has such a lack in experience that she can be attracted to a man that treats her thus.  I also think there is a possibility that this attraction comes more from his actions such as in the fire scene.  I think it is interesting to look at the reduction in the importance of the words of Rochester and emphasis on actions Bronte makes here.  Rochester’s words do not affect Jane the way I think they should seemingly making words less important, which is peculiar for Bronte as a writer because all she has are her words.

I belong…where?

Jane should be admired for her voice. When she thinks she sees her uncle’s ghost, she cries for help. When the ladies do not believe Jane, she turns to Mr. Lloyd. However, Mr. Lloyd also does not believe Jane. Jane goes on to tell him about how she is being treated by the Reed’s. Mr. Lloyd’s response is that Jane should feel lucky to have the opportunity to live in a beautiful house. When Mr. Brocklehurst comes, Mrs. Reed basically tells him that Jane is a bad person. Afterwards, Jane defends herself. Jane’s reaction shocks Mrs. Reed. At Lowood, Mr. Brocklehurt ruins Jane’s reputation by badmouthing her. Later, Jane tells Miss Temple her version of the story. Miss Temple is able to clear Jane’s name.

Since women did not really have a voice back then, Jane is depicted as a strong woman when she has the chance to voice her thoughts. However, there is something else that we as readers should consider before finalizing our judgment of Jane’s situation. Even though Jane knows what her thoughts are on certain matters, it appears as though she does not feel as though she belongs. In Mrs. Reed’s house, Jane is the mistreated step-daughter. When Mr. Lloyd comes, Jane contemplates if she should go live with her relatives. At Lowood, Jane has very few friends. Also, Jane does not feel as though she has a place at Lowood after Miss Temple leaves. Jane ends up leaving Lowood for Thornfield. Jane wants to feel as though she belongs somewhere. She is constantly searching for a place she could call home.

What does this mean? If Jane lived in her own perfect world, she would have a voice and a sense of belonging. If Jane could have it her way, the novel’s message would be clear. One could deviate from the norm and find a way to be accepted. But, this is not the case. While Jane has one characteristic that deserves praise (her voice), her situation (not belonging) causes confusion. If the focus is on Jane’s voice, then the novel could be read in a positive way. However, if Jane’s situation is taken into account, the story becomes unclear (maybe even negative). In the end, will Jane find a place where she belongs? If Jane does find a home, this could signify that the unexpected actions of women could eventually be accepted. But, what if Jane cannot find a home?

Jane Bronte?

Recently, I have adopted a new technique or tool in my critical reading toolbox. I credit this new tool from a class discussion from a few weeks back that explored voice and tone of the writing. So I have made a habit of noting clear signals or changes in the voice or tone of the novel’s plot. I wanted to share one example that seemed very obvious to my eyes as I read it.

 “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

(Jane Eyre – Chapter 12).

Did these lines seem striking to you as well? I could not help but question the shift in tone. Jane goes from her comments on Mrs. Fairfax and Adele to her restlessness, and then we are given this paragraph. It almost seemed to be a feminist rant from Bronte herself that happened to slip into her writing and story plot. What type of commentary does this paragraph provide the reader and what were the intentions of Bronte to include this within such framing? I wonder if this section was an attempt to progress her believes when she originally published under an identity of a male writer.

Assume that this section is commentary from Bronte, what can readers conclude about her view on women in society? Does this transition into other realms like in writing? I felt that Bronte was commenting on the views that women like Jane felt during that period in regards to the bildungsroman. These types of women struggled to develop their knowledge of the world while retaining their roles in society. Something to consider: How can we see this tension progress throughout the novel?

Defiance

It’s interesting that throughout the works we have read thus far, we get the chance to experience the childhood of the main heroine. Even more noteworthy, we see that Jane had to contend with three authoritative male figures during her early childhood.

From her time as a girl, Jane is placed under the thumb of her aunt, Mrs. Reed and is abhorred by her, and in turn, her children. John, especially, holds no affection for Jane whatsoever:

“He bullied and punished me: not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice              in the day, but continually: every never I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh                in my bones shrank when he came near…” (pg. 66)

John’s bullying of Jane goes completely unnoticed by the adults so she has no choice but to defend herself. Her only weapon against his abuse is the cutting words she obtains from the books she reads; however, even then, they’re rendered useless through his acts of violence and his status as a favored child (pg. 67). Despite this failure, the fact that Jane uses knowledge as a weapon as a child speaks volumes about her character and beliefs. However, she has yet to fully deal with John and solidify herself as someone to be treated with respect. Perhaps this will occur during a later reading.

The second figure she has to deal with is the deceased Mr. Reed. While he isn’t physically present with the family, his presence is still a suffocating force felt by Jane. Mrs. Reed uses him in his death as a mean of punishment for Jane. Through this manner, Mrs. Reed has found a way to oppress Jane, yet it isn’t through her own volition; it’s through her fear of his specter and her thoughts of it that make Jane hysterical (pg. 74).

We can say that by defending herself to her aunt, Jane finds a way to banish Mr. Reed’s ghost and therefore, her fears (pg 95 – 96). In this sense, is she able to overcome Mr. Reed’s power over her, not as a supernatural being, but also as a man. Because his presence was the weapon of choice for Mrs. Reed, he was still the head of the household. By standing up to her aunt, she also stands up to Mr. Reed and triumphs.

The final authoritative male Jane deals with in her youth is Mr. Brocklehurst. In chapter seven, he makes an example out of her to the teachers and other students (pg. 128 – 129). Through encouragement from her friend Helen, Jane is able to endure her “punishment”. However, Jane doesn’t have an active hand in uprooting Brocklehurst’s power; instead, it’s the committee put in place for the school.

Right from the story’s start, Jane defies the male authority that attempts to put her in a set place. This makes her a rather dynamic character and I hope we’ll continue to see such behavior from her in the future.

 

Get it, grrrl!

I have immensely enjoyed reading Jane Eyre for the macabre ambiance, the bizarre characters with bizarre stories, and, most importantly, the way in which our young protagonist crushes any preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman, of course.

In chapter 12, Jane walks around the attic of her new abode at Thornfield, contemplating her current situation and where her future might be directed. She is utterly conflicted: the security and comfort of Thornfield are perfectly acceptable and a commendable way for her to spend her years, but she cannot shake the beckoning voice of the unexplored corners of the world. She notes that men expect women to “confine themselves to making pudding and knitting stockings, to playing the piano and embroidering bags,” and she is not having any of that! Jane is a boiling tea kettle, steaming with desire to experience something other than the growing monotony of what lies in front of her, and she is about to begin whistling.

What fascinates me most about this passage is Bronte’s blatant criticism of Victorian gender dichotomies. Men are free to gallivant around the earth while women are still confined to their gilded cages? I think not.  Bronte, through Jane, makes it clear that although women are taught to be docile and submissive, their passion and vivacity for life cannot be tamed. Though their professions, finances, and whatever else might be controlled by the hands of a man, their minds will no longer be molded by sexist standards, and instead will dream of fantasies in faraway lands. Now, the important question with which to conclude is, will Jane spring from her gilded cage (or grimy attic) like the falcon she is, or will active thoughts continue to contrast with passive actions? Meaning, will Jane become the explorer of unbelievable sights or continue on is?

Moving Right Along

Jane Eyre is written in such a way that combines memory with action equally and it doesn’t drown you in to much of either. There’s just enough explanation and recollection after each scene to keep you on Jane’s side and up to date with her emotions. Seeing how this story is being told much later than the events occurring (and with the author in full knowledge of what was to come in the near and distant future), we as readers are saved from swimming through paragraphs and paragraphs of reflection and processed emotions to move on in the story. Compared to Pamela and Evelina’s nearly instant and overdrawn reflections in their letters over each particular scenario, Eyre is written as one cohesive piece where Brontë moves quickly.

Even within the first few pages of the novel we already have a clear understanding of who Jane was as a 10-year-old, and through a matured mind as an adult writing this portion of her life, she highlights only specific instances that we need to keep in mind. These instances include Jane locked in the Red Room, her first encounter with Mr. Brocklehurst, her final showdown with Mrs. Reed, her last moments with Helen, etc.

The story’s brevity through Jane’s childhood and transition to Thornfield is leading up to a series of major plot moments in Jane’s adulthood (confession: this is actually my first time fully reading Jane Eyre… I skimmed it a few times in high school but without the intent of actually enjoying it). It’s as if Jane understands that it was crucial for the reader to have an understanding of the torment she experienced in her childhood at the Reeds’ and Lowood for us to sympathize with her in her adulthood, but the focus of the story is beyond how she was raised. All these events leading up to her moving to Thornfield are necessary for her character’s development but the focus is going to be on not only her relationship with Mr. Rochester, but also her journey in overcoming her struggles of being an orphan and her destiny of being “plain.”

Sweet Elinor…?

How should the reader respond to the competition between Lucy and Elinor over Edward? In other words, Elinor is obviously favored by the narrator; however, should the reader be more suspect of Elinor in this situation?

Ultimately, Elinor’s affections are directed toward a man whom she believes to be engaged to her friend, Lucy. The novel continuously justifies her affections because “he certainly loved her (Elinor)” (99).  Furthermore, the narrator even takes it to the point of having Elinor pity Edward because “what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affections for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her – illiterate, artful, and selfish?” (100). While on one hand, it would be natural for the reader to pity Edward for the awful connection he had made according to Elinor. It is also quite possible that Elinor is simply mean, jealous, and manipulative. Yes, she is kind and loving toward her sister as she tries to protect Marianne, which undoubtedly gives the reader a great deal of sympathy for Elinor. Nonetheless, she is still pining after another woman’s man. But, can anyone really blame her because what option does she really have? She believes she and Edward are in love, and she certainly needs to find a husband.

Colonel Brandon, the one?

Edward Ferrars is unclear about his intentions and could not be upfront with Elinor. Willoughby is a very deceptive man. He did not want to confront Marianne after she found out about his engagement. He also abandoned Miss Williams after impregnating her. Colonel Brandon is caring and can be seen as a rescuer. Why is Colonel Brandon the unwanted bachelor in the novel?

Elinor wants Edward Ferrars. Marianne wants Willoughby. No one wants Colonel Brandon. Why is that? Edward Ferrars and Willoughby are questionable characters, whereas Colonel Brandon is not. Colonel Brandon is not rude when others insult him. He is mature and caring. He does not want to see Marianne hurt and constantly visits her. He took responsibility for Miss Williams after her mother (Eliza) died. He also tried to be of assistance when he found out she was pregnant with Willoughby’s child. He informed Elinor about Willoughby hoping that Marianne will no longer feel defeated for losing Willoughby.

While one could argue that Colonel Brandon is just as secretive and deceptive as Edward Ferrars and Willoughby, Colonel Brandon seems to have good intentions. Maybe he did not speak of his past love for Eliza because he is not the kind of man who spills his problems to others. Maybe he did not tell Elinor about Willoughby in the beginning because he found it unnecessary at the time. He could be the kind of man who does not speak badly about someone unless he truly believes he should. In this case, he thought that the information about Willoughby could cure Marianne’s broken heart.

Why does Austen make Colonel Brandon the unwanted man? Could it be as simple as his age and his reserved personality? It would be hard to believe such a claim. Maybe Austen wants to show that Elinor and Marianne have not fully matured. Both women are after immature men. Maybe that is the split between sense and sensibility. Elinor and Marianne need what the other does not have in order to fully mature. Elinor is reserved. Marianne is emotional. Each is missing her other half. Consider Marianne’s situation. She does not want Colonel Brandon because he is old and reserved. She wants Willoughby, the handsome and outgoing man. When she finds out Willoughby is going to marry Miss Grey, she cannot believe that he is a wicked man. She is naïve because of her emotions. She needs someone like Colonel Brandon to bring her to her senses. This is problematic. How will Colonel Brandon be a wanted man if Marianne is too senseless to see that he is a better match for her?

Money. That’s What I Want.

The sin of greed seems to be a very prevalent one in this story. Most of the characters are acted upon by greed in some way – whether they are the avaricious themselves or the victim of such a person. Why is money so important to this culture? Who gets to be greedy? What are the consequences and do they have a predictable outcome?

Money is, like in our society today, what makes the world go round. Furthermore, the love of money is the root of all evil, as told by this story. We’ve all been warned against this commodity, but it’s something we need and use every day. In the same way that it is impossible for us to live without money, so too must the Dashwood women depend upon an income. However, they have no way to earn this income themselves.They must rely on the beneficence of their half–brother, John, who hasn’t much to spare. Therefore the Dashwood women, and all women for that matter, are not necessarily dependent on money but the goodwill of the man they rely on.

This answers the next main question I have about who gets to be greedy. It is men. They are the powerful money and property holders that the world relied on during this age. Unless the woman is in the good graces of her father or husband or son, she has no hope for a living. The Dashwood women are thus cheated out of the money and house that they deserve. The money that Mrs. Dashwood earns as a loving wife and the financial care of the daughters is left to John and Fanny. Fanny’s greed, while significant, can only be enacted through her husband will. The Dashwood women are left without enough money to live affluently and without the wealth that they used to enjoy. Another greedy man we encounter is Willoughby. He marries for wealth instead of love, ruining his whole happiness for the chance to inherit his own home and attain a £50,000 dowry.

The consequences of greed throughout this novel seem to be, on a surface level, the maltreatment of the Dashwood women. They cannot marry anyone that they wish because of their insubstantial dowry. They also cannot live as they wish in the present because of the lack of money they have. The reason that greed is so rampant in this society could be from its imbalance. Perhaps the men, holding on to the power that they have over women, do not want to surrender any of that power to the opposite sex. However, there could be a multitude of other reasons as well. It also important to note that the Dashwood women are not greedy themselves, but they understand that they need money too. One wonders whether or not Marianne would have married Willoughby if she knew he had no money. Jane Austen does not answer this question. (Spoiler Alert ahead!) However, both of the heroines are married happily to men with financial independence. While they are not outright greedy, they understand the importance of money. This is because they cannot earn any for themselves. It is interesting to understand this through the eyes of the modern woman who can earn a living for herself. How would the characters in this novel have reacted if this was the case for them as well? We can never know, but it is fun to ask.

If only the circumstances were different…

It seems evident that Austen intends for Elinor to be the novel’s heroine. She’s rational, sensible. Unlike her romantic sap of a sister who is dazzled by appearance, pizzaz, and “eye fire”, Elinor’s analyses run deeper. She detects Willoughby’s impulsivity and lack of prudence, whereas her sister Marianne is simply bedazzled by his charm, whit, and handsome looks. However, should Elinor’s sense take her as far as to deem her the heroine over Marianne?

Elinor exemplifies more sense then Marianne. Marianne exemplifies more sensibility than Elinor. Who is to say which characteristic should deem who the heroine is? Is more sense more admirable than more sensibility? In comparing Elinor and Marianne, it seems so, but perhaps a balance is the most admirable. If so, would not both sisters depict the qualities of a heroine just on different ends of the spectrum?

Elinor clearly makes better decisions and is associated with rationality, insight, judgement, and moderation. She is always assertive to propriety and economic practicalities. This is surely why she is Austen’s heroine. Marianne on the other hand makes impulsive judgments. In comparison to Elinor, she seems to make the wrong decisions. However Marianne’s imagination, idealism, assertiveness to beauty and optimism are not necessarily character flaws although in her particular circumstances they lead her astray. If circumstances were different, however, who’s to say Marianne’s sensibility wouldn’t produce a better outcome.

Poor Communication Kills (or at Least Makes Everything Worse)

Almost every character in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility has been afflicted with a condition that starts to spread as early as Volume I. Volume II only seems to show that the secondary characters have contracted it too. I have personally dubbed this illness “PCK”, also known as “Poor Communication Kills”. This affliction, after become widespread, will cause the characters to never consider the positives of simply saying what needs to be said to spare others from unneeded drama and heartache. Therefore I must know: Is it really necessary for the characters to keep quiet for propriety‘s sake?

This illness comes to a head at the end of Volume I and into the very beginning of Volume II. Elinor is the first to fall under its influence when she decides to keep Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward to herself. Sure, she does this to spare Marianne and her mother the pain of knowing Edward’s true nature and to maintain Edward’s reputation (pg 100 – 101).  But at the same time, Elinor has no choice but to rely on her own assistance and encouragement to keep her spirits up. Not only that, but she has to be cordial to Edward every time she seems him to maintain the ruse, which, as implied through seeing Marianne’s sisterly interactions with Edward, is painful to do. Couldn’t she have at told Marianne to alleviate the burden she has to carry for Lucy and Edward? Then again, Lucy seemed to enjoy to lording the engagement over Elinor’s head time and time again. Wouldn’t it have been better if Elinor just come clean in order to shut Lucy up?

Another character affected by “PCK” is Willoughby. After appearing as the ever perfect, sensible gentleman, we quickly learn that he’s anything but. True, he may have never intended for Marianne to fall for him, but why not simply state their platonic relationship early on in Volume I? Wouldn’t a simple passing but firm “I’m truly glad we are friends” have been better than Marianne making herself sick over him for a whole volume? We may never know since he quickly leaves town with his new wife.

By default then, we can conclude that Colonel Brandon is also afflicted with “PCK” because of his connection to Willoughby. He only comes forward with the truth about Willoughby after seeing Marianne suffer. He even wishes the two well and hopes that Willoughby does enough to deserve her. It’s only after hearing about the break in the engagement that he tells Elinor everything he know about Willoughby. Why only then? Wouldn’t it have been better if he had said something earlier on and spared Marianne her suffering and Elinor her immense worrying?

Perhaps we will never know the complete workings of “PCK”. But wouldn’t it be nice to know why these characters refrain from speaking the truth when it’s needed the most?