Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jane Eyre - The Implausible Modern Victorian Woman

When I first started reading Jane Eyre, I had expected to find the protagonist to be a materialistic socialite like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind or, at best, a prig like Fanny in Mansfield Park. The last thing I expected was a woman who could very well be my idol today in the way she follows her heart and mind and takes strong decisions. It is hard to believe that Charlotte Bronte wrote this novel in 1857.

Jane Eyre, the protagonist is an intelligent, passionate orphan who is being raised by her rich aunt who is not too kind to her. She gets her education in a charitable school, Lowood, and emerges as a much learned, passionate, but sensible woman. Her many talents include a flair for languages, painting and sketching. She is hired as a governess for a french girl, Adele and falls in love with Mr. Rochester, her employer. They are about to be married when something from Mr. Rochester's past intervenes and makes it impossible for both to be married. Jane refuses to be Mr. Rochester's mistress and runs away. She chances upon her cousins from her father's side and her cousin St. John asks her to marry him. Though she likes St. John as her brother, she is not able to consent to marrying him as her heart still belongs to Mr. Rochester. She goes back to find out whether Mr. Rochester was fine as previous enquiries had not yielded any results. She finds Mr. Rochester blinded and maimed by an accident and the previous impediment to their marriage removed. She ends up marrying Mr. Rochester.

One particular passage from this book that I would like to quote and which also tells us something about Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte is:

"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."

The philosophy is very modern for the Victorian Age and might as well be one of the first feminist writing in English Literature (as far as I know). Jane Eyre herself never compromises her self respect but is not overly egoistical. She is honest and refuses to bear unfair treatment. She stands up for herself and is strong enough to resist the temptations of love from Mr. Rochester in a way that does not go well with her self-respect. She is honest and straightforward and this is why Mr. Rochester has a strong liking for her.



Anyone who wants to read the story of a woman who goes through much suffering by following her heart and at the end righteously achieves her destiny, should read Jane Eyre. And as usual, the movie does not do justice to any of the characters. Jane's paintings, that are much a part of Jane's character are not mentioned anywhere. The grace and certainity with which she tackles Blanche Ingram's threat to her hopes of love is totally subdued. But more that Jane, the character that suffers most at the hands of the movie's script writer is Mr. Rochester. One basic flaw in Mr. Rochester's character, his lack of compassion for his mad wife is done away with and he is shown to be kindly comforting her. All that is not ideal in the novel is made ideal in the movie and this takes away the charm of the story considerably.

2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You talk like an feminist and women activist writer dear:-)...nice writing done!

    ReplyDelete

badge