Monday, May 11, 2009

Jane Eyre

There are some books I turn to over and over, like old friends. Sometimes I visit them on the page, and sometimes I like to meet one of their screen incarnations. Among them are the same books so many revisit -- Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, A Room With a View, Little Women. I just finished a nice long chat with Jane Eyre, and I have to confess how surprised I was at how she'd changed. I probably haven't sat down with her in ten years, although I've seen her on PBS quite a few times, and I recently met her cousin in Jasper Fforde's hilarious Eyre Affair (I can't recommend that book enough -- it's like The Hitchhiker's Guide and Monty Python and Masterpiece Theater all in one. It's fun to play "Spot the Allusion"). Anyway, Jane has certainly grown up since I was in high school. This was the first time I'd actually heard her voice -- I downloaded an audio version of the book from NetLibrary -- and I don't know if it was the more primitive storytelling and oral tradition that made the difference, or if it's the ten years since I last read the book, or if it's having read a little bit of criticism of the Brontes' ouvre. The last Bronte I read was Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I was amazed at how revolutionary it was. Feminism, sexuality, alcoholism, class warfare, Anne had it all. But it turns out so did her sister.

Charlotte's Jane is so independent, so headstrong. She fights authority from Mrs. Reed and the Red Room to St. John's attempts to mold her into a missionary wife. She argues with men and refuses to be ruled or subjugated. She openly struggles with sexual temptation -- she almost becomes Mr. Rochester's mistress, and when she doesn't, it's not for high religious principles but because she knows he won't respect her. She derides the Puritannical rural church. She has her own ideas, and doesn't bend to convention, society or others' idea of God. She's radical.

The narrator, Flo Gibson, voices Jane marvellously. Although her voice is too mature for the child Jane, she gives struggling, adult Jane so much restrained -- and unrestrained -- emotion. I always thought the year Jane spends with the Riverses a little bit boring, but Gibson's dialogues between St. John and Jane left me wanting to cheer Jane on (a bit awkward while listening during a run down a busy street).

If it's been a while since you've looked Jane up for a chat, do so. She's quite the modern heroine, and it's a delight to spend a few hours with her.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read it. But have you read Middlemarch?


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