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11th October
2009
written by Steph
The saga continues...

The saga continues...

This past week I’ve been slowly working my way through the second volume of Jane Eyre. Please don’t take my glacial progress as evidence that this second of three installments was difficult or the prototypical “middle child” of the book.  I’ve really been enjoying it A LOT, but there’s no denying I’ve been reading it slowly.  However, I can attribute this to two things: 1)   I was away at a conference for three days this week, which considerably cut into my reading time.  I got to read on planes, but other than that, I was inundated with science and group dinners the rest of the time, so Jane did languish a bit as a result 2)   This is simply a book that I’ve been having fun reading and just haven’t felt the need to rush through.  I’m enjoying the time I spend with the book, and as easy as it is to flip the pages, I feel I’m not doing so mindlessly but am instead really reveling in the time spent.  I feel like I am reading for the sake of reading, rather than for the sake of finishing the book.  Some people might not feel there is a distinction there, but for me there is!  And hey, we’re slowly embracing the “Slow Food” movement, so why not the “Slow Read” movement? Anyway, part two was great!  I felt there was even more action than the first, and of course there was a ramping up of the romantic storyline, as it largely revolves around Rochester having many guests visit at Thornfield Hall (including the loathsome Miss Ingram) and ultimately culminates with Jane & Rochester’s failed wedding.  I felt volume one had a lot of development of Jane, but was mostly meant for establishing her as a character and giving us a sense of her background and where she is rooted.  Part one ends with a “mysterious” fire in Rochester’s room, which I think really sets the tone for the second part – there’s a lot more going on, and a good deal of it is spooky too!  Of course by the end of this portion, we learn that there is no ghostly entity haunting the halls of Thornfield, but rather Rochester’s first deranged wife, Bertha.  Nevertheless, I felt this segment was wonderful at continuing to develop the wild gothic tone that is established in the first part of the novel, and I think Bronte really infuses her story with something very primordial.  The location is so rugged, and of course Bertha herself is untamed  and feral, but even Rochester himself is simmering with passion that verges on violence, and Jane herself is no wilting lily either.  This is definitely a book that feels tempestuous, and I suppose Bronte called upon much of her time spent on the Yorkshire moors.  The book certainly gets an A+ for atmosphere! So, how am I getting on with the characters now?  Well, I must say that as this part ends with the revelation that Rochester is already married, I really don’t have a better opinion of him than I did in my last post.  I did already know he was married, so that wasn’t really a surprise for me, but it felt like just the icing on the cake.  I do see that Rochester is a passionate man – surely Jane thinks this is to his folly – but I also find him fairly terrifying.  At times his desires and demands seem to take him to the brink of violence, and there is a good deal of talk throughout this section of him wishing to chain Jane to him, and how upon their wedding he will possess her.  Quite frankly, I find that kind of talk rather creepy, and not really very romantic at all.  Some people in the comments of my last post talked about how they felt Jane & Rochester were well-suited to each other because Jane is able to handle Rochester… but I feel this is almost like saying that a woman who is athletic and has martial arts training is well-suited to a physically abusive partner because she can defend herself against him.  I agree that Jane is capable of handling Rochester, but does that really mean his behavior is appropriate?  I think not.  I really find him so manipulative and overbearing . For instance, he purposefully leads Jane to believe he will propose to the odious Miss Ingram because he wants her to be consumed by jealousy and consequently fall madly in love with him.  Again, I just don’t find that type of behavior swoon-worthy!  At first I thought it was bizarre that it was Rochester himself who winds up dressed as the gypsy in this section of the novel, but the more I think of this, the more I realize that while it is bizarre, it is also in keeping with his character.  Rochester is a deceiver, not just of others, but of himself.  He justifies his pursuit of a new wife because he is unsatisfied with his first, and yet in the pursuit of his own desires, he was about to treat Jane, who he claims to love, so very badly by leading her into a false marriage.  It’s such wretched behavior, that if I’m honest, I’m not sure will ever be rectified in my eyes.  I did at times find myself falling under his charms, but almost without fail these moments would be swiftly followed by him saying or doing something I found disturbing. [I think I would do well to point out the fabulous and hilarious comic that the wonderful Jenny of Shelf Love directed my attention to.  I think we can safely say I am the Anne Bronte of the comic!] And just to keep the Pride & Prejudice discussion going, as much as Miss Ingram was horrific, the whole time I was reading about her, I kept comparing her to the wretched Miss Bingley in my mind’s eye.  A better pair I can scarcely think of! I will also quickly mention that there was also some discussion as to the religious nature of this book.  Some readers have viewed this as an indictment of religion, showing the ways in which religion can be twisted or used to justify any behavior.  Other pointed out that Jane herself is quite pious.  Personally, at this point in the novel, I really don’t feel that the book has taken a tangible stance regarding religion in any way.  Certainly there has been discussion of religion, largely in terms of trusting in God and belief in a better life in which one is not encumbered by a flesh and blood form, but I have not felt either any censure or approbation on the part of Bronte thus far.  Perhaps this changes in the third and final volume, but for now, I have honestly been reading Jane Eyre as a thumping good read with a wonderfully enchanting story but not as anything much more than that.  The plot itself I find very rich and rewarding, and yes, still very fun.  It is a long book, and yet I feel I have very effortlessly read nearly 400 pages at this point.  As someone who generally shies from long books, I am finding this a very enjoyable experience indeed. Finally, one thing I’d like to mention at this point, though it is not directly regarding Jane Eyre itself: for the latter half of this past week, I was away at a conference/workshop.  As my copy of Jane Eyre is rather hefty, I did not want to carry it with me on the plane, and decided to use this opportunity as a chance to experiment with reading on my ipod touch (which has the kindle app, as well as another program that allows one to read ebooks).  I downloaded a free copy of Jane Eyre through Project Gutenberg, and decided to see how things would go.  I read mostly on the plane to and from my destination, but I must say that the experience was shockingly painless!  When I returned home, I found I had read about 130 pages of the printed illustrated version on my ipod!  I missed the illustrations, and some of the French was horrifically (though not to the point of incomprehension) butchered, but otherwise I transitioned between the two rather seamlessly.  Of course, I dearly love my paper books, and I would never wish to give them up, but one thing I did notice about reading on my ipod is that I felt the “chunks” of text output to the screen were perfectly manageable bites that really allowed me to focus on what was right in front of me and required reading.  I wasn’t getting distracted by other batches of words on the page, nor was I secretly evaluating how many pages were left to read in a given chapter (as I never knew!) nor how many pages remained in the book itself.  In some ways, reading on my ipod actually facilitated the act of reading itself, rather than allowing me to worry about my progress.  I think that with large, hulking tomes, I sometimes become anxious when I feel I’ve been reading for ages and yet the physical proof of how much there remains to read seems to argue against any progress made.  When blogging, this anxiety can be exasperated by thoughts of not having any new content to post yet again, but I haven’t been feel that way at all while reading this book… and as I said, reading on the ipod, I had no idea that I had read 130 pages!  Of course part of this could be because I’m so greatly enjoying Jane Eyre, that I’m not concerned with pushing through it for the sake of finishing it and having said I’ve read it, but I do think that I am going to keep my pocket-sized e-reader in mind in the future when it comes to tackling long books about which I am feeling somewhat trepidatious!

12 Comments

  1. 10/11/2009

    2) This is simply a book that I’ve been having fun reading and just haven’t felt the need to rush through. I’m enjoying the time I spend with the book, and as easy as it is to flip the pages, I feel I’m not doing so mindlessly but am instead really reveling in the time spent. I feel like I am reading for the sake of reading, rather than for the sake of finishing the book.

    That’s exactly how I feel about Kristin Lavransdatter, only you articulate yourself so much clearer than I ever do.

    Hmmm, I actually agree with everything you say about Rochester here, but I don’t see how you could compare him with scum like Edward Cullen. Please elaborate 😀

  2. Laura
    10/11/2009

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying Jane Eyre! I read it at least once a year and reading your reviews is making me want to pick it up again!

    By the way, Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving! Taryn and I are cooking a chicken tonight with all the fixin’s.

    love,
    Laura & Taryn

  3. 10/11/2009

    I’m glad you’re still enjoying this! Yes, Rochester is sort of awful, but he’s no sadist like Heathcliff. He one of a handful of fictional bad boys that I can actually tolerate.

    And FWIW, a lot of the religious commentary comes in the last part of the book. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the book is not an indictment of religion per se but of how people misuse and misinterpret it. And I don’t think it’s a particularly harsh indictment at that. I’ll be interested to see what you think because opinions on this are all over the place.

  4. 10/11/2009

    Interesting perspective on Rochester. But I think the “chaining” and “possessing” are part of his appeal for many women: the old strong-but-gentle gambit. Being “swept away” by a non-rapist non-serial killer has fueled a gazillion romance novels; I’d go so far as to speculate it’s probably written into our DNA. (i.e., survival benefit goes to the non-wimpy non-nice guy). And even if it isn’t biologically-driven, it certainly has formed an essential part of the socialization in patriarchal societies. I believe that Jane’s appeal to Rochester is that in spite of all this, she exhibits a certain spunkiness that defies the traditions and mores of the time. And yet, that spunkiness will only go so far, as, in the end, he knows and she knows the mores will win. So it can be charming without really threatening the status quo. And in the end, giving in to the system was probably quite reassuring to all the women readers who had, after all, felt they had no choice in the matter.

  5. 10/12/2009

    @ Tuesday: It’s always great when you find a book that is just plain enjoyable and doesn’t feel disposable. I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts on the Kristin Lavransdatter, as it’s one that I do think I’ll eventually read.

    Ok, now for why I find Rochester kind of like Edward (or rather the reverse, since Rochester clearly came first): I agree that lookswise they have nothing in common, but I just find the faint line between violence and passion so similar between the two. Like Edward is always telling Bella how he could hurt her, and Rochester makes similar intonations (“threats” is such an ugly word…) to Jane (though mostly should she decide to leave him or whatever). I think I just find these uber aggressive masculine guys the prototype for Edward Cullens, and while Rochester is nowhere near as awful as Heathcliff, there is a destructiveness about him that is similar, and Stephenie Meyers admits to having been inspired by Wuthering Heights when writing one of her monstrosities…
     
    @ Laura (& Taryn): Yes, still enjoy the JE! I had no idea that you read it every year!
    And I am so envious of your mini Thanksgiving feast! Still well over a month before I can potentially do the same here… 🙁
     
    @ Teresa: I think that there are few literary characters that I dislike more than Heathcliff, so you’re absolutely right that Rochester is a prince compared to him! It’s all about perspective, right? 😉

    I’m making my way through Part III now, and definitely am seeing a lot more religious discussion (hardly surprising what with St John being a parson/missionary), but I’m still not seeing a stance of yet… but there’s still time!

     
    @ rhapsody: Oh, I’m sure many women find Rochester’s gruff testosterone overload to be really attractive, I just find it really disturbing. Then again, I have NEVER liked the bad boy figure in any guise, so whether I am biologically or psychologically aberrant are potentially both up for grabs! 😉
    There are times when Jane is so forward thinking and dissimilar to the “traditional” woman of her time that I forget how many restrictions she was operating under. And you’re right that while inspiring as a heroine, she ultimately follows accepted paths and spends a lot of time talking about duty…

  6. 10/13/2009

    Actually (it’s been a while since I’ve read this, but…) isn’t there a fair bit of religion at Lowood? Isn’t Jane preached at a lot when she’s a child? Yet they abuse and under-feed the children, so it’s obviously rank hypocrisy. Teresa’s right, of course, that a lot of the overt religion (true piety, a lot of it) comes in the last bit.

    The thing I like about Mr. Rochester is that he’s never presented as other than flawed. Jane doesn’t gush over him the way (I hear) Bella gushes over Edward. He’s presented as quite difficult in many ways. But all of us have loved difficult people, now and again. 🙂

  7. 10/13/2009

    p.s. Glad you liked the cartoon!

  8. 10/13/2009

    Hmm, well, I guess you have a point! Speaking of monstrosities, have you seen the newly packaged edition of ‘Wuthering Heights’ that looks just like a cover of Twilight (black, red, white flower etc). Makes Emily Bronte look like a cheap spin-off of Twilight; I was so angry!

  9. 10/13/2009

    You know, I was just thinking that Rochester is a bit like Heathcliff as well, although both you and Tuesday are right, Heathcliff is much more sinister. I think some of those darker character traits are evident in both of them. I am really itching to read this book now. I never really read such an in depth critique of this book, and I have to admit that there is much more going on in the story than I had previously thought. I am glad you are enjoying the experience of reading it so much, and that you are slowly savoring it. I am also glad to hear that reading on the ipod is not such a horrible experience. I have Bleak House on my ipod and have been really avoiding giving it a try in that format. Good to know that it’s not as terrible as I thought. Maybe I will try it. Great review, by the way.

  10. 10/13/2009

    I love Jane Eyre. I like her tough spirit! Glad you’re enjoying it. Which edition is that, I love those illustrations.

  11. 10/13/2009

    @ Jenny: There is religion at Lowood insomuch as Jane mentions in her recountings that they spent a good deal of time reading scripture, and it is a Christian charity school… yet I never felt there was an obvious stating of the fact that the way the children were treated went counter to the Bible and the values they were otherwise learning. I think the greater hypocrisy at Lowood is how the man in charge talks about how he does not want to girls there to be spoiled and vain, and yet his wife and daughters are the worst offenders of that crime!

    And you’re right that Rochester is never presented as perfect or the paragon of virtue… but it still bothered me how overbearing he could be! It’s kind of like when reality tv folk use the “I’m just keeping it real” as a means of justifying their behavior – being aware that there is a problem in one’s behavior or character is not enough in my books. One must make a conscious effort to change destructive and unhealthy behaviors, and I suppose that while Jane sees Rochester’s flaws, at least in the first part of the book it seems he only superficially admits to them.
     
    @ Tuesday: I know exactly which version of WH you are referring to. In case you didn’t know, it also has a badge on the cover proclaiming it “Bella & Edward’s Favorite Book!” Barf.
     
    @ zibilee: If you looked at that cartoon Jenny sent my way, it would seem that perhaps both Charlotte and Emily had a penchant for the dark and disturbed male lead… I think Rochester is ultimately a more redemptive hero than Heathcliff, as I really did feel that Heathcliff was essentially rotten at his core and was utterly awful in pretty much every way. Rochester is perhaps just a little overzealous and maybe needs to tone it down a few notches!
    And I thought that reading on my ipod would be jarring or discordant, but found it really quite easy. I think having the small chunks of text at a time actually really facilitated my reading and processing of the material, as I could just let my eyes glide blindly over vast swaths of text. Instead, I only had a few lines before I needed to advance, so if I had zoned out, it was easy enough to just re-read the necessary bit.
     
    @ Nicola: I have the Penguin Illustrated Edition (illustrated by Dame Darcy). Even with the illustrations aside, the edition is really very lovely!

  12. 10/14/2009

    I absolutely loved my leisurely reread of Jane Eyre a few months ago!

    I like Rochester because he’s a misunderstood man. I guess maybe it’s because I am married to a quiet man who struggles to communicate, I can relate to Rochester as a man who struggles to communicate properly. I can understand disliking him. I disliked Rochester the first time I read Jane Eyre (at 13). Loved him the second time around.

    I hope you keep enjoying your leisurely pace!

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