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15th October
2009
written by Steph
True Love Wills Out!

True Love Wills Out!

How’s that for turnaround time?  After taking about two weeks to read through the first two-thirds of the book, I positively raced through the last portion of this novel.  And what can I say: I LOVED it.  This may not have been the most important book I’ve read this year, nor perhaps even the most impressive, but it was fun to read from beginning to end and it ultimately captured my heart quite deftly.  I cannot say for certain that I did indeed read this book when I was younger, but I am definitely glad that I read it again now as in an odd way it reminded me of how I used to read when I was younger – purely for pleasure and purely to be swept away by a magnificent story.  I feel Jane Eyre definitely delivered on both those counts, as it was for me a whirlwind of emotion and a novel that really engrossed me.  The writing was lovely and evocative, the characters strong and luminescent, and as the temperature slowly begins to drop outside, I can hardly think of a better book to curl up with! Oh, and the romance!  I know I expressed doubts for much of the novel about how I was not digging Rochester, and while I do still find the Rochester of the early portions of the novel disconcerting upon reflection, I admit to being charmed and converted by the magnitude and sheer magnificence of the love between him and Jane in the latter part.  I think there were two things that ultimately led me to give myself over to their grand romance.  First, there was that scene when Jane is considering whether she ought to accept St John’s marriage proposal and venture to India with him and she hears Rochester’s voice calling out to her.  It is easy enough to consider this the manifestation of her heart’s fondest desire, a romantic image, but nothing to take one’s breath away.  BUT then when it is echoed back when she returns to Rochester’s side, and he shares how he did in fact call out to her that very night, and how he heard her reply that she would come find him? Sigh.  Of course it is over the top and ridiculously melodramatic and could not actually happen in real life, but can you think of anything more heartwrenchingly gorgeous?  Isn’t this the epitome of passion, the reason why we read stories about romance, the great loves that cannot be contained by the strictures of reality?  And yes, I realize that this calling across the moors and the miles is very reminiscent of another Bronte novel, namely Wuthering Heights, which I loathe, but I forgive it that allusion because well, I am softie and love a love story as much as the next girl.  Ok, and of course Wuthering Heights is a tale of two immensely passionate individuals, but they are also pretty horrific and awful human beings, and initially you’ll recall that for all Rochester’s passion I found him overbearing and somewhat terrifying.  And so the second reason why I think that I came round to Rochester’s side in the end also has to do with the fact that Rochester in Part Three is a far cry from the Rochester of Parts One and Two.  He has been maimed and he has been humbled, and I think it was in that humility that he found his redemption with me.  I could not help but feel for this broken, miserable husk of a man and want him to finally catch a break.  His passion no longer seemed so threatening but now tempered, and I felt that Jane’s spirit no longer needed to function as a device to ward off Rochester’s controlling desires, but could actually nurture him without risk of being crushed or stifled.  Also, I suppose a third reason for my newfound liking of Rochester was that I found St John fairly terrible, both pompous and severe, and really his desire for control eclipsed that of the early Rochester’s, though perhaps in a more taciturn way. Speaking of St John, I suppose that this must largely be the element in the book in which Bronte brought most of her religious discussion to the forefront.  Now maybe it is because religious discourse is not really my thing, but I still didn’t get much on that front here!  And apparently there are all of these scholarly dissections of the novel in which they talk about how Bronte wanted to use this work as a means of discussing religion, and yet I totally did not get much if any of that.  I mean, there is certainly attention given to religion what with St John being a parson and a missionary, but I feel pretty confident in saying that I don’t think Bronte meant the work to be a condemnation of religion.  Sure, St John seems to use religion in his attempt to coerce Jane into marrying him, which is perhaps not all above board, but Jane herself is so pious!  And Rochester, who admittedly flouted most religious mores in the early portions of the book seems to atone for his past indiscretions and now wants to live righteously, so surely Bronte is suggesting that through careful reading and adherence to scripture one can live of life of moral rectitude?  Maybe there was a lot of “religious hypocrisy” going on in the book, what with St John and Rochester, but this is all contrasted against Jane who always adheres to her principles.  I mean, it was 1847 – are we not to assume that all of the characters are Christian and religious?  Because I’m pretty sure they all were, so I guess if the bottom line is that Christians can be both righteous and true as easily as they can be cruel and hypocritical, well then, ok.  That doesn’t seem to be a very interesting premise to me personally, and it certainly wasn’t what kept me reading, but again I am no theological expert. So what do I take away from this reading experience? 1)   I am so glad I read this book.  I think I was put off by the Bronte’s by my unfortunate run in with Wuthering Heights, but I thought this novel encapsulated a lot of the wild/primitive/primal passion of that novel without all of the sociopathic nastiness.  Jane was a wonderful, spirited heroine, and yes, while puritanical at times, she felt refreshingly modern for the bulk of the novel.  I don’t know if I would have fully appreciated this novel when I was 12 or whenever it is I think I may have read this before, but I loved it so much this time around.  A new favourite!  Hurrah! 2)   In a vein similar to the previous point, I’d really like to read more by Charlotte Bronte in the future, and I’d now like to try Anne as well.  Emily is still in my bad books, and I will absolutely NOT be reading Wuthering Heights again!  I wasn’t just impressed with the wonderful story that Charlotte created, or even the fantastic characters, but really the writing was top notch as well.  I loved how skillfully she established and built up the atmosphere of the novel, and I certainly felt a rekindled ardor for the Victorian gothic novel.  Perhaps The Woman in White is in my near future? 3)   Finally, I have to stress yet again how much fun this book was to read.  I have noticed that this year I haven’t read much classic literature but there used to be a time (back when I was teenager and ornery) when it was the only stuff I would read.  Now, not so much.  Somehow over the years I’ve begun to subscribe to the idea that Classics are difficult and boring and also SO VERY LONG… Anyone out there who feels similarly, try this.  It may be long, but it is a pleasure to read, and really very accessible.  Maybe some Classics are difficult and boring, but there is a richness to the language and to the storytelling that is just so fulfilling and rewarding.  This book has convinced me that I’m on the right path toward regaining my appreciation and love of the “oldies but goodies” of literature!  I am going to make a concerted effort from here on out to make sure I’m getting a regular Classics fix! P.S.  For those interested, I read the Penguin Illustrated Edition, with illustrations done by Dame Darcy.  It looks like it is no longer stocked, but you can buy it used through Amazon's marketplace here. Rating: 5 out of 5

9 Comments

  1. 10/15/2009

    Hi! I’m new here. I was sent over by a couple people who mentioned this blog on twitter to me.

    I read Jane Eyre for the first time last year. I’d been leery – like you, I had read and hated Wuthering Heights, and I was quite afraid of what might be coming from JE – but I turned out to love it. I actually like Rochester in the first parts. I seem him more humorous and cynical than bullying, and I think he has a very unique personality. He isn’t cardboard like many characters are. I felt like he was a real person. And I love love love the part where she hears him calling to her! That really made the book for me.

    I tried to read Villette by Charlotte and couldn’t personally get into it. I gave up after about 200 pages. People seem to either love or hate that one. It’s very different from JE. On the other hand, I read and loved Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, and plan to read Agnes Grey in the near future. I am avoiding anything else by Emily, though…

  2. 10/15/2009

    Oh I’m so glad it was all redeemed for you in the end! I love this book too. My copy that I read (can’t remember which) had footnotes that talked about Jane’s religious development. It was fun to read that, but for me it’s not about religion. It’s about her romance with Rochester.

  3. 10/15/2009

    @ Amanda: Thanks for stopping by! We don’t do the Twitter, so it’s slightly ironic you found us that way, but however the means, I’m glad you did!

    Even though I didn’t love Rochester of Parts 1 & 2, the calling to each other over great distance sealed the deal for me. Now I choose not to think about those early parts of the novel and just revel in the latter parts! 😉

    Interesting to hear about your experiences with Villette. I think the next Bronte sister I will read will be Anne, just to be fair, though I’m not sure which one. And as far as I know, Emily’s only novel was Wuthering Heights, so there’s no need for us to fear reading anything else by her (though there is some poetry, I think, but of course I’ll stay away from that!).
     
    @ Rebecca: I think when I re-read this one again (and you know I will!), I will do some background reading on the book, or perhaps even pick up another copy that has a more thorough introduction or even includes footnotes. I think it would be interesting to enhance my reading experience that way. But as for this time through, it certainly was all about the romance for me! 😀

  4. 10/15/2009

    So, so glad that this book continued to absorb you! I am really looking forward to reading it and I hadn’t mentioned before that you have a beautiful copy. I am not sure why this book has languished so long on my shelf, but your unreserved love for it makes me think I have been wrong to neglect it. There are just so may classics that I have yet to read that it sometimes feels overwhelming, and I tend to think that they are sometimes too long, as you mentioned. I really need to adjust my thinking because the last two or three classics that I have pulled off the shelf have been amazing and have blown me away. This is a really outstanding set of reviews, and one I think I’ll be revisiting after I read the book.

  5. 10/15/2009

    Of course it is over the top and ridiculously melodramatic and could not actually happen in real life, but can you think of anything more heartwrenchingly gorgeous?
    I know! This is the kind of thing that normally would have me rolling my eyes, but somehow Charlotte Brontë made it work. Even if not for everything else, I’d admire her for that alone! I must confess that I almost lost interest in the novel during the St John Rivers part, which is to say, the theological aspect of it really went over my head. But I loved the ending, and I came to appreciate the importance of that section for the overall story. Maybe next time I’ll be able to get more out of it and to understand the ideas behind it better. (Because yes, I will read it again too!)

    Also, I share your feelings on the classics. More and more I realize that they really can be a lot of fun to read.

  6. 10/15/2009

    I know I’ve said it already, but I LURVE this book. It’s in my top-five for sure (sometimes in the #1 spot). And yes–I love Rochester because Jane loves him, and she’s wonderful! (Unlike Catherine, who’s nearly as intolerable as Heathcliff.)

    A lot of people read Jane’s decision to go back to Rochester as a rejection of her faith, because she was choosing not to go be a missionary with St. John. Personally, I think that’s a misreading. Jane only goes back after she hears his voice calling out to her–and she only hears him after she *prays to God for guidance.* God himself is telling her to embrace her love for Edward! And it is only then that she goes back. Yes, there’s an implicit rejection I suppose of a Christianity that says you can’t have any joy in life, but not of the faith itself. (I feel fairly strongly about this–it’s one of the things that makes this book so meaningful to me.)

    And I don’t think Bronte even intends readers to be mad at St John, even if he comes across to modern readers as a bit of a prig. Bronte ends the book with him getting his own heart’s desire, and I find it hard to believe she would do that if she didn’t like him. I have heard other readings of that ending that make some sense, even if I disagree. His work and abandonment of the woman who did love him came to nought in the end, which some readers see as Bronte showing that such work is pointless. I don’t think his work came to nought, especially not to him, but I can see the logic of that argument.

    Did I mention before that this was one of my paper topics in college? So forgive me for expounding at such length about it.

  7. 10/16/2009

    @ zibilee: I fully admit that one of the reasons I bought this book was because of how pretty it was! It was truly a pleasure to read in EVERY sense of the word.

    I do think it can be hard to overcome some of our mental blocks when it comes to reading the classics. As I said, I had gotten into the mindset that the classics were boring and stodgy, full of dry and challenging language and slow moving plots. They gather dust on our shelves because they feel dusty! But I’m glad the mood struck to read this one, because it was so rewarding, in a long-term sense too, I think. This book has really renewed my appreciation for long-forgotten literature, and has made me really enthusiastic to read more of it. I hope it does the same for you! I really look forward to your thoughts when you get to it, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
     
    @ Nymeth: I am with you re: St John Rivers. I found those parts quite dull and to me they felt like diversions from the REAL book! Perhaps like you on a subsequent reread I’ll appreciate it more, but this time round, I simply relished the Jane/Rochester story. But the writing was wonderful throughout, and like you said, Bronte made a VERY difficult and unbelievable element work perfectly. It’s easy to overlook, I think, because she makes it seem so effortless, but in a lesser writer, that calling to one another over the distance could have just been awful.
     
    @ Teresa: Your comment was so enlightening! I wouldn’t have thought about any of those elements as regards religion until you brought them up, so thank you!

    Like you, I don’t think I see Jane’s decision to return to Rochester as a rejection of her faith. As you pointed out, she prays for guidance when she ultimately decides to return to him… AND also, it is really upon her return that it seems Rochester is fully able to give his whole heart over to Christianity in turn, so in a way, she accomplished just what she would have as a missionary. I suppose up to that point religion has not really done much for Jane, though I would say that many of her principles are grounded in scripture and what she has learned there, and even they caused her pain at time because she chose to adhere to the path of the righteous, I think this makes her a more interesting because of her unerring character.

    I’m not sure that Bronte intends us to dislike St John either, but I do think she provides him as an interesting juxtaposition to Rochester. The two are initially so strikingly different from one another, in looks and even principles it would appear, but then with time St John becomes more similar to Rochester, I think, though in my books he becomes even worse than original Rochester! I suppose St John also offers a contrast to Jane is that he denies himself everything, including love, up until the end, whereas ultimately, though her religious foundations are sturdy and true, she does choose to go to Rochester in the end.

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