Read With Me: Jane Eyre

Jane was not a heroine who appealed to me when I first read Jane Eyre at the age of twenty-two. I enjoyed the story in so far as it was well written, but I found Jane stiff and without passion, and Rochester seemed to me a selfish and overly brooding hero; indeed, to my young mind, both hero and heroine felt impossibly sensationalized and remote.

But time is a wonderful thing, and as we ourselves change, so do the books we have read. I don't believe that there is such a thing as reading the same book twice, for each time we pick up a book we are different readers than we were the moment before, and as such, our minds perceive different aspects of the same well-worn and loved tale. In this way, every time we open up a book, it is for the first time and the pleasures to be found within expand and multiply accordingly.

So it was that in this reading of Jane Eyre, I found a beloved heroine whose unswerving sense of self contrasted with the self-sacrificing girl who irritated me before. In youth I saw only Jane's suppression of emotions, only her martyrdom and her suffering. Slightly older and wiser, I see a Jane who understood that there is a difference between suppression and control, who realized that what is capable of giving us pleasure in one moment is also capable of giving us regret potent enough for a lifetime. The Jane I fell in love with this time was passionate and yet reasonable, she was self-possessed and yet not selfless, nor selfish. She was giving to a point, she was imperfect and yet aware of it, hard working and practical and utterly real. As I read the novel I fell in love with her because she was struggling with the control of herself that I so often struggle with myself; because while she tried to be good and kind, she was also passionate and wild- and I loved watching her balance her own imperfections with the higher truth and Good she knew to be real.

Rochester, too, was entirely changed for me. Instead of the dark Byronic man who had irritated and scandalized me before, I found a man I admired because he was so helplessly flawed, a man I felt compassion for because I had come to know how life is capable of knocking one around and how tempting it is to seize what is good and desirable to us regardless of the consequences. This time I saw what Jane saw in Rochester, the strength and the goodness, and I could see why she returned to him, why she could love him more for what he had become since she left him. I understood Rochester's transformation in a way that I wasn't sure I was capable of, and I could appreciate how something that seemed so unfortunate, could in fact be the turning point on which one's fortune depended.

So it is that in reading Jane Eyre as I am now, I find myself loving her because she is so often what I cannot be, that good and self-possessed woman, that woman who is capable of being fiery and independent, as well as gentle and pure. I love Jane because I understand her better, because she is what I hope to someday be, if only in the most modicum of ways. Because she struggled with and mastered herself, and she kept trying to do so without giving up- even when it would have been easier to. I love her for her stoicism and her perseverance; I love her for saying, "Life, however, was yet in my possession, with all it's requirements, and pains, and responsibilities. The burden must be carried; the want provided for; the suffering endured; the responsibility fulfilled. I set out."

Alas, the thought that I was supposed to prepare a food item inspired by the novel failed my memory this time around, and so you have been compensated with a view of my reading companion who was quite grateful for all of the requisite hours spent reading Jane Eyre, if only for the sheer amount of snuggling time they proffered.


onesilentwinter said...

how in enjoyed this post. i read books twice sometimes more in different times of my life and so appreciated what you said about how the reader is changed.

I have such respect for jane, yet i have not yet put into words my thoughts.

i would love to share this on read wi th me, pleaselet me know i fthat is okay!0

Anonymous said...

this is such a beautiful description of your experience with such a great book! I'm so glad I stumbled upon it :)

the Mistress of the Raven's Wood said...

Nadia, of course! As always, you may use any of my "read with me" posts- and again, thank you for the kind words!

Amber Lee, thank you so much for your kind words and for following my little blog- it's always nice to know that somebody enjoys what you've labored over! Thanks!