Date: 27 May 2013
Books Completed: 93
Books Left: 107
To prepare for the last book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, Wish You Were Eyre, I recently read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The reading of these two novels proved to be a very topsy-turvy experience.
I approached Jane Eyre with some trepidation. I knew some basic plot points, that it featured a romance between the two main characters, and that it’s rather Gothic in tone—not particularly my cup of tea. Also, I’ve read multiple articles expressing the idea that most readers tend to be either Team Austen or Team Brontë. As a dedicated Janeite, I surprisingly found myself liking Jane Eyre far more than I thought I would—at first.
I sympathized with Jane’s plight at the hands of her relatives and the minister overseeing Lowood. I rejoiced when she finally found a friend and was saddened at Helen’s loss. I admired her initiative to change her circumstances. I was happy when her new situation proved to be a pleasant one, and I understood her eventual falling in love with Mr. Rochester. I cheered when they were to marry.
Then, Brontë dropped her bomb. Jane’s world collapsed, as did my admiration for the novel.
It was not astonishing that something would happen to prevent the marriage—200 pages remained in the novel, and it is a typical plot device to have an event delay the outcome for which the reader longs. The postponement of Jane’s happiness did not disturb me. It was Mr. Rochester himself.
Rochester values Jane’s honesty, yet he deceives her cruelly. He admires her independence, yet he seeks to deny her the power to choose her own destiny. He appreciates her courage to stay true to herself, yet he is shocked when she defies him in order to do so—even after some intense bullying on his part. He is, as Monica Hesse said in a Washington Post article a few years ago, “a thug in a morning coat.”
Jane’s other suitor is not much of an improvement. Mr. Rivers appears to be kind, literally saving Jane’s life and treating her with gentle courtesy in the months that follow. However, the iron has entered his soul, and his selfish reasoning in his offer of a loveless marriage shows that he just doesn’t get Jane. At all.
Jane deserves better than either.
Filled with distaste for this novel, I began Wish You Were Eyre, again with some trepidation. So far, the daughters in the MDBC admired all the books they read for the club. I steeled myself to watch them fall in love with the romance of Jane and Rochester, to declare them one of literature’s greatest couples, as others have done before. That would be, I felt, very out of character for a few of the daughters, but I thought it would be unlikely that Mrs. Frederick would have her characters read a book that none of them liked.
Turns out that I was right—and wrong.
The daughters did indeed admire the book, so I was right about that. However, I was wrong about what they admired. The girls were most impressed with Jane’s spirit, her courage, her independence, and her determination to follow paths of her own choosing. The girls even coined an expression for when they themselves needed to find an inner strength: they needed to “get their Jane on.” The romance was barely touched on as was Rochester’s characterization. I thought that Mrs. Frederick was wise to focus on what girls should truly admire about Jane Eyre.
This unexpected turn of events had an effect on me as well. Seeing Jane Eyre through the eyes of Emma, Cassidy, Jess, Megan, Becca, and their Wyoming pen pals enabled me to find a new appreciation for the Brontë novel. I, too, admire Jane’s character, if not her choice in men. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants. And while my heart irrevocably belongs to the works of Miss Jane Austen, a little corner of it esteems Miss Jane Eyre.