During the school year, I spend so much time reading for work that I have very little time for reading for pleasure. And, to be perfectly honest, after long grading marathons and hours spent lesson planning, sometimes the last thing I want to do is read. I still read a few novels a semester, but my habits are inconsistent. Instead, I find that I usually spend my free-time (when I have it) catching up on my favorite television shows.
The summer is my time for reading. Although I am still teaching this summer, my schedule is much lighter, and summer thunderstorms and longer days are conducive to getting lost in a good book. In this post, I will discuss the first novel I read this summer. I have read others and still have so many others on my list ( I hope to write of these in future posts), but I decided to begin with a reread.
Early in the Spring, I was discussing Shakespeare’s King Lear with a colleague. To be more exact, we were talking about what constitutes “good literature.” He made a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly. To paraphrase our discussion and consensus, good literature is any text that makes you think. It is a text that speaks to you where you are. In other words, a reader brings to a text as much as a text gives to the reader. My colleague gave the example of a friend of his who spent a whole month reading and rereading King Lear, and he could never escape the idea of mothers. He said that his friend had never thought of the play in those terms before, and it baffled him. But, then he realized that it was because he was coming to terms with the death of his own mother. Revisiting literature allows us to take something new and different from it every time. That was certainly my experience when rereading Jane Eyre.
I first read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and I haven’t read it again in years. I try to revisit at least one old favorite each year (though I often feel that rereading novels is greedy when there are so many on my TBR pile). This year, I chose Jane Eyre for two reasons:
1. I loved it as a teen. The melodrama, the madness, the intrigue, the star-crossed love, and the subversion appealed to me.
2. My niece, Caitlyn, is now homeschooling, and I am in charge of her English work. Her teacher at the private school she attended last year thought it best to have students read spark notes (the horror!) and take tests instead of reading the literature themselves. Because I loved Jane Eyre when I was young, I thought it would be a good introduction for her. I wasn’t entirely correct.
I’m glad I revisited Bronte’s novel, but I must admit that it wasn’t entirely pleasurable. In Bronte’s own words, “These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.” I’m sure my opinion is not a popular one, especially for those die-hard fans, but let me explain. I understand and appreciate the novel’s literary worth critically, in terms of its context, its agenda, its critique of the separation of sexes and social classes. I also understand its role in our understanding of feminism today. My response here, though, is not as a critic, but as a reader. The novel itself was not as entertaining to me as it once was. I found myself rolling my eyes at the over-the-top melodrama and love affair between Jane and Rochester.
That said, I found new things about the novel that reminded me of the reason why I loved it. I admire the style and language and the clever fairy tale allusions. I still found myself smiling at Jane’s speeches about freedom and women’s rights (Preach!). There were also other differences in my reading of Jane Eyre as an adult. As a teen, my favorite scenes were those exchanges between Rochester and Jane. This time around, I was drawn to Jane’s time at Lowood because it is during this time, for me, that the novel focuses most on Jane’s internal development and her evolving independence. She becomes Jane.
Charlotte Bronte once said of Jane Austen, “she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. ... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman, if this is heresy—I cannot help it. If I said it to some people (Lewes for example) they would accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics, but I am not afraid of your falling into any such vulgar error." I have always preferred Austen to Bronte, perhaps because I am practical above all. I am amused by Jane Austen’s reserved style, her humor, and witty subversion. I love Austen for those very things that Bronte detests. I absolutely think that is why I didn’t enjoy Jane Eyre as much this time. I have matured and evolved both as a reader and as a woman. I’m no longer that young girl who thinks that nothing is as romantic as the love between brooding Rochester and the elfish Jane. Now, not so much…
I will not give up on Bronte. After all, I have never read Villete (it’s on the TBR list), and I have heard that is much more…mature. Even though rereading Jane Eyre wasn’t as enjoyable as I would have liked, it still did what good literature does: it made me think, and I learned things about myself in the process.Tweet