Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Daylight began to forsake the red-room.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Jane Eyre, our heroine and the namesake for this novel, is a child when our story begins. Her parents are dead, and she has been taken in by a wealthy aunt, Mrs. Reed, to be brought up with her cousins Georgiana, John, and Eliza. Mrs. Reed is a very unpleasant sort of woman, and she treats Jane very ill. John abuses Jane, both emotionally and physically, and Jane is exceedingly unhappy (and unloved by all but one servant, Bessie) at this house. After 10 years here, Jane is removed to a religious school for orphans called Lowood, run by a man named Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane is tolerably happy there, though the conditions are exceedingly poor. Mr. Brocklehurst tries to ruin Jane's good reputation at the school by informing all her classmates and teachers that she is a bad seed (more specifically, a LIAR) which he was told by Mrs. Reed, but the students and teachers all hate Mr. Brocklehurst, so Jane's reputation remains unsullied. Jane makes friends, and particularly enjoys the company of one teacher, a Miss Temple, and one student, Helen. Helen, however, dies of consumption, and Miss Temple eventually marries and moves away. Jane stays at Lowood until she is 16 as a student, then stays on for 2 years as a teacher. The conditions are vastly improved after Mr. Brocklehurst's treatment of the girls and attention the school is revealed to be less than perfect. Jane is sad with the loss of her teacher, however, and advertises herself as a potential governess. She is accepted by Mr. Edward Rochester, and becomes the governess for his ward, Adele. Adele is not actually his child, but we learn later on that his French mistress became pregnant with Adele soon after she betrayed Mr. Rochester with another man, and she tries to convince Mr. Rochester that Adele is his daughter. He doesn't believe that Adele is his daughter, but takes pity on the child and helps raise her. Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and he falls in love with her. There is an ongoing mystery involving a woman who lives in the attic of the house, Thornfield (she lights Mr. Rochester's bed on fire, cackles in the night, and even comes close to attacking Jane) and Jane believes that this woman is a lunatic servant, Grace Poole. Jane and Mr. Rochester become engaged in a spontaneous moment (after Jane has completely convinced herself that he will marry another woman who has been staying at the house, Blanche Ingram) and they go to the church to get married. A man intervenes, however, (a Mr. Mason) saying that Mr. Rochester is already married, and to his sister, Bertha Mason. It becomes clear that the lunatic in the attic is Mr. Rochester's wife, a woman he married in the West Indies. After the wedding, however, she soon lost control of her sanity, and Mr. Rochester was forced to bring her back to England and hide her away. He was hoping that he could marry Jane and then tell her about his other wife, but alas, the marriage to Jane is now impossible, and Jane departs, horrified and full of despair. Jane wanders about, starved and depraved, not a penny to her name, until she stumbles upon a family (two sisters and a brother) who take her in and revive her. She stays with them for a time, then obtains a position (through the help of the brother, Mr. St. John) as a school mistress in the village school. She is moderately happy, but frequently falls into depressions about Mr. Rochester. Through an odd twist of fate, it turns out Jane's uncle, Mr. John Eyre, has died, leaving her 20,000 pounds. Not only that, but it also turns out that he left his other nieces and nephews penniless, who just happen to be Mr. St. John and his sisters, Diana and Mary. So Jane splits the money with them (her cousins!) and happily settles in the town. Mr. St. John tries to convince her to become his "missionary wife" and go to India with him, but she doesn't love him, and she eventually decides that she might go to India (just as his adopted sister, not as his wife) but she realizes she must go to Thornfield first and find out what has become of Mr. Rochester. It turns out the crazy wife lit Thornfield on fire, and Mr. Rochester, in his attempts to save everyone, became blind and lost the use of one of his arms. Bertha (the crazy wife) jumped off the roof. Mr. Rochester moved to a small country house and shunned the company of all but 2 of his servants. Jane goes immediately to him after finding out about the disaster, and they are happily reconciled. They have children together, and she stays in close contact with her cousins. Mr. Rochester also regains a small bit of sight in one eye, and they all live happily ever after.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Whew! Congrats if you made it through that plot summary! It turned out to be more challenging than summarizing the Brothers Karamazov! Also, my apologies for the lateness of this post. I will be reading Animal Farm this weekend to make up for the lost week (ah, Thanksgiving) and then will move right on to Lord of the Flies.

I have to say I loved this book as much as I hated Brothers Karamazov. Charlotte Brontë has an absolutely exquisite vocabulary, and her asides to the reader are amusing and familiar without being trite and silly. I truly think she had an incredible sense of the English language, and I'm so glad this book is considered a classic.

Just read a bit about Charlotte, and am extremely saddened to find that she died at age 39, and she was pregnant at the time. She also outlived all of her sisters, several of whom died from tuberculosis at the orphan school they attended (the inspiration for Lowood, apparently). So sad.

Unlike my previous posts, I'm inclined to write a free-form blog for this one. I absolutely loved the way Jane and Mr. Rochester's affair is depicted. It's full of this torrid undercurrent of suppressed passion and desire, and Jane repeatedly doubts the possibility of her happiness with him. The book's mystery on the side (Bertha Mason) and the slight soap opera twang (oh my gosh, you mean we're cousins? and I'm rich?) were, I think, more enriching than bizarre, and Bronte somehow makes them work. The book kind of felt like a Frankenstein romance novel (which is only reinforced by the supposed ugliness of Mr. Rochester). Jane's fortitude of mind and spirit is truly inspiring, and her faults and weaknesses feel equally real and poignant.

I wasn't wild about the Mr. St. John wanting Jane to go to India storyline, because I felt that Jane lost some of her strength as a woman and as a particularly aggressive self-advocate. I do know what it feels like to go along with someone without really knowing why, though, and I suppose that even iron Jane has her moments of obedience with disregard for her own feelings.

For some reason, though I read this book fairly recently (within the last few years) I forgot most of it, and my roommates just about gave away large chunks of it. (Ragina: So, where are you? Did the crazy wife attack Jane yet? Me: Um, no. Crazy wife? Do you mean Grace Poole?) Clearly I don't have the best memory for some things.

The title of the post comes from the beginning of the novel, when Jane is locked in the "red-room" because she strikes back at John Reed after he throws a book at her. (Answer me, John Rosse! That's NOT my name!) Jane's terror at being locked in the room where her uncle died forms the delightfully creepy framework for the novel. The title of the post was one of my favorite lines from the book.

Well, so much time, so little to do. (Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.) Kudos if you've picked up on the movie references in this post.

Love to all, happy December (it's snowing here in Philly), and on to the farm of animals.


  1. damnit, i just lost the first comment i wrote. good blog! summary... a little long. is mr. st. john mr. rochester's brother? i didn't get that part. and i'm glad i didn't say, "isn't this the one where the wife is hidden in the attic?" because i didn't realize you'd forgotten that.

  2. Sorry I couldn't tighten up the summary - there just ended up being a lot of information to share! Mr. St. John is Jane Eyre's first cousin. They have a common uncle.