Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - A Classic I Love!

“Charlotte Bronte’s story of a plain orphan girl whose superior qualities are finally acknowledged and who gains the reward of love and power has become the modern version of the Cinderella tale; for Jane not only wins her Prince Charming but does so by steadfastly asserting her independence, becoming thereby not only his consort, but his queen.” – Margaret Bloom

There is something extraordinarily unique about Jane Eyre. Not only was it an extremely
popular text at the time of being first published, but it continues to revel in its popularity and readability around a century and half later. And this, despite being subjected to harsh tones of criticism, for not one, but many of its aspects. Jane Eyre is a text for a winter morning – to run warmth through a cold atmosphere. It is a text which girls read and re-read, and snuggle with in their quilts, losing themselves completely to the travails and passions of the eponymous protagonist. It is a text invariably occupying a position of pride in a confessed literature lover’s library. It is not just a text which is read and appreciated; it is one which is absorbed.

Having said that, what is it about Jane Eyre that makes the book relevant till date, not just for literary aficionados, for the average common lover of fiction? It has got something to do with Charlotte Bronte’s ability to convey the most personal emotions in a vivid and touching manner, and then to convert that personal into universal. In her own words, Charlotte Bronte is known to have said that she did not believe in the surface imitation of life. She was interested in unravelling the deeper human nature, by exploring its depths. “I want to voice the inner tragic experiences of human beings”, said Charlotte Bronte. She was interested in the ‘inner photography’ of life. It was thus, quite natural, for the story of this headstrong, independent and lonely girl to strum the chords of familiarity in every reader’s heart. Charlotte Bronte’s passionate narrative made this story transcend the border of specificity and become a general sketch of a woman’s life in Victorian England.

Jane Eyre is today deemed a classic. It is a canonical text, loved by generations of readers. It primarily belongs to the bildungsroman genre, because it follows the journey of Jane till her adulthood. It has for its heroine a woman plain and ordinary, but only in so far as her looks are concerned. Charlotte Brontë herself described Jane Eyre as "small and plain and Quaker-like". She is a passionate, headstrong young woman, confronting the world with her morals, integrity and ideals firmly in place. She is a woman who undertakes a lonely adventure against patriarchy, and also against oppressive existing notions of love. Bronte advertised it first as an autobiography. The title page of first edition says - ‘Jane Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell’. Currer Bell was, of course, the pseudonym adopted by Charlotte Bronte. Curiously, this adopted name is gender neutral, for in the Victorian market, the gender of the author was an important determinant of the saleability of a novel. It goes without saying that female authors’ works were read lesser than those of their male counterparts.
The whole novel can be demarcated into five distinct stages – Jane’s time as a child at Gateshead; her experiences of oppression, as well as friendship and affection at Lowood; her job as a governess and her tryst with love at Thornfield; her time spent at Moors with Saint John Rivers and his sisters; and finally, her union with Rochester, back at Thornfield
Charlotte Bronte was revered for her characterization. She has given the world two extremely memorable characters in Edward Rochester and the eponymous, Jane Eyre. And, in bringing them together, Bronte has gifted to the world an amazing, passionate, intense, unconventional and cherishable love story. Jane’s love for Rochester, and his for her, manifests in the many walks they take together. Jane is influenced so much by Mr. Rochester’s company that she finds her "blanks of existence were filled up; bodily health improved; [she] gathered flesh and strength." For her, Rochester’s "presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire". Now, why would any romantic heart not sigh at such emotions, which are also emoted so well! It is said that envy is one of love’s most intrinsic facets, especially in the initial stages of an affair, when passions are smouldering hot. In Jane Eyre, envy manifests as a sure-shot sign of love held in Jane’s heart for Rochester. In fact, Rochester exploits this particular fallibility of lovers to help Jane discover her true emotions for him.

In the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Bronte had asserted ‘conventionality is not morality’. An iconoclast, she then set out to demolish many of the set ideals and norms of caste, class, gender and occupation which the Victorian society was mired in. One of the myths she broke was that of love. She succeeds in propounding and concretising the New Love ethic, which endures till date as a state to aspire for. Though a story of immense struggles faced and braved by the protagonist, romantic union comes as a succour for the readers who are drawn to empathetic depths in this tale. The classic notion of subsuming of two lovers into one as an essentiality towards consummation of love is challenged throughout the novel by vehement assertions of independence, but Bronte does a flip towards to end when Jane is seen as perfectly blissful in becoming a part of Rochester’s being. However, this Cinderella-esque ending does well to give a sense of closure to the continuous tribulations Jane faced in her life. There is no need to rate a classic, but still, even among classics, I have books I hate. Since this is one I love, I think 4 stars on 5 is what I will give it, and I will end this review with quote reflecting Jane's marital bliss - 
“I have now been married ten years. [...] No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward´s society: He knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together.”

No comments:

Post a Comment