Friday, March 18, 2011
"Such a Little Toad as That"
Here, finally, is my first post about Jane Eyre. Between teaching, grading, coaching speech team, working on my online class, and trying to prepare for the licensure exams that I am required to take, life has been quite busy the last few weeks! I have been reading Jane Eyre steadily, and I am relishing each chapter. I was thinking a few days ago that this is one of those books that I would love to read again for the first time, especially now that I am older. Rereading this novel has actually been quite emotional for me (even more so than in the past), and the maturity and life experiences that I have gained since I last read it (EIGHT years ago...why did I wait this long to reread it?) have made for a rich reading experience.
Warning: there ARE spoilers in this post. If you haven't read this novel, know that key plot points will be revealed. Read at your own risk!
Part of the reason that reading Jane Eyre again has been so emotional is because of what I realized about Jane's time at Gateshead. I realized, for the first time, that Jane is who and what she is because of her treatment at Gateshead. I knew her family hated and mistreated her, but it is only on this rereading that I realized that Mrs. Reed, and others, had in large part turned Jane into the miserable, unlovable (in their eyes), defiant, and frightened child that Mrs. Reed so hated and punished.
Ironically, if Mrs. Reed had kept her promise to her husband to raise Jane as her own child, she never would have hated or abused Jane. Photo Credit
All Jane wants from her aunt and cousins are love, attention, and affection, and those are the things that she can never get from them. Part of the reason going to Lowood is such a relief for Jane is that, despite the abuse, harshness, and mistreatment she experiences, she has excaped from the singularly cruel, soul-shrivelling hate and spite of her aunt.
I shuddered at the descriptions of Lowood School before and during the typhus outbreak, but it was the scenes at Gatehead that truly broke my heart. I wanted to reach into the novel and wrap my arms around small, bitter Jane Eyre and assure her that she was valued and loved. I wanted to give Mrs. Reed a piece of my mind and encourage Bessie in her small kindnesses toward Jane.
It surprised me how few chapters Gateshead and Lowood School encompassed. It demonstrates Bronte's brilliance that she could make such a small portion of her book so vivid and horrific in my mind on my first readings of the novel that I believed that these were long, drawn-out chapters. Similarly, Bronte shows that Jane believed that most of her life and important moments occured in or because of Thornfield. She did not dwell on her early childhood because the meat of her story was about what she did after (and often because she had learned the lessons of) those early experiences. These experiences serve to show the contrast between Jane's dehumanizing, demeaning childhood, and the precious, value-affirming months that she spent at Thornfield. Is it any wonder, then, that she considers Thornfield (but really Mr. Rochester) her true home or that it nearly kills her (and definitely breaks her heart) to do what she knows is right and leave when she discovers the truth about Mr. Rochester?