Two nights ago, in bed, I had this slightly schizofrenic thought that my life would improve if I recited my lessons learned at educational institutions in my head. If you’re living with your mom again at 27, you’ll try anything. Just kidding; love you, mom.
Anyway, I had just finished Brontë’s Jane Eyre and also thought to myself that I haven’t made a proper book report in a long time. So here we go: A very basic book report.
Jane Eyre is a Victorian Bildungsroman in the sense that the plot revolves about the growing up and spiritual development of Jane Eyre. I will walk you through the plot (spoilers included), and then shortly turn to themes, motifs and my opinion.
Jane grows up with her Aunt Reed as an orphan – but not too happily. She is bullied by her cousins and disliked by her aunt. Nonetheless, she likes to gaze over her late uncle Reed’s books and it is here that her disposition for an education already shows. Jane is pretty lonely at the start of her life: her only kind feelings are aimed at Bessie, a servant of the house.
After a bullying incident with her cousin and at ten years old, Jane is sent to Lowood institution: a charity school for orphaned girls. It’s a school revolving around attaining discipline and character through hardship and regularity. She befriends Helen here, who leaves an impression of serenity on Jane. Helen dies of consumption. Jane starts out hot tempered but gradually adapts to the Lowood regimen and becomes of a calmer disposition.
At the end of her Lowood career Jane advertises for a position as a governess. She is contacted by a certain Mrs. Fairfax to teach a child at Thornfield Hall, and subsequently leaves Lowood.
Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall. She teaches Adèle, a young child and ward of Mr. Rochester. Mr Rochester is the master of the house, but he is not present. Mrs. Fairfax explains that he travels a lot, and comes and goes unexpectedly. Jane spends the first few months teaching and adapting to a quiet life.
One day, she takes a stroll through a field. She is almost run over by a man on a horse. He falls off the horse, and has her help him recuperate. It turns out that this man is Mr. Rochester, a stern and grave character. Jane makes up her mind to not be too impressed.
Mr. Rochester stays at Thornfield for a while. He really acts out his role as a master. There is an incident in the night, where Mr. Rochester is almost burned while asleep save it for the help of Jane. Jane thinks it has something to do with the servant Grace Poole, who has her room in the attic. Rochester is visibly thankful to Jane for saving him, and her feelings towards him start to change.
Jane occupies herself with teaching Adèle, describing nature, and thinking about Mr. Rochester. He throws a party for the local gentry, during which a certain Blanche Ingres surfaces as his potential wife-to-be. Jane is distressed.
A Mr. Mason enters Thornfield and stays the night. In (yet another) nightly incident, Mason is wounded while having slept in the attic. Rochester recruits Jane to help. There is an air of secrecy around Rochester, but Jane sticks with him. Mason leaves secretly in the night.
Through a trick Rochester manages to dishearten Ingres from wanting to be his wife, after which he opens up to Jane about his and Ingres’ unsuitable match. A bit later he proposes to Jane instead. Jane stays yes, is actually head over heels but behaves coolly to Rochester to keep him interested.
The day of the marriage has come. When the pastor asks dutifully if anyone has an objection to the marriage, surprisingly someone says he does have an objection. It turns out that this someone is Mr. Mason. It also turns out that Mr. Rochester is actually married to Mr. Mason’s sister, who is mad and locked up in the attic of Thornfield Hall. The woman roams around at night and causes havoc when her guard, Grace Poole, has had too much gin. Mr. Rochester is found out, and Jane and Rochester can not marry.
With the Rivers family
Jane chooses to leave Thornfield Hall because of her precarious position. She roams around a bit but she isn’t too good at roaming and therefore almost dies of hunger, cold, weakness and hardships. She is saved by a family of three – the Rivers family – and they keep Jane at their home until she is well.
The Rivers family consists of a young man named St. John and his sisters, two lively young women called Diana and Mary. The family is poor but studious. St John has Jane become a schoolmistress – an occupation she takes up well and diligently. Jane keeps thinking about Mr. Rochester.
Apparently the Rivers family and Jane Eyre are cousins. This is later found out. St. John proposes that Jane marries him and goes with him to India for missionary work. Jane refuses, because she feels that St. John can not love her properly. She wants to return to Thornfield, to see how Mr. Rochester is doing.
Thornfield Hall again
Jane returns to Thornfield. The house is burned down. Jane informs locally in order to learn what has become of Mr. Rochester. It appears that the mad wife of Mr. Rochester has burned the estate down, and has jumped off the roof. Mr. Rochester has survived, but is now blind on both eyes. He lives in a different house, close by.
Jane visits Mr. Rochester. She still loves him, and he still loves her. They marry. Rochester partially regains sight on one eye. Pretty happy ending.
Theme & Motif
One theme is the effect of education. Education has a positive effect on the characters in the novel. The effects consist of changing a personality from hot-tempered and impulsive towards composed and well-thinking (Jane). In others, education has the effect of creating a lively and conversational attitude (Diana and Mary). In yet others, education is a means to do work for God (St. John). In these instances, education is seen as a benefit.
Another theme is a young woman’s view on love. Jane is in love with Mr. Rochester, and although he has blundered, she loves him nonetheless. When she refuses to marry him after he’s found out it seems to be out of self-respect mixed with pragmatic reasons – because she does marry Rochester after his wife is dead.
A motif is lengthy descriptions of humans, nature, and climate. I call this the female gaze, a gaze which is not focused on the apparently sexual, magnificent or beautiful, but ultimately rather on inner qualities. Physiognomy – the science of how a character is as based on outward appearance – is also a big motif.
Women as written by women and as read by men
What struck me was the difference in describing Jane’s thoughts and actions. Barnes has said that the author is dead, but if that is so, why do women as written by women differ so much from women as written by men? I opened this other book on a motorcycle traveler a while ago and on the first 10 pages the protagonist has sex with a random hostel woman. This would never happen in a Brontë or an Austen.
To merely propose that this difference is based in the different time periods would be under acknowledging the accuracy with which most writers write a character of his or her own gender, but not of the other gender.
It’s a cliché that the genders don’t understand each other, but it’s not a cliché without good reason. This is why to read literature: To place yourself in the shoes of another.
All in all, I found it a good read, even if the plot seems to stall or go nowhere sometimes. These stalling scenes did feel like build-ups to the (emotional) action and movement, so not quite like fillers. I found the prose well-written, sparking my imagination quite often. As implied, I found it interesting to read about a woman as written by a woman.
i r8 it 8/8: gr8