Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sure, I Know the Queen, September 2007

By Jodie

I am in terrible trouble. My days are filled with power ballads, sugar soaked teen movies and DVD collections of series that actively encourage self pity. Yes, another liaison has ended in wine and regretful melodrama, as prescribed by the bulk of American series ended with a musical montage of misery. I can now ‘relate’ to everything. I have not yet physically said that particularly disgusting phrase I see my situation in every neurotic small screen heroine. The other day I was able to empathise with four of the cast from Grey’s Anatomy in one episode and they are some competitive whiners. All around me people soliloquise about how people with love in their lives are better off or how someone’s baby has broken their heart. The deceitfulness, the blue depths and the blissful oblivion of love are chronicled in minute detail until I feel like asking the musicians if they’d prefer me to hang myself or slit my wrists.

If ever someone needed some sensible counsel it’s a woman who’s been tricked into romantic emotion. Some practical steps on how to regain your previously respectable, stable status are so much more useful than all the wallowing melodies and frowning actors, purporting to be as mired as you. Where else would you expect to find such reasoned advice but in a book, more specifically one of the great works of English literature, Jane Eyre. Jane is the woman I attempt to model my life on. That doesn’t always go well but I remind myself that Jane had to struggle in order to grow into the remarkable woman who pronounces the proto-feminist statement of choice, ‘Reader, I married him.’.

This is an extraordinary phrase in itself and Jane has much more to say about independence and respect. She advises women that they ‘…must advertise’ or actively help their lives to change; a financial reliance on the one you love makes you unequal ‘…the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation’; my personal favourite, a mantra all women should abide by ‘Be too self-respecting to lavish the love of a whole heart, soul and strength where such a gift would be despised.’. Films and television want you to believe that an attitude like this shows fear of rejection or willing defeat but books like ‘Jane Eyre’ remind singletons that when someone’s ‘just not that into you’ you have a choice to walk away with your dignity.

Jane Eyre is a novel primarily about the development of character. The change from a feisty young girl who bites to a woman who calmly hides her feelings for her employer strokes some readers as pious and cold. However to make such negative judgements is to ignore the main focus of the novel which is the growth of Jane as a person. By the end of the novel she is not the same frustrated girl she was at the beginning. She is a strong woman who has made her own way by mastering her destructive side, becoming employed and later by happily coming into unexpected wealth. To will her back to the physical rebelliousness that, while making her a charming character, undid her when she was young is to wish her into an impotent, powerless state. Jane must gain the humility necessary to bear being a governess, a position of extremely low status, so that she can earn her own money and independence. What gives her character its core strength is the knowledge she retains from her early years of the difference between right and wrong. Although she becomes less demonstrative when dealing with wrongs as she matures Jane carries this strength within throughout her life, reminding herself not to compromise over what is right for her.

Some readers also feel that by the end of the novel Jane has become a woman subjugated by a love that makes no sense due to Mr. Rochester’s blindness, ruined state and the cold fact that he locked his first wife in his attic. This argument misses a key point of the novel, Jane’s search for freedom from dependence and so from the influence of others on her life. Dependants like Jane could not just take the advantages and ignore their benefactors advice. They were expected to be beholden to them in every aspect of their life and to show nothing but gratitude for this shackling. This fact is represented by the behaviour of Mrs. Reed and her children whenever Jane questions their horrible treatment of her; they are shocked and say she is wicked even when John Reed strikes her.

It can also be seen to a lesser extent in the behaviour of Mr. Rochester and Jane after she accepts the first marriage proposal. She is not sure about marrying him, especially so fast as she shows in numerous ways, most poignantly by saying ‘There was no putting off the day…’; that is her wedding day. However she loves Rochester and she feels grateful for all he has done so she allows herself to be cajoled down the aisle for fear of seeming ungrateful or loveless. He appears to feel that buying her things is the answer to any doubts she has- thereby consolidating his position as benefactor and apparently absolving himself of the responsibility to explain Thornfields night time terrors to his fiancĂ©.

The decision Jane takes at the end of the novel, as shown by the affirmative ‘Reader, I married him.’, is her individual choice influenced by no one. It is certainly not dependent on whether the reader approves, although perhaps people would have disapproved of Rochester’s behaviour less at the time of publication than they do now. She has no reason to feel grateful to Rochester as he has lied to her and had planned to commit bigamy. She will never be financially dependent on anyone again. She will not be swayed by others opinions as she is ‘…independent as well as rich.’ She doesn’t ‘…care about being married…’ so is not persuaded into marriage by matters of taste or religious sensibility. She does not marry quickly or rashly for love but has thought out her feelings on love during the unpleasant time spent resisting the will of her cousin, St John Rivers. Jane makes her choice based on the rational knowledge that she loves Rochester. She is able to overcome, rather than overlook, more practical considerations such as the burnt Thornfield Hall and Rochester’s ruined physique because she is a capable, independent woman with five thousand pounds. This combination of character traits and practicalities allows her to deal with anything as her ‘…own mistress.’.

Jane is a fine role model for modern women. When so many are persuaded into marriage because of money, public opinion or just because that’s where a long term relationship must be heading to avoid pointlessness Jane Eyre demonstrates that love and marriage should be a choice rather than a convenience or default position. Her lessons of avoiding financial reliance are an antidote to WAG culture. Jane’s character growth shows the possibilities for a woman who depends on herself first and the importance self-reliance in developing a well-rounded character. When all women have to trust in is themselves it’s important that they are made up of everything they might need.


Carl V. said...

I really do need to read this book someday. My hesitancy has mostly because I got so much of the plot revealed to me reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde when it came out. I keep thinking that one day I'll forget much of it and can then read the classic without remembering way too many details.

Literary Feline said...

Bravo, Jodie! You captured so much of why I love Jane Eyre. In fact, I think you've raised my esteem of her, if that is possible. Wonderful article.