The Books of My Numberless Dreams

What I am reading

Posted on: March 22, 2007

I cannot express what a pleasure and comfort it is to read Jane Eyre again. I first did so (several times) in 6th form for ‘A’-levels. I will not trot out the hackneyed It’s-so-nice-to-be-able-to-read-it-without-thinking tale. On the contrary I enjoyed unearthing the secrets of a story that was so much fun to read, even then. Literature class can be hell if you’re stuck analysing, line by line, a book you abhor or find wearisome. What is nice this time around is to be able to read it without having to worry about an examination. The only person to whom I have to answer at the end of the day is myself. It’s quite, quite liberating.

That may be why I find the tension between confinement, restriction and liberty so striking this time around. 😉 All parts of Jane Eyre seem new again, even though certain lines and paragraphs echo in my memory as I read them. This speaks to its potent quality, that the force of Brontë’s themes, her images, her literary allusions can be felt as keenly as if it were the first time. Whether reading a descriptive passage on Thornfield or observing Jane as she looks out her room at Lowood, longing for new, transforming experiences, the conviction of self and of artistic purpose behind every word makes me realise that it is a fierce novel. (I don’t know why this feels like a new realisation for me.)

Re-reading has also made me even more puzzled by the conclusions Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins made when they did a survey for The Guardian last year on the top novels chosen by men to compare to the one they did a year before that for women. For them Jane Eyre is about love conquering all while The Outsider by Camus is about “Brooding lonerdom”. To me the former is as much about solitude, about the outcast and the marginalised (she’s an orphan and a governess, for heaven’s sake) than anything else. Indeed to me Jane Eyre is more about being true to one’s self, holding fast to one’s convictions and principles (in this case very religious ones), the virtues of independence and self-sufficiency, knowing that in the end it is only God to whom one should bend one’s will. Certainly it is about love too, and romantic love is as important as any other but for me it is always framed in the larger context of Christian love, compassion and sympathy, always subordinate to love for God.

I love how Jane’s Christianity is written into her character. It feels very natural, second nature to her and fully incorporated into her philosophy. It works so much better than for Ellena in The Italian by Radcliffe where it felt very much tacked on and artificial; written because the audience expected it rather than it being a necessary component of Ellena’s personality. In other words, as an atheist, for Jane’s story I am fully behind her morally. It feels right. For Ellena or whenever Radcliffe moralised on something it always threw me out of the story and I would roll my eyes at the archaic notions of virtue put on for public show.

Noting this I am amazed that the latest PBS production of Jane Eyre managed to remove all religion from the narrative, according to Little Professor. I don’t know how one can do that and even pretend to be adapting Jane Eyre. Sylvia has made me curious about the adaptation starring Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds. My images of Eyre and Rochester do take precedence, but occasionally I visualise the two actors in their place. (Really HBO’s Rome is not the same without my powerful charismatic Julius Caesar so this urge amounts to a need for another Hinds fix.)

I started Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel in preparation for this event (!!) and am sorry to say that I have not been impressed so far. One of the best things I’ve liked about Kay is his accomplished writing style: he can manage to produce the most lyrical, poetic prose I’ve ever read, that just flows, without spilling into saccharine pap. He’s not afraid to change either: for The Last Light of the Sun, to fit the brutal people and setting the sentences became shorter, the tone harsher and more abrupt. For Ysabel it’s just…clunky and awkward. I get the impression that, unlike the other books he’s written, a great deal of this story takes place in the contemporary world. But this isn’t the first time he’s done such scenes: At the beginning of The Fionavar Tapestry the first moments of the book are set in Toronto during the 90’s (I think).

The plotting isn’t working so well either. Ned, the teenage protagonist, is in the south of France with his father who is a photographer. They’re at a church, the set of a shoot, and Ned walks in exploring when whoops he just so happens to meet a pretty, freckle-faced girl; then whoops they stumble upon a leather-wearing, scar-faced, feller with a knife who has “killed children before”; then whoops Ned goes down the hole out of which the stranger came and he stumbles upon a skull and a sculpture of a face that looks similar to the scar-faced feller. And I can’t count the number of times Ned has referred to his iPod. I’m only on page 29.

Eeeeeeh. I’ll keep going but I’m going to bring my copy of Tigana and see if I can get Kay to sign that instead.


13 Responses to "What I am reading"

Love your thoughts on Jane Eyre. While it’s a love story on the surface, I’ve never thought of that as being it’s main force either. For me it’s always been a story about independence and integrity. What you say about loneliness really rings true too.

I only read Jane Eyre once. I liked it though. It’s definately one of the classics. Maybe, I’ll give it another go after reading this interesting blog post. Thanks!

You might like the Book & Reading Forums.

Oh, you’re making me long to re-read Jane Eyre. I probably won’t because the longing will pass before I have a chance to pick it up, but still! I so hear you about the pleasure of reading NOT for an exam but for yourself. I’m so excited about reading certain things that I once would have dreaded because they were for exams or dissertations.

I’m so happy you are reading this because since I finished re-re-reading it last month I’ve been dying for someone else to read it and enjoy it.

Stefanie I’m glad I’m not the only one. I actually meant to quote a line or two in my post to explain what I was getting at but I forgot. I’ll probably do an excerpt.

Reader Scott it’s certainly a novel that deserves to be re-read.

Dorothy exam deadlines are definitely the sort that I can do without these days.

Amanda your wish is my command. 😀

I want to read this book now but I made a promise to myself that I’ll read the books as I bought them in order.
Alas, I now have 43 book sin my shelf waiting to be read, and I think Jane Eyre’s the 13th. (I think there’s still a Stuart Woods, a Dick Francis, a Melville, a John Saul, etc. before Jane Eyre).

You’re absolutely right about Jane Eyre and Jane’s Christianity, speciffically in how romantic love is set within a moral framework and worldview. Jane’s conception of romance operates as part of her greater moral compass — she has no intention of “throwing it all away for love.” As I see it, Rochester’s transformation is the kind that can only come from a true conversion (very similar to the Christian idea) and shift in values, not from a more shallow, merely romantic/sexual notion of the transformative power of love.

Thanks for the great post!

greekcritic thirteenth?? That will take forever. Surely there’s a way to rationalise bumping her up a bit. You know you want to.

Ted you’re welcome and I’m glad to have you confirm my thoughts. At the time of the post I thought that perhaps further on into the story her romance with Rochester would gain some new prominence, in order to justify this odd view of the novel. (Has not happened.)

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I have not yet read Jane Erye. You have convinced me that I need to add it to my constantly growing list. Thanks!

I get the sense that Jane’s patient endurance came from the Christian faith inspired by Helen Burns, but the self-respect that prevents her from becoming Edward’s mistress is inborn.

Syliva it’s true that we see signs of her fierce sense of self-worth from her childhood, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, to Jane anyway. I’ll have to read further before I can fully explain that remark.

Brad it’s not a book I would hesitate to label as one everyone should at least try before they die. 🙂

I’ve been very tempted to pick up Jane Eyre for some time now, more so after going through your extensive thoughts on the piece. However, after having read Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair (A Thursday Next Novel) first, I think it’ll never be the same. Incidentally, you might get a kick out of reading that first installment of the Thursday Next series; just keep in mind it’s meant to be light reading.

I took a look at and it does look like a lot of fun. I’ve been exposed to a lot of promotion about it but nothing ever stuck. I do think I’ll try it now. Thanks for the rec and the comment!

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