Sunday, July 06, 2008
Dangerously Reading v. 6
I finished my June selection on the last day of June. We were returning home from vacation and I spent a majority of the car trip reading. Before you go jumping to conclusions about how I procrastinated, let me just say that I started reading Jane Eyre in May. May. I know. Jane is a beast.

It took me over a month to plow through this dense work of (feminist) art. It was worth the labor and time.

Published in 1847, Jane Eyre can probably best be described as a proto-feminist piece. The protagonist and title character is an independent, educated and self sufficient woman. She works as a governess for a wealth family and when she falls in love with her employer, refuses to become his mistress and dependent. Instead, she sets off--penniless and alone--to discover herself and all that she is capable of.

The story was intense and some of the old English distracting. But the development and evolution of Jane was magical.

I suppose it is possible and useful to question the proto-feminism in the story. Mr. Rochester is very mean (almost abusive) to Eyre and at a time in the story, I was uncomfortable with how easy she overlooked the mistreatment for the benefit of "love."

But at the heart of the story, I argue, is a sense of female empowerment. One of my favorite passages can provide the proof:

Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people the earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Additional passages of note:
You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre? Of course not; I need not ask you; because you never felt love. You have both sentiments yet to experience; your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be given which shall waken it.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.

Lovely, lovely novel. I would recommend it to all but I know not all would enjoy. Proceed at your own risk.

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