. . . I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold.
An Introduction. Of Sorts. — What follows is, I am afraid, a rather self-indulgent post. I have reread what has to be my favoritest-est book ever. I have loved this book since I was nine years old. I am now almost twenty-one. In those years, I have read and reread this book some four to five times—in varying degrees of absorption. [That is, some times I’d simply look for the passages that have stayed with me brightest, and sometimes I’d mouth the words as I read them.]
And now, in my first rereading in approximately, horrifically, five years—Jane Eyre [by Charlotte Brontë] has changed in ways that I couldn’t have foreseen. Five years is a long time to return to what you claim to love most. We are both different beings now, this book and I.
It’s about damned time I returned to the book, about time that I returned to Jane’s head, to Thornfield Hall, especially, to witness what this life holds—a life I don’t even remember very clearly. Oh, I remember the “good” parts. And I don’t even know if they stuck to me because they were vital to the story, or they just appealed to me at some visceral level. A re-discovery was in order. [And though I've always planned to venture into this re-discovery, it took the prodding of Jessica of Read, React, Review and her “Return to Romance Roots” for me to, well, to nut up.]
I’ve discovered that, although things have stayed with me, there are many that I forget. And the more I re-immersed myself in Jane Eyre’s life, things are coming back to me—and they’ve acquired peculiar tints: I think I know you, but I am willing to be patient to make sure. Or, more accurately, I recognize you, but you’re not what I remembered.
[The very first time I read Jane Eyre, nine-years-old. The book was a small paperback, pages yellowing, for the cover a dark oil painting of a study or some drawing room, bordered with red--my mother's copy. From that first reading: I remember the wonder at a non-magical Cinderella story. I remember Jane's occasional audacity. I remember the discovery that battlements meant balcony. I remember I liked Rochester. I remember—and who can forget?—Reader, I married him.]
I’ve decided that, as self-indulgent as this all may seem, I’m going to go ahead and linger and exhaust this rereading. I will dwell, and it might take several posts for me to feel satisfied enough. “Spoilers,” of course, abound. I will also nitpick, occasionally obsessed. There’s just so much—in the novel, in myself, in our reunion.
Here are snippets from my note-taking. Some elaborations here and there, for when I was too distracted by Brontë’s words to attempt writing any of my own, even if they’d be in reaction to hers. I have divided the novel—and the discussion—as I saw fit. And so, for the first pinch of the novel—about Jane Eyre’s childhood and right before she sets out to her new life [Part One of the Rereading Jane Eyre series here in S&TS]:
* * *
It has been a while, hasn’t it, my friend? I can’t wait to rediscover you. I wonder how things have changed inside you, inside me. Oh, and Rochester! ♦ Would it be idiotic to say, “I have opened you, and I tremble”? Oh, lord. ♦ I think this is the first time this has happened in my reading of you: There is so a British accent in my head.
♦ Brontë establishing the origins of Jane, her childhood. Cruelty suffered as a child. Cruelty and negligence. I would love to snap John Reed’s neck, that little troll. ♦ It comes to me: Unlike that crushing behemoth Possession, I have no desire to skip to the “good” parts. Everything’s just so breathtaking and familiar but made-new. I am on course, no matter how eager I am to have Jane and Rochester before me again. I feel so fucking noble! ♦ But it’s not like Jane Eyre is making it difficult for me to stay on track, even linger. I’m seeing a lot of beautiful things–I don’t think it’s that I missed them in the past, but maybe I never thought them as beautiful as I do now. ♦ I want to wrap Jane in a thick blanket and build a fort of books and bunnies around her.
Even for me life had its gleams of sunshine.
♦ Jane is headed to Lowood. I am irrationally very much afraid for her, even if I know shit’s going to go down anyway. A lot of sad shit. Aherm.
I stood lonely enough, but to that feeling of isolation, I was accustomed; it did not oppress me much.
Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.
—Jane is outraged at abuse, of unfair treatment. Since she fought back, she finds it puzzling how anybody could keep quiet—when she herself went through that at Gateshead. Kind of awesome. The retelling of her childhood at both Gateshead and Lowood are vital to establishing how her character was forged. ♦ Here’s the rallying speech she gives Helen Burns:
If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.
♦ Eventually, Jane sets out. At eighteen, two years out of the schoolroom, and two years having taught the students at Lowood herself, she’s gone to find what world awaits her outside the walls. I am excitedpants, because this only means: Thornfield Hall.
My world had for some years been in Lowood: my experience had been of its rules and systems; now I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.
♦ It sort of amuses me that I am reading this as devotedly as I do now. How I’m lingering, but at the same time very much greedy for more. How I just can’t fucking wait for the rest of the novel to roll along and devour me.
[Next post: Growing up with and without the novel. Thornfield Hall, at last. And, hello, Mr Rochester, hello.]