[For those inclined, here’s Part 01 of the Rereading Jane Eyre series, which talks about: This long-awaited reunion. Things I’ve forgotten, things to remember. And, re the book itself (hee), Jane Eyre’s childhood.]
I have realized that I am now older than the Jane Eyre that most appears in the novel. I am twenty-one. [Present] Jane might be, say, 28-29 when she tells her tale, but it is the life of eighteen-year-old Jane that we are immersed in. I am older than Jane Eyre. My god, I am older than Jane Eyre. This used to be so unfathomable to me, the nine-year-old who first picked it up, curiosity peaked by the words love and happiness on the back cover. [Even young, we recognize the words.]
I know that when I was younger, I only thought of Jane as someone through which I could experience the world, this world. There’s a calmness to Jane that I’d once mistaken for passivity. I thought that Jane and I were interchangeable while I was reading the novel. I don’t know how things changed, or even why they did, but Jane Eyre is definitely someone else now. A person, someone who’s invited me over for tea and crumpets, and has granted me the privilege of listening to her words.
Virginia Woolf wrote about Brontë: “As we open Jane Eyre once more we cannot stifle the suspicion that we shall find her world of imagination as antiquated, mid-Victorian, and out of date as the parsonage on the moor, a place only to be visited by the curious, only preserved by the pious. So we open Jane Eyre; and in two pages every doubt is swept clean from our minds.” One of the truest things I know at the moment, friends. When I decided to pick up the novel, I really did doubt: What if I was just a starry-eyed girl when I last read and loved this? What if I’d only convinced myself that it was a lovely book, because of what everyone seems to say about it? What if it bores me? What if I cannot find that passion that I’d once squealed at? What if–gasp!–I wanted to kick Rochester where the sun don’t shine, for whatever reason?
Wrong. So so so very wrong. Jane Eyre is just so so so so very sublime. [And, yes, this is the first time I used that word on the blog. I checked.]
Sarah Waters has a blurb for this edition of the novel [you can see it in the picture above if you go clicky to enlarge it]. “You have to be grown-up to really get it.” My first thought: How lame is that as a blurb? My second thought: How insulting is it to all the nine-year-olds out there who are, at this very moment, picking up Jane Eyre? My third thought, Is this true?
I have no answers now, nor will I attempt to. I suppose that the more I write about this lovely book, the more I’ll be able to articulate the distinctions–the specialness–of reading this novel at 9, and then reading it again [more memorably, as life-changing-ly] nearly twelve years later. But I am somehow very sure that I won’t be disparaging anyone, whatever age they were when fate decided to hurl Jane Eyre their way. Take that, Sarah Waters. Humph. [That is still a lame blurb, really.]
So. On to Part 02 of the Rereading Jane Eyre series: The first few months at Thornfield Hall–and, forgive me for the first of many Rochester-centric posts–meeting Edward Fairfax Rochester, and Jane just a teensy bit relenting to love him. And, a warning, this is a quote-heavy post. I have fallen in love with the language.
* * *
It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it…
♦ Meeting Rochester, without knowing he is Rochester. An ominous meeting, and immediately Jane observes that he is a rare new image in her life–for the very fact that he is a man. Also, dude is “dark, strong, and stern.” Yihee. Meeting him as Rochester, calling him “my traveller.” OMG, YIHEE. Ahem.
♦ I never realized that Edward Fairfax Rochester was such a flirt. Did this fail to register years ago? Or am I simply more susceptible to surly older men who are so wry with their joke deliveries that you have to take a couple of moments to figure out what’s the what? [I am looking at you, Boyfriend.] I don’t remember him being so, sternly teasing [?!]. Him talking about how they met, for example, how Jane supposedly bewitched his horse. ♦ Also, way to charm a girl’s heart, Eddie:
“. . . you are not pretty any more than I am handsome . . .”
♦ Long conversations, and a friendship between Jane and Rochester forms. And so very revealing. I , I had forgotten that he has a sense of humor. On the possibility that Adele Varens [his ward, the girl Jane Eyre is, er, governess-ing--I obviously fail at summariess] being his daughter: “Pilot [the dog] is more like me than she.” Hahaha. And, in a later scene, where Jane douses the flames on his bed, he awakens and says, “In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?” Hee. I need that bolded one on a shirt.
♦ And then this is where my heart thuds. This is the Rochester I remember, but way better. But it’s almost like I knew of him. That is, he’s supposed to be this brooding man, and so I remembered him as a brooding man. I never realized he was so intense:
“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. You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flow as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away. Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the rocks bristling not far off in the bed of the flood, nor hear the breakers boil at their base. But I tell you—and you may mark my words—you will come some day to a craggy pass in the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise: either you will be dashed to atoms on crag points, or lifted up and borne on by some master-wave into a calmer current—as I am now.”
I think Rochester just cursed Jane into falling into a tragic kind of love. And also, of course, threatening her with it, perhaps with his ability to make her topple headlong into an awakened soul. I am giddy. I know I squealed when I read that part, and then I read it again, and then squealed some more, and then I read it again, and then squealed some more. You know the rest.
He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, them in both his own.
“You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different;—I feel your benefits no burden, Jane.”
He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips,—but his voice was checked.
“Good-night again, sir. There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.”
“I knew,” he continued, “you would do me good in some way, at some time;—I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not”—(again he stopped)—“did not” (he proceeded hastily) “strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!”
Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.
This, too, I read over and over again. I had to restrain myself from yelling, He’s holding her hand! And he paused! He paused! And then he proceeded hastily! I wish I could explain it here, this Rochester-madness I have. But that deserves more than a footnote. So, well, yes. Note to self, haha.
♦ I also wish I could tell you more about the secrets in this book, that the scene up there is in the aftermath of a fire nearly killing Rochester in his sleep. But that Rochester-madness yet again. Sorry. Still, for what it’s worth: I’ve always found it odd how, even when we know how things end, we’re still afraid for the characters.
♦ But, yes, I have chosen to expend all my energies on Jane and Rochester. It’s the shameless romantic inside me. They’ll got through the muck they have created, and will create. I have faith in these two. Jane’s got a good head on her shoulders, and Rochester, no matter how stern he may seem, loves this girl to bits.
And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it.
Never mind that I know how it ends in the book–what I’m trying to say is, I am confident of how it ends–in real life. Love conquers all, dammit. It does.
[Next post: More on love. Definitely more on love. And the many dragons to battle in pursuit of it.]