BOOK NOTES #6: Jane Eyre (pt. 1)

Hello readers! I apologize for my long absence. I’m currently in the throes of the exciting madness that is National Novel Writing Month, and consequently have time for little else other than writing, writing, writing. But a girl has to read. And so I dipped into Jane Eyre a few days ago (I blame the trailer that just came out for the new adaptation—have you guys watched it?). And readers, it was love at first sight all over again.

Re-reading the novel has been nothing but sweetness. Although I haven’t touched the book in years, I still remember the major points in the story (thanks to my having watched the 2006 BBC adaptation a handful of times in the past years): Jane’s mistreatment in the Reed household, her bittersweet experience at Lowood School, her application to Thornfield (at this my heart fluttered—we all know what awaits for Jane at Thornfield!). But some details fell through the cracks: minor things, like Bessie’s visit (random!) to Lowood the day before Jane’s departure.

I read Charlotte’s Villette (haha, do you like how I’m on first-name terms with my favorite authors?) earlier this year. I remembered how rapturous my admiration was for her way with words, and so was utterly prepared to fall just as hard in love with Charlotte’s prose in Jane Eyre. My expectations were not disappointed.

April advanced to May—a bright serene May it was; days of blue sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration. And now vegetation matured with vigour; Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became all green, all flowers; its great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life; woodland plants sprang up profusely in its recesses; unnumbered varieties of moss filled its hollows, and it made a strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of its wild primrose plants.

(Chapter 9)

I am particularly fond of Charlotte’s descriptions. They’re so vivid and multisensory and visceral, that every time I come across a passage like the above, I can almost feel myself there with Jane, suffering the shameful deprivations of Lowood School alongside her, or feeling flooded by gratitude for Miss Temple’s compassionate and just nature. But on the flipside, they’re also well-tempered and balanced. I have yet to come across one passage of description that feels too long, or cumbersome, or disruptive of the flow of narration.

Charlotte’s writing—or Jane’s narration—is as descriptive as it is shrewd. I was a mixture of outrage and amusement when Jane describes one of Mr. Brocklehurst’s homilies:

Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted; three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had gray beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful headdress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled.

(Chapter 7)

The genius of this quiet but blatant highlighting of Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy lies in just that: how Jane merely tells the reader what is going on, and only hints (“They ought to have come a little sooner”) at the existence of a moral commentary, letting the reader put two and two together. The resulting effect is much more potent—and clever—than if Jane had followed with a spiel of her own.

I have only just finished the tenth chapter, so I have nothing else to write about at present. More posts will follow in the near future, so stay tuned!

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6 thoughts on “BOOK NOTES #6: Jane Eyre (pt. 1)”

  1. unfortunately, Jane Eyre is one of those books where i read once and i’m awfully glad i did bc now i don’t have to read it ever again. :(
    of the brontes, i much preferred emily to charolette. :)

    1. You know, that’s interesting because it brings to mind a post I read on the Guardian book blog a few months ago. The poster was of the opinion that one cannot like both Charlotte and Emily as writers. Either one loves Jane Eyre and hates Wuthering Heights, or vice versa. Very rarely do readers like both, and equally at that. Looks like the blogger was right in your instance!

      Even though I didn’t like J.E. this time around as much as I thought I would, I still can’t bring myself to agree with what that post said. J.E. and W.H. are such different books, that I feel it’s unfair to compare them side by side like that. I like both, but in different ways. If I want something exciting and fantastical and epic and supernatural, I’ll grab W. H. If I want something more de rigueur, I’ll grab J. E.

      What do you think?

  2. hmm….it’s true that they are very different books but I guess in my instance it is a matter of preference. I have enjoyed other books that can considered ‘de rigueur’ but J.E. just didn’t do it for me.
    I guess the poster is right in some ways because most people prefer a certain style over others and since C.B. and E.B. had such different styles, most people like one over the other.

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