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Reassessing Jane Eyre

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Miss Moppet
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Location: North London
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Postby Miss Moppet » Tue October 12th, 2010, 10:17 pm

"MLE" wrote:Back to the original thread, I just re-read Pride and Prejudice, and I was astonished that in my relatively impatient youth I had sat through a novel crammed with such wordy verbiage! All I could think of this round was, "My God, she needs an editor! How can people still read this?


I love Austen but I know exactly what you're talking about. I can't read her when I'm writing because her style rubs off and I start to veer towards Regency pastiche, with lamentable results (see, it's happening now).

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Mello
Reader
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Postby Mello » Wed October 13th, 2010, 5:54 am

"Miss Moppet" wrote:I love Austen but I know exactly what you're talking about. I can't read her when I'm writing because her style rubs off and I start to veer towards Regency pastiche, with lamentable results (see, it's happening now).


I know what you mean about rubbing off. I once used my favourite Darcy quote "I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours” to end an uncivil conversation. I don’t think the person understood at all, but it made me feel good!

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Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
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Postby Margaret » Wed October 13th, 2010, 6:09 am

Very interesting comments about Jane Eyre. I do think that in Brontë's time, Rochester was more typical than otherwise in his delight in Jane's youth. It was more the rule than the exception for men (who generally waited until they were financially secure before they married) to marry quite young women (who were considered in danger of wilting on the vine if they waited beyond their teens to marry). So while this seems to verge on the depraved to us today, it would have seemed completely acceptable to most people of Brontë's time. And, of course, it was a horrendous scandal if a woman was discovered not to be a virgin before she married; men expected their brides to be virgins and prized that quality in them.

At the same time, I expect the very perceptive Charlotte Brontë was well aware of the double standard and resented it. I think she specifically intended for readers to pick up on the imbalance of power in the relationship between Jane and Rochester, and their relative ages are part of this imbalance. She does seem to stress the difference in their ages and Rochester's delight in it more than another author might. And, of course, Jane does not marry Rochester until the imbalance of power is remedied through Rochester's blindness. Jane may still be younger than Rochester, but she has gained experience and maturity when she returns to him, while he has been chastened and humbled.

While Brontë may not have questioned the importance of a woman remaining a virgin until she married, she did fall in love with one of her professors at the school where she studied and taught in Brussels, and eventually had to leave because of his wife's jealousy. Brontë may have considered this woman's jealousy of her to be wildly irrational (even if not on a par with Rochester's violent wife locked in the attic). I think there are echoes of this relationship in Jane Eyre, in which, as author, she crafts a relationship between an older, more experienced and influential man and a young, inexperienced but morally particular woman, makes the man as passionately in love (if not more so) as the young woman, and ultimately disposes of the jealous wife by having her destroy herself in a fit of anger.
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wendy
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Postby wendy » Wed October 13th, 2010, 11:48 am

It is also interesting that when we start reassessing Jane Eyre we often dwell on Austen. I have always thought that the would-be governess in Emma (Jane Fairfax) was the inspiration for Bronte's actual governess (Jane Fairfax Rochester). Big clue in the names! It is as if Bronte takes the Austen character and works out what might have happened to her if she had not married Frank Churchill. (And Austen also implies that being a governess is an unsavory occupation!)
I have asked myself why? And one only has to examine the extant 'pornography' of the times to see that the sexual exploitation of servants is the pervailing norm in the 'cult of the virgin' society.
Sorry if this offends any romantic sensibilities.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 13th, 2010, 2:22 pm

"Margaret" wrote:
While Brontë may not have questioned the importance of a woman remaining a virgin until she married, she did fall in love with one of her professors at the school where she studied and taught in Brussels, and eventually had to leave because of his wife's jealousy. Brontë may have considered this woman's jealousy of her to be wildly irrational (even if not on a par with Rochester's violent wife locked in the attic). I think there are echoes of this relationship in Jane Eyre,


I've heard that this is also at the heart of her novel Villette, which I haven't read, yet, but is on my TBR.

"wendy" wrote:Sorry if this offends any romantic sensibilities.


My sensibilities -- romantic or otherwise -- aren't offended. I simply disagree with your interpretation of Jane Eyre, that's all. :)

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wendy
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Postby wendy » Wed October 13th, 2010, 4:52 pm

I guess that is the mark of a good classic novel - that it expands in different directions for each individual reader :)

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 13th, 2010, 4:59 pm

I do agree with you there.

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LoveHistory
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Postby LoveHistory » Wed October 13th, 2010, 5:33 pm

I once used my favourite Darcy quote "I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours” to end an uncivil conversation. I don’t think the person understood at all, but it made me feel good!


I always thought he was sincere when he said that. Sort of like flirting. He was angry at the time, but not at Lizzy.

(And Austen also implies that being a governess is an unsavory occupation!)
I have asked myself why?


In addition to the sexual exploitation you've already mentioned there are a number of other reasons why the post of governess was undesireable (thought not unsavory):

1. The governess was in an odd position in a household--above regular servants but below the family--she didn't really fit anywhere and in a less than pleasant situation it could be a very lonely life.

2. Each employer had their own rules as to how the governess should be treated and behave within the household. any slip-up, real or imagined, could lead not only to dismissal but the inability to find work again because the mistress of the house would tell all of her friends, who would tell all of their friends about whatever it was that got the governess fired. If the family were powerful enough, it would be very difficult to find work subsequently.

3. For a young woman born a gentleman's daughter, servitude in any form was a major step down. Jane Fairfax in Emma was born into wealth, but the family lost their money and she was then orphaned into dependence upon female relatives who could not pursue any sort of action that would result in more income. She was kept in comfort as long as a wealthy friend needed a companion, but after that friend married Jane was sent back to her nearly penniless grandmother and aunt. Used to a life of privilege, she was faced with the possibility of having no choice but earn her living--unthinkable for a lady of her class.

In summary... The post of governess was respectable, but precarious. It left a lady heavily dependent on the goodwill of her employers. And it was a socially ambiguous position: a governess was a lady but also worked for pay--no other occupation of the time had such blurred lines of status.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed October 13th, 2010, 5:54 pm

Re being a virgin when married == come on, people, remember the biology here! The reason sexual continence was crucial for women was because, unlike men, they got PREGNANT. Which, if it was not the physical death of her, produced a child who would have no real chance in the world-- besides not having the advantage of protection and support of a father, would also bear the stigma of bastardy. Imagine having to raise a child with that guilt on your conscience!

All this fussing about social mores is a symptom of taking birth control so much for granted that we forget they didn't have any.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 13th, 2010, 5:59 pm

"LoveHistory" wrote:In summary... The post of governess was respectable, but precarious. It left a lady heavily dependent on the goodwill of her employers. And it was a socially ambiguous position: a governess was a lady but also worked for pay--no other occupation of the time had such blurred lines of status.


I've often thought that if I had been born 150 years earlier, I probably would have ended up as a governess. Ugh. I guess the most I could hope for would be that overused, romantic scenario -- the one where the governess gets invited to dinner in order to avoid having 13 at the table (gasp!), and thereby meets Mr. Wonderful who looks past the social conventions and sees the wonderful person inside the governess ......... Wonder how often that actually happened in real life? Perhaps one in a million?


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