Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
In my own lame defense, I'm not a complete English Lit philistine, just very limited in scope. I've read almost all of Hardy's novels. I even liked them.
I took Jane Eyre on a week-long trip to Bali. She was a bit out of place there, but then again, the tropics brought to mind Mr. Rochester's ill-fated first marriage in Jamaica. I think there are quite a few contemporary Mr. Rochesters roaming the streets of Kuta and Ubud with their Balinese Berthas. Let's hope they all come to their senses before their relationships end in madness and fire and attic imprisonments.
The sorry truth of why I brought this particular book to Bali was its weight: it was a small Bantam paperback edition I'd bought at a warehouse sale in Kuala Lumpur. It has a splendid introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, and it added only an ounce or two to my handbag. When I bought it, I was thinking I was decades overdue to read it, and when I finished it, I wondered why I had waited those decades to meet its protagonist. Jane first appeared in the world in 1847, but so many of her character traits ring perfectly true in 2011. Yes, her manners and behaviours are Victorian, but her self-reliance, independence of thought, stolidity and passion transcend her own era. I like Jane enormously, and I respect her. She's one of those fictional characters I would most certainly invite for a dinner party.
I belonged to a book group a few years back, and we read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I admired the dense prose and profound plot -- especially considering Shelley's youth when she wrote it -- but fluidly pleasurable reading it was not. As I re-read the introduction to Jane Eyre, I noticed that Joyce Carol Oates had also contrasted the two writers' styles: "Compare the slow, clotted, indefatigably rhetorical prose of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, of 1818..." Bronte's prose, while elegant, requires less mental bush-whacking than Shelley's.