As I approach the final weeks of summer vacation, I’m feeling a little melancholy, but I’ll be ready to go back to work when the time comes in a couple of weeks. Until then, I’m savouring my time off and will make an effort to read more in the next two weeks.
I had a book club meeting yesterday morning, when we discussed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In case you are unfamiliar with the plot of this novel, it tells the story of orphan Jane Eyre, who grows up in Gateshead with her Aunt Reed, a thoroughly unpleasant woman, and her three equally unpleasant cousins, who abuse her and then cast blame on her for this abuse, thereby causing her to be further punished by her aunt. At the age of nine, she is sent away to a charity school for orphans, Lowood, where she at least receives a quality education, but where she endures near-starvation and nearly unbearable living conditions. When there is an outbreak of tuberculosis, killing off nearly half of the residents, an investigation ensues, and conditions improve, making life bearable for Jane and allowing her to finish her education and become a teacher there. At the age of eighteen, she answers an ad for and secures a position as governess at Thornfield Manor, where her charge, headstrong French girl Adele, keeps her busy, and she is satisfied with this appointment for a few months, but soon she begins to feel a pull to experience more of life. Then the master of the manor, Mr Rochester, returns and Jane’s life is never the same. She falls in love with this unattractive, brooding hulk of a man, and he with her, but will they have the opportunity to marry, or will Rochester choose the woman with whom his social standing dictates he should marry to make a good connection? This novel was added to the list as a replacement for the book I chose for this month, The Boys in the Boat, which one of my book club members started reading and thought we wouldn’t like. I noticed that we didn’t have a classic on the list this year, and I remember enjoying this novel in my younger years, so when someone suggested this, I was happy to add it to the selection list. Three members showed up for the meeting yesterday, and two had read this book before, but many years ago. Of these two, one member read a print copy and the other listened to it as an audiobook, which she said was amazing! She couldn’t say enough good things about the narration, and didn’t complain about the fact that it was 21 hours of often lengthy and repetitive description! The last member listened to it on CD, but it was only three discs, so unfortunately she must have had the abridged version (more plot, less description), but once she realized how much she was missing, she got the book and finished reading it. We were all happy to read or reread the book, despite the fact that we found it overly descriptive and skimmed many passages throughout the novel. While I was reading it, I was mentally comparing it to one of my favourites, Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, and was struck by the many similarities between these two gothic novels. I also compared Jane’s attitudes and behaviour towards Mr Rochester with the behaviour of Sarah Woodruff in John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman. One of my members said the book pulled her in right away, that it was very vivid and realistic, probably because it was based heavily on Bronte’s life experiences as the daughter of a clergyman. She liked the ending, although she found it bittersweet, and we discussed whether this could be classified as a “romance”. We decided that yes, it was a gothic romance, as the love story was the most important element of the plot. I thought that is was also a social commentary, as class and social standing were elements that drove the plot, although these were secondary and less significant than in, for example, Jane Austen’s novels or even Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Another member, who listened to the full version of the audiobook, thought the early part of the book, when Jane is young, reminded her of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, when everything is so significant, it’s not just bad, it’s so awful, not just unpleasant, but disastrous, the way children view things because they have no context and nothing with which to compare their experiences. This member loved, loved, loved the book (hurray!!), and was happy to have had the opportunity to reread it in audio format. We decided that it was love at first sight between Jane and Rochester, and that the main attraction was that they saw each other as equals. Neither of them was physically attractive, but they were attracted to the other’s mind, their language and way of speaking, with their words and ethics. One member said, when commenting on the language, that this book was “time-consuming but beautiful”, which pretty much sums it up. There were ways in which Bronte used language that was different from natural speech but which, according to the notes at the end of the book, were more meant to capture the psychology of the speaker than to sound like natural speech patterns, which, also according to these notes, did not really come into literary use until the end of the nineteenth century. There was one term we had to look up. Jane describes another character near the end of the book, St John, as being “without ruth”, and we admitted that none of us had ever thought of the word “ruth” as separate from the term “ruthless”, so we looked it up and found that ruth means “compassion for the misery of others”, a term that aptly describes this character. All in all, it was an interesting discussion, and I’m so happy to have had this added to the list at the last minute, giving me an opportunity to reread this awesome classic.
That’s all for today. Have a wonderful weekend, and keep reading!Bye for now…