Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Jane Eyre: Check!

Moby Dick: twice.
Ulysses: twice, sort of.
Vanity Fair: twice, though I don't remember any of it.
Brothers Karamazov: of course.
Madame Bovary: yup.
Anna Karenina: check.
Middlemarch: I'm afraid so.
David Copperfield: why, indeed.

One would expect--wouldn't one?--that a person with an English degree would be quite accomplished in the gigantic classic novel department. And I suppose I can consider myself somewhat well read, although at this point a note of ritual modesty is in order. A lady of accomplishment always demurs when her interlocutors attempt to flatter.

Nevertheless, until this past week I had never read Charlotte Bronte's famous novel Jane Eyre. I was compelled on two unfortunate occasions in high school and college to read Emily Bronte's horrible Wuthering Heights, and perhaps that put me off. I did not wish to subject myself further to characters running about on stormy heaths and moors, suffering from inexplicable romantic entanglements.

I'm happy to report that Jane Eyre is an entirely different work, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The many loyal Jane Eyre fans out there now have my permission to pronounce a smug "I told you so." Be my guest.

A good 450-page Victorian novel is a nice way to start the summer. I had my nose in the book most of the past weekend, and Ron kept requesting periodic updates: "How's Jane doing?" he would ask. "Well!" I would reply...

She's languishing at a terrible boarding school!
She's working as a governess!
Oh! It looks like she could possibly marry above her station!
But wait! The gentleman has a terrible secret!
She must preserve her honor!
Ah! She has long-lost relatives!
With money!
And someone died! And left her a bunch!
She must endure a grueling carriage ride in order to seek her kindred spirit!
Now she's running out of exclamation points!

I don't want to give away the ending, just in case I was not, in fact, the last English-speaking person on earth to read the book. Suffice to say, Bronte hit all the Victorian novel cliches. But never mind: I loved every minute of it. Jane is a cool chick who came up with an impassioned speech as a kid about character over class, then recycled the same speech later when occasion demanded. She also kept her head when some idiot tried to talk her into marrying him by claiming it was the will of God and hinting darkly that she might go to hell if she didn't. And she can speak French and draw. All in all, not bad.

I would like to claim that I am now off to study German or put on my bonnet and take a walk about the estate grounds. But in fact, I should probably do e-mail. And I think I'll add a movie version of Jane Eyre to my Netflix queue.


Rachel said...

I told you so! Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books of all time, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't like Wuthering Heights. = )

Anonymous said...

I accidentally read Jane Eyre in high school, and loved it. I also do not particularly like Wuthering Heights. So now I feel a little better about that.

Anonymous said...

Debra: If you haven't watched a film version yet, I'd strongly recommend the 2006 BBC 4-part miniseries version, with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. DT