I was relieved to see Jane Eyre win over Wuthering Heights in Simon’s most recent weekly poll. Having just re-read Jane Eyre, my choice was clear.
Rochester is far from my ideal man (I often want to shake him and yell GET A JOB instead of marrying for money, how DARE you lie to Jane etc!). A fondness for Byronic leading men then doesn’t explain why I love the book so much.
What does is the character of Jane, who from the days of Mrs Reed through to those of St John Rivers, thinks her own thoughts if not expresses them and is her own woman. First as a bookish twelve-year old (and many times since) I was thrilled to read Jane declare to Rochester:
” ‘I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion. ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, – as we are!’ “
And when tempted to become Rochester’s mistress, to think:
” “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane- quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot.’ “
Wuthering Heights is a strange and beautiful book but Jane Eyre is for this devoted reader at least, the one with more to say.
Whilst I’m on the subject of women sticking up for themselves, I’ve just finished Shannon Hale’s wonderful re-telling of a Grimm bothers fairy tale, The Goose Girl. Young adult fiction especially young adult fantasy is not my usual cup-of-tea, so I’m surprised to say I enjoyed this. It tells the story of Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isile, Crown Princess of Kildenree who finds herself betrayed and usurped in the foreign kingdom of Bayern and resorts to working as a goose-girl whilst trying to avoid her murderous pursuers and see justice done. It was sad, thrilling, funny and romantic and I look forward to reading the rest of Hale’s work.
In the meantime, I’ve started Things without a name by Joanne Fedler, which tells the story of 34 year old Faith Roberts, a legal counsellor in a woman’s crisis centre. Published this year, it has an awful women’s domestic fiction cover which as a literary snob I wouldn’t have picked up. However I read an interesting interview with Fedler where she described her own experiences as a legal counsellor at a woman’s centre in South Africa prior to migrating to Australia. As I hope to work in the public legal sector once I graduate, I decided to try this and see what I’m in for. So far, it’s a good if not uplifting read which I’m now off to continue.