Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Take That, Brontes

For some reason I thought I had done this review a while ago, and it's too bad I didn't because man, I had what to say on this :) Still do of course, but some of the rigor gets lost after a while, you know? Anyway, here's what I do have to say.  After all my children's ebooks,  I was ready to go on to something a little weightier - not too weighty of course.  Jane Austen was out, as I wouldn't want to sully my Austen experience with ebook reading (it's good enough for most anything else of course, don't get me wrong), but what about Jane Eyre? The Brontes certainly don't hold the same place in my heart... and their disdain of Austen hasn't endeared them to me of late either.   I've read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (I don't think any of the other ones) - the former I really didn't enjoy, though I thought it was very well written.  The latter I liked better, and I've even read it more than once I think, though not for a while.  It's certainly closer to a popular romance (haha Charlotte Bronte, don't you love that compliment? (smirk :)), which its myriad adaptions speak to, but it doesn't have any of the light, bright, sparkly-ness I so love and those Brontes so disdain (I get some of my ideas of the Brontes' opinion of JA from Austen paraliterature, it may be a little exaggerated, but I'm pretty sure they didn't think too highly of her). ANYWAY, I've always thought Jane Eyre was a good enough book in its way, certainly worthy of being re-read.

After re-reading... well I was definitely surprised. I mean it's well-written of course, a classic, no doubt about that.  But not only does the romance fail to enchant (which I always kind of felt, it's more creepy than delightful), the characters themselves are just not likeable - just not. Even Jane!  Mr Rochester, of course, we know to be an overbearing and peremptuous character, only redeemed by his love of our heroine. But our heroine... one would have thought her goodness and quiet charm an attraction.  In my mind (and I'm sure in the minds of many others), she's close to Fanny Price, the moral loner amongst a rich and spoiled crowd.  But that's not Jane Eyre at all - yes, she's a loner among the rich and spoiled (at least for parts of the book).  But moral? Well she's not a bad person - but she's not especially generous or loving, and admits to being spiteful and ill-natured.  I guess we are supposed to see her as human, like us, and not unnaturally angelic.  And of course, unnaturally angelic holds little charm for me either. But as we know, there are other authors perfectly capable of creating flawed characters who are eminently likeable (yes, you know who I mean :)) Whereas Jane Eyre, if she is meant to be liked at all, is to be liked because of her faults and not in spite of them.   And sorry, but I don't admire spitefulness, selfishness, coldness, or even self-abnegation.

So I didn't like the main characters. The story? I guess it's romantic in it's way, but not my type - obstacles of an external nature rather than good relationship angst (for the most part, I guess there is some angst but it's mostly on Jane's side and not Mr. Rochester's, and who wants that?).  What about what the Brontes apparently pride themselves on, on creating drama that moves the human spirit? (I guess that's what they try to do, since they ridicule JA's tales of ordinary life and mundane and meaningless).   The drama sure is there, no doubt about it.  But moving? Why is it moving? We have a unfortunate man and the stupid woman who loves him for nothing I can see, they unite after events that have a touch of the supernatural to them... I guess some people find this moving, but give me ordinary people, their ordinary trials, and the ordinary endings that feel extraordinary because we care so much about them.  In short... give me Jane Austen.

The Brontes have their fans of course (those adaptions again) and maybe some literary critics find their works to be of more significance, I don't know.  My new sil Shoshana said she loved Jane Eyre for some reason, and I think Dov's grandmother loves Wuthering Heights (and doesn't adore P&P, hmmph).  But I think (of course I do :)) that Jane's fame and renown have spread far beyond the B. sisters.  Literarily of course - Pretty sure P&P tops more lists of the greatest English novel than Wuthering Heights - and popularly even more so.  The Brontes might be inclined to dismiss this latter one - who cares what the masses think? - but that the masses 200 years after the fact are still in love with Austen speaks a lot to her universal appeal and continual relevance.  So there :)

Verdict: 3.5/5 (I mean, it's still a good book and all I guess)

(this seems to have lost little of its rigor despite the time that has passed :))

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