Ellen's Reviews > Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
2927182
's review
Jun 29, 10

bookshelves: novels, favorites
I own a copy, read count: many

[The picture disappeared which made the comments rather irrelevant.:]

description

…Oh course, Rush Limbaugh is nuts.

In December 2007, on a radio show with an audience of 14.5 million, Limbaugh asked this question about the former first lady's presidential prospects, after an incredibly unflattering picture of her had surfaced: "Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis? I want you to understand that I'm talking about the evolution of American culture here, and not so much Mrs Clinton," Limbaugh told his audience. "It could be anybody, and it's really not very complicated. Americans are addicted to physical perfection, thanks to Hollywood and thanks to television” (news.com.au).

Interestingly and at the same time, we have John McCain, another presidential prospect, who was 71 years old [11 years older than Hillary Clinton:]. Somehow this is different. Society has agreed that women age, and men grow more distinguished. Ah, bullshit. McCain looked plenty old and acted like an irrational coot.

However, the more important point is how little we've changed. Women still must be beautiful. And, for the most part, beautiful women still populate contemporary fiction. Consider how brave it was, then, for Charlotte Brontë to insist on a "plain" heroine. Brontë emphasizes Eyre's plainness as if challenging the reader to reject her. The impact of presenting such a heroine may be gauged by a male critic (a 19th century Limbaugh) in the Westminister Review (1858), who writes, "Possibly none of the frauds which are now so much the topic of common remark are so irritating, as that to which the purchaser of a novel is a victim on finding he has only to peruse a narrative of the conduct and sentiments of an ugly lady" (Showalter 123).

Despite ignoring the classic paradigm of either having a beautiful heroine or a heroine--ostensibly plain--who later "blooms," Brontë makes us forget that neither Jane nor Rochester are physically attractive. From the opening scene, Jane's personality dominants the horizon. Having endured the young master's abuse for some time, Jane strikes back and, as punishment for her passion, is banished to the red room. The room is chill, garish, and where Mr. Reed died. Jane's cries to be released are ignored, and she falls into unconsciousness.

Although Jane suffers no lasting harm, her thoughts before she is thrust into the room isolate well why her path will be harder than fate had dictated already:
I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child—though equally dependent and friendless—Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scapegoat of the nursery.

While beauty and its attendant charms would have made Jane’s life easier, it would have lessened her complexity as a character. Again and again, Jane cannot sit back and depend on the free pass beauty often accords, but must choose to give up or to fight her way through. Jane chooses to fight, and it is her passion, wit, and intelligence that make her an unforgettable heroine.
155 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Jane Eyre.
sign in »

Comments (showing 37-86)





message 86: by Ruth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruth I read this over and over when I was a kid. And a couple of readings after I was an adult. Love it.


Ellen Yes, the first time I read it was when I was in 8th or 9th grade, and I remember being riveted by the first few chapters and having to be kicked upstairs to go to bed. My mother used to spank me if she found a book and flashlight under my covers. The reading was worth the spankings.

I love this book as well, and owe it a more substantive review.


Hazel Well said, Ellen. Jane is a woman of character. How soon do you think I can introduce her to my niece? (She's six now.)


Ellen Hazel wrote: "Well said, Ellen. Jane is a woman of character. How soon do you think I can introduce her to my niece? (She's six now.)"

A lot depends on your niece, of course. I read this sometime in 7th, 8th or possibly 9th grade, but could have read it sooner, I think. On the other hand, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to be 11 or so to get the romantic nuances.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I think I read it at 12.


Stephen I liked the review, Ellen, but what's it got to do with Jane Eyre? You are making an entirely different statement. I think that is a weakness of GR, we have no place, other than our profile writing page, to put our opinions as they relate to expectations and how book either support, or bust up, those expectations.

Having said that and asked what's it got to do with Jane Eyre, I've provided you the platform. Preach on, Sister Woman! Yeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaw.


Ellen Stephen wrote: "I liked the review, Ellen, but what's it got to do with Jane Eyre? You are making an entirely different statement. I think that is a weakness of GR, we have no place, other than our profile writi..."

I don't think I'm making two different points at all, Stephen. In fictiondom and real life beautiful women fare better, and beauty--for women--does not equal age. Look at Palin. Dumb as rocks, but being taken seriously by certain contingent. Gee. I wonder why.

My point is that we're no better now than we were when Charlotte Bronte was writing. Without Bronte's talent, the book likely would have failed. And, for the record, despite the heroine's plainness being an essential part of the book, have you seen a film version of this where the female lead was ever plain? I haven't.


Stephen NO, and that is why I never watch film adaptations of great books. It was my expectation that there would be a review of Jane Eyre, and I was surprised by the discussion of beautiful women. In other words, I was read for a mind-bending, long read of a review from you about this masterpiece of literature.

In the same vein, how many plain dudes have played Rochester? Handsome men get the job over plain men. Yes, women get much worse treatment that way, but then again, when we go to the movie, do you want to see Steve Buscemi playing Rochester?


Ellen Stephen wrote: "NO, and that is why I never watch film adaptations of great books. It was my expectation that there would be a review of Jane Eyre, and I was surprised by the discussion of beautiful women. In ot..."

Oh, picky, picky. Beauty - in its inner and outer incarnations - is a major theme in Jane Eyre, a book I am treating here and have read many times.

I'm tinkering with a review on Clarissa that is ENTIRELY on topic and has no visuals. Will that be satisfactory :)?


Stephen OH Ellen, you know I just needed someone to talk to about something semi interesting on a Sunday night. You're usually good for a friendly argument. I was prepared to be the adversary, but ... alas. ;-)


Ellen Stephen wrote: "OH Ellen, you know I just needed someone to talk to about something semi interesting on a Sunday night. You're usually good for a friendly argument. I was prepared to be the adversary, but ... al..."

So adversar-y away. You take me way too seriously.


Stephen Ah, the wind is out of the sails now with that "picky picky beauty." Just for the hell of it though, I think that gypsy gimmick Rochester pulls is a low point in the book. I really do.


Ellen Stephen wrote: "Ah, the wind is out of the sails now with that "picky picky beauty." Just for the hell of it though, I think that gypsy gimmick Rochester pulls is a low point in the book. I really do."

Sorry. You'll get no argument here. I agree with you. It is hokey.


Stephen Also, is everyone on that MacBeth discussion on crack or something?


Ellen Stephen wrote: "Also, is everyone on that MacBeth discussion on crack or something?"

Naaah; it's critics on crack, not GoodReaders.


Stephen It does show what power Shakespeare still has over our imaginations, literature, and thinking. I've always wondered what would have emerged had Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson had been the same person. I know, strange, but I think about things like that.


message 70: by skein (new) - added it

skein While beauty and its attendant charms would have made Jane’s life easier, it would have lessened her complexity as a character.

I disagree - there isn't any reason to believe that ugliness forces an individual to develop depth of character, in real life or in Jane's case.
Unless you mean that she would be less interesting to readers if she were beautiful? But I've never found her plainness to be her most notable feature.


Lobstergirl Ellen wrote: "I'm tinkering with a review on Clarissa that is ENTIRELY on topic and has no visuals. Will that be satisfactory :)? "

Sure, as long as you include a jpeg of a puppy hanging from a clothesline somewhere in it.


Lobstergirl Stephen wrote: "In the same vein, how many plain dudes have played Rochester? Handsome men get the job over plain men. Yes, women get much worse treatment that way, but then again, when we go to the movie, do you want to see Steve Buscemi playing Rochester?"

Not especially. William Hurt played Rochester once, in an adaptation I didn't like. I've always found him unsightly, except for in Body Heat.


Lobstergirl Re the novel, I remember feeling quite disappointed when I found out how ugly Rochester was.

Re Hillary, I just finished a bio of Bill and he never considered marrying anyone else. He wanted a woman he could grow old with and never get bored of, who matched his intellect and ambitions. Has anyone ever expressed the same wish about Rush Limbaugh? Case closed.

Re McCain, he's always seemed old and crotchety, and it's exacerbated by the fact that he can't raise his arms above his shoulders which adds kind of a Frankenstein touch.


Ellen Lobstergirl wrote: "Ellen wrote: "I'm tinkering with a review on Clarissa that is ENTIRELY on topic and has no visuals. Will that be satisfactory :)? "

Sure, as long as you include a jpeg of a puppy hanging from a cl..."


...I think I'm being mocked :). I'll work in a litter of puppies.


Ellen Lobstergirl wrote: "Stephen wrote: "In the same vein, how many plain dudes have played Rochester? Handsome men get the job over plain men. Yes, women get much worse treatment that way, but then again, when we go to th..."

You might be in the minority - he's usually cast as a hunky guy.


Ellen Lobstergirl wrote: "Re the novel, I remember feeling quite disappointed when I found out how ugly Rochester was.

Re Hillary, I just finished a bio of Bill and he never considered marrying anyone else. He wanted a wo..."


Oh, you shallow hussy, LG - had to have the handsome hero, huh? We still have beauty & the beast, though, not the other way around.


Lobstergirl Ellen wrote: "Lobstergirl wrote: "Ellen wrote: "I'm tinkering with a review on Clarissa that is ENTIRELY on topic and has no visuals. Will that be satisfactory :)? "

Sure, as long as you include a jpeg of a p..."


Not mocking! I want to see photos of baby animals. Maybe a kitten nursing from a Doberman, or a gerbil napping with a chihuahua.


Ellen Not mocking! I want to see photos of baby animals. Maybe a kitten nursing from a Doberman, or a gerbil napping with a chihuahua.

I'll see what I can do...


Stephen I love both you crazy women. Lobstergirl for her wit and Ellen for her willingness to post puppies.


message 59: by trivialchemy (last edited Mar 01, 2010 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

trivialchemy I think you make an interesting point here, Ellen. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I was uncomfortable with Jane being plain. It actually caused some struggle for me as a reader. I found that despite this specification by Bronte, I would still picture in my mind a very pretty Jane Eyre as I read along. If I wanted to imagine in my mind according to Bronte's intent, I had to stop and force myself to consciously modify my mental imagery to make Jane plain. It never lasted long, however, and pretty Jane always crept back into the pictures in my mind, especially in passages in which her cleverness or desirability was otherwise (but non-physically) illustrated. I never had this problem with Rochester; he pretty much stayed consistent with his original physicalization.

Now, I think partly this is because Bronte's imagery is much more effective with respect to Rochester's physical appearance; the truth is we don't really hear a lot about what Jane looks like at all, while Rochester is always "brooding" with this great big forehead and dark eyebrows. But on the other hand, I think it illustrates that narrative convention is often more powerful than the narrator herself. What's the word that feminists always use? Something that means the circumvention or undermining of some norm. Well, I would agree that Bronte is doing that here, but it's remarkable just how little the liberally educated mind can actually handle of that.

For example, you could never have, say, a gender-reversed Beauty and the Beast. People would accept it perhaps, if she turned into a beautiful princess at the end, but you could never get your mind around the always-handsome prince loving her without knowing she would eventually transfigure. Which in fact is the whole point of the fairy tale. The princess falls in love with the beast, qua beast, and it is only an overture to the reader, and perhaps a renormalization of sexual necessity, that requires the transfiguration back to the prince-form. One might (with varying degrees of comfort) imagine a Beauty and the Beast in which the prince-beast never transfigures, but never a gender-reversed retelling of such.


Ellen Isaiah wrote: "I think you make an interesting point here, Ellen. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I was uncomfortable with Jane being plain. It actually caused some struggle for me as a reader. I found that de..."

Thanks for the interesting comments, and--despite the pains Bronte took to describe and re-describe Jane as plain--I know I willfully viewed her differently at times as well.

I agree with your assessment re Beauty and the Beast; it's doubtful there will ever be a reversal, and in the Disney version at least, the beast looked more lovable than beastly. The closest I've seen to a reversal is Shrek where the princess does not revert to her beautiful sense but to her true sense, the orgre.

It's interesting, though, how embedded the beautiful heroine is in our consciousness. And when she isn't beautiful initially we anticipate the iconic transformation scene.


Stephen And so what? Fiction is our fantasy world of anything, even plain Jane's, but our lives are filled with plainness, why should we want to read about plain people?

Does this issue actually bother women?


Ellen Stephen wrote: "And so what? Fiction is our fantasy world of anything, even plain Jane's, but our lives are filled with plainness, why should we want to read about plain people?

Does this issue actually bother w..."


Well, I'm not sitting up worrying about it, but why is it so important for women to be attractive - in fiction or otherwise. Men don't need to be. Palin wouldn't have lasted past the Couric interviews - if that - if she weren't a MILF (now a GILF).

I'd argue that it's less important for the fictional male to be a hottie than it is for the woman.


Stephen Well for me I want the male to be a hottie, or at least blond.

I'm starting to think I should write gay romances.


message 54: by Ben (last edited Mar 01, 2010 01:21PM) (new) - added it

Ben Ellen wrote: "I'd argue that it's less important for the fictional male to be a hottie than it is for the woman."

I agree Ellen, and I would add that this kind of societal mindset can easily have a negative effect on the psyche of young females, and that these effects could possibly carry on into adulthood.


Stephen Ben! I have to call you either a suck up, or someone who has been hanging out with Natalie way too long. :-)


message 52: by Ben (new) - added it

Ben Natalie makes a lot of sense on these issues; I admit she's influencing me - as is Margaret, and some of the reading I've done recently. It's important stuff.


Stephen It's fiction. But I will not enter this argument. I was trying to provoke Ellen for an afternoon round, but she's not playing.


message 50: by Ben (last edited Mar 01, 2010 01:39PM) (new) - added it

Ben Stephen wrote: "It's fiction. But I will not enter this argument. I was trying to provoke Ellen for an afternoon round, but she's not playing."

I know your argument is that it's an escape, and I don't disagree with that, but one shouldn't think that things that are fictional can't have a strong influence. It's not to say that an artist should change his or her fiction, but certainly it's admirable when one does go against the grain as apparently Bronte has done here. Also, it's worth noting these things and trying to figure out the roots and causes: the more aware we are, the healthier we are.


message 49: by Bram (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bram Mmmm...good stuff here. I need to read this and test myself to see if I can consistently picture a plain Jane.


Stephen That sounds like gender studies. And there is nothing wrong with gender studies. Personally, I picture the characters in a book only vaguely by their description. It is what they do that makes me see them, if that makes sense.

All of nature is programmed to respond to beauty, which admittedly, is in the eye of the beholders, but we are programmed that way.


message 47: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I've read a B&B retelling where the Beast was the female and didn't change back. It was a short story in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword&Sorceress collections. I don't remember all the details...the Beast maintained beautiful gardens to have a place where beautiful people could gather. She fell in love with Beauty, a young man, who loved her back. In the end I think she was dying and she didn't change physically, but part of her beauty was the power of her mind (magic? illusion?) or something like that.


Natalie ... I heard that my name was being taken in vain in here?


Natalie The best part about that film was an interview Paltrow gave about wearing the fat suit.

Actually, the best part is that Jack Black and Jason Alexander aren't exactly paragons of slender virtue.


Ellen Elizabeth wrote: "So, there is the film Shallow Hal, while pretty terrible, it does talk about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and the woman is the one who is unattractive. The best part about that film wa..."

I have a very candid, rather awful (actually) friend who's referred to her husband as a "trophy husband." He's handsome and successful (but only a few years younger), which to her mind, fits the bill. She's made it clear to me that, no matter how bad things get, she won't give up her trophy husband because, as she put it, she's "worked too hard." I find that pretty appalling.


Ellen Natalie wrote: "The best part about that film was an interview Paltrow gave about wearing the fat suit.

Actually, the best part is that Jack Black and Jason Alexander aren't exactly paragons of slender virtue."


And isn't that the truth. Imagine the reverse ever occurring...


Stephen Natalie wrote: "... I heard that my name was being taken in vain in here?"

Oh, you did, you did. hehehe


Stephen Elizabeth wrote: "So, there is the film Shallow Hal, while pretty terrible, it does talk about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and the woman is the one who is unattractive. The best part about that film wa..."

That's very interesting about how Jane sees herself as opposed to how she might actually look. One of the first things I learn in lit. is there is no such thing as an innocent narrator.


Stephen Do you see Ellen? When you and I get kicking on a thread, things happen.


Ellen Stephen wrote: "Do you see Ellen? When you and I get kicking on a thread, things happen."

...Except that you're kicking, and I'm being my usual genteel self.


trivialchemy Isn't the male equivalent of the trophy wife the rich husband? Man=moneybag, woman=sexpot, right?

Which is actually funny, now that I think about it, because Rochester was certainly a wealthy man.


message 37: by Ellen (last edited Mar 01, 2010 03:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ellen Isaiah wrote: "Isn't the male equivalent of the trophy wife the rich husband? Man=moneybag, woman=sexpot, right?

Which is actually funny, now that I think about it, because Rochester was certainly a wealthy man."


But that's remedied by the ending. Rochester is diminished somewhat and Jane has inherited some money, so in many ways, they are now equals, which fits this atypical novel well, I think.


« previous 1
back to top