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Archives 2011 Group Reads > "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte--Volume the First--Part 1--Chapters I-V (May 15-21)

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message 1: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
I am putting up the folder for the first part of our eight-part group read and discussion of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre". The group read of the novel starts on Sunday, May 15th. I am really looking forward to reading this with all of you too. Enjoy!


message 2: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1874 comments Listened to Chapters 1-3 on the way home from the simulcast of Wagner's Das Walkure. Since I am one of those rare birds who has never been particularly fond of the writings of the Bronte sisters, it will be interesting how this this all shakes out.


message 3: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 01:03AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Ah Das Walkure is particularly good for a walk across the moors Lily! All that Sturm und Drang is very appropriate:).

There is Storm and Stress in Chapter 1 too when Jane's cousin John picks up her book, Bewick's History of British Birds, and throws it at her and she falls over and hits her head on the floor! This book, with its 'sublime' images of various landscapes, has particular relevance to the writing of JE, as explained in my Background stuff post 4. Here is something about the Sublime aesthetic movement:

http://www.victorianweb.org/philosoph...

(I can't get the Wikipedia link on Sublime-British philosophy to work but it is worth reading as it is relevant to the style of writing employed by the Brontes and others during this period.)

There is more stress as Jane is locked in the gothic 'red room', with its gothic bed: 'supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth...' This paragraph is of great portent...., red being a colour which signifies many things in Victorian literature...

Jane is ten when the novel opens and this chapter is one of the earliest acounts in English fiction given by a child from a child's point of view. It is actually related in retrospect by a mature Jane but it provides us with an insight into Jane's childish thoughts and feelings. After her 'fit' at the end of Chapter 2 she is treated less like a child and more as a young, delicate woman, thereby conforming to the Victorian stereotype - this could be said to be the beginning of her bildungsroman.

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/...


message 4: by Christopher (last edited May 15, 2011 07:54AM) (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
It always tears me up something fierce reading these first few chapters of Jane's early life with the Reeds at Gateshead. It is just agonizing seeing these monstrous people treat a ten-year old little girl in such a fashion.

Madge, you are absolutely right too about the Gothic nature of this opening part of the novel. When poor little Jane is 'imprisoned' in the Red Room and see what she's believes is the ghost of her Uncle, but it intrigued me that her thoughts seem to indicate that she believed that her Uncle still might care about her and that--
"Mr Reed's spirit, harassed by the wrongs of his sister's child, might quit its abode--whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the departed--and rise before me in this chamber. I wiped my tears and hushed my sobs; fearful lest any sign of violent grief might waken a preternatural voice to comfort me, or elicit from the gloom some haloed face, bending over me with strange pity."
Now, how Gothic is this? Wow! This is some pretty deep psychological stuff--i.e., that this little girl feels guilty in that because she's a 'bad' little girl that it might somehow wrench a spirit unwillingly from beyond the grave back to this place and to her.

Having read Juliet Barker's account of the young Bronte childrens' formative years in Haworth, I have to think that this is a reflection of the imaginative and creative talents that were begun with all of the little stories written by the children about their imaginary worlds and peoples. Also, one could imagine that the Red Room scene could have easily been influenced by her having grown up a fan of Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.


message 5: by Amalie (new)

Amalie Christopher wrote: "When poor little Jane is 'imprisoned' in the Red Room and see what she's believes is the ghost of her Uncle, ..."

I'll be joining this discussion because I absolutely love the Bronte sisters and Jane Eyre being one of my favourite Victorian novels; not to mention that I teach an abridged version of the novel for my grade 7 students as a part of their literature lessons ;) but sadly I've not touched the full version in at least years so I kind a don't remember some parts in detail. This will be the time to refresh my memory.

Yes, the opening definitely has a touch of Gothic elements. I've read several of Bronte biographies and now I kind a understand that these ladies didn't fear the idea ghosts. Growing at a parsonage near a cemetary may have removed Charlotte's fear of ghosts, death etc. So I think it's ok for little Jane to not to be feared by the idea so much as it would be to any other child.

The weather as we all know plays a vital role in the plot and the action and gives the reader an added dimension which helps us to understand the characters.

One thing always takes me by surprise every time I read these chapters is how the young Jane refuses to be dominated by John. She not only recognizes him for the bully that he is and at a such a young age she is able to recognize the unjust. I think Jane is THE strongest female Victorian character, and one of the most admired all time.


message 6: by Christopher (last edited May 15, 2011 09:08AM) (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Also, I think it worth pointing out that I don't believe that the experiences of Jane at Gateshead were in any way reflective of Charlotte's own childhood. As most of you are aware, Charlotte's mother died in 1821, when Charlotte was about five years old. From all indications, Charlotte and her brother and sisters were well loved and cared for by her father and her mother's sister, Aunt Branwell. It seems that the children were, all in all, happy, playful, and fairly well-adjusted little children growing up in the parsonage on the moors.

I think Amalie makes an interesting observation about Charlotte's impressions of ghosts, etc. Her father performed something like 100-120 funerals per year servicing his parishioners in the Haworth region. Death and dying must have been a relatively common occurrence (and still is) that the children would have been exposed to on a nearly daily basis.

I also agree with Amalie about how courageous little Jane was in standing up to the relentless torment and bullying of her cousin, John Reed. Personally, I think I'd have bashed him with something bigger than my fist. What a creep he was!


message 7: by Christina (new)

Christina (ChristinaLC) | 18 comments Yes, these opening chapters are incredibly Gothic. I was in Haworth last September, and I can feel that atmosphere in these early pages. The cemetery is very close to the parsonage (just to the side of the small front yard), so I can see that the Bronte children must have had many thoughts--even conflicting thoughts--about death and spirits. I'm sure this will sound strange, but it is almost an intimate setting. I can see the basis for Jane's thought that her uncle could still care about her. The Bronte children grew up with newly-buried dead people very close to their front door. I think this must have given them a unique view of the integration of life and death.

I agree with Christopher's comment on the influence of Shelley. The description of the Red Room felt very much like Romantic verse to me.


message 8: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 10:37AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments That is an excellent point about the proximity of the churchyard to the parsonage Christina, and one which I was going to make myself. This, together with the ever present nearness of death because of the mortality rates in Victorian times, would be enough to make anyone dream about spirits and ghosts:-

'In 1849 the [Haworth] graveyard being overcrowded and badly drained was affecting the already poor sanitation in Haworth, Patrick Bronte requested that improvements be made regarding sanitation. Benjamin Herschel Babbage (son of Charles Babbage the Mathematician) visited Haworth and recorded the facilities for the General Board of Health. His report published in 1850 described the sanitation as being poor to the public health, with inadequate fresh water facility. It stated that 41.6% of children in Haworth died before the age of 6, average life expectancy was 24. The diaries from the school history are testament to the poor health of the children; smallpox, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever are mentioned frequently as are the deaths of the children.

There were 69 privies in the whole village, one to every 4½ houses. Some people drank from water contaminated from open drains. Many of the houses were damp due to backing on to higher ground that was continually seeping water from higher up. There were many cases of typhus, dysentery, smallpox and consumption.'

Here is a photo showing how near the parsonage was to the graveyard:-

http://martingoodman.com/soyouwanttob...

Add this daily (and nightly) view to the visions conjured up by the gothic novels of the day and Jane's lurid impressions can well be understood!

(I will put a poetic tribute to the Bronte sisters by Matthew Arnold, which is about the churchyard, in Poem for the Day.


message 9: by Georgie (new)

Georgie | 107 comments Elaine Showalter has given the red room an interesting feminist reading saying that it is essentially "female inner space' and “with its deadly and bloody connotations, its Freudian wealth of secret compartments, wardrobes, drawers, and jewel chest, the red-room has strong associations with the adult female body”. She says that Jane's trauma in the room represents an "emotional menarche".
Whether you go for this or not, it is the first of many scenes of female confinement in the novel which Jane deals with by escaping - either through the British Book of Birds or gazing out of the window. Her defiant spirit is so clear in these early chapters also with her "Speak I must" showing that she'll only submit for so long before digging her heels in.


message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
What a beautiful photograph, Madge! I love the composition, and the late and very golden light is gorgeous. Can you imagine being a little girl (with a vivid imagination) and looking out of your window onto that scene, day in and day out? Thanks for sharing!

I also remember reading about the results of the Babbage survey in Barker's book too. Truly appalling conditions. Not dissimilar, I suppose, to conditions being portrayed in the Ridings in the 1930s in the wonderful BBC production "South Riding" now being shown on my local PBS television station.


message 11: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 10:36AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I am not so sure that the Brontes had the pleasant childhood which Christopher envisages. I have read a number of accounts about their father being melancholic and violent. Here is one such piece:-

http://female-ancestors.com/daughters...

I therefore think it is likely that some of the childhood unhappiness they all wrote about is drawn from their own experiences:(.


message 12: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
And, yes, Madge, please do put up the Arnold poem. I look forward to reading it!


message 13: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "I am not so sure that the Brontes had the pleasant childhood which Christopher envisages. I have read a number of accounts about their father being melancholic and violent. Here is one such piece:-..."

You certainly could be correct, Madge. Although Ms. Barker goes to great lengths to dispel that notion. She was of the opinion that the genesis of that idea was from Charlotte's best friend, Ellen Nussey, who'd gotten cross-wise with Patrick Bronte in later years, and then 'fabricated' or 'embellished' elements of Charlotte's childhood to make Patrick look like an uncaring and unloving father. Barker maintains that there is little to no evidence supporting that belief. I suppose though that we'll never really know.


message 14: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Georgie wrote: "Elaine Showalter has given the red room an interesting feminist reading saying that it is essentially "female inner space' and “with its deadly and bloody connotations, its Freudian wealth of secre..."

Georgie, how fascinating! This makes some sense to me, now that I've read what you've posted. I shall certainly read even more attentively as we move forward looking for more instances like this.


message 15: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I love that interpretation Georgie - it certainly rings a bell with me!

Chris: I have read Juliet Barker but somehow there is so much unhappiness in their novels, so much disease around, alcoholism too (and that dress was so tiny), that I cannot but think there was unhappiness and deprivation in the home too.


message 16: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "I love that interpretation Georgie - it certainly rings a bell with me!

Chris: I have read Juliet Barker but somehow there is so much unhappiness in their novels, so much disease around, alcoholis..."


You may very well be correct, Madge. One, of course, would like to think that these little girls were well-loved and nurtured, but that is the father in me. I am pragmatic enough to realize that a lot of children have had some truly miserable experiences growing up.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Christopher wrote: "It always tears me up something fierce reading these first few chapters of Jane's early life with the Reeds at Gateshead. It is just agonizing seeing these monstrous people treat a ten-year old li..."

I have a somewhat different perspective coming soon which you may (or may not) find interesting.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Christopher wrote: "MMs. Barker goes to great lengths to dispel that notion. She was of the opinion that the genesis of that idea was from Charlotte's best friend, Ellen Nussey, who'd gotten cross-wise with Patrick Bronte in later years, and then 'fabricated' or 'embellished' elements of Charlotte's childhood to make Patrick look like an uncaring and unloving father."

Interesting. This idea of fabricating or embellishing an otherwise happier childhood to make it look unhappy is something I will soon talk about as a possible explanation for the gloomy opening chapters of the book. I'm glad you brought this idea into play!


message 19: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments I mentioned earlier that I had recently taken a different approach to Jane Eyre in my most recent visit to the work. A bit of background on this before I get into the details.
This arose from a confluence of several events earlier this year. One was the Proceedings I had received of a Family Law conference I hadn’t been able to attend which included a track on memory and recollections of family members undergoing legal proceedings. Every family law attorney knows that different family members in a custody or divorce proceeding will see events in very different ways. The conference included a presentation based on the work of Elizabeth Loftus, an expert in memory who was a prof for my law school course on trial advocacy. The upshot of her work and that of other experts in memory studies are that a) memory is malleable, b) totally false memories can be created and completely believed in, and c) a false memory and a true memory are treated identically in the brain, so that if a person has created a false memory, it is impossible without extrinsic evidence to know whether the memory is true or false. (This is different from intentional knowing lying.)
At about the same time I attended a family gathering including several aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces. I decided to see whether all this was also true in families not undergoing divorce, adoption, custody, or other legal proceedings. The short answer is that different family members remembered certain events in vastly different ways, so that sometimes it was hard to believe that they were describing the same event.
Also at about the same time, a special focus on Jane Eyre arising from the new film was pushed on Goodreads. I skimmed the early chapters of the book, realizing that it was all reported from the memory and perspective of an adult Jane bringing forth her recollections of what happened when she was much younger, and began to wonder how accurate her memory was, and how the other people involved, including Mrs. Reed, Bessie, the other Reed children, Mr. Brocklehurst, the teachers and students at Lowood, and others might have reported the events if they had been interviewed for the book.
When I began to re-read the book with this perspective, some very interesting points arose, which are what I will share as the discussion goes on. Not everyone here will agree with my approach or my observations; if so, disregard them. Some may find them of interest or worth discussing,


message 20: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I seem to remember that you bought Juliet Barker's book when we were reading JE with B&N Everyman?


message 21: by Everyman (last edited May 15, 2011 03:29PM) (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Christopher raised two interesting points I would like to consider in the context of my approach to the book.

First, that "It is just agonizing seeing these monstrous people treat a ten-year old little girl in such a fashion."

Second, that Juliet Barker, the Bronte biographer he likes, is "as of the opinion that the genesis of that idea [of an unhappy Bronte home] was from Charlotte's best friend, Ellen Nussey, who'd gotten cross-wise with Patrick Bronte in later years, and then 'fabricated' or 'embellished' elements of Charlotte's childhood to make Patrick look like an uncaring and unloving father. Barker maintains that there is little to no evidence supporting that belief."

So I ask the question, was Jane Eyre also fabricating or embellishing elements of her childhood to make the Reeds look line and uncaring, unloving, and in Christopher's term monstrous family?

Let's look lat the opening paragraphs. We start right out with Jane acknowledging that she doesn't like the walks which are apparently a standard part of the family routine (and probably represent the only exercise those children got, since there was no little league baseball, no school sports, no other physical activity which all parents recognize is important for happy and healthy children.) So she establishes herself as probably uncooperative and unpleasant about those outings, and one can wonder whether also about other family activities and practices. She also carries with her an inferiority complex, at least as far as her physical condition is concerned. She seems to prefer seeing herself as an outcast, what most teachers today would probably consider a fairly unpleasant and uncooperative child, with what my teacher-wife calls a "poor little me" complex.

The family is sitting around the fire enjoying a happy family time. It seems clear that Bessie has reported something Jane has said or done that at the very least is not reflective of a happy and cheerful child. So Mrs. Reed tells her to go somewhere to get out of her sulk and can "speak pleasantly."

Is this unreasonable? I don't see it as such. Why should the happy family circle be ruined by a sulky, unpleasant acting child? I think many parents -- I know I have -- have had occasions when one child (this is a ten year old, not an infant; she should know better) was being sulky and negative and preventing the rest of the family from having a nice time together, to go to their room or elsewhere until they're ready to come join in the fun. Most children take that positively and decide it is better to get over their sulk and join the family. But not Jane. It is entirely up to her to change her attitude, at which point Mrs. Reed seems quite willing to have her come back and enjoy the privileges intended for contented, happy,
little children. It is Jane's actions which keep her from that fireside; it is her choice whether to go off alone or stop being so moody and negative and wanting to spoil the nice time the rest of the family is enjoying.

Is Mrs. Reed monstrous? In my view, not at all. She is acting like a very responsible, appropriate parent faced with three children who want to enjoy a happy time and one whose has chosen an attitude which would cast a dark cloud of unhappiness over the whole group. She sends Jane off to "time out" to do an attitude adjustment. This is totally in like with the most appropriate and liberally approved modern parenting practices.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I seem to remember that you bought Juliet Barker's book when we were reading JE with B&N Everyman?"

No. I've never seen or read it.


message 23: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 04:52PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I see you have not changed your opinion about Jane being an undesirable character with mental problems, as defined by your wife. Another contrarian viewpoint we can all now enjoy.

We cannot know whether the ten year old Jane is embellishing or fabricating her unhappy childhood. To some extent we all embellish and fabricate aspects of our lives. In he novel's terms we have no reason as yet to think that Jane is lying.

Jane is described as 'plain'. It is not unusual for girls to be sensitive if they are not attractive and in a society where beauty was prized in a wife, it could be a severe handicap. She is also constantly reminded that she is an interloper, 'a dependent', with no rights: '...you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama's expense.' That is enough to make any child resentful.

Jane says she had never 'liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: 'dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes.' I certainly did not like long walks on chilly and frosty afternoons either! Did you when you were in England as a child? She preferred reading, as did I and as I suspect did you: 'I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk;and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.' I too would have found that blissful at the age of ten.

She was not sitting with the other children by the fireside, around Mrs Reed, because she had been 'dispensed from joining the group' and we do not learn why, although she asks. She therefore chooses to go to a corner behind a curtain and read - much as I would have done, bearing in mind that away from the fireplace rooms were cold in those days. She says she was happy there and we have only bully John's word for it that she was 'a mope'.

Is reading 'moping' as John alleged and is it an excuse for his cruel behaviour? He summoned her and [thrust] out his tongue at me as far as he could without damaging the roots......all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly.' After abusing her further about her dependency the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp. She retaliated with by fighting back, calling him wicked and a slave driver, then 'he [grasped] my hair and my shoulder...I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck.' (I have emboldened these passages because I feel you did appreciate the 'monstrous' bullying they contained.)

Jane was then accused of flying at John like a 'fury', even though he had attacked her first and threw a book at her and 'bullied and punished her...continually'. She was sent to the red room. She was locked in a dark room and tied to a chair - is this what modern American teachers like your wife do to children? I think not! There was no punishment for John who had injured her enough to draw blood and caused her to become unconscious, whereupon a doctor had to be called. This is rather a different story to the one you tell but it is borne out by the text, which your remarks are not. All we know of Jane's disposition is that Mrs Reed wanted her to 'acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner--something lighter, franker, more natural' and that, like ourselves at that age, she loves reading.

Like Chris, I consider it 'monstrous' and 'unreasonable' to have a child locked in a room and tied to a chair! And monstrous and unreasonable to let a son bully a child in her care. Is this really a modern parenting practice in the US?? It certainly makes Mrs Reed monstrous in my eyes, then and now.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "We cannot know whether the ten year old Jane is embellishing or fabricating her unhappy childhood."

That's true. But we can look at the behaviors she describes for others, and see whether we think these make sense, whether the way she describes them are the way a person in that situation would be likely to act, or not. And we can see whether we agree with the way she interprets acts, or whether it appears that her interpretation of it is not the way a reasonable person would interpret the act.

It will be an interesting journey together! But you and I, I think, should be careful not to over-dominate the discussion with too many back-and-forths, since that has been a complaint made in the past. It may be necessary for each of us from time to time to let go of comments we might have in our minds about things the other has said.

This is not intended to censor either one of us, but just to suggest that sensitivity to keeping an active discussion of all participants may be something to keep in mind.

However, I must comment that in quoting her description of the episode with John, which I had not gotten to yet in my comments, you assume that she is accurately reporting the incident. I make no such assumption, but intend to examine the passage with care to see whether it seems to be an accurate report or a faulty memory vastly overstating a quite ordinary little spat between children such as all parents see happen from time to time.


message 25: by Christopher (last edited May 15, 2011 04:51PM) (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
I have to say that at this juncture I stand by my earlier statement that, in my opinion, the Reeds--mother and children--are "monstrous". Mrs Reed exhibits behavior that I believe any reasonable adult would define as physically and psychologically abusive and mean-spirited.

I will endeavor to look more carefully at the text, Everyman, to see if I can discern whether "...Jane Eyre [was] also fabricating or embellishing elements of her childhood..." as she tells her story.


message 26: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 05:13PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Everyman wrote: a quite ordinary little spat between children such as all parents see happen from time to time.

Are you telling me that if you saw a spat between your children/grandchldren which drew blood, caused unconsciousness and necessitated the calling of a doctor, you would not punish the child which incurred that injury and would not think it, if not 'monstrous', cruel? At this point, we have to take Jane's word for this description of her injuries and the calling of the doctor or the novel's beginning does not make sense at all and we might as well dismiss everything everyone says!

But I take your point about toing and froing.


message 27: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 05:20PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Chris wrote: I have to say that at this juncture I stand by my earlier statement that, in my opinion, the Reeds--mother and children--are "monstrous"

We also have to bear in mind that Jane is only ten and that she is an orphan living without any maintenance in her aunt's house, which is likely to cause resentment in the family because it means less money for the other children, fewer clothes and toys perhaps. She deserves pity not bullying and name-calling.

BTW I know that being tied to a chair was a common punishment in those days and in not so distant times too. I remember one of my my inlaws in Trinidad suggesting that my two-year old grand-daughter have her hands tied behind a chair to stop her sucking her thumb! It is still a monstrous idea and not IMO something done by kind people who like children.

I very much look forward to other readers opinions on these incidents and to some discussion about the significance of the red room before we move on.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Are you telling me that if you saw a spat between your children/grandchldren which drew blood, caused unconsciousness and necessitated the calling of a doctor, you would not punish the child which incurred that injury and would not think it, if not 'monstrous', cruel? "

I will get to that passage in my considered analysis of the book. I do not take Jane's unsupported word for what actually happened, but will examine all the actions of all the people in context to see whether her account appears to be consistent with how an objective third person would more likely than not have described the incident. That is the general test I am planning to apply to this reading. Not believing Jane's account outright, but looking at all the facts and evidence available, including what we can infer from what we are told about the nature and actions of all the people involved, and see whether that might lead and how an objective observer might have seen the situation and events.


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I very much look forward to other readers opinions on these incidents and to some discussion about the significance of the red room before we move on.
"


It's only day one of this section!


message 30: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 06:15PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I will get to that passage in my considered analysis of the book.

It is the second chapter of the book!

how an objective observer might have seen the situation and events.

Not taking Jane's word from the outset is not being objective. Assuming immediately that she has an 'inferiority complex', is 'unpleasant' and 'uncooperative', is not being objective. You are rewriting the novel. Treating Jane as an unreliable narrator is all well and good but you have to read further than Chapter 1 to reach such conclusions. In terms of literary analysis, characters need to be proved to be unreliable, not assumed to be so from the third paragraph. Jane is narrating this as an adult, not as a child, and as an adult she deserves to be treated as truthful until she is proved otherwise. As in life.

http://www.poewar.com/john-hewitt%E2%...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/...

However, I expect you again enjoy winding everyone up over this very popular Bronte novel. I must remember to do the same thing when we next discuss a Jane Austen.


message 31: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Georgie: I wonder if you could tell us something more about Elaine Showalter's analysis re the 'female space' of the red room?


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Not taking Jane's word from the outset is not being objective."

On the contrary, it indeed is. Not automatically disbelieving it, but not taking it unquestioningly at face value either. Taking a Voltarian approach of "question everything." Look at all the evidence.

This is what any competent professional does, whether an attorney interviewing a witness, a counselor working with a client, a teacher advising a student, a parent dealing with a child who may have done something wrong, or a researcher researching political issues. "I understand that this is how you see and describe the situation, and that's a starting point, but I need to look more deeply into it to get the full picture." It's an incompetent professional who just takes whatever a person says at face value without subjecting it to any test of reasonability, consistency with other known facts or normal human behaviors, etc.

I understand clearly that you are not a fan of this approach. That's fine If you want to just take everything Jane says about herself and how she is treated as gospel, that's your choice. It's not my approach to this reading. Others may or may not find my approach of interest; if they don't, it's easy enough to scroll on down the page or pass on to the next post.


Frankly, I'm less interested in whether people agree with my conclusions as I am with their thoughts on the process: whether they think what I am offering is a possible option to just straight-out believing every word Jane utters, and whether, whether they agree with the end point I reach or not, they find the process I use in getting there to be one of the many possible feasible approaches to the text.


message 33: by Everyman (last edited May 15, 2011 05:58PM) (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Jane is narrating this as an adult, not as a child, and as an adult she deserves to be treated as truthful until she is proved otherwise.."

That may be your point of view. It isn't mine. I won't impose mine on you, and I won't let you impose yours on me.


message 34: by Christopher (last edited May 15, 2011 06:06PM) (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Alright, let us do and try and tone down the rhetoric here, folks. Let us do our best to discuss issues and points in a sensible and respectful fashion, leaving innuendo and invective by the wayside.

Everyman, I know for a fact that you are not this contrary and argumentative in your Western Canon group here on Goodreads, and I am somewhat baffled in that you choose to be so here in this particular group. One would suppose that--somehow and some way--personality enters into the equation in your doings here. If you don't believe me, please spend some time reviewing the threads in your own group--I have. It truly is inexplicable.


message 35: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 06:23PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Sorry Chris:(. This is one of my favourite novels based in my home county, and one which I have done a lot of (probably incompetent) research into so I am probably being too personal about it - having sympathy for another Yorkshirewoman and all that (both character and author). I am not, incidentally, believing every word Jane utters, just, for the time being, the story she tells at the commencement of the novel (Chaps 1/2) which has been referred to. As this is a bildungsroman, I expect things to change.


message 36: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Madge, you have absolutely nothing whatsoever to apologize for. You are a positive and incredibly beneficial presence here in this group. Please, please do not abandon us, or this group read of "Jane Eyre". I know how much you love this book.

As one of the moderators of this group, it is my responsibility to ensure that order and civility are maintained. I will not let this group read and discussion be diverted or hijacked. I want any and all who wish to participate to feel safe and comfortable in doing so. Cheers! Chris


message 37: by Georgie (new)

Georgie | 107 comments Jane is giving us her autobiography by addressing the reader many times throughout the text and while I suppose any first person narrative is subjective and therefore open to scrutiny, there isn't anything in the story that would make me question her truthfulness. I've just read Atonement and McEwan, I think, has placed a few inconsistencies and lapses of memory within the story so ultimately we wonder at the end if any of it is true. Surely any "true" story that is constructed by a writer is questionable? McEwan gives the reader concrete evidence to doubt the narrator; does Bronte?


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Christopher wrote: "Everyman, I know for a fact that you are not this contrary and argumentative ..."

I am not intending to be argumentative or contrary. I am trying to offer a different approach to reading the novel. I have read the novel several times, as I know at least some others here have, and wanted to take a different approach to just reading it one more time in the usual "I believe everything she says" mode.

I don't see any of my initial posts (18 and 21) as being contrary or argumentative -- did you see them that way? I felt that the responses to them were assertive and less than supportive, and I may have responded in kind -- if those were seen as argumentative, I'm sorry. I suppose when one is trying out a new approach and it gets firmly stomped on out of the gate there is a natural tendency to defend oneself which could be viewed as argumentative, though I don't think I was more so than my interlocutor.


message 39: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Christopher -- I think perhaps it would be advisable for you or me to open a separate topic within the Jane Eyre forum for "an alternate approach to reading Jane Eyre" or some similar title. Then it would not get mixed up with the other posts, those who don't like my experiment would more easily be able to ignore it, and those who were interested in it would have an opportunity to discuss the approach without the posts getting intermingled with the main thread.

I don't open topics in other moderators' groups without permission, but if you think this would be good way to maintain a more peaceable environment, I would be glad to open (if a non-moderator can open one) or have you open such a topic.


message 40: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2011 07:21PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Perhaps you could start such a thread in your Western Canon group Everyman? I believe JE, as an EngLit classic, is part of that canon?


message 41: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 2086 comments Mod
Christopher wrote: "Also, I think it worth pointing out that I don't believe that the experiences of Jane at Gateshead were in any way reflective of Charlotte's own childhood. As most of you are aware, Charlotte's mo..."

Because death was more common then and most likely occurred at home, it was more accepted as part of life and less mystifying than it is today. Things like that we now cure with antibiotics killed you then. Childbirth or pregnancy could kill you too. It would seem very natural to a victorian child to see a dead family member than a child of today.


message 42: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 2086 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "Christopher raised two interesting points I would like to consider in the context of my approach to the book.

First, that "It is just agonizing seeing these monstrous people treat a ten-year old ..."


I have to disagree here. Jane has lost all of her family, with the exception of the Reeds. You indicate she doesn't like the walks. Are we told why? Maybe her shoes don't fit and it's painful? Isn't somebody who has lost a family allowed to grieve or must they always be part of a "happy family".

Also I don't see the servants reporting to Mrs. Reed the bad behavior of her natural children. Just because you may be paranoid does not mean that somebody is not out to get you.


message 43: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Everyman, at this point I don't think 'we' need to open a separate "Jane Eyre Alternative Viewpoint" thread. All I'm asking is that we just tone down the back-and-forth and keep it respectful and focused on the novel and not on individuals participating in the discussions. Frankly, I really do not want to clutter this thread up with any more of this; so, if additional clarification is required, please feel free to send me a note and I will expatiate. Thank you!


message 44: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 2086 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "I see you have not changed your opinion about Jane being an undesirable character with mental problems, as defined by your wife. Another contrarian viewpoint we can all now enjoy.

We cannot kn..."


I am definitely relating to this way too personally so excuse that in me please. I had a challenging childhood (I'm being kind). My brother basically walked on water. He could do hit me or tease me without punishment. If I fought back, I was immediately punished because "I was the oldest and should know better". The result - I grew up to be a painfully shy person without any confidence and way too my conscience. My brother - he can be a nasty piece of work and is self-center without a conscience.

Not seeing that this Jane's fault, but rather the adults in her life. In regards to Eman's memory comments. I've talked with my sister about her memories of childhood. She is 10 yrs younger than I and came at a better time of life for my parents. Still her memories are not good. Completely different from mine to a point where you would think we were raised in two different households. I don't know that memory is so malleable, but everything we experience in our lives are interpreted by our brains and our experiences. Each one of us is different and affected differently by circumstances. Couldn't it just be we bring different eyes to the same situation?


message 45: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Georgie wrote: "Jane is giving us her autobiography by addressing the reader many times throughout the text and while I suppose any first person narrative is subjective and therefore open to scrutiny, there isn't ..."

Very well put, Georgie, and I completely agree about McEwan. I can't read him any more. I've read 4-5 of his novels, and they make me crazy. "Atonement" is a novel that comes the closest to actually making me want to reach into a novel and physically maim one of the main protagonists. I still maintain that McEwan has a bit of a 'screw loose'.

In answering your question, "Does Bronte give us any evidence to doubt the veracity of the narrator?" In short, No, not one jot.


message 46: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 2086 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "Are you telling me that if you saw a spat between your children/grandchldren which drew blood, caused unconsciousness and necessitated the calling of a doctor, you would not punish ..."

One quick question here. If the family was being abusive (which I happen to think they were), wouldn't the family work to ensure that it wasn't common knowledge and there was no proof? Don't families still do that today? If that is true, then Eman may have a hard time finding evidence.


message 47: by Christopher (new)

Christopher H. (christopher_h) | 1483 comments Mod
Deborah wrote-- "One quick question here. If the family was being abusive (which I happen to think they were), wouldn't the family work to ensure that it wasn't common knowledge and there was no proof? Don't families still do that today? If that is true, then Eman may have a hard time finding evidence."

I think you are absolutely correct, and my answer to all three of your questions is an unqualified "Yes!"

Also, I am so sorry for the tough time you had as a little girl (your posting no. 44). That was hard to read, and I very much admire you for persevering. It can't have been easy, Deborah.


message 48: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 2086 comments Mod
Chris - I look at my childhood this way. It happened, I survived, I have "gifts" from it. Sorry it was hard to read. I had some help along the way via bosses that pushed me forward (I can think of 2 in particular that were of great help). Reading was my safe place, just like Jane. I never really saw that connection before tonight so it was very interesting to have a lightbulb moment. I am who I am because of my experiences. I am happy with who I am so I don't truly dwell on it much. I'm more like Jane than I thought that's for sure. I won't risk a spoiler, but will hopefully remember to mention it when we get to those chapters.

Thanks for putting this book on our schedule and the eye opening experience. I just love that.


message 49: by Christina (new)

Christina (ChristinaLC) | 18 comments Wow! What a discussion! I think, at this very early point in the book, we have no reason to believe Jane is an unreliable narrator. She has just begun her story. While it's true that her narrative is based on memory, and thus may have been clouded by time and emotion, if we care about her story (and her) we must accept it. As autobiography, it is not a purely factual recounting of her young life. It is based on her memories and impressions, which I find completely credible in the context of Victorian England and Jane's situation as an orphan.

Regarding the red room, I was struck by the way the room is associated with Jane's dead uncle--whom she believes would have still cared for her, had he lived. I can see where Showalter finds a base for the "female space" analysis, but that's a bit of a stretch for me. I'm more interested in Jane's sense of isolation in this very sad situation.


message 50: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 1729 comments Deborah wrote: "Chris - I look at my childhood this way. It happened, I survived, I have "gifts" from it. "

Which may validate the saying "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Interesting point: if you take Jane at face value, not questioning her memory, and assume a monstrous Mrs. Reed and maybe more badness to come, couldn't it be argued that this treatment was actually, not at the time but in the long run, good for her in making her stronger, as it made you stronger? I've never thought about that before, but your comment made me think the point possible.


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The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910

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Books mentioned in this topic

Wide Sargasso Sea (other topics)
Bronte Story (other topics)
Wide Sargasso Sea (other topics)
Nicholas Nickleby (other topics)
Jane Eyre (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Marshall B. Rosenberg (other topics)
Rachel Reiland (other topics)