David's Reviews > Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
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Feb 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, lady-writers
Read from December 18, 2014 to January 11, 2015

It's very strange to me to observe the relationship in literature between physical and inner beauties. Where we began assuming you must choose one or the other, I do not know. It is likely most pronounced in the characterizations of women - the uglier or less advantaged they are, the more good they are, more charitable, more truly kind; conversely, spot a pretty lass and you're sure to have found someone evil or indifferent, calculating and malicious. Whether Jane Eyre is truly as plain and ugly as she describes herself to be we can never really be sure, but we feel quite sure of her almost bittersweet goodness. In fact, she seems preternaturally good, and it makes me wonder how much is put on in her own narration. We witness the pretty bitches of Becky Sharp, Undine Spragg, and many other women across literature whose prime motives are elevation of rank and prestige and their most winning tools are their physical charms. For a novelist to create a woman who is both beautiful and good is to manifest a horrible creature of fiction, only to be shot down as impossibly idealist or the sex icon of his own fantasy. A woman can be good, as long as she is forced into hyperborean remoteness as a sexual object (ugly, old, married, etc).

I'm not sure what it is about physical beauty that so magnetizes our interest, and which so divides us as observers and consumers of literature and society. People are very visual, but literature is not. We read with deeper sensibilities than our eyes can perceive. Jane Eyre lingers on her plainness wherever possible, almost to the exhaustion of the reader. She is hardworking, pious, intelligent, but she is not pretty. Despite her many advantages and generosities, she cannot imagine being the object of sexual or romantic attraction - and because we view the story vicariously through her, we half believe her. Even Rochester, who is not described in fawning terms as to his own physical attractiveness, is considered remote from the realm of potential courtship for Jane. Many people believe that our present day society has somehow discovered alienation based on physical appearance, or that we obsess over it in a way unlike our historical predecessors, but Jane Eyre is a testament that people have always naturally been fixated on their own appearance and attractiveness. Narcissus is a cautionary fable to the masses, not a mocking tale of the unusual.

It is certain that our society fixates on appearances, and that connectivity and technology aids us in our ever-roving critical eyes for appearances. Ideals of beauty change, but obsession with beauty does not. But how is it that much of literature concerns itself with moralizing physical beauty? As if to be beautiful requires a Faustian bargain of the soul? Why are we so disbelieving of people who are both good and beautiful? The converse relationship is not always true - sometimes badness rots from the inside out, and there are many examples of those who are both ugly and evil. But to be beautiful and beatific, that is a rare stock of inventory. It is sure that our physical appearances and how they are received and interpreted by the audiences of our world have an impact on our development as people. But to what degree does it have an ethical impact? While I believe most people will take advantage wherever possible, I don't believe this is unique to those with a pretty face or alluring physique.

I wonder if it is all a matter of perception through a lens of jealousy. In Jane's eyes, the fair Blanche Ingram becomes a sinister succubi, although she seems actually to be a woman as plain in virtue as Jane is plain in looks. Do authors take out their real life jealousies on their fictional beauties, either by giving them ugly insides or ugly fates?
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Quotes David Liked

Charlotte Brontë
“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


Reading Progress

12/18/2014 marked as: currently-reading 1 comment
01/07/2015
84.0% "St.John: Come to India.
Jane: OK.
St.John: OK, you have to marry me though.
Jane: No.
St.John: You already said yes. Now you have to.
Jane: No...
St.John: You have to. God said so." 1 comment
01/09/2015
90.0% "Reader, I married him."
01/11/2015 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Fatima I'm currently reading it. I'm going to study it in depth next month in the 19th century novel course.


Natasha Your reviews are always so thoughtful. I read this book almost 10 years ago and loved it, but this just reminded me how much I need to reread it. Thanks for the great review!


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