I confess. I have never particularly enjoyed Jane Eyre. The mischievous and frolicsome social world of Jane Austen is much more to my liking. It always seemed to me that just opening the cover of any Bronte book brought darkness not only into the room, but conjured a rainstorm outside as well. And Jane Eyre is even worse than Wuthering Heights, although better than The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. Despite Jane’s orphanage and mistreatment at the hands of her aunt-by-marriage, I found little to empathize with her. She was rather smart-mouth and goody two-shoes and self-satisfied. For example, this is Jane’s parting outburst upon leaving her aunt’s residence:
I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. . . . You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back . . . into the red-room. . . . And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me—knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale. ’Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty. . . .
And Mr. Rochester! I’m down with the whole bad boy thing, but Rochester’s main appeal to Jane seems to be that he’s a man and he lives in the same place that she does. He admits to having had a long-time affair with a French “dancer,” that may or may not have resulted in his ward Adele, he is moody, mean, often drunk and flaunts his relationship with Blanche in Jane’s face time and time again. That’s even before we get to the point where we know he’s got his current wife penned up in the attic like an animal. Here’s Jane’s description of his pre-marital, loving behavior:
In other people’s presence I was, as formerly, deferential and quiet; any other line of conduct being uncalled for: it was only in the evening conferences I thus thwarted and afflicted him. He continued to send for me punctually the moment the clock struck seven; though when I appeared before him now, he had no such honeyed terms as “love” and “darling” on his lips: the best words at my service were “provoking puppet,” “malicious elf,” “sprite,” “changeling,” &c. For caresses, too, I now got grimaces; for a pressure of the hand, a pinch on the arm; for a kiss on the cheek, a severe tweak of the ear. It was all right: at present I decidedly preferred these fierce favours to anything more tender. […] Meantime, Mr. Rochester affirmed I was wearing him to skin and bone, and threatened awful vengeance for my present conduct at some period fast coming.
Sounds charming doesn’t he?
However, it is a classic of English literature. And perhaps Jane Eyre does just what it should. It is, after all, a Gothic novel fully inhabited by a Gothic Byronic hero, a Gothic manse, and multiple persons of Gothic malevolence or mystery.
And according to scholars, much of the plot and characters derived from the life of Charlotte Bronte herself. Her alcoholic brother, her sisters who died of consumption while in the charge of a less-than-ideal school. It is, significantly, a first person narrative and Jane and Charlotte, her author, have been cited as early feminist models. The Literature 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights and Poets of All Time, by Daniel S. Burt. (Charlotte Bronte is #20. Jane Austen, I am pleased to report, is #20 and the highest ranking female, unless one believes the gossip and Shakespeare was actually a noblewoman and/or Queen Elizabeth.) If you are interested in a very scholarly deconstruction and criticism of the novel, here’s a link to Arthur Shapiro’s journal article: “In Defense of Jane Eyre.” http://www.wssd.org/cms/lib02/PA01001072/Centricity/Domain/202/In%20Defense%20of%20Jane%20Eyre.pdf
I much prefer the story of Bertha Rochester, as told by Jean Rhys, in Wide Sargasso Sea. Now there’s a good tale. See my review: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/mrs-rochesters-room-of-her-own-wide-sargasso-sea-by-jean-rhys/
But school children will soon be moaning through the pages of Jane Eyre, or bewitched by them, and if you and your book club are interested in reading alongside as encouragement, there are many things to be appreciated and enjoyed about the book. The creepy atmosphere, the saintly characters and the sinner counterparts, Jane’s own tortured self-examination to find she is in love with a married man and but for the nearly divine intervention of George Mason would be married to a bigamist. And let us not forget, the big finish. It’s a real barn-burner.
Jane is hungry much of the novel. At Lowood, she eats burned porridge and frozen water. And, at one point she begs a farmer for some of the porridge fed to the pigs. Let’s see if we can do a bit better than that, shall we?
Pheasant/Dove Shepherd’s Pie
Breast meat of 4 pheasants/8 doves cut into bite-size cubes and browned in a skillet with olive oil, salt, pepper. Remove the meat from the pan after browning.
Saute 1 cup of chopped carrots, 1 cup chopped leeks, 1 cup celery and 1 chopped onion in the same skillet, cooking until soft. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cook until slightly reduced and then add the meat. If it’s watery, add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to thicken.
Place mixture in a casserole pan and smooth out. Then top with mashed potatoes. Add a dollop of butter to the top and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so until the meat and vegetable mixture is bubbling up around the potatoes. Ummmmm.
I would serve the Shepherd’s Pie with a green salad and take a cue from Bessie and Miss Temple’s cake kindness and serve tea cakes. Bronte mentions “seed cakes,” but I found this tea cake recipe in my grandmother’s recipe box so that is what I will use.
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1 1/3 cup sifted regular flour
1/4 cup sifted corn starch
1/4 teaspoon mace
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Grease and lightly flour a nine inch kugelhof pan or a 9 x 3 inch tube pan. (Note from daeandwrite: Kugelhof?)
Arrange almond around the bottom of pan. Sift together the flour, corn starch and mace. Melt butter over low heat; cool to lukewarm; add vanilla and lemon rind. Stir together the whole eggs, yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl; set bowl over a pan of hot, not boiling water over low heat until eggs are warm — about 15 minutes; stir occasionally to prevent eggs from cooking.
Removel blow from over hot water; beat warm eggs until thick, coll and tripled in volume. Sprinkle sifted flour mixture over eggs. Fold in gently, gradually adding melted butter mixture.
Continue folding until all butter disappears. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in 350 degree oven until cake is golden brown and plus away from sides of pan, about 50-55 minutes.
Jane Eyre was published in 1847. Even though Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was French, I think his passionate music would be a fitting background for a Jane Eyre discussion and in fact his most productive decade coincided exactly with Charlotte Bronte’s writing. Try the Symphonie Fantastique!
According to imdb.com there have been about 20 full-length, film productions of Jane Eyre for cinema and television. Most recently, Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska held forth as Rochester and Jane. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch. Maybe next time there’s a dark and stormy night.
Go forth and read!