Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why I hate Jane Eyre

I thought I would hate Twilight. From listening to friends and reading reviews, I'd already noticed its similarities to Jane Eyre and I read it, hoping for a bash-fest of a comparison between it and my all-time-least-favourite book. But I was wrong. It's only Jane Eyre that I hate.

Twilight is really not all that bad. It's a seductive, little fantasy about obsessive love on the dark side of mortality. The reader is swept (clumsily, of course) into Bella's shoes because Bella has no character unless you give her your own. There's a dangerous, handsome, gentlemanly boy who's dangerous and standoffish to everyone else but you because you're oh-so-special. It's the perfect rock-a-bye for a large percentage of the female population; a dark knight in sparkly armour (chastely) tapping Miss Insecure, Lady Fantasizing and Little Girl Goth - who all just want to be understood and held. It is what it is; it's not trying to be Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Lolita. And it's too dull to lull me.

The writing is as bland as my cooking. That's saying a lot, coming from the girl who burnt fish she was trying to steam by forgetting to put water in the pan - guess how my memory is with salt and seasoning ... But, really, who am I to lampoon a phenomenon that's brought manic highs to the heaving chests of girls of all ages?

On libraryThing, I found tons of reviews by well-meaning, well-read people, detailing (and mocking) all the ways in which Twilight's relation with Miss Insecure/Lady Fantasizing/Little Girl Goth becomes a bit rough (and not the nice kind of "rough" like in the sound of Bruno von Falk's voice that evokes a kiss that ends with a bite) and their recommendations to read more substantial works. Like Jane Eyre. Which I do have a hate-on for.

Let's review the ugly facts of Jane Eyre:
  1. The men are pigs.
    Rochester tries to fool poor, penniless Jane into marrying him even though he is already married. If he had succeeded, she would have been ruined - the society of Jane's England would have branded a letter more scarlet that Hester's Prynne's "A" into her forehead, making her unfit for any mode of life, except as Rochester's kept woman. How gentlemanly of him.
    Then, we are treated to St John Rivers. He wants to drag poor frail Jane to some hot, uncivilized country where she'd probably succumb to the elements faster than stout Englishman Rawdon Crawley. It's all very noble, this saving the souls of savages, but ... seriously? What about Jane?
  2. In order for Jane to be on equal footing with him, Rochester has to be disfigured and thrust into misery and Jane's fortunes have to be elevated by a hitherto unheard-of uncle. She was really that much below him who tried to commit bigamy with her?
  3. In the scene where Jane hears "Grace Poole's laugh", she stands on the roof and yearns for faraway lands. Why on earth does content, humble Jane need to wish for bigger things and distant dreams? She doesn't. Charlotte Bronte did. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte wrote herself when she should have written of her characters. It's why Jane's humility is so pronounced; Charlotte Bronte disliked how she was treated as a servant. It must have been comforting to seek refuge from constantly having to swallow one's pride in Jane's steely humility. C.B.'s projections of her own frustration bring Jane out of character. It's an example of inferior, amateurish writing. Virginia Woolf said so.
Despite all these ugly things, both times that I read Jane Eyre, at ages 11 and 22, I was entirely held by the first few chapters of the book. The 1st person voice is so personal and the portrayal of Jane's trials at school is moving and real. There are brilliant nuances in Bronte's telling and the events she chose to bring to the surface - Jane having to stand in from of the school and be branded a liar, Helen Burns always being punished by a stern teacher - breathes a vivid air on everything. Makes me think of the rapid, fervid breathing of some little thing - a bird - grounded, as the cat prowls closer and closer.

All this ... and then Charlotte Bronte unleashes her deep-seated fantasy for a reformed playboy with a crazy wife in the attic and a man so good that he's cruel.

Do the good things redeem the book of all its problems? Yes. Unfortunately, they do.

Jane Eyre can have all the lulling, poisonous things that Twilight has and get away with it. Jane can be like Bella and fit into the role of a battered woman; Rochester paraded his rich, beautiful almost-fiancee in from of Jane and forced her to watch as her employer. Jane can be like Bella and constantly go for men more liable to hurt her than love her. The book can be a blatant fantasy of dangerous men and attainment of desired traits: the Cullens are beautiful, rich, intelligent, good - everything a middle-aged woman with three kids would find desirable - and Jane is morally strong and humble - everything that C.B. wanted so badly to be. There are many people calling Twilight out on its deficiencies, from its lack of character development to typos. But Jane Eyre's strengths (remember the fluttering bird) do make up for its faults and, thus, I haven't found many people detailing the wrongs of Jane Eyre. Despite having enough ugliness to be reviled, it's still made every must-read reading list under Google's eye. Therein lies my dislike for Jane Eyre.


  1. Oh, but Villette is so good! I don't much mind Jane Eyre (it's better than Shirley at least), but I hated Wide Sargasso Sea -- hated it.

  2. I definitely agree with all you've said here, except for one: I'm not magnanimous enough to forgive Bronte for unleashing this on me.

    Although Twilight is just as bad, I could at least get a laugh out of Myer's complete lack of writing ability and love of sparkles.

  3. I COMPLETELY agree with you. This is an excellent assessment of both stories: Usually when I argue against them I forget to be this logical. Personally I'm more frustrated with Jane Eyre because of its "classic" status and admittedly better writing style because I can't seem to make my friends (guy friends at that! What gives?!) realize how plotless and pointless it is.

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  5. India was never uncivilized.
    However, I do hate St John Rivers for trying to marry Jane for his own convenience, while he was still in love with another woman.

  6. Although I agree with your comments, I hate your racism for calling "India" uncivilized - it really shows your narrow and small mind. It's as modern as United Kingdom or USA, if not more. And that's coming from someone whose not even Indian.