Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On reading Jane Eyre

This was originally posted at Reading for Believers.

Jane emphasizes her appearance. She doesn't fit the fashionable type: tall, dark, and elegant. Over and over again she describes herself as plain, having irregular features, small, etc. This is comforting to the reader; almost every woman secretly worries she's some kind of ugly, and it's good to see the less beautiful girl get the man and the fortune. When I first read Jane, at 13, I felt a great kinship with her, although my features are generally regular and at the time I had a long thick mass of curly hair that was to die for. Still, I've never had a Grecian nose, so I was just like Jane, right?

This time around, I read from the perspective of an older, long married woman, and Jane sounds a dream of lost youth. I'm 32, and I've had five children in fairly close succession, which has irrevokably changed my body in ways obvious and and not so visible. Taking a break from reading Jane, I looked in the mirror and was underwhelmed: I have the bad skin and flaking scalp of winter dryness, my hair wants washing because I can't be sure of getting hot water in the shower, my hands are cracked and scaly, I have lines on my face and an increasing number of gray hairs. Jane sees herself as dull and uncompetitive; I (like Mr. Rochester, I guess) saw a fresh girl at the height of her powers. Gawd, I feel old.

1 comment:

JMB said...

The other heroine who had a big impression on me when I was a teenager was the nameless second wife in Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. I remember being acutely aware of her awkwardness and shyness. Here she was, plucked from obscurity to become a wife of nobility, not truly believing that he loved her for all her simplicity and "dullness".

I'm excited to see the new version of Jane Eyre. I read it in high school but reread it a few years ago in my bookgroup and I got so much more out of it the second time around.