Friday, February 10, 2012

i am no bird...

When the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre came out (with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska), I saw it at The Princess Theatre with work friends.  One of my friends had just read the book for the first time and was beautifully disappointed and at times outright disgusted by all the parts left out, in turns elbowing me and throwing her hands up, and saying things like, pfffft!  All in all, though, we agreed the film was beautifully done and perfectly cast. Favorite scenes were gorgeously and attentively and sensitively reproduced (see clip below).

I've read the book countless times. I've read the book obsessively.  Certain parts over and over.  Watched the movie again on DVD a couple of nights ago.  The ending will drive you a bit mad if you've read the book dozens of times, but then, there's always the book to which to return.

Why read any book over and over? Because it allows you to measure yourself against it, to become attuned to the spirit of the author, to keep company with a vigorous mind.

And why Jane Eyre?  For me, it is because it shows us how we may be awake to each other, connected as spirits, free souls. In an age where women were depicted as sitting beside bird cages in paintings, to symbolize their entrapment, Jane resists.  Rochester says,

"Jane, be still; don't struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation."

And Jane replies:
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you."

Perhaps what we are yet drawn to in Jane Eyre is the expression of her intrinsic worth as a passionate and seeing human being, in spite of being "poor and obscure, and small and plain." She will love herself, and hold that love confidently in esteem.

If you read Jane Eyre, then you will almost certainly be led to The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which tells the story of "the madwoman in the attic."  Rhys was herself poor and obscure for most of her life.  When finally recognized at the end of her life with awards and critical acclaim she famously said, "It has come too late."

Perhaps Jane Eyre appeals to the orphaned and abandoned side of us, to the poor and plain and obscure part.  To the parts of us that need to be seen, and to our need to have our passions understood and felt. Of course, the story of Charlotte Bronte only intensifies one's reading of the novel.

And you, are there novels you have returned to over and over?  What brings you to them?


  1. I am happy to read your thoughts this morning, as I love what literature offers up to us and am glad to be reminded of this book. I do not think I ever read it, yet saw several movie versions. You have motivated me to read it soon indeed. I love your lines of why we read..."to keep company with a vigorous mind". Bless you for your positive, thoughtful, inspirations.


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