Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Jane Eyre Tea – July 17th, 2010

Ten of Jane Austen Tea Society numbers met last Saturday at one o’clock to discuss Charlotte Brontë’s deeply satisfying novel, Jane Eyre. Written in 1847 it still makes us think and compare ourselves – as women of the twenty-first century – with the bleak lot in life that fell to Jane – that fell to the women of her time. It seems that those of us who have reread this novel find differing thoughts surfacing depending on where we ourselves are in our lives. Whether single... married…. a career woman… a student... a mother… we all see this literary heroine differently… depending on where our own footsteps and our choices have led us.

Several members of our Tea Society experienced this novel for the first time with this month’s selection and one of them admitted that she had no idea of the plot - never even having seen one of the many film productions. I felt somewhat envious of this new experience for them - just as I have when I hear about someone reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. How I would love to experience again the tingling first-time anticipation as to whether Elizabeth and Darcy would finally discover each other’s deepest hearts and true natures… of whether Jane would ever again see Rochester after having escaped into a world beyond his reach.

The night before our tea this past weekend, I wrestled with what I felt was the integral central theme of this book. Its densely rich layers have leant countless discussions for one hundred and sixty-three years… but what did I think about this current reading for myself. What did Charlotte intend for us to see… to feel…

I realize that as a present day woman with freedoms and choices of a wide almost limitless spectrum, I have to labor to stretch my comprehension backwards to understand Charlotte’s view…to walk in her slight slippers – to understand her points of difference.

Overwhelmed by the multitude of impressions drifting through my mind after this read I found myself falling back on two brief mentions that Charlotte left for me in the text… and they were about Guy Fawkes, the perpetrator of the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament in 1605. The November dated holiday – Guy Fawkes Day – was the day of Jane’s first real resistance of injustice at Gateshead. It was also the date that St. John Rivers stared down at a paper of Jane’s and discovered her true identity for the first time. Why was Guy Fawkes Day purposefully tied to these significant events for Jane?

Rebellion seems to be the only answer to me. Rebellion against injustice. Rebellion against cruelty. Rebellion against subservience. And a gently determined resistance against accepting a degrading or loveless existence. Jane seems the least likely of anyone to rebel but her moves are desperate and life changing. They initiate reactions in those who wield control over her life and her directions shift, veer and send her toward the havens of hope that wait for Jane – Diana and Mary – the cousins who love her as a sister and Rochester – the man whom she saves so that he can then offer the love that she craves.

Brilliant writing. And the tender rebel continues to capture us all.

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