Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Jane Eyre, a cold day in spring

What struck me at once about Jane Eyre was her incredible refusal to throw her self on the altar of anyone’s desire or command. She cannot do it for Mrs. Reed, she decides not to for Mr. Rochester despite the terrible pain it gives her and she manages to resist St. John Rivers though he is terribly persistent and believes God is on his side- the scariest of all people, I find. At each turn, she remains distinctly herself and at the end of book, she respects all her decisions and is ashamed of none, though others still might think ill of her for those choices.
I can’t imagine there were any heroines like this on the book scene at that time. Charlotte Bronte lived off in her own world, not in the literary scene but in a wonderful and vivid fantasy world built by her and her siblings. She did eventually shrug off this dazzling world of huge, intense sagas but she came up with things like “Jane Eyre” instead and “Villette,” which weren’t very far in their internal, psychological worlds of her earlier writing.
So “Jane Eyre” came seemingly out of nowhere, bursting onto the public world and being rather scandalous as a result. It’s only 20 years later that “The American Woman’s Home” got written by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. This a book full of the pleas and then commands women to live the life of self denial and self sacrifice. Someone must perform self sacrifice so the rest of the family can lead a good life! Throw yourself on the altar of this good and consuming act! Christ will reward you! It’s all very bone-chilling.
One of my favorite authors L.M Montgomery took tremendous refuge in reading “Jane Eyre”- which she did over and over and it’s not surprising. In one of her series, Emily of New Moon, there’s many links of spirit and description between Emily and Jane. And one wonders if not for Jane Eyre, would there have been an Anne as well?
And so while Jane Eyre threw the reader forward to a strong female protagonist full of her own resolve and will, Mrs. Rochester propels the reader back. This is not humane treatment of an insane person. And of course, the insane person does deserve that treatment. Hmmm…where have I heard that before? “She made me do it!” Tsk, tsk, Mr. Rochester.
Anyway, this is such an awesome read and I want to read it all over again now that I’m done. It’s a world that’s dark, gloomy, awesome and gothic. It wrestles with views on God and how to lead a good life where the self is not sacrificed.  Nothing else I can ask for!

Comments (2):

  1. Merry F.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Indeed, I have found that there are many connections between L.M. Montgomery’s writing and Bronte’s. The sheer number of references made… Diana is one of St. John’s sisters in Jane Eyre, and Diana is Anne’s best friend in Anne of Green Gables. One of Anne’s friends in Anne’s House of Dreams has a dog named Carlo; the same name of St. John’s dog. Both Anne and Emily are orphans, just like Jane; and in Emily of New Moon, Dean Priest places a flower in an old copy of “Jane Eyre” that he has, and a verse from the song Mr. Rochester sings to Jane is quoted. These are just a few of the many similarities I have found. Coincidence? Apparently not!

  2. Catherine

    March 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I never made the Diana and Carlo connections! So thank you. What you pointed is rather wonderful. I do love the instances in LMM’s journals where she mentions reading “Jane Eyre” time and time again. That book struck a tremendously deep chord in her as I believe it did a great many women then and certainly now.

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Winter Aconite & Snowdrop

Spring is whimsical and wary right now, first appearing in a patch of sunlight and then fleeting away in an ice-cold breeze, only to reappear a little later in the liquid song of a redwing blackbird. I wear my winter coat one day, a hoodie the next, and then it’s back to the winter coat the next morning as a heavy frost sparkles on rooftops. Only recently have I given up my thick scarf, though if there’s a wind tomorrow, I may have to pull it out of the closet and wind myself up in it once more.

None but the bravest flowers are blooming, the winter aconite and snowdrop. Winter aconite is a small yellow flower that’s easy to overlook; it remains shut until the sun has deeply soaked its petals, then pops open like a tiny jewelry box to reveal gold petals centered on delicate pistils and stamens. The snowdrops this spring huddle close to the ground, nearly lost in the mud and dead leaves. As of yet, there are no daffodils blooming—their leaves have come up only an inch or so out the brown ground. They are cautious and since it freezes each night, I cannot blame them.

Beyond the flowers there is the ground itself: a muddle of browns, thick with the rotted tree leaves and the dead foliage of last year. There is nothing lovely to see here, only the form of the land itself. It swells and slopes up from the river, lies low along the horizon, and finally drops into a ditch.

On an unexpected day in early March, once the snow disappeared, city workers came to clean up the young trees and invasive species that have been growing avid and unchecked along the creek near my home. It is the first time I can see the contours of the land clearly in all the years I’ve been living here, and I’m struck by the curves and lines that slope down towards the creek, a rollicking bed of dark brown that makes a strong contrast to the bright blue overhead. The undulating land here is small but it’s a dream, a reason, a mysterious being that wraps through the neighborhood’s mind. Soon enough, this dark and curving space will be clad in green, heavily wreathed by plants, bushes and eager saplings. But for now, it is bare and exposed, revealing the dark space between winter and summer. This is where the wind snaps cold like a knife, but the brilliant sunshine keeps calling everyone out despite the drear.

Tips on Surviving the Never-ending Winter

It’s been a long, hard winter. Now that it’s mid-February, the cold days have started stealing into my bones, urging me to stay in bed and sleep until the warm weather comes. As much as I long to take a three month long nap, there’s stuff to be done and living to do.

I’ve gotten more intentional about warding off the winter blues this year and not let myself, mentally or physically, wander off into a nearby snowbank and fall asleep. I’ve been observing and writing down little notes to myself on what lessens the gloom. These notes have become guideposts of sorts, gently illuminating the path through a difficult winter.

  1. The first guidepost may be the most essential: drinking hot beverages continually and consistently helps to ward off the deep cold. I brew a small pot of my favorite breakfast tea blend in the morning, switch to ginger and lemon herbals mid-day, and then return to caffeinated teas like black or green at night. Other people love coffee and others their tisanes. Find one or many and slurp away happily all day. Hot drinks are so deeply comforting when it’s cold and dark.
  2. I’ve learned to take walks even when the weather is crap. Obviously if everything is sheeted in ice, a walk isn’t going to happen but for the those other days, time willing, I make an effort to head outside. There’s the exercise aspect but more than that, it’s important for my spirit and soul. I walk to de-stress, to come in contact with a bigger world than my own, and to climb out of my circular thinking. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that clears junk out of the mind and soul. Our bodies evolved to walk over this earth and so when we participate in it, the old rhythms occur. Walking is a way to feel freedom. And it’s a way to fight too. I feel incredibly alive upon coming inside after walking through high winds and bad weather.
  3. Reading extensively helps to cast off the smothering feel of an endless winter. Last winter I read Alexander Pushkin and discovered the joy of reading Russian literature during the dead of winter. This month, I read City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, one in a pair of sisters that wrote during the mid-1800’s. City Folk and Country Folk is a delightful satire, ridiculing a variety of “city folk” and everyone else besides. Among the cast of characters is the intellectual Ovcharov, a dead ringer for Austen’s Mr. Collins. The book centers on neighbors visiting each other, eating each other’s food, drinking each other’s tea and generally getting on each other’s nerves until they all decide to stop visiting one another. Needless to say, I adored this plot line.
    And after a three month long wait, I received The Library Book by Susan Orlean from the library with two week checkout period to read it. No way was I going to read part way through, return the book, and then have to go back into that long waiting line. I set up a rough estimate of how many pages I needed to read a day to make the two week goal and then started. To my surprise, I enjoyed having a book reading goal and  diving into Orlean’s generous and easy-flowing prose every evening.
    My last read for this month is Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. February is Black History Month and the perfect time to read his work. I’m only a few chapters in but his thoughtful and beautiful prose has pulled me in hard into the tragedy of his story and it’s hard to stop reading his eloquent prose.
  4. Spring will come. It feels so far away and even the evergreens and pines are looking haggard but it will come. When the sky is a certain shade of blue, I remember that it will. I remind myself of this daily.