Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vodka Cranberry Jane Eyre - A Drunken Book Review

I finished Jane Eyre last night. It's the first in a series of "Important Books" I'm going to read during 2012. This one was a bit of a bonus since I'm officially beginning with Anna Karenina in January.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the book. I decided I'd have a couple of Christmas Eve cocktails and spill out my thoughts on it. I'm going to try not to worry about how dumb I might sound. This review will contain spoilers so if you haven't read the book and don't want to know that Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester is a drag queen, stop reading now.

So, let's begin. Hold on, let me take a sip of my drink.

I didn't love it. It reminded me of reading The Historian (THE big book of 2005; It was about Dracula; Little, Brown paid something like $2 million for it; It mostly makes you want to crawl into a coffin and take a nap). It reminded me of that book in that I found the first third boring and the last third boring. Contained within the middle third was a pretty good book.

The book begins with 10-year-old Jane Eyre who is a sad little orphan. The first third of the book mainly deals with Jane's loneliness and hardship.

In the beginning, she lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her cousins, John, Georgiana, and Eliza.

Jane is mistreated by her aunt, who is a real bitch, and 14-year-old John, who is a real son of a bitch.

"You ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money and you will have none; it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them," Bessie, the nursemaid, tells Jane.


Isn't this how these books always go? Poor, little abused orphan. Don't worry, John Reed will get what's coming to him in the end.

As punishment one evening, Mrs.  Reed condemns Jane to spending a night in the red room upstairs where Mr. Reed passed away nine years earlier. This room is creepy, writes Charlotte Bronte. I'm paraphrasing a bit.

I have strong feelings about this topic. People like to imagine what a space where someone died might feel like. It feels like it did before unless you give it power over you, that's what it feels like. Do not give a space power over you. One day shortly after her dad died, my daughter Kate marched toward the garage and said, "I'm going to see if Dad's ghost is in the garage."
I told her that wasn't possible but you know what this really means, right? My daughter, who was 9 at the time, is so much more of a bad ass than Jane Eyre.

I guess I should admit here that I didn't love Jane Eyre, the character. She's OK. I know I'm supposed to like her, admire her when she tells off her mean aunt, admire her tenacity. I just didn't feel much for her.

Jane is sent off to the Lowood School, which is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, who is also a real son of a bitch. The girls at the school are abused and underfed.

At the school, Jane becomes friends with Helen Burns. Helen is one of those characters you always find in books. She is wise beyond her years. She takes her abuse without question.

"It would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.” Helen Burns says to Jane Eyre.

I find this interesting, this question of fate. Helen Burns believes her fate is to be abused? And then to die. (Oh, yeah, she dies. Of course, she dies. Of consumption. In Jane Eyre's arms. The wise child always dies. The wise child who takes her misfortune with dignity might as well be the black dude in a horror movie.)

I think people feel better about the horrors that befall them if they believe it was meant to be in some way. Maybe this way you don't have to think about the million ways you could have changed things.

Jane Eyre stays at Lowood until she is 18, when she places an ad seeking a position as a governess. This is when she enters the second episode of the book. The first episode was "Poor, little orphan."

The next episode is the Mr. Rochester episode and this is the portion most people think of when they think of Jane Eyre. This is the section in which Jane finds love and, of course, more tragedy.

Jane meets Mr. Rochester when she is out for a walk and comes upon him. He and his horse fall on some ice and Jane helps him out. Later, when she gets home from her walk, she realizes the man she helped was her employer, Mr. Rochester (who she has never met).

There's a lot of time spent on telling us how unattractive both Jane and Mr. Rochester are. She's plain and little and elf-like. He's severe-looking.

by Ben McLaughlin
The reader is never allowed to forget how damn unattractive these folks are. Ever. I suppose the point is that it must be real, true love because who could love such ugly people? Because love is blind. Oh, by the way, this deep thought is an allusion to what happens at the end of the book.

Mr. Rochester has charm. He and Jane do some nice little sparring. But Mr. Rochester is clearly a freak. In order to find out how Jane truly feels about him, he dresses up as an old gypsy woman and visits the house to tell the "fortunes" of the people within the home. Yep, that's right, he dresses up like an old woman to trick Jane. What the fuckity fuck?

It's suddenly Some Like It Hot up in here.


These chapters in the book just sucked the SEXY right out of Mr. Rochester for me. Mostly my feelings about Mr. Rochester are that he was deeply insecure, a bit of a narcissist, and a touch pathetic. It was all, "I love you. Do you love me?" "You're my little friend." "Do you think me handsome?" Ugh. Shut up.

Mr. Rochester also tries to make Jane jealous by parading Blanche Ingram around and making her believe he is going to make Blanche his wife.
By Kate Beaton/harkavagrant.com


This doesn't even get to the heart of Mr. Rochester's big problem which is that he already has a wife and she's locked up in a room on the third floor. Yep. And the crazy wife, Bertha, is always escaping and setting fire to things and stabbing people and trying to eat off their faces. (I don't even have the energy to get into the fact that the first Mrs. Rochester is of some sort of mixed race and, before she went totally nuts, was always acting very wild. There's some racism in here that is a bit icky since Mr. Rochester links Bertha's craziness to her "impure" heritage.)

A lot of drama ensues. And it's a good read. After Mr. Rochester tries to marry Jane and the first Mrs. Rochester is revealed, Jane leaves and enters the next episode of the novel, the "Hell No, Don't Marry Your Cousin (Ick)" episode. This is when I got bored again, unfortunately. So I'm not going to go into that portion much. Suffice it to say, Jane meets some long-lost cousins and one of them, a super-religious, humorless douche who goes to India to be a missionary, wants to marry Jane.

Eventually, Jane inherits a big chunk of money (yea!) from an uncle she never knew. This is how Jane truly gains the equality and independence she has always wanted. It is only now that she can go back to Mr. Rochester. While she was gone, Mr. Rochester's crazy-ass wife set the house on fire and, after saving all the servants, Mr. Rochester was crushed and lost one eye, was left blind in the other eye (see how love is blind?) and lost a hand. His crazy wife jumped to her death during the fire.

So independent Jane marries Mr. Rochester and takes care of him.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this. I think I would have preferred Jane take her wealth and truly be independent. There are analyses of the book which will say that only by feeling equal to him could Jane Eyre truly be with Mr. Rochester.

Sure, OK. Maybe. But then why did Mr. Rochester have to be brought to his damn knees, crippled, and blinded in order for them to be equal?

The book's last chapter begins with this line: "Reader, I married him."

Then, boom, Jane goes on to tell us how it's 10 years later, Mr. Rochester has regained the sight in his one eye, the two of them chat all the time and they are in "perfect concord."

"I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth," Jane says. "I hold myself supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society; he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together...We talk, I believe, all day long."

Are you gagging yet? Maybe I'm bitter, but, dammit all, doesn't Jane Eyre seem like she'd be one of those women who is constantly posting as her Facebook status update: "My husband is the greatest." "No one is as close to her husband as I am. We are the best couple EVER!" "I am absolutely the bone of my husband's bone! LOL!"

Damn, I am so unromantic. I think I might have some issues.

I'm going to fix another cocktail.

Merry Christmas Eve to you all and to all a good night!

NOTE: This blog post features "Jane Eyre Trading Cards" by Ben McLaughlin, a really talented animation artist in Sydney, Australia who has a blog: http://ben-vanishingpoint.blogspot.com/

4 comments:

  1. Funny, I did a "what I read this year" blog post earlier this week and took a photo of my bookshelf for illustrative purposes. One of my readers remarked on Anna Karenina being on the shelf, and I realized I bought it at a secondhand store five years ago and still haven't cracked the spine. So maybe I should also put that at the top of my 2012 list? Though there's some really good YA lit (guilty pleasure) that's currently taking precedence over the classics...!

    (Also, I've yet to read Jane Eyre either. But after you're meh reaction, I'm just going to assume I can take a pass on it?)

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  2. I really enjoyed the middle section of the novel. I actually stayed up late a couple of nights reading it. But, overall, I was mostly meh about it. Mr. Rochester just didn't do it for me.

    I hear you on the YA lit. I'm actually reading "The Hunger Games" this week before January gets here and I attempt Anna Karenina.

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  3. A word from the wise: You'll want to finish The Hunger Games trilogy before leaving the house again! And if you like that (a given), try Delirium next--the second book comes out in February. I'm about to download Divergent, which is yet another YA trilogy, and then Graceling after that (still YA)...and then maybe, just maybe I'll return to the world of adult literature when (if ever) I run out of teen material =)

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  4. I'm only 100 pages in this morning and I realized I'm going to be useless until I'm finished. And I made the horrible mistake of leaving town with only one of the books, leaving the other two on the shelf at home. I don't see how I can begin Anna Karenina until I'm finished with The Hunger Games trilogy!
    Thanks for the recommendations.

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