Saturday, December 28, 2013

From The Appendices: "Jane Eyre" Explained

Welcome, dear reader, to the brand-new Appendices, where I will take the occasional break from book grumps to ramble less formally about this-and-that.

After I referenced the "mad wife in the attic" in my grump for The Thirteenth Tale, my friend made the mistake of asking me what Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was about, exactly.

Please note: the following summary is written purely from memory, and may be entirely inaccurate. Students writing papers on the book should not consider this a valid source of information.


This is actually from Jane Eyre.
 No other image for the rest of this post
will be, no matter how I label it.
So we have our heroine, Jane Eyre, who's an orphan. She lives off the so-called charity of her evil aunt (and uncle??) who likes to stand on beaming while her terrible children hit Jane and throw things at her and maybe burn her books. They do fun stuff like lock Jane in Rooms Where People Have Died and sic priests on her to tell her that she's an incurably wicked eight-year-old and is definitely gonna burn in hell, to which Jane has the awesome reply GUESS I'D BETTER NOT DIE THEN. Jane's afraid of pretty much nothing except for maybe ghosts.

Anyway. They hate her. It's terrible.

Eventually she gets sent to a convent or something where other incurably wicked girls learn to be productive members of society, and it's terrible there too, and she makes ONE FRIEND who then dies of tuberculosis or consumption or syphilis. (Probably not syphilis.) Along the way Jane grows up and learns to be a governess.

And who should be looking for a governess but the brooding, bad-tempered and swoonworthy-if-you're-into-that-sort-of-thing Mr. Rochester, whose first name I forget! He needs a governess for his little girl, who isn't actually his, but the bastard of the ballerina(??) he used to date. By another guy. Rochester just kind of shrugged and went with it because I guess the ballerina died. He needs someone (i.e. Jane) to keep the child out of his hair.

Very little of the story has to do with Mr. Rochester's not-child. A lot of it has to do with Rochester being a great big bully and Jane having none of it and Rochester going "whoa, are you actually sassing me, you tiny goblin woman?"

 Then she saves him from a Mysterious Fire and he owes her his life and it's all very intense.

Pictured: Jane and Mr. Rochester.
Did I mention he keeps this running gag going where he pretends to think she's a goblin? He does.

There's really no sign Jane thinks this is funny, but that's okay. Jane does think he's pretty awesome, which is why she's always sassing him. And Rochester thinks Jane is pretty awesome, which is why he does things like bring his wealthy pseudo-girlfriend around to see if Jane is jealous. (She is.)

So Jane is like "are you seriously marrying her, she's terrible" and Rochester is all "well, tiny goblin woman, I could marry YOU if you were into that sort of thing" and they make out under a tree in a lightning storm, because the Brontë sisters didn't have any patience for people behaving well in drawing rooms.

I say again, it's very intense. Even Rochester's housekeeper is like "seriously, Jane, you two better cool it until you get a ring on your finger, because otherwise you're just this impoverished governess he has Ruined etc."

Pictured: Jane and Mr. Rochester. Not pictured:
making out under a tree in a lightning storm.
So they fast-track it to the altar, and the ballerina's kid gets sent off to boarding school or something because we don't care about her, we care about Jane and Rochester getting together despite the vast gap in their social classes (and also the fact that Rochester is kind of a jerk.)

But everything comes crashing down at the altar, when Rochester's brother-in-law from the Caribbean  stands up to object on the grounds that whoops, Rochester's already married! To a woman he keeps locked in the attic! Because she's criminally insane! Also, she's the one who set the fire that Jane saved Rochester from earlier. It was foreshadowing.

I don't remember why Rochester can't divorce his homicidal pyromaniac of a spouse, but one way or another he can't, and everyone's all disgraced and it's awkward. Especially for Jane.

Rochester comes up with the brilliant suggestion that they just run away and Live In Sin together. For her part, Jane decides that this relationship is maybe not the best thing for her at this time, so she climbs out a window and runs away. Then she wanders across the moors in a deep depression because she loves this colossal jerkwad and his giant eyebrows, but she can't bear to be with him as long as he's, y'know, married. Good for you, Jane.

Anyway, Jane collapses from exhaustion and is taken in by the two nicest women in the world and their extremely creepy missionary brother. She doesn't tell them about Rochester or anything, but she stays with them and helps the creepy brother with his missionarying, and it's like having an actual family! Remember, Jane's an orphan. So she may be super depressed, and dreaming about Rochester, but at least she's not alone!

Pictured: the creepy missionary dude
proposing to Jane's childbearing hips.
Her little adoptive family is having all kinds of money troubles. They're really upset when the news comes that their distant uncle in the Americas died and left all of his money to some cousin they've never heard of... (wait for it)... named Jane Eyre! Jane's now a millionaire! Or something close to it. Also, her adoptive family is her actual family. It's nice. She splits her money with them.

Fun fact: "Eyre" is pronounced like "heir." Get it? *ba dum ch*

Creepy missionary brother cousin wants take his share of the money and go to India to be a missionary there. Jane thinks a change of scenery would be good to get over all the terrible Rochester crap, so she asks to go with him. He says great... as long as she marries him! Because it would be weird to travel places and not be married! Also (as he very helpfully informs her) she wasn't made to be loved, but to bear children with her wide and womanly hips.

And for one terrible moment, Jane actually considers it, and thousands of nineteenth-century readers cried out in anguish.

Pictured: Jane goes running to Rochester's side.
Fortunately, at that very moment, she has an unearthly vision of Rochester calling out for her in despair! Our heroine remembers that she is supposed to be the Beauty to this man's Beast (and also that her creepy missionary cousin is a terrible person), and she takes off to find her true love.

When Jane gets back in town, though, there's nothing left of Rochester's house but a smoking crater! No, no--creepy missionary didn't call down the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy his rival. What happened (as Jane learns) was that Rochester's firebug wife was up to her shenanigans again and burnt down the whole estate. Rochester saved all the household staff and went back to rescue his wife, but she punched him in the face and jumped off the roof, and the house collapsed on him. He survived--barely--but he's all burned and blind and also not as much of a jerk as before.

Jane of course goes whirling off to his side, and there's a really cute(??) scene where he doesn't believe it's really her because he can't see anything and he's apparently been dreaming of her for so long that he thinks he's just dreaming again. Jane finally stops teasing him and Rochester is like "tiny goblin woman, you've come back to me!" and everyone cries. And they can at last tie the knot, because he's no longer a bigamist and also Jane is filthy rich and won't be accused of golddigging anymore. The end.


Of all the Brontë books, I'd say that Jane Eyre is the most "readable" to people not normally enthused about period literature. Charlotte doesn't muck around with "low" accents the way that Emily does in Wuthering Heights, there's a reasonable amount of action, there are some really gorgeous bits of dialogue. 

Jane and Mr. Rochester in the 2011 film.
Several films of varying quality have been made, but I haven't seen them recently enough to give a recommendation. I know that the most recent (starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael "Sharkteeth Wifebeater" Fassbender) follows the book pretty closely, if my terrible summary makes you want to see it on the big screen. Additionally, Jean Rhys wrote a version of the story from the perspective of Rochester's wife, in her book Wide Sargasso Sea.

My apologies to offended English majors everywhere for this post.

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