This week, I'm rereading my all-time favorite book, Jane Eyre. I've read it more times than any other book: I first picked it up when I was ten, was actually able to read it at twelve and have generally reread it about once every two years since then.
I took it up this time after seeing the new movie in theatres, and then, dissatisfied with the adaptation aspects, also watched the 1944 Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version (an even worse adaptation, if a solid movie) and the 1983 BBC miniseries starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke (far and away the closest to the novel in many ways and Dalton is a surprising win for my favorite Rochester).
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love this book for so many reasons. One of the things that most disappointed me about the new film was its departure from the classic and wonderful dialogue. But what I've really realized during this latest rereading is part of what I love best of all is that huge boring bit when she goes off and lives with the Riverses.
Yes, it's arguably the least exciting or interesting part of the story. (And, as my roommate will be sure to tell you, it's completely implausible that they should turn out to be her cousins.) But it's really, very important to her life and it's what differentiates it from other classic love stories of this or any other era. Jane is a singular heroine, in that she leaves Rochester, no matter how unwilling she may be, goes off and becomes an independent, happy person all on her own. She refuses to compromise her own morals in order to stay with him, because she knows whatever happiness she finds will be as the expense of her own self-respect. So, even though she loves him, can't bear the thought of leaving and has no place to go, she goes anyway. When she returns to him, it's because she loves him, but she doesn't need him to complete her, or any other bullshit like that. Strange Dickensian twist of fate it may be, but on her own she has found family and fortune. However, I think even prior to that, she again found a purpose in the world, and when St. John proposes to her, she refuses him too cause she doesn't feel that way about him and she doesn't need a man.
Yeah, there's some feminist lady-empowering stuff in here, but my real point is, man, do I wish more women had this sort of sensibility, so they're not staying with guys they love even though there's some other large impediment to their own self-worth, or they're not just dating guys just to be with someone. Because that is the worst. And as I always say about exes, is that they're your ex for a reason, and unless that reason is resolved (say like his crazy attic wife dies so he's no longer trying to be a bigamist), you shouldn't get back together with them.
Obviously this post is a lot of me imparting my principles on the world, but I really think this book likely shaped these principles, which I feel are some of the best that I have. At no point in the story does Jane degrade herself for any man, and I think that's something that's all too common with women. Also, Jane? Not a looker. This is not like she was going to have offers pouring in. She was just cool with being by herself, rather than settling for something less than what she deserved.
That's it, I guess. Make your teenagers read Jane Eyre. (Look, you can even buy it in a Twilight-esque edition!)