Jane Eyre – on the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth


There is an excellent Guardian page here today of various writers’ and readers’ observations on their love of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I certainly can’t compete with the collective wisdom of this – and wouldn’t want to –  but I am happy to join in the celebration.

I came to Jane Eyre late in life [compared to the world of teenage readers], studying Charlotte Bronte in Oxford as one of the major English novelists whose entire works you were expected to know. I was heavily influenced by my dynamic tutor Anne Wordsworth to approach this and her other work, especially Villette, with a Freudian reading, Bronte having been constrained as a writer by the expected propriety of the Victorian novel, yet sexual realities erupting through this as awkward narrative interventions or apt metaphor, the former as the ghost in Villette – though no longer ‘awkward’ if you appreciated its necessity – and the latter as the burning stubble in Jane Eyre.

I simplify, but I believe entirely in that reading. I do also agree with DH Lawrence who intuited the Freudian reading that Bronte emasculated Rochester with his injuries at the end of the novel, the passion he and Jane felt for one another held to the implicit propriety by the physical inability to consummate, or consummate in the way Lawrence would have done so, as well as what he and we should rightly expect of Bronte’s other implicit but real narrative drive before the actual fire.

This reading never detracted from my appreciation of the novel as a powerful story of independent thought and romance, as I imagine many would argue it could.

It is also such an excellent read, especially the opening 10 [or is it 11, I don’t have the book to hand…] chapters, a separate book in many ways plotting Jane’s abuse and rousing the reader’s anger and contempt with such masterly storytelling.

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