Posted by Helen on October 15, 1997 at 12:41:48:
In response to No, silly... , written by Amy on October 15, 1997 at 06:21:31
] ] Sorry if this has brought back some bad stuff Amy. I didn't mean to spark it off!
] No dear. I didn't have to read it, you know. And I don't always have to take everything so much to heart. But I fear that's the way I read, putting myself into every book. The alternative would take away pleasure, too, though, so I am afraid I'll Marianne my way through life.
I agree with you, in fiction these types of men exert a powerful fascination, which as Erin says, we often wouldn't actually have if we met the people concerned. And I also think that fiction is a very safe place for them: we all have fantasies, some of which are about things we would never actually do. So it's good to have a place where we can indulge in behaviour which we know wouldn't be smart in real life (virtual smoking, eh, Erin? ;-) ) - as long as we recognise this is what we're doing.
But I think that Jane Eyre provides a powerful corrective to the myth that women like to be dominated. Because she doesn't buy into it at all. The story of this book is a story about how people try to dominate this woman who, according to the community's standards, has no reason to value herself. They think she should agree with them, and accept their opinion of how she should be treated: Mrs. Reed thinks she should accept being bullied by those with power; Mr. Brocklehurst thinks she should accept humiliation because of her natural sinfulness; Mr. Rochester (at first) thinks that she should accept his treatment of her as an object to do with as he pleases because she is "his woman"; St. John Rivers thinks that she should accept to forfeit happiness for the sake of her duty because that is a high ideal. IMO, all of these things are variations on the same theme, with Rivers' being the most subtle and dangerous to her soul, and Reed's the most dangerous physically, hence easiest to resist.
Jane Eyre refuses all of these roles as passive/victim/obedient servant. She asserts her essential self in the face of every pressure from those around her to conform: "You think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, that I have no heart, that I have no soul. But I have full as much heart and full as much soul!" (I know this isn't right, if someone posts the right quote I shall be forever grateful). I have always found them incredibly inspiring - an assertion of the intrinsic equality of every human being in spite of every system, every individual attempt to dominate her - they have always moved me powerfully.
So I don't think her relationship with Rochester is in any way a type of the woman desiring the strong dominant man. In fact, quite the opposite. She resists all his attempts at domination, right from the very beginning. She refuses all his attempts at manipulation - which are the arguments of the classic domestic abuser. She is, in short, indomitable. And Charlotte Bronte resists the stereotype as well. Jane Eyre does not redeem Rochester through the love of a good woman. She has the sense to get out of the relationship, at great cost to herself - symbolised by her destitute state. And she successfully rebuilds her life, without Rochester or any man controlling her. When she is reconciled to Rochester, it is not because of her sympathy for him, or her desire to mother him. He has changed, but not because of her: because circumstances have changed him, and he has changed himself.
So, dear Amy, I am sorry to hear that this book is making you relive painful memories. I think it provides a positive, rather than a negative template for human relationships, and for dealing with the stereotype in our heads about romantic heroes. Jane Eyre is not a victim, nor does she want to become one. Nor, as far as I can see, are you: certainly at Pemberley we do not see you as "poor, obscure, plain and little", but our very dear and much-esteemed friend.I agree with you, the price of putting one's soul into life is that one gets hurt, and I certainly don't think that's too high a price to pay. Just please balance your painful feelings with some rational recognition of your virtues
(some Elinorish advice)
Actually, while I think about it, it seems to me that Jane Eyre doesn't need the Elinor/Marianne feelings/thoughts balance: her thought and feeling combine as one.
Posting followups to old messages is disabled; instead go to the main index and post a new message which mentions this one.