Reader, I married him

As the BBC launches its new adaptation of Jane Eyre in the UK, Lucasta Miller in The Guardian seizes the opportunity to take a fresh look at Jane, Charlotte and their impact, particularly on female readers:

It was its interiority, not its narrative mechanics, that seemed the key to its originality. This was a story that compelled the reader in a completely new way to identify with the heroine…
The “I” of Jane Eyre is what the novel is really about; it is as much a Bildungsroman as a love story. Brontë’s originality was to centre the Romantic individualism she had learnt from male writers in the figure of a “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess, the persona into which she had in life often felt boxed, despite her ambitious but secretly held belief in her own poetic genius. In her youth, she had had few female literary role models; her idol had been Byron, whose reputation was based on a personality cult and whose works were all regarded as self-portraits. Debarred by her gender and background from the public posturing of Byron, she invented a new form of specifically female self-expression, based on autobiographical confession, which was less flamboyant but in some ways even more inflammatory. When Jane declares that she is Rochester’s “equal”, despite being a woman and of a lower social class, it is hard not to suspect that Brontë is implicitly asserting her own equality as a writer with Lord Byron. With his secret guilt and enigmatic brooding, Rochester is her version of the Byronic hero.

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