By Clara ’14
Charlotte Bronte took nine weeks of my life, and I want them back. Like thousands of high school students, I was promised a timeless Gothic romance filled with burning passion and, on at least one occasion, actual burning. Instead, Bronte provides a barely disguised tract on virtue and redemption, a state that can apparently only be obtained by contracting malaria in the tropics or becoming permanently disabled. All this is force-fed by prose as patient, subtle, and expected as the Spanish Inquisition. Which, at least, featured burning.
The standard-issue cover of Jane Eyre displays a spectacularly incendiary young woman with all the passion and intrigue of an end-stage tuberculosis patient. It shows her gazing wistfully into the distance, presumably longing for a good marriage counselor. Obviously, no psychologists were harmed in the making of this book. The title character alone suffers from an acute persecution complex, low self-esteem and a crippling inability to sort out her emotional problems without fleeing the county. Naturally, we’re supposed to love her.
Jane is a free spirit, the brave rebel who longs for adventure and freedom from the restraints of family and society. At the precocious age of 11, she courageously defies her emotionally distant foster mother by throwing a temper tantrum and is consequently forced to go to school. To be fair, this chapter’s chronicle of her adventures is a remarkably accurate facsimile of an angst-ridden preteen dairy. A distant aunt who dares to send the courageous orphan to her room is an abusive monster; a school she doesn’t like is a disease-ridden hellhole. We’ve all been there, and said that. As I write these words, my life is in serious danger from the literal tons of homework that threaten to crush my soul and destroy my backpack, but a least I don’t have consumption!
Bronte misses the chance to make her character infinitely more sympathetic by giving her a merciful and poetic death in chapter twelve.
Instead, she sends her off to a mysterious hamlet where she falls in love with a strange man named Edward Rochester, who is about seven hundred years older than her, obsessively controls her actions, dictates her appearance and generally acts like an emotionally manipulative stalker. Whatever else can be said about romance novelists, they know what teenage girls want: sparkles and self projection. Whatever personality Jane may have had is completely overshadowed by Rochester. I could almost hear her internal spunky orphan’s pitiful death rattle as it was smothered by yards and yards of wedding dress material.
In the end, the adventure-loving, rebellious Jane is content to spend the rest of her life caring for her husband and child in the perfect domestic felicity that this book’s supporters are quick to point out is “a different kind of adventure.” I have nothing against these people. If they want to spend their old age changing their spouse’s diapers in a swamp justly forsaken by the rest of humanity while over-writing their memoirs, that’s their prerogative. As for my copy of Jane Eyre? Reader, I buried it.