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Monday, December 13, 2010

Jane Eyre I -- chapter 1: MELANCHOLY ISLES

Period Vocabulary
  1. caviler: one who cavils--one who nitpicks, splits hairs, or argues
  2. letter-press: a quality of printing, resulting in sort of the opposite of embossing; a quality of high-end, old publishing
  3. bilious: since Bronte's not likely talking about the issue of bile from liver problems, she's more likely using "bilious" to indicate John's bad attitude and temper

Reading Questions and Notes
  1. The weather as indicator of mood, tone, motif, etcetera is typical of Gothicism, of which Jane Eyre is a defining text.  The weather is, of course, generally considered--and especially out of Victorian England--as act of God.  What does Bronte indicate by aligning Jane with the weather and the surrounding family with this weather's opposite?  "Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day."
  2. While I'm less interested in issues of Transcendentalism, at least at this point (the prefatory "notes" of my edition say it's at issue here), there are already indications of Romanticism: emphasis, even reliance, on human emotion rather than reason; the power and influence of nature and even the supernatural; advocacy of free thought.  What does Jane and the text demonstrate of Romanticism this early?
  3. The passage from Bewick's is indicative of Jane, certainly already but likely increasingly so as we continue through her history.  How?
  4. What is the "solitary church-yard"?  Where did it come from?  And the gallows?
  5. Is John Reed not Dudley Dursley, from Harry Potter, or Mo, from Calvin and Hobbes?  Why is this the stereotype for bullies?
  6. There's another issue of weather, taking the dreariness from another perspective: The elements of a storm surely don't dislike their nature and likely find pleasure in the tormenting of the landscape.  If Jane is the island, what is the storm?
  7. Are all entirely against Jane?  I doubt the complicity of Eliza and Georgiana.  
by Bill Waterson


  1. 1. It’s kind of ironic – and my response also sort of addresses question 6 – that Jane is aligned with the stormy weather (which she rather likes) while the Reed family (I just want to call them the Dursleys after reading question 5) is aligned with sunny weather. The Reeds are so disappointed that they can’t take a walk; Jane is so relieved; and yet, directly after their sort of set-piece with their talk of being a pleasant, sociable, light-hearted group of people, John (and, to a lesser extent, the two sisters) mercilessly torment Jane. In a way, Jane is held captive by the weather – she’s indoors, where the Reed children are most likely bored, which probably just makes them crueler. She enjoys staying inside, looking out at the weather or at rather macabre pictures in a book, and yet the Reeds insist on bringing that storm inside. She’s not safe in her window-seat. If we consider this weather as an act of God, I don’t know what that would mean, really; on the one hand, Jane prefers staying inside. (I don’t doubt that she is a bit moody, although not as temperamental as Mrs. Reed maintains.) This small blessing soon becomes a curse, however. If we are considering God as creating this weather, he could be seen as ruining the Reeds’ plans (Jane 1, Reeds 0), saving Jane from a long walk (Jane 2, Reeds 0), or as ruining the Reeds’ plans so that Jane will be tormented indoors instead (Jane 2, Reeds 1). How far can you take that reasoning, though? At any rate, the weather does provide an introduction to the personalities of Jane and the Reeds and to the difficulties of Jane’s situation.

    2. You can definitely see the influence of Romanticism already – the “stormy Hebrides” of Thomson’s poem, the emphasis on Jane’s emotional response to the pictures, the “imperfect feelings” all seem related to Romanticism. The “imperfect feelings” that Jane feels upon looking at the pictures remind me of sentimental moral theory and the sort of cult of sensibility that popped up around the time of Romanticism. I’m not an expert on this, but the implication that Jane’s feelings could and should be improved – that there is such a things as perfect feeling – is a very Romantic idea. There’s a route to enlightenment and morality through human emotion…

  2. Woah, I wrote a lot...

    3. The images that Jane imagines while reading the passage from Bewick’s – the solitary rocks, the arctic shores, the desolate sinking ships – are all pretty bleak. Her situation is bleak, at this point. It’s strange; some of the images, like the solitary rock among the waves, could also symbolize strength, while others, like the “broken boat stranded on a desolate coast,” couldn’t. Jane doesn’t know her own strength yet; even when she’s fighting off John, she’s barely aware of what she’s doing.

    4. Those are just the pictures from the book she’s reading. When you think about this sequence of pictures, isolated from its context, though, it becomes a bit over-the-top. Gallows? Really? What kind of “History of British Birds” is this, anyways?

    5. It’s kind of funny that bullies must all be fat, short, doughy little tyrants. They have to be spoiled, of course, to get away with their bullying. Because they're spoiled, they eat a lot of candy. Therefore, they're fat. Totally makes sense.

    7. Interesting question. Although they’re definitely not her chief tormenters, I don’t really know how large a role they play in making her life miserable. When they went for Mrs. Reed, did they go to save Jane or to get her into trouble for fighting off John?

  3. 1, 2. I like how she's permitted to participate with the weather without being in the weather. She seems to find comfort--approaching that perfect feeling, which to me seems to be an alignment between one's internal mood and the mood of one's surroundings (the whole reason I tend to seek out loud angry music when I really want to scream in frustration) --through that weather. Unfortunately, the unnatural storm of her cousins intrudes, and pulls back the curtain of her illusion. (I'm not on expert on sentimental moral theory either, though I'm a little familiar with it.)

    3, 4. I'm not convinced those pictures are in the book. Like you said, it's a BOOK OF BIRDS! I imagine there's a melancholy or dreary air to the illustrations and the ink and smell and texture and it triggers her imagination whence come the still bleaker images. Though I guess it's possible there are all those sepulchral pictures, and maybe there are crows on the gallows and doves in the graveyard and maybe an albatross near the boat.... Certainly and regardless, her imagination is at work and on overdrive, as will happen again the next chapter (I've read ahead).

    7. I am interested to see how kinetic the sisters are going to be. Right now I see them and John, as well as the mother and servant girls, as all pretty flat. I hope there's an arc coming. Those of you who've already read it, anything to add to this particular question without giving anything away?

  4. 7. My answer to this: yes, everyone is against Jane. Let me explain myself...

    Jane is telling the story herself here. That is, everything written is either coming from a young Jane's mind (a rather dramatic and superstitious young mind, as demonstrated by her expressions of the weather and the book, and thinking John "a murderer"), or coming from how Jane remembers it--painted with the dramatic and fearful impressions made on her memory as a child. According to young Jane, everyone IS against her, and consequently the narrative of the book is depicted that way. Jane has no respect for her cousins and aunt, and in her young (and dramatic, as I have already stated) mind these characters are quite morally polarized. The characters come across as flat because to Jane, they are flat and one-minded--all in one purpose, and that is to "be against" Jane.
    As far as Georgiana and Eliza are concerned, I believe Jane adopts an "if you're not with me you're against me" attitude towards them, and even perhaps the same with Bessie. Although the sisters are not actively working to tease/torment Jane in the ways that John does, they definitely do not stand by her in any way. Therefore, they belong to the perpetrators.
    In regard to the recent comment above, I believe Jane never quite shakes her childhood memory/impression of the Reeds. It is apparent in much later chapters (in my opinion, anyway) that her perception of the Reed's as "flat characters" never quite dissipates.

  5. Carson -- I'm interested to see what difference we can tell between Jane's impression/interpretation of things and the way things "really" are. That comes up again next chapter. One of the things I really like about this so far (going into the second chapter, at least, with he solitary confinement in the red room) is how real her imagination is for her--as far as she's concerned, and no matter what the step-sisters really are like--they are nearly as rotten as James, and she hates them all. I think this would make it awfully hard for her to accept them in any other way, even if all evidence pointed to the contrary. Better though is the horror/supernatural element. If it's real in her imagination, it's real for us, because her eyes as narrator are out eyes. Cool.

  6. Seems as though I'm a little late to this party. I can't really add much to the great comments so far, but I'll try on a couple.

    5. Remember our conversation back and forth on Disney movies and why the bad guys are always the most stereotypical ethnically? I think it kind of has to do with this. They want to send the impression, "THIS CHARACTER IS BAD," and so they adopt traits that society views as negative, such as a rich fat cat aristocrat in this case.

    7. Once again, I'm reading this for the first time, just like you, although I'm 2 chapters behind. So far it seems as though they are. I kind of hope this isn't the case because it's been my experience that that's not how the real world works. But then again, as Carson pointed out, we're hearing the story from Jane's perspective, and it HAS been my experience that people making their own situation out to be unbearable is how the real world works. I just hope it doesn't turn too Holden Caulfieldish. I loved that book, but the complaining that phony does, does grate on you at times, it really does.

  7. 5. I think this is exactly like why Miss Abbott despises Jane: she's NOT anything representative of the aristocracy--fat and pampered.

    7. Only three chapters in as I now am, I'm already beginning to see evidence of more than the mere 2-dementions--I mean DIMENSIONS.

  8. FINALLY got to start reading and made it through the first chapter. (i know i know--i'm a little behind. i'll catch up!) i'll post my thoughts/comments after reading through all of your notes above. good writing all!

  9. Good to have you, Katie! We look forward to it!


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