I’m a big fan of Jane Eyre and that Charlotte Bronte, well, she’s well hot too. We all know the story of little orphan Jane Eyre all alone in the world. She’s a plain girl with a fiery temper. In the opening pages she bests her bully of a cousin, John, and tells her Aunt Reed, who is her guardian, what’s what, which isn’t a winning combination. Only beautiful girls are allowed to have fiery tempers. Or plain girls with large dowries. Beautiful girls with large dowries and little or no temper, that’s win-win.
Not that the aristocracy would have used such terms circa 1850. After the revolutionary fever of 1848 that swept through Europe that’s revolutionary talk. Jane Eyre as a revolutionary? Or as the journalist and novelist Bidisha puts it ‘How much of a heroine was Jane Eyre?’
This has something of the standard English Lit., about it that I immediately started scrawling down answers. Sex before marriage? No Jane wasn’t that kind of girl. Bronte, however, picked on a real problem for the aristocracy: where to seat the governess. In a world where God has ordained everyone’s place, with Englishmen at the very top, just below God, an English lady was a lesser being, but had to be treated well and kept in place like a good horse, with a stall at the top table. Governesses, as Jane shows, were tricky beasts. They could be sent to sit with the servants and other dumb animals, but many governesses were spawn of the gentry and knew how to wield a knife and fork and not spit on the floor.
Here we have the problem dramatised with the introduction of the beautiful and fiery Blanche Ingram. Blanche jokes that as a little girl she liked nothing better than to terrorise the governesses that ruled her life. She wouldn’t let them of course. She was a free spirit. Just as Mr Rochester was a free spirit.
Cut to the domestic dogsbody Grace Poole and the madwomen in the attic. Mr Rochester, is of course, not a free man. He’s married to a mad woman and not only is she mad, she’s coloured (Creole) but doesn’t know it. Mrs Rochester is Bertha Mason, the female Steve Martin from The Jerk, not only does she not understand she is coloured, she doesn’t understand marriage leaves her with the same rights as an American cockroach and frequently trying to burn down the house and biting her brother to death will not change the laws of the land. B1+ for effort though.
Jane instinctively understands all of this. A sham marriage is no marriage at all. She flees. Here’s where Bidisha finds some biographical gold. Charlotte too was fleeing from a broken romance. Like Jane she had fallen in love with a married man, in Brussels of all places, a professor of languages. Her professor acknowledges Charlotte’s love and allowed her to write to him every six months.
Jane is offered the same kind of deal by the aptly named St.John. He tempts her with the offer of a platonic marriage based on a mutual understanding that there was a lot of the Lord’s work to be done converting Heathen folk in Hindustani into godfearing English gentlemen and he promises no hanky panky. Jane is torn. She is on the verge of agreeing but she doesn’t love him and therefore decided she cannot marry him.
Bidishia rates Rochester as rotten to the core. She didn’t realise this when she was a young naive runt reading the book. She has a trump card. Not only is she a woman. She is a coloured woman. She better than others understands this problem better now. A* Bidishia. You’ve passed all your exams, grown up and now live in the real world