Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Club: Jane Eyre

This is a picture my copy of Jane Eyre, which I bought on a bus trip from Yosemite to Merced at a used book store near the bus depot.  It has been one of my favorite books:  I read it first in high school when I was 16 (not for a class, at first, then again for a Literature class) and then again in my 30s.  The second time, I felt like I was reading it with my 16-year-old self, remembering my initial reactions at the same time I experienced my more adult reactions.  Reading it again in my 40s was different though:  Mr. Rochester's attentions no longer seemed flattering, they seemed borderline psychotic.  The girls reacted similarly, as did most of the kids in our mother/daughter book club.  Still, I'm not giving up on a classic, so instead of letting it go, we started reading all kinds of other stories about the Jane Eye characters, including:

Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea," which gave a perspective from Bertha (very sexual and creepy, but also written in such a subtle way that I wouldn't have caught the references if I weren't reading the footnotes).

Helen Dunmore's "Grace Poole Her Testimony," in which Jane is portrayed as a conniving schemer and the first Mrs. Rochester is seen sympathetically.  Mrs. Poole is also given a backstory as the former lover of Mr. Rochester and the mother of Adele.

Francine Prose's "The Mirror" in which Jane's story is told beyond the wedding in which she begins to suspect that Mr. Rochester drove poor Bertha into insanity... and is attempting the same with her

Salley Vickers' "Reader, She Married Me" in which Mr. Rochester admits that Jane was a passing infatuation, but provides his own sad backstory about Bertha, which is sympathetic to both of them.  In the end, he feels stuck with Jane, her determination a hammer that she uses to pummel her way into the life that she wants and the story that she wants told.  This was K's favorite version.

(The three latter references, above, are from Tracy Chevalier's 2016  "Reader, I Married Him" collection of "Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre," which I was fortunate to stumble upon in the library.)

In other words, we dove into an analysis of the book, even watching both a 1990s version and a more recent one for different interpretations of Mr. Rochester and Jane herself.  The acting and directing and storytelling were great; we'd recommend both, for different reasons.  What fun to dive deep in research and conversations together....

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