I love the Angel Series more than Buffy, and every time I think about it, I go, “I love Angel! It’s so good!…Except for seasons 3 and 4, some of 2, anything with Conner, and a lot of Cordi, and the 5th season’s not super great either, but still!” That’s kind of how I react to Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was super excited to read it via audiobook. Listening to it, however, turned out to have its limitations. As much as I love Jane Eyre, even I have to admit that there is so much of this book that is drop dead boring.
Jane had a terrible childhood?
Got it. Moving on.
Lowood School sucked and everyone died of typhoid?
We have to get through her mean aunt, her crappy school, her best friend Helen dying (omg, Helen), her years as a teacher, her application to become a governess, meeting Mrs. Fairfax, and living at Thornfield for a couple weeks. Then, only then, do we finally reach Rochester. There are a few glorious chapters devoted to their tete-a-tetes and a Gothic mystery, then back we are again to Boringsville. She crawls around on the moors, hob nobs with St. John (pronounced Sin Jin, wtf), teaches rustic children, all to our torture. We are chomping at the bit to get back to Rochester and conclude the love story.
I read somewhere that Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre feverishly over something like 6 months. Word has it that she finished it, took it to an editor, who told her he wouldn’t print it unless it was longer. Otherwise she would have to print it with another story, much like Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were printed in one book. So Bronte took it home and made it longer.
I bet you anything that extra part is the dreaded St. John section. Charlotte had a special love for My Childhood Sucked stories, as pretty much every novel she’s written has a large section (if not the whole novel) devoted to the subject, so it probably wasn’t the beginning. The pace between the Rochester part and the St. John part is just so dissimilar, one impassioned and a quick read, the other strangled with particulars. They are almost two different books.That part where she is so destitute she tries to trade her gloves for a muffin? Shoot me.
As a devoted fan, I read Jane Eyre from beginning to end without skips. But I realized while I was reading it via audiobook, that my normal process for reading Jane Eyre can’t be done with audiobook. Normally, I skip ahead to the Rochester parts to fortify myself while trudging through the Lowood stuff, then go back to where I left off. Cannot be done with audiobooks.
In reading it the first (hundred) time(s), I actually didn’t mind most of the non-Rochester sections. As a 9th grader, Jane Eyre’s struggle hit me right in my teen angsty heart. Her struggle to be heard, to be seen, to be understood definitely resonated with me. And that moment, when she is staring out the window of the highest floor, looking out onto the grounds of Netherfield as if it were the world laid out for her, untouchable. I get that feeling, an urge to do something, anything, and feeling all roads closed. I now recognize it as part of my depression. I feel like that’s most of Charlotte Bronte’s writing, a lifelong catharsis of her deep depression. Jane Eyre is her most cheerful, actually. Read Villette sometime, if you want to feel what it’s like inside of the mind of a deeply depressed person. That book’s a trip.
Even the part where she is wandering around on the moors, I could get behind for a while. It’s kind of like a YA Novel. The main character, previously a child, encounters the world completely on his/her own, and goes through the basics, My Side of the Mountain style.
Oh my god, Jane Eyre is totally a Young Adult Novel. She’s even a teenager! (18-19 I think) She’s all #struggleisreal, though not in a belittling #firstworldproblems way.
Anyway, I don’t feel so angsty these days anymore. I still appreciate those sections, but more out of nostalgia. I still feel like that top floor moment is something true and valuable: the harrowing constraints of a woman in her situation. And if you think it’s all Ra Ra Women stuff, St. John is there to prove that it sucks for most people without the advantage of money and situation. Charlotte Bronte puts her truth in these (less interesting) parts, so I think they should be valued and enjoyed, at least the first hundred times.
But not Angel, seasons 3 and 4. Those just suck.