Jane Eyre is one of those classics that I read and watch from time to time and, to be honest, I never give it a great deal of thought.
One of the side effects of my con-cold (now thankfully over) was that I watched the BBC version again, and this time I found myself pondering why I prefer this version to the recent movie.
The truth is that the recent movie doesn’t give you any real reason to like Rochester. He’s a moody, manipulative arse and – as one reviewer said when the movie came out – why do women find him romantic?
So that was the jumping off point for a minor epiphany about the story. Rochester is something of a hard sell as a romantic lead, because he’s pretty much as the recent movie plays him, but the interesting thing about the book is that really it’s not a romance.
If you know the story then you’ll know that quite a chunk of the book is Jane’s formative years. Not uncommon in literature of the period, but uncommon in romances. And why is St John there? He doesn’t offer Jane romantic attachment at all.
It’s in the contrast of the two relationships that I found my reading of the text. The entire story is about Jane’s personal journey and how she develops to be the woman we want to see happy at the end of the book.
Jane asserts her will when she calls herself Rochester’s equal, but does again even more so when she leaves Thornfield. With St John, she knows that he is a man she has the greatest respect for and who’s offering her the opportunity to do much of what she wants in life. It’s not his offer of marriage that turns her off, it’s what she knows she’ll become if she marries him.
When she seeks out Rochester at the end, it’s because she knows herself completely and knows she controls her life. That God has rendered Rochester repentant and humble (and conveniently disposed of poor Bertha) is just a mechanism to make her choice simple.
I think that’s why the book ends with St John, rather than leaving him to his fate. The story is about her, not so much about her love, and so St John’s fate is important.
So, not exactly a groundbreaking flash of brillance, but it was interesting to look past the fact I’ve always known Jane Eyre as a romance and see that really it’s not.