The Problem with Jane Eyre

(And Charlotte Bronte, actually)

(SPOILERS abound. So if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, stay clear. Unless you’re like me, and you don’t care.)

OK, I figure I might as well explain my problem here, before y’all think I have irrational hatred of C. Bronte.

I don’t, really, except for the fact that she didn’t like Jane Austen, because she didn’t think her books were “real.” They lacked passion.

Right. And hiding a crazy wife in the attic is, um, real?

That, right there, is my biggest beef with dear Charlotte. She tried to make Jane so rational, so calm, so collected–and she succeeds, for about 75% of the book. Then–bam!–crazy wife in attic, and nice, rational Jane is going to run off to the moors TO DIE.

I realize this could be seen as a psychotic break or something on Jane’s part, which would lead to her totally rash actions. But that’s not what happens. She stays in her room the whole afternoon, evening and night following the bizarre almost wedding, then flees to the moors. With no money, no clothes,no ideas about where she’s going to go. She had money–she could have gotten a coach and at least gone to a town to get shelter!

I feel the entire book falls apart here, and doesn’t really get back to itself until Jane hears that Rochester is still alive. I realize, yes, that their reunion would lose poignancy and power if they were not separated. I’m not saying that a separation shouldn’t have happened, but that Jane does not behave at all in character. She just, whoops!, flies off to the moors! (“To die. In the rain. Alone.”)

To me, that really kills the novel. If I’m reading it, or watching it, (because there are some great scenes, before and after this episode), I skip this section.

(Oh, and more randomness–not only was she on the moors, but she’s apparently an amnesiac. WHAT?!)

Charlotte does something similar in Vilette, making Lucy Snowe,  her heroine, a weeeeeeee bit unstable.  She hears things, sees things, thinks she’s being haunted by the ghost of a dead nun (I think–it’s been awhile since I read it), and then you have the Famous Ambiguous Ending.

At least when her sister Emily wrote nuttiness, it was consistent nuttiness. Heathcliff is Heathcliff, until he dies, as is Catherine. Neither of them have totally random breaks in character–Heathcliff doesn’t get a conscience before he dies, and neither does she. Redemption doesn’t come to Wuthering Heights from those characters, but from their children.

Anyway. This is why I do not like Charlotte Bronte.



5 thoughts on “The Problem with Jane Eyre

  1. Pingback: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë « Stewartry

  2. Oh my goodness. You are picking on my favorite book. Poor Jane. I prefer to think of it this way. As you said, Jane is a calm and rational person. That being said, she tried really hard to maintain a state of calm, thus spending the afternoon, evening, and night in her room. However, even the most level-headed among us sometimes can’t bear it any longer. Cue running madly to the moors to die. Poor Jane.

    Besides, it was one of my earliest experiences with reading anything “romantic” so my perspective may be a bit skewed. But that’s no less reasonable than hating Bronte because she hated Austen. 😉

  3. You simply don’t get the book.
    “Jane Eyre” does have faults, but what you’ve written above is not 1 of them. Jane Eyre doesn’t run off to the moors to die, she leaves Rochester. And you don’t understand why she leaves Rochester? Didn’t you see the reason? Jane’s religiousness and morality? Rochester’s deception? Rochester having had a wife? Did you actually read the book?
    In the last paragraph, you’re also wrong. I can see that you’re a fan of Jane Austen, which is fine, because I like her as well. The problem with you is that, according to this post at least, you seem to expect books to be like Jane Austen’s, to have the same kind of development, which is ridiculous. Charlotte/ Emily Bronte and Jane Austen had different mindsets (Romantic vs Classical), different views on the novel, different styles… Heathcliff is an exceptional character, not an ordinary character like those created by Jane Austen, and it would be totally wrong and forced and unnatural and unconvincing if he developed a so-called conscience at the end of the book. He is complex and has a vivid existence as a character, any such change you’re thinking of would ruin the whole novel. Charlotte Bronte was not right when judging and disparaging Jane Austen’s novels according to 1 standard (Romantic), but you’re wrong, and silly, when expecting the Jane Austen kind of development in other novels.

    • She leaves Rochester, yes, and I very much understand why she does it: however, she does not do it in any way that makes any sense. She has money. She has a brain. She could have said I am leaving and then gone to a nearby town to think or plan. But she doesn’t. She runs off to the moors and basically gives up on life. I don’t think there’s any other reason, because she’s rescused there by the sisters, and taken back to their house.
      I want development that makes sense. I like many authors other than Jane. What they all have in common is character and plot development that makes sense. What Jane does does not, in any way, shape, or form, make sense. Jane has an essential break in her character. Now, if you want to make the argument that it’s a psychological reaction to Rochester’s hidden secrets, you could do that. I’d find it a bit wishy-washy, but it could be done. The point is, Jane has lots of other options other than giving up on life. Which is what she does.
      “Classical” isn’t a genre in Literature. It is in music. Jane was a regency writer, and Charlotte and her sisters wrote in a female gothic style. So yes, their styles are inherently different. But good character and plot development are essential to any well-written novel.

      • I wasn’t referring to Classicism as a genre in literature, but the mindset, the set of attitudes and thoughts and values as opposed to Romanticism.
        There are many ways of understanding Jane Eyre’s decision at that point:
        1st, she has to go right away, because she understands that, otherwise, she may be persuaded, and living with Rochester is wrong.
        2nd, she has to go at night so that Rochester doesn’t try to stop her, or follow her.
        3rd, the revelation is to her a shock. Think about it- the wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of her life, she loves Rochester and Thornfield hall and has lots of hopes and expectations, and then suddenly everything falls apart, she realises that she has been deceived all along and that she hasn’t never really known Rochester, how can she bear it? Especially when Jane Eyre has never had a home- not at Gateshead, not at Lowood school, only at Thornfield hall does she feel happy, feel like home, and yet… It’s very difficult to remain cool-headed and calm then. Maybe you and I have different perceptions of Jane Eyre, but I don’t see Jane Eyre as a calm person- or she is, but not by nature. It appears to me, due to the way she acts as a kid, that she behaves that way and represses her emotions rather due to the many years at Lowood school.
        4th, Charlotte Bronte’s a Romantic and it’s quite clear in the book in many ways, including her ‘irrational’ decision to leave Rochester without plan.
        As written before, “Jane Eyre” has lots of defects, but I don’t see this as 1 of them.

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