Monday, March 28, 2016

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

From The New York Times:
No sooner has Jane Eyre discovered that her dear master is a married man than she gives him up. “I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man.” She will not be Mr. Rochester’s mistress; she nearly becomes a missionary. But the works of the Lord are great: The wife dies. Jane nurses Mr. Rochester back to health. More important, she saves his soul. All his life, he had been an “irreligious dog,” but Jane’s example has swelled his heart “with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth.” And so the novel ends with an acknowledgment that the couple’s happiness falls short of the bliss they will know in heaven. The last sentence of “Jane Eyre” isn’t “Reader, I married him” (I always forget this) but “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus.”

What fault could the sternest Victorian moralists have found with any of that? But to the novel’s first critics, Jane was too independent and assertive, “the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit.” Her longing for Rochester was “coarse” (that is, sexual), and as the reviewer for The Christian ­Remembrancer averred, the book “burns with moral Jacobinism.” Jane is always “murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor,” and so — since God decides who is born a weaver and who a viscount — the novel was thought to be criticizing “God’s appointment,” a kind of blasphemy. Never mind that Queen Victoria stayed up late reading it to Prince Albert. “Jane Eyre” was an “immoral,” even a “dangerous” book, and whoever was behind the authorial pseudonym “Currer Bell” was in possession of a sordid mind. (Read more.)

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