Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jane Eyre is no Holden Caulfield

A bold and, quite sincerely, also vacuous statement from The Atlantic in an article that claims that, 'It's Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That's Not About Love'.

The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn't want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn't want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.
These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn't necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don't take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.
"Great" books, as defined by the Western canon, didn't contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. (Kelsey McKinney)
Just out of curiosity let's see how many of those do apply to Jane Eyre:

1) Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester - well, apart from the bad choice of words (we don't think it's intended as a pun) there's a good many pages of Jane Eyre devoted to Jane fighting precisely that.

2) These women wanted to get married and have kids - we are afraid our edition of Jane Eyre must be missing the pages where Jane discusses those aspirations, then.

3) They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn't want to be with them. In the words of Mr Rochester himself: “Jane, you understand what I want of you?  Just this promise—‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.’”

4) They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. What does that even mean?

5) Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted. Yes, both Mr Rochester and St John Rivers had a very easy time shaping Jane Eyre.

6) These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Those who would argue that the whole of Jane Eyre is a 'story of solitary self-discovery' know nothing, then.

7) Literary girls don't take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men. Sure, the whole thing about Jane Eyre advertising to find a post as a governess? That was code for 'hey, I need a man now to keep me'.

8) "Great" books, as defined by the Western canon, didn't contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. While we do agree with this to some extent and while it's up to every one to like or dislike Jane Eyre, we do think that Jane Eyre is a novel worthy of being in the 'Western canon' and does contain a female protagonist worth admiring if read at all, which doesn't seem to be the case here.

A couple of direct quotes from Jane Eyre that would seem to support our arguments above:
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.  Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (ch. XII)
This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him.  They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly.  “Oh, comply!” it said.  “Think of his misery; think of his danger—look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair—soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his.  Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?”
Still indomitable was the reply—“I care for myself.  The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. " (ch. XXVII)
Oh, and just for the record, we can think of plenty of books featuring women that don't include a love story, apart from Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.

Well, anyway, from another article in The Atlantic:
In that same vein of feminism and whatnot, here's the "thug" version of Pride and Prejudice that will have you yearning for a Jane Eyre version:
http://youtu.be/5Nm61IoNdHg (Alexander Abad-Santos)
Oh yes, definitely.

Author Anchee Min is interviewed on The Bat Segundo Show:
Correspondent: Yeah. Well, it’s also interesting because I was going to mention, on a less austere note, that you did read Love Story in Chinese translation. And I was wondering if that had any kind of impact upon your notion of romance or love or even sex. How did that notion change when you came to Chicago? I mean, was this one of the things that you had to adjust your own internal feelings for?
Min: It’s quite bizarre. I did not read any Chinese romantic — anything that had that element — before the Cultural Revolution, which means before 1978. Mao died in ’76. And then that was two years later. The Western translations of first Western literature. Like Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind started to pour into Chinese translations. But before that, the only book about relationship between a man and a woman was this medical book. The title is called From Head to Toe Looking from a Monkey’s Eye. (Edward Champion)
the Brontë Sisters recalled that it was yesterday that Charlotte and Anne went to visit George Smith to dispel rumours about them.

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