Re-reading Jane Eyre, 7 years apart.
A few weeks ago I saw on facebook that Focus Feature were doing Jane Eyre for their #focusbookclub. I love Jane Eyre, especially the Focus Feature Cary Fukunaga version from 2011. For me, Michael Fassbender is the definitive Rochester. A few years ago I even wrote a lengthy blog post about the costumes and cinematography of the film. So when this popped up on my newsfeed and I started to actually think about it I realised, as much as I claim to love Jane Eyre I hadn’t actually read the book itself in sometime.
So I did what any other normal book dragon would do and I decided to re-read the book then write a new blog post – this time about the book itself; not just the costumes (however pretty they are.)
First, some time-travel.
I first read Jane Eyre in 2012. I’d not long moved to Glasgow, moved into a flat with my boyfriend – and had only started on Etsy about a year before. It was, overall a very hopeful and happy time for me.
The reason I read the novel is because of the film. I was becoming (more) obsessed with period costume, in particular 1840s/50 stuff and there is, sadly, a limit on how many times you can reasonably watch Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North & South ( I have a thing for guys in period waistcoats, okay?)
So I found Jane Eyre, strangely the first copy by boyfriend got me was in Italian and while I’m fine with subtitles I wasn’t really looking for a foreign language film right then. But Edward Rochester became a very fine replacement for John Thornton (ok not permanently – I still watch both, a lot).
But wandering about in town one day, thinking I must really buy myself a book (this was quite a while before my current book-buying mania) and lo, I went into The Works and found myself a nice hardback copy of Jane Eyre.
Remembering with delight
So it wasn’t really until halfway through the book – when Jane finds out about Bertha Rochester that I realised I’d read this book before. Of course, I hadn’t but as it turned out I’d read – and loved – a modern retelling of it, set in my beloved Edinburgh if you can believe it. Lazy Ways To Make A Living came into my life at a very different time to Jane Eyre but at a time I desperately needed the comfort of an albeit fictional counterpart and friend. (I bought it in a charity bookshop in 2007; there wasn’t a lot of backstory to it, ok?)
So despite having to stop reading at awkward times (say, on a train home when I was about to start crying at Helen dying) I finished the book in a matter of days – all with a newer energy, knowing that I loved the retelling, why not the original?
Let’s come back to the future*
7 years later, I still watch Jane Eyre on repeat (which reminds me I really need to do a rereading and rewatching of North & South) I know the story so well now that I can always spot when something is a retelling of it, or takes inspiration (so the mad woman in the attic is now a bone fide trope in literature, right?) I know the story so well that despite everything I still fall madly in love with Rochester every time I watch it.
But I haven’t re-read it since that first time. (Although I read Lazy Ways To Make a Living multiple times) So what’s different with my life now?
First I’m no longer in a relationship (as it turns out, no matter how much period costume I forced him into he did not, in fact turn out to be my Edward Rochester – or John Thornton, sadly)
I tried living on my own in Edinburgh for a while but it wasn’t to be (do you know how expensive Edinburgh rents are now? Especially living on your own? Its madness) so I’m back with my parents for now – the question of how long for is one that I refuse to answer (I’m not a proper grown-up yet okay?)
I’m still running my baby Etsy shop, it has not brought me the fortune it should have but it’s still there.
I have a Masters now. Completed in 2017 I now have an MA in Creative Writing and am still struggling to finish my first novel (of course I’m not writing blog posts instead of finishing the chapters that would be crazy.)
But the biggest thing I guess is that I was diagnosed with MS early last year. To say that 2018 for the most part of was a bit of a clusterf*ck is an understatement.
So, now early 2019 I am single, living with my parents at my childhood home again and having a hard time adjusting to the “new normal” of having this disease and what it means for me – both for my personal life and my professional life. (As it turns out, one of the more noticeable effects of the MS is constant numbness and pins and needles in my hands, making sewing a struggle and hand writing anything kind of a no-go area.)
What has this got to do with Jane Eyre?
Well amidst feeling all sorry for myself Jane stepped in, with her unwavering belief in herself and honestly, that’s kind of what I need right now.
I found I’m still utterly in love with Rochester. Yes, he’s abusive, dishonest and quite frankly a beast at times but I have a thing for brooding Byronic heroes.
I still read the book paying close attention to the descriptions of clothing – as if sometime soon I might actually get a chance to make them (I won’t).
But most of all I re-read this book with a better understanding and respect for Jane herself. She carved out some kind of home out of the turmoil of Lowood. This shows that she had the perseverance to make things work even if it wasn’t ideal (in this example downright appalling). Then when she had grown from this and needed greater adventure she pushes herself – advertises herself – in order to find that adventure which she craves. Then, although deliriously happy and settled at Thornfield she respects herself too much to continue somewhere that will ultimately bring her pain and suffering.
I need to remember this. To remember that I belong to myself and no one else. Yes, I am facing some struggles and obstacles (some which, regardless of how much I push will always be there) but I can make the life that I want. I can carve out my identity and need for adventure myself.
And yes, this book is ultimately a romance and while I am single just now I know from reading Jane Eyre that happiness can still be found – by yourself or with someone else. Jane didn’t return to Rochester until she was ready to; until she was certain, in herself that it was the right thing to do, and the right way for her to be happy.
So this is a gothic novel, a feminist tome. It’s heart breaking and gut-wrenching (watching Helen Burns slowly disappear before Jane’s eyes is truly horrible) but it’s hopeful and happy (at times) and most of all peaceful – Jane finishes the novel at peace with herself.
And really, if I’m going to accept my “new normal” I think I need to find some peace with myself too.
*sorry (not sorry) it’s my only time-travel joke/reference, honest.