The Marriage Plot

Jane Eyre has finally gotten on my nerves. The first 350 pages, I was right there with her. The scenes of emotional  and physical deprivation from her childhood are bruisingly moving. You can feel her character being cast by these terrible circumstances. You have nothing but admiration for her bravery in the face of every hardship.

I enjoyed Jane and Edward’s unpredictable conversations and the crackling charge between them. The moment he asks her to marry him, however, that unpredictable alchemy between them dissipates. Though Jane is rosy and aglow with Edward’s avowal of love and marriage, I lost interest in their relationship once it took on the ordinary task of planning a wedding.

When Jane learns of  Edward’s cast-off wife, the “madwoman in the attic,” she flees the mansion and runs through the night. She makes a bed in the forest and begs for trough scraps by day.  I thought to myself, if she doesn’t mind subjecting herself to humiliation like this, then why doesn’t she just accept the humiliation of living in sin, without a valid marriage license? If she is such a bold, creative, independent individual, then why does she cling to such rigid formalities? If she and Edward want to be together, they should. But Jane elects to punish them both by taking a dramatic, even adolescent departure. Maybe that is why the book is a traditional recommendation for young adult/teenage readers.

In the end, Jane goes back to Edward. The pesky wife dies, a little too conveniently, I thought. Jane receives an inheritance, again, a little too conveniently, and now she can marry on equal terms. If the author is making the point that independent wealth is a precondition to pure equality within a marriage, I tend to agree.  Alas, it is not a situation many people find themselves in.  Most of us have to deal with the indignity of being financially dependent on a romantic or marital partner at some point in our lives.  Rarely does a deus ex machina trustfund pop up in the eleventh hour. We may even have to deal with the odd, crazy ex in a spouse’s history.  You have to deal with it, get over it and move on. Or at least try.

Here’s a question: Why does Jane never suspect that maybe Edward was the reason his wife went insane?  Certainly, locking her in the attic and pretending she doesn’t exist didn’t help the mental health situation. If Edward were really a gentleman, he would be by her side. Perhaps she was angry, justifiably so, and Edward’s insensitive reactions just sent her over the edge. There are many possibilities here. Anyway, if I were Jane, I would be on the lookout for mental and emotional abuse in the future.  Jane doesn’t actually know Edward all that well when she marries him. She won’t know that until they are married a long time. The fact that he goes blind hopefully humbles him enough that he doesn’t try to control her as he clearly did with his first wife. Jane is very emotional, but she is a clear thinker and an equal match of wits to Edward. Hopefully these assets are enough to protect her from his dominating impulses throughout their married lives.

Jane Eyre is still, mostly, a very good role model. There were days I felt inspired by her courage and strength of spirit. I hope I can channel her as needed through life. I’ll be forever asking myself, “What would Jane Eyre do?”

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