Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

As with Great Expectations, which I reviewed a few months ago, Jane Eye is a 19th century coming of age novel in which the lead character looks back on their life and recounts the experiences they've had and the lessons learned.  There are a number of other similarities between these two great classics and differences too but I have to say, I much prefer Jane Eyre, a novel that touches on so many themes and which also presents us with a young woman, Jane Eyre, without friends or family trying to make her way in the world

When you consider that Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre in 1846 that is remarkable.  One passage stood out for me in terms of the feminist aspects of the book.  Jane is 18 and a teacher at Lowood Institute the boarding school for poor girls where Jane's aunt had callously shipped her off to when she was 10. Jane has been at Lowood almost half of her life and though the school is much improved and Jane has a steady income she wants something different:

"What do I want?  A new place, in a new house, amongst new faces, under new circumstances.  I want this because it is of no use wanting anything better.  How do people do to get a new place? They apply to friends, I suppose; I have no friends.  There are many others who have no friends, who must look about for themselves and be their own helpers; and what is their resource?  I could not tell: nothing answered me; I then ordered my brain to find a response, and quickly ... I got up and took a turn in the room; undrew the curtain, noted a star or two shivered with cold, and again crept to bed.  A kind fairy, in my absence had surely dropped the sugestion on my pillow; for as I lay down, it came quietly and naturally to my mind. --Those who want situations advertise; you must advertise in the -- shire Herald."

After placing the ad, Jane receives an offer from a Mrs Fairfax who lives at Thornfield Hall and works for Edward Rochester, the master of the estate.  Mrs Fairfax is seeking a governess for young Adele who is a ward of Mr Rochester.  Jane accepts the job to teach Adele and comes to live at Thornfield and so begins the passionate yet rocky romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester.

For me the main attraction in this novel was Jane Eyre who narrates the novel but I was charmed by Mr Rochester too, a brooding, Byronesque hero who says to Jane at one point: "Nature meant me, on the whole, to be a good man, Miss Eyre and you see I am not". But actually Mr Rochester is a good man, Jane would not love or respect anything less. Granted, Mr Rochester is flawed.  Life has dealt him a bad set of cards but he has admirable qualities too and a great deal of courage when called upon. He loves Jane and sees in her his salvation and he is right in this.

Jane Eyre when it was published was a phenomenal success with readers on both sides of the Atlantic.  The literary critic Elaine Showalter writes in her book A Jury of Her Peers that women everywhere were reading Jane Eyre and a kind of "Jane Eyre mania" took hold. A fascination developed as well with Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre and later with Emily Bronte who wrote the novel Wuthering Heights and that fascination for the Bronte family lives on to this day.  Having read both novels I can only marvel at how so much genius could exist among two sisters and their sister Anne as well who wrote the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I would say for anyone curious about the Brontes or anyone wanting to read a great romantic novel to start with Jane Eyre a reading experience you will not soon forget.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thoughts on the Election

Normally this is a book blog but we had an election this week and I wanted to share my thoughts.  I voted for Hillary and obviously I am disappointed (and worried) by the outcome. The narrative as to why Trump won is that the white working class who live in OH, PA, MI, WI etc have felt ignored for decades by the Media, Hollywood, Wall Street and how the Democratic Party has forgotten the working man and woman.

I'm not immune to this argument.  Turn on the Sunday News shows each week and the same highly paid journalists and politicians are giving their views about foreign policy or DC gossip.  Ditto on the nightly Cable news shows where the salaries are enormous and where if a person earning $13 an hour were ever to be invited on to discuss their views about the state of the nation, the hosts wouldn't know what to do with them.

So there is anger in most of the country where we are not doing well financially. Millions uninsured.  No retirement funds,  Majority living paycheck to paycheck and magazines like People, Entertainment Weekly, US breathlessly telling us about the Khardashians.  I'm angry too but Trump was not the answer.

He ran the ugliest campaign I have seen in my lifetime dividing groups against each other.  I think part of the problem is that his insults and outrageous statements were so numerous that they began to bleed into each other until it all became a toxic stew that no one could remember.  In his acceptance speech he sounded gracious as if that negates everything that went before because who can remember all of the insults anyway since there were so many?

I also believe when you consider that we have never had a woman President in 240 years and that most men (and many women) could still not bring themselves to vote for a woman that gender played a part in this election.  Hillary is flawed (who isn't) but there has always been since the time she arrived on the scene 25 years ago a hatred for Hillary so extreme that I don't think it can be divorced from her being a woman.  I mean when you consider some of the terribly hateful signs and buttons about Hillary that were on sale at Trump rallies or the things that were said on twitter, sexism definitely played a part in this election.  And maybe that's the thing we don't want to look at.  Easier to talk about people being angry about the loss of jobs then the big role sexism plays in this country.

So these are my thoughts.  I'm worried about foreign policy under Trump.  On a personal note I am also worried about social security and medicare which the vast majority of us whether we voted for Trump or not will be needing.  Wiith a GOP Congress led by Paul Ryan who has been itching to raise the retirement and medicare age to 70 will we have to be working forever before we see our benefits?

He is the President now and can he change?  Can he apologize for the type of campaign he ran and resolve to be a fair and decent President to all Americans? Maybe the magnitude of the job he is about to take on will change him for the better. Let's hope so.

Anyway back to posting my book reviews in about a week.  No more poitics.  I promise.