Monday, December 1, 2008

Good Ole Nathaniel

Next year's time period is 1850- Present. So naturally I started at the beginning. And when I was looking for books written or about 1850 one name kept coming up over, and over and over again... Nathaniel Hawthorne. So I decided to dedicate the month of Jan to him. So go to the side bar and vote for which Nathaniel, novel, you want to read.

Don't forget our discussion for Jane Eyre starts on Dec. 5th.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I apologize if this isn't where you intended our -Jane Eyre- thoughts to go.

The last time I read -Jane Eyre- I remember I thought it was too contrived. All the little incidences of Jane’s uncle, her ending up in Morton where her cousins happened to live, etc. But this time I appreciated them as Charlotte Bronte not only wove a story together but intended, I believe, to show us the mystery of how God works in our lives.

There were a couple of things I found hard to believe other than they fit the author’s purpose. One was where Mr. Lloyd asks Jane what makes her miserable and Jane can hardly form an answer, yet in just 3 months time, by the end of the next chapter, Jane is able to give Mrs. Reed quite an earful. Jane has no difficulty from then on out forming those “round and ready” answers that Mr. Rochester so appreciated. Also, Mr. Rochester, from the beginning of his relationship with Jane, is brusque and can’t remember his manners, or “civilities”, at all. Yet with Blanche Ingram he is sickeningly charming.

I thoroughly enjoyed the humor of Charlotte Bronte’s writing. I don’t recall that I noted before in Blanche Ingram’s exclamations as she’s “rattling away” on the piano that basically she says, “You’re old and ugly but I’ll still marry you because you have money and I’ll still be beautiful.” OK, my paraphrase, but Bronte is surely mocking the transparency of the artifices of the desperate husband hunters like Blanche. And so many of the conversations between both Jane and Mr. Rochester and Jane and St. John are wonderfully entertaining. I marked (the only one of the lot of us, I know, who so desecrates their books!) several exchanges with smiley faces or “HaHa”.

I thought this time too of how similar Mr. Rochester and St. John were. They both wanted Jane for their own purposes and used self-justification and manipulation to achieve their desired ends. Mr. Rochester so justified for himself that he didn’t have a “wife” that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, consider how horrified Jane would be to find herself in a bigamous marriage. St. John’s self-justifications and manipulations were more sinister because they were done in the name of God. To violate his desires, which he believed to be God’s will, was to violate God’s will! (What do I ever so carefully justify until I can no longer concede that it is only my own peculiar way of thinking or seeing? Humility is in great demand!)

Today’s lottery winners or Home Makeover winners rarely react as Jane did to her inheritance. Jane’s very sober spirit is one reason I like her. She sees herself living before God and in that position, added money brings added responsibility. Her instantaneous decision to split the inheritance with her cousins is a joy and a relief to her. And as she throws herself into home preparations for her family, I am reminded of the joy and privilege of “keeping house” for my family, that I all too often take for granted.

There are many other ideas I noted this time around but I want to focus on what I enjoy and appreciate and am most encouraged by in -Jane Eyre- and that is Jane’s faith. My impression from reading Jane Austen’s works is that for most people, then as now, their religious ideas touched their daily lives very little. I believe, as a clergyman’s daughter, Charlotte Bronte could not leave out of her personal romantic fantasy, which is what I see -Jane Eyre- being, her faith in God. For the fantasy to feel real it had to include not only the desires of her flesh but also the desires of her spirit.

Early in the novel Charlotte Bronte uses the character of Mr. Brocklehurst to expose a common technique, still used, of getting souls into heaven by frightening them away from hell. Jane simply needs to be a “good little child” by believing and obeying whatever is told her. This is to “be good” and avoid hell and so get into heaven. Mr. Brocklehurst is the Pharisee who ties up burdens for others to carry and doesn’t give any aid in carrying them. Jane and the others at Lowood are to be humble and modest. Of course, this does not apply to Mr. Brocklehurst’s own family.

But it is at Lowood that Jane meets Helen Burns who “considered things by a light invisible to” Jane’s eyes. She tells Jane to “Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example.” She demonstrates for Jane how to endure, how to do good to those that hate you. She teaches Jane to see that not only others have faults but she does too. Helen Burns makes Christ’s love for Jane real by loving her. I am thinking especially of when Helen contrived to walk past Jane, twice, while Jane was perched aloft in humiliation and again after her punishment ended when Helen came and brought Jane food and consoled her. Helen teaches Jane the secret of being led by the Holy Spirit when she tells her to live so that her own conscience approves her, regardless of what others say about her. She teaches Jane that God is someone to run toward, to anticipate meeting with happiness; “God is my father; God is my friend; I love him; I believe he loves me.”

This friend and father God is the one Jane thanks upon her safe arrival at Thornfield Hall. And it is before this God that Jane forms her “round and ready” answers. She does not speak flippantly. Jane points Mr. Rochester toward God just as Helen had pointed her a few years before. “Sir, a wanderer’s repose or a sinner’s reformation should never depend on a fellow-creature. Men and women die; philosophers falter in wisdom, and Christian’s in goodness: if any one you know has suffered and erred, let him look higher than his equals for strength to amend, and solace to heal.” And it is before this God that Jane is willing to die quietly on the Rivers doorstep, accepting whatever is God’s will.

I see again, when Jane returns to Gateshead at the end of Mrs. Reed’s life, Jane is spiritually sober, wondering at what will become of Mrs. Reed’s spirit after her death. She ponders this eternal mystery and recalls Helen Burn’s faith at her death and also her “doctrine of the equality of disembodied souls.” Jane later expresses these thoughts, very passionately, to Mr. Rochester, “it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, - as we are!”

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte both comment upon the subject of women and marriage. Both, I believe, long for freedom and equality. It seems to me that Austen based her reasons for women’s equality upon the intellect and integrity and character of the women themselves. Bronte based her reasons for women’s equality on their position with men before God into eternity. I believe Bronte makes the stronger case.

I know, from -The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English-, that -Jane Eyre- was shocking in its day. I think perhaps this clear breaking with traditional barriers based on an equal position before God was a major reason for its having seemed written by “an alien…from society [who was] amenable to none of its laws.” (By reviewer Anne Mozley, 1853)

In Jane’s relationship with St. John I believe there are many contrasts between the religious life of duty and obligation that doesn’t bring any peace with God and the faithful life of love and joy and peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit…not the fruit of man’s own efforts but the fruit of God’s Spirit within us. And how often do church leaders, in their own desire to have a task done, declare themselves to be speaking for God, placing themselves between us and God, rather than directing us toward God? Jane, by contrast, is a good example of a “lay” person trusting that she can have a relationship with God and talk to Him and hear from Him in her spirit.

I’ll wrap up. I loved Mr. Rochester’s conversion, by the way.

Charlotte Bronte ends -Jane Eyre- with “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!”, the next to last verse of Revelation. Bronte has written a tale of love, a romance, but she is always reminding us that this world is not our home. We live before God. She reminds us to keep the tragedies and joys of this life in an eternal perspective. She also reminds us that God is a loving Father who works in and blesses the lives of his children, even here on earth.

I still love this novel!

Sharon in KY