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Thursday, June 15, 2006

John Thornton likes Mr Rochester, Though Jane's a Little Dull

That would be John Thornton the critic not the character from North and South. I have recently read his review of Jane Eyre, and was much amused by his conclusion:

Thus Jane Eyre remains a beautiful sandcastle while it's being experienced, but not one of which much (save its brief heart) remains after the tides of time and memory crash down over its Thornfieldean parapets.

I like the word 'Thornfieldean' and I think this is the first instance of its use. For the record, I do not agree with Mr.Thornton but perhaps you could have guessed as much. It will never cease to amaze me how so many sensible people can read a book and then, taking a notion of what it is 'about', deem huge chunks of it irrelevant because it doesn't fit this notion. Shouldn't the presence of these other 'episodes' as he calls them indicate that the book is not simply about Rochester? It is true that the Thornfield chapters are so engrossing that many readers skip over those with St.John- critics do so all the time. The fault is not in the book but in how we read. If we are reading only for what is exciting or fun we will miss a lot. Mr.Thornton says a few silly things (although much of what he says besides is sensible). Some of this silliness is to think of the rest of the book as simply a device to make the book 'about Jane.' He claims there is no threat or challenge to Jane's values in the Lowood or Morton sections. I must say this is surprising to me. My only explaination can be that he also rushed through the Morton chapters. Sometimes I wonder what happened to close reading.

Now for something completely different...

Emily Brontë beat out a filly by a length (this would be Emily Brontë the racehorse...).


Liz said...

Hmm... he reminds me a bit of those male reviewers of the early C20th who seemed to think that Bronte didn’t structure her novels at all, just bleughed out whole reams of spinsterish sexual repression on to the page. I am perhaps being a bit uncharitable though. It’s quite common for reviewers these days to feel so separate from the Victorians that they are amazed when novelists use some of the techniques common these days. “Bronte hints at these with the facility of a mystery novelist”?? Hell yes! Meantime, Sarah Walters, who knows something about structuring a novel, says that Jane Eyre is “one of the most perfectly structured novels of all time”.

Brontëana said...

I agree that it is amazingly structured. It seems like everytime I pick up on one detail I will find it running through the entire text. It never fails. That is precisely what first set my interest on the Brontes. I took a seminar course on their works thinking that if I ended up tired of my favourite book then I would know that I couldn't do this professionally. Instead of getting bored with JE, I've been writing papers (for fun yet...) and keeping this blog.

I might be justified in blaming Monsieur Heger. One of his directives was to never use an image without it 'illuminating like a vision.'

The idea of there being 'modern' techniques of writing also irritates me. Do you not think it is silly to hear someone say 'she has a remarkably modern style' of a writer who has been dead for over a century?

Liz said...

Yes, and as if 'modern' were the best compliment you could give!

Brontëana said...

I am not sure where it starts, but there is a strange resistence to anything which is older than, say 1900. There are, I think, 400 majors in the English dept. here. I'm the undergraduate representative on the department council, so I talk with as many of them as I can to get their feelings on the program. It astonishes me how many say that they just 'don't get' anything written before 1900. I think, to counteract this, people have developed the habit of saying how 'modern' everything is.

I do a little writing myself, and I've been told that I have a very 'old' style. I worry about this hurting my chances of being published more. And yet, a lot of the work we published this year was terrible! Even the publisher, the expert on the author, the author's daughter- they all said it was a lousy novel we were publishing. But, the author was Canada's first Modernist, so off it went on the market. Ridiculous to think of 'modern' as the highest compliment.

amandaJ said...

Bronteana, I find that very sad - the comment that many of the English majors say they just don't 'get' anything written before 1900.

When I did my Honours degree majoring in English, the vast majority of us really loved literature (and poetry and drama) written before 1900. And before 1800 for that matter! But maybe that's because I did my degree long long ago, in a far-off time known as the 1980s.

Certainly, in my Australian university Victorian literature was well-loved and respected. Dickens drove us a bit mad, but many of my fellow undergrads loved the Brontes too.

Brontëana said...

to amandaj:

That really surprises me. Although, according to magazine ratings, the university I did my BA at is considered among the worst in Canada. Some of my classmates were gifted, but the vast majority confessed that they were only there to get some degree so they could move on to something else- like teaching! (in the words of one classmate: "I just want to get out of here and teach some kids!")

I remember people asking me if I really did like the Victorians, and thinking I was absolutely insane for enjoying the medieval period! "Dante is alright, if only he didn't write such awful poetry." :X

amandaJ said...

Bronteana - dear oh dear!

I wonder if this is a generational thing? Here in Australia there is a move towards alternative texts - film, music and television - as part of secondary and tertiary English courses. Which is great, but one would hope not at the expense of more tradtional texts as well. I suspect that it is, however, which is why some people raised on studying Buffy* as a text, may not think they would be able 'get' anything pre-1900.

There is much to enjoy and appreciate from every era, and it's sad to cut yourself off from the opportunity of discovering some of the most wonderful, rollicking plots ever written.

*Love Buffy!

Brontëana said...

Hmn. The English department spoke of film but only very briefly and in passing. We never studied any adaptations or brough television programs into our discussions. In the Classics department, however, we had a course on films depicting ancient Rome. I would say that it had the opposite effect- I actually wanted to read a Bulwer Lytton novel! ;) (Of course, it was such a horrid novel that I didn't get far beyond the opening lines of 'What ho, Diomed?!')

mysticgypsy said...

Having spent a considerable time in the Sciences, I feel like this this kind of apathy does not apply to just English majors, but also students in other desciplines.

Most students just want the practical aspect,such as having a job that pays well, which makes me wonder why they even attempt to study the Humanities in the first place.