Teaser and Seductive

It is true: when it happens to re-read a book after many years, even one that you think to know very well, it will inevitably appear under a different light. The book is just the same, but the reader has changed in sensibility and life experience, hence; words, actions unexpectedly take different forms and meanings and the novel, like a precious jewel case, opens to your mind to reveal its new treasure.

So, when I recently analyzed with my students chapter XXXVIII of Jane Eyre, I couldn’t help but noticing a tension in the book, that I had missed before and, I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. Whoever has bumped into my old articles about Jane Eyre, knows that she is not exactly my favorite heroine and not certainly one I naturally emphatize with. I have often found tedious such display of prudery, modesty and self-righteousness, however, between the lines of that chapter I could perceive a new aspect of Jane which I had totally missed.

First of all, I felt that Charlotte Bronte, through Jane, must have really had a great deal of fun ( mixed with a little degree sadism) in humiliating her Byronic hero: Mr Rochester. She tortures him slowly in this very long chapter, which apparently celebrates the re-union of the two lovers. When Jane Eyre comes back to Thorfield after a year, she only finds physical and spiritual ruins. Thorfield has been destroyed by a fire set by Mr Rochester’s wife Bertha Mason and Mr Rochester, in the attempt of rescuing her, has become lame and blind. When Jane approaches him for the first time, what she sees is only a shuttered, miserable, brooding man: a pale shadow of the man he used to be. However; after she has revealed her presence to him( which, I have to admit, is one of the most effective love scenes ever) thus giving Mr Rochester a sparkle of joy, she soon inflicts him one last terrible blow confessing that she is a rich and independent woman now.

Jane had left Thornfield a year before penniless, that is why Rochester had believed her  “dead in some ditch under some stream” or  “pining outcast amongst strangers”. Now that she has turned up rich and independent and being in such a wretched physical and mental state, he is convinced he has no longer any power on her. No more. Nevertheless, our heroine doesn’t seem to show any real mercy and keeps teasing him, in fact, right before going to sleep, somehow she hints at the presence af a man near her in the time she had been missing. The pangs of jealousy work during the night till the next morning, when the two meet again, Mr Rochester will flood a super satisfied Jane with questions on whom he perceives as his rival.

Her answers will just add pain to his tortured soul. That man is Jane’s cousin St. John Rivers, whom she describes at first as a sort of cultivated, refined, handsome Apollo with a Grecian profile too, exactly the kind of person that in that moment makes him feel undeserving of Jane’s love and attentions. At a certain point, probably feeling that this game was lasting a bit too long, Jane justifies her behaviour saying that she was doing this for his own good: to relieve him from his state of melancholy. Maybe she was right, but I could see her exultant smile between the lines. When Jane hears that Mr Rochester has been wearing  her little pearl necklace fastened round his bronze scrag under his cravat since the day he left, she cannot but triumph over the ashes of somebody who once could be rightly defined a true Byronic hero. What an end!

What is surprising in these last scenes is the sensual tension between the two lovers and it is Jane who makes the rules of the game. She is seductive. She approaches silently Mr Rochester till he feels her presence and only then she allows him to touch her fingers, her face and her entire body so that he might have the joy and the pleasure of identifying her.  Mr Rochester’s joy for having his Jane back at last is balanced by the uncertainties due to his condition and our heroine plays this bitter-sweet game as long as she can, till she eventually accepts to be his wife. From the ashes of the Byronic hero a dominant, self-confident woman is born.

 

 

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Byronic attraction

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Having already warned all the fans of Pride and Prejudice about the risks of believing in the existence of a Mr Darcy in the real world, and having myself very likely married the only man, who can be compared to that fantasy ( ok, I know, maybe I have exaggerated a little , but I have to write that in case Mr Run reads this post), I would like to continue with my action for woman awareness, talking about another dangerous type of man who crowds girls’ dreams. Don’t deny it, “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that women feel that dangerous attraction for a” proud, moody, cynical (man). with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection” just to use Lord Macaulay‘s words. Nowadays such a man would be called a bastard or a jerk, but in the early nineteenth century he was to become a new type of hero, the Byronic hero.

The Byronic hero is somehow, the portrait of Byron himself or rather of what Byron would have liked to appear before the people he knew. From a literary point of view the protagonist of Byron’s epic poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ is considered the first Byronic hero, but this character can be found in almost every other work he wroteThe word hero here is actually deprived of its traditional meaning of a man who distinguishes himself for his courage, nobility, fortitude etc. and becomes the figure who dares rebel, just like Milton‘s Satan, against conventional modes of behavior and thought,  who naturally possesses a magnetical charm but also a great degree of psychological and emotional complexity. In a few words, a lot of troubles.

If we get a list of the character traits and attitudes typically associated to a Byronic hero and we study it accurately, in my opinion Heathcliff  is the most Byronic among his fellow mates that people the pages of the novels and poems of the early nineteenth century.
Let’s discuss some of them one by one:
1. A distaste for social institutions and norms
Heathcliff displays his distaste for society and its conventions from the very beginning, when he receives hastily and coldly his tenant Mr Lockwood. His antagonist is Mr Linton who represents rule, order and stability.
2. An exiled, an outcast, an outlaw
Heathcliff never fully integrates in the adoptive family and is rejected by the Lintons’.
3. Arrogant
If we might interview the characters of the novel I guess everybody  could say something about it.
4.Cynical
Even in this case everybody experiences his cynicism, Catherine included, but Isabel Linton will be the one to pay bitterly for her credulity and ingenuousness
5.Cunning and ability to adapt 
Despite any punishment or social degradation, he succeeds in surviving in any situation. He is quick to understand and grabs any occasion he has, an example is Isabel’s crush on him, to reach his revengeful purposes.
6.Dark attributes not normally associated with a hero.
He is described as a gipsy.
7.Disrespectful of rank and privilege.
Once again the enemy is Mr Linton even because his rank is an appeal for Catherine.
8. Emotionally conflicted,bipolar tendencies or moodiness.
His conflict is between love and hate, which explodes in the necessity of revenge.
9. High level of intelligence and perception.
He seems to know well all the weaknesses of the people that surround him. Jus like when he wins Wuthering Heights taking advantage of Hindley’s addiction to alcohol and game habit. He is never taken by surprise.
10. Mysterious, magnetic, charismatic
We know nothing about his past and real family. We know nothing about what he did in the his  two-year absence from the Heights or how he made his fortune. He appears and disappears.
11. Power of seduction and attraction
Well, the whole novel is about this. Even Lockwood seems to be seduced by the man when he first sees him. “A capital fellow” he defines him.
12.Self destructive behaviour
The power of his love is both destructive and self-destructive
13.Social and sexual dominance
He is socially and sexually the dominant male. He manages to come into possession of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and destroys or humbles all the male figures he comes across.
14.Sophisticated and well-educated
He can’t certainly be defined sophisticated or well-educated, but he has received an education and knows how to behave properly if this fits his schemes. At first glance Heathcliff looks like a gentleman to Lockwood
15.Troubled past
We only know that he is a founder who seems to have suffered.

If we have understood Emily Bronte‘s novel well, the Byronic type is the kind of man who  should be avoided carefully, nevertheless his attractive power is still proof against wisdom or better judgement. I’m sure that in a story of every woman there is a chapter dedicated to her own Byronic hero, a chapter that every now and then she will read to remember that  thrill, that shiver. She will read those pages with the lightness of one who, however, has been able to write other meaningful chapters.

That’s why I don’t want to be Jane Eyre

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A couple of days ago I saw a headline on Il Corriere della Sera , which caught my attention: Perchè tutte (o quasi) vorremmo essere Jane Eyre di Charlotte Bronte” ( That’s why all of us (or almost all) would like to be Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte). It was a kind of  interesting, because, actually Jane Eyre has never been one of my favourite heroines, and certainly not one I naturally identify with,  maybe Angela Frenda, the journalist who wrote the article, had new fresh hints to offer.
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Jane Eyre belongs to category of the Bildungsroman, if fact we see her moral, psychological, and intellectual development from her early youth to a more mature age. Jane is an orphan left in the care of a cruel aunt, who gets rid of her very soon and sends her to a horrible school for girls, Lowood, to become a governess. After many years of troubles and hard work, she finishes her education and is employed at Thornfield, a name which can’t certainly be considered good omen.

images2VG97WDJThe owner of the house is Edward Rochester, a sort of Byronic hero, a mysterious, seductive, arrogant, passionate, handsome man who eventually falls in love with our plain Jane and proposes her marriage. He just forgot to mention that he was already married. It happens. His wife Bertha had gone mad shortly after the marriage, and lived in secret part of the house in the custody of a lady. Every now and then, she managed to escape the surveillance and she walked in night – veeeery Gothic indeed – spying the inhabitants of the house or trying to set  Mr Rochester’ s room  on fire, which she did. Shocked and humbled, Jane runs away penniless and is helped by a family, the Rivers, who eventually she discovers to be her cousins, and inherits a small fortune from an uncle. One night she has the impression of hearing Mr Rochester’s voice calling for her. She returns to Thornfield and finds the house burned down – it was Bertha’s doing – and Rochester blind and lame. He still loves her and now she accepts to marry him.

pictures-of-cinderella-8312Certainly our heroine doesn’t  belong to the typical prototype of Cinderella, that is I am beautiful and virtuous, therefore I deserve a prince and an easy life.  But, according to Angela Frenda : “Jane is a girl who has used no shortcuts, many of us see in her a metaphor of how life should be lived (by women, above all)”. Jane, in fact, is the kind of woman who obstinately and strenuously fights alone to reach her goal in a hostile, sometimes cruel world. Yet she accepts no compromises, she doesn’t want to use the charms and tricks, typical of the female world, but just hard work, sensibility, love and above all dignity. When Jane finds our about Mr Rochester’s wife, for example, she refuses to become his lover and leaves Thornfield without accepting any help from him.

imagesHVLYHC6UOk, I’m convinced: she is a saint, an example for us all, a metaphor, whatever, but there is one point I am firm: what is the reward for such immaculate perfection in the end? Mr Rochester? Love at last? Bah! We should remember that when Jane Eyre makes her homecoming at Thornfield, she is an independent, strong woman ( Charlotte Bronte had endowed her with a small fortune) while Mr Rochester is a weak man emotionally and physically shattered . She will have to nurse him for the rest of her life! If this is the reward, I’m sorry, but I’d rather be Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Even Bridget Jones would be ok.