Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chapter 2: Jane Strikes Back

[Previously: Chapter 1]

Well, sort of. Bronte drops the reader into an opening paragraph that shows the change that's suddenly come over Jane:
I resisted all the way: a new thing for me, and a circumstance which greatly strengthened the bad opinion Bessie and Miss Abbot were disposed to entertain of me. The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment’s mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.
"A new thing for me," another one of those character-development asides that I just love. (See also "'If you don’t sit still, you must be tied down,' said Bessie. 'Miss Abbot, lend me your garters; she would break mine directly.'" Tell me that's not a dig at the larger girth of the less-sympathetic Abbott.)

I'm going to leave the slavery bit until later, even though the slaves Jane refers to are probably, as in the last chapter, classical ones. There's a lot to say about slavery in Jane Eyre, and for the moment the politics that contemporary critics saw in the book are quite enough for one post.

The Christian Remembrancer used the phrase "moral Jacobinism" in its review of the book, and this chapter was one of the bits it cited in support of that view - which was not an endorsement. The Jacobins were associated with the French Revolution (half a century before the book was published; a generation before its events), and no respectable English monarchist would get behind that, would they?

What's the one thing that distracts Jane from rebellion? A ghost, or the idea of one.
A singular notion dawned upon me. I doubted not—never doubted—that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly; and now, as I sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls—occasionally also turning a fascinated eye towards the dimly gleaning mirror—I began to recall what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the perjured and avenge the oppressed... This idea, consolatory in theory, I felt would be terrible if realised...
To review: Jane is the child of Mr. Reed's sister and brother-in-law, both dead. As is Mr. Reed, so the adult in charge is his widow, who considers Jane no relation at all - although Jane suspects things might have turned out differently if she'd been pretty.

Which reminds me of one of Fanny's speeches from Sense & Sensibility:
"What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters! And as it is--only half blood!--But you have such a generous spirit!"
Wouldn't you love to see Jane and Fanny duke it out?

Other bits:
  • This is the chapter with the red room scene, which I no longer read without thinking of Roger's question.
  • It's also the first appearance in the book of "abigail" as a synonym for "lady's maid." (Thank you, Penguin Classics, for defining that!)

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