The Compulsive Reader: Reading Rants: Jane Eyre is Not Submissive

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reading Rants: Jane Eyre is Not Submissive

Occasionally when I have a quiet moment in which I am all caught up in blog posts and writing, I head over to the Time Entertainment page because I really enjoy their coverage of books (okay, I really just enjoy Lev Grossman's writing). Friday was one of those moments, and so there I am, sitting in a coffeeshop with my drink, enjoying the rainy weather and listening to The Lumineers, when this article slaps me in the face.

My reaction at first was to roll my eyes. It seems like these days, EVERYTHING is getting the "50 Shades treatment." The whole 50 Shades phenomenon is something I've not really wrapped my head around, and I know I am not alone in this. It's not that I am so much opposed to the content (though I am), but the fact that it's SO POORLY WRITTEN. I've been put into the unenviable  position of disliking it intensely, but caught between not wanting to say anything (because talking about it will just give it more power) about those books publicly and then being forced to discuss the books congenially with patrons of the bookstore.

Working at a small independent bookstore is nice because we have freedom to stock what WE want, but we're also small and we're also retail, so, you know, there are like 50 copies of all three books on the shelves and a few boxed sets and goddamn it, but they...all....will...sell. And when people come in and want to talk about "those 50 Shades books," I'll talk. I'll even say nice-ish things about the books, like "I've heard they're really engrossing" and "They're super popular" and "Everyone always comes in demanding the next book!" I want to make a sale, and I don't believe that it's right for me to force my opinion about these books on any customer, unless of course they ask for it (and even when they do, they don't want my HONEST opinion). Customers can spend their money how they like, and I have a job at the end of the day, though by that point I am also pulling my hair out and complaining loudly to anyone who will listen (mostly poor HB) about how terribly written and unrealistic and demeaning it all is.

But you know, c'est la vie.

Until that article, with the catchy and cringe-worthy title of "Bronte Bondage," popped up. It's almost a month old, so if you've seen it and are incensed, then YEAH. I'm with you! If you read it and are like, "So what?" then let's talk.

My love of Jane Eyre is no secret. And I don't like when anyone messes with Jane. But it happens. The copyright has expired, which means people can write things like this. And while I probably won't read it, other people may find the idea of Jane being a vampire hunter humorous and want to read an entire book on it (and considering the supernatural elements of Bronte's original, it is kind of amusing).

The problem I have with the super sexy Jane Eyre is the fact that, as I stated in my previous post, she holds to her convictions. She stands by her values and living with Rochester, having a relationship (sexual or romantic) with him is wrong because he already has a wife. Sure, we all are screaming at her to just FORGET THE CRAZY WIFE AND KISS HIM ALREADY but she doesn't, and that makes the ending so much sweeter. If Jane HAD given in to Rochester (and we wouldn't have blamed her, really), she wouldn't have been the Jane we all fell in love with and rooted for and cried for. And without Jane and her amazing character, Jane Eyre wouldn't work as a novel.

Furthermore, take a look at the language used in these two excerpts:

Original Version: 
“‘Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.’ Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously. Some time passed before he spoke; he at last said — ‘Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.’” 
New Sexy-fied Version: 
“‘Jane, be still a few moments, you are over-excited. I will be still too.’ My master captured my wrists and secured them behind my back, imprisoning me and preventing my movements… He exerted the force of his will as effortlessly as he schooled my person, relentlessly and with an inexorable force, he commanded me against his body… No matter how I controlled my mind, my very flesh was weak.”
I don't even know how to respond to these changes like a sensible person, but instead I am reminded of Jane's impassioned speech to Mr. Rochester--"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! --I have as much soul as you--and full as much heart!"

That's Jane, everyone. Jane demands equality. Jane wasn't weak.

I think this is especially important to remember because in a time when it seems like everything must be sexy and modern and the world is buzzing over 50 Shades of Grey, we need to remember what true love and healthy relationships are like, and consider how they aren't portrayed in popular literature. Relationships are not total dependency on someone else. They're not all about sex. They're about equality and respect and love, and individuals having the strength to turn away from a relationship when it's no longer healthy. They're about forgiveness, too, because sometimes we make mistakes but just because that happens doesn't mean the happily ever after is gone.

If you want a true love story, don't look to Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Read and learn from Jane Eyre. And don't mess with something perfect, dammit!


Kailia Sage said...

YES! JUST EVERYTHING! I too was appaled at this and I'm hoping some sort of copyright would come into place. Jane is such a strong character who stands by her beliefs so this whole bondage crap is not right. It's not JANE!

Keertana said...

YES! THANK YOU! Gosh, this makes me SO mad! Jane Eyre is a novel that I love very dearly and it is the first classic my mother ever presented to me and I remember discussing it with her for days afterward because it was such a poignant and moving tale and the romance between Jane and Rochester and was beautiful and Jane, oh Jane, how remarkable was she! Thus, just like you, I am horrified and enraged by what they are doing, not only to characters such as Jane, but all classic characters including Elizabeth Bennet! I feel as if those novels are such classics because they were written during a time period when women were repressed, thus, some of the strongest female characters came alive in literature and to see them thus be repressed again is a cruel joke that fate is playing. Seriously, I hate it so much and I hope that these new "classics" don't sell so at least they stop creating such abominations and ruining great pieces of literature. Anyway, brilliant post!(:

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Pieces_of_Reese said...

I completely agree with you. This 50 Shades craze is getting ridiculous. The books are really bad and the writing is atrocious. It should be a crime to do this to Jane Eyre.

H. E. Griffin said...

Yes...THIS...thank you so much for these words.

Britney said...

I LOVE THIS! You so eloquently stated everything that I find wrong with 50 Shades and my admiration for Jane. Can we be bffs?

The Compulsive Reader said...

I'm glad this is not just me. We should all be bffs.