Thursday, April 1, 2004

...I thought unaccountably of fairy tales...
I recently read for the first time Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which is a really strange book. I had to keep remembering C.S. Lewis's exhortation not to judge the book while you're reading it, but to give yourself to it.

This must be the kind of book that Anne Shirley was fond of reading. It was so fantastic* - poor clergyman marries wealthy young lady, who is disinherited as a result of her marriage; he contracts typhus while caring for the poor and dies of it, soon followed by his young bride, leaving behind a baby who is rescued by her mother's wealthy brother, who dies shortly thereafter, but while on his deathbed makes his wife promise to raise the baby as one of their own; the baby's aunt promises, but neglects the child and eventually sends her to an orphanage where she is befriended by a lovely young girl who dies of consumption; the orphan grows up to become a governess and falls in love with her employer who has a sordid past...

Oh, yes, Anne loved this kind of story, but it drives me crazy. That mean old aunt, locking young Jane up in the frightening Red Room to teach her a lesson! That hypocritical old Mr. Brocklehurst, a clergyman no less!, making the orphans go without breakfast and cut off their braids in order to teach them humility!

Finally I realized that the book is a fairy tale, and keeping in mind Mr. Lewis's exhortation, I read the book that way, and then the fantastic events didn't bother me so much.

Or it could be an extended parable. In the author's preface, Miss Bronte says, "Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.... appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ." In Jane Eyre appearances quite often are deceiving, and it is vitally important to be so familiar with and commited to Christian principles that one is able to keep them in spite of one's violently conflicting feelings.

Anyway, I hope I'm reading it right. I would like to have read it in school with a teacher and a classroom full of students with whom to discuss it!

*I'm using definition 2a: Fantastic 1. Quaint or strange in form, conception, or appearance. 2a. Unrestrainedly fanciful; extravagant: fantastic hopes. b. Bizarre, as in form or appearance; strange: fantastic attire; fantastic behavior. c. Based on or existing only in fantasy; unreal: fantastic ideas about her own superiority. 3. Wonderful or superb; remarkable: a fantastic trip to Europe.

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