18 February 2014

Why it has taken me this long to read Jane Eyre

So, I have recently read Jane Eyre.  For the first time.  Could it be the perfect novel?  I loved reading through the Jane Austens last year - and there are definitely three of them that I will go back to at some stage - but is one allowed to like Jane Eyre better than Jane Austen? 

I knew this story well having watched it in various versions and I've practically memorised every inch of the BBC miniseries from 2006.  But the novel...  What can I say?  What a beautiful read.  I want to read it again.  Straight away.  Which is unheard of for me.

My recent enthusiasm for J.E. did raise the question amongst at least a couple of my friends as to how I'd got this far without having read it until now.  Well, I blame it on 1986.  And 1985.

High school was full of required reading and it was during this time that I read Tolkien for the first time.  After that I went to university to learn to be a teacher, but did an Arts degree alongside that qualification.  I recall standing in the queue at enrolling time, still undecided about whether to take literature or history.  I was one person from the front of the desk when I ticked the literature box.  That was the mistake for 1985 because had I done my research I would have discovered that my chosen university didn't take a particularly classical approach to literature.  They were more into feminism at the more radical end of the spectrum and Freud.

In 1986 I enrolled in a year long unit call The Theory of the Novel (mistake number two) which involved one novel a week, starting with Don Quixote and finishing with whatever what modern at the time, all viewed through a Freudian lens.  Oh joy.  Not.  In addition I took another unit each semester which also had a reading requirement of one novel per week.  That's two novels a week.  I ended up reading  the novels I needed for essays and tutorials in full and otherwise, lots of first chapters, last chapters, random middle chapters, introductions and journal articles, learning to chip in with some intelligent comment based on my limited reading early on in the tutorial before the discussions got beyond me.  And I learned to hate reading.

In 1987 I only had two more units to complete my literature requirements and I chose poetry because poems are much shorter than novels.  And the lecturer was old school.  Not sure how he came to have a job at this particular university but I was sure glad to have found him.

After that I became a Christian and so I read the Bible and Christian books.  I added professional reading to that and the newspaper to keep up with current affairs then eventually I dipped my toe tentatively back into the pool of fiction, starting with Brideshead Revisited.  Mostly I read whatever was good and current.  All the Pretty Horses, The English Patient and Captain Corelli's Mandolin spring to mind.  There was a Thomas Hardy phase at some stage.

Then all that stopped and suddenly I was reading books about how to care for babies and how to live with toddlers and how to force said toddlers into eating vegetables.  I like Christopher Green's take on baby and toddler wrangling the best, for what it is worth. And I read recipe books.  And magazine articles because my concentration span had shrunk to nothing.

And so I missed the classics - the ones that were not covered in high school at any rate - and as it transpires, that is fine.  Because there are so many wonderful books for me to read now.  And I am very happy about that.


Anonymous said...

Meredith, it's so great you're finally getting to enjoy beautiful literature.
And now I'm feeling less foolish for doing a boring business degree. I've long regretted not doing arts -- but you've just diminished that regret. And I'm thankful I could at least read novels for fun while at uni! I never got into Tolkien previously but am now reading Fellowship of the Ring to the family each night. We are all hooked. Good literature is a precious, glorious gift.
Which raises for me the impoverished nature of the childhoods I see in my kids' peers. No great literature in the classroom, very little in the school library and, for most, none at home. Will this generation grow into techno-savvy, shallow, short-attention-spanned dopamine-addicts?
Sometimes I buy good books as gifts but then as my child rocks up to the party with a novel or two it looks mean beside the glistening-plastic-from-China-that's-destined-for-landfill.
If you have thoughts on this, I'd be interested.
Thanks for blogging,

Amy said...

You should read Villette too! Also a Bronte. I read it for a Victorian English tutorial presentation (probably the main reason I finished it in another 'novel a week' course) and loved it. Haven't read it since though. Perhaps now's the time!

Meredith said...

Thanks Amy. I was wondering about Villette. I've been told Charlotte Bronte's biography of Elizabeth Gaskell is the pinnacle of biographies. So I shall pursue Charlotte a little further. Yay.

Meredith said...

Hi dear Sal. The good thing about my uni was that its course structure was extremely flexible so I did the bare minimum of lit units in the end and far more education units than I might have otherwise had access to - so that at least worked in my favour.

Kids these days. I so agree. I resolutely give board games, craft activities and cooking packs (like a gingerbread man kit) for every party present for the same reason, steering right away from the techno stuff at every turn.

But I think it is a real problem. We know that constant use of the internet shrinks concentration and creativity. Hard to know how it is all going to turn out. But I guess there will always be a portion of the population who will read, think, create, produce and lead. And maybe in time it is a pendulum that will swing back.


MichaelB said...

I'm shocked speechless; you didn't actually read them all, all the way through? You hated reading??
I'm going to have to reevaluate so many recollections!
(Is the sky still blue? Must check...)

But if you know Cormac McCarthy, do you recommend Blood Meridian or The Mill on the Floss for my next read?

Alistair Bain said...

Jane Eyre is the perfect novel.

I am reading it at the moment. And from now on everything I read will be compared with it.

I really can't stomach Austen.

Next I'm going to read Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Meredith said...

MB - What can I say? I was a slow reader. I was terrified of my tutor for that subject. He told me I should have referred to Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque. I hadn't even heard of Bakhtin. I also failed my AMus that year. The sky was not blue.

But the sky IS blue and for many years reading has been wonderful and Jane Eyre is the best.

Couldn't give you any advice on Blood Meridian or Mill on the Floss. You might need to ask my sister about at least one of them. I can recommend "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner though.

Meredith said...

Hi Alastair - yes, I think it is probably good that I read Austen last year and first. There was a certain predictability to her plots. You can pretty much work out who is going to marry who in the first chapter.

Enjoy Tess - and let us know what you think. I remember enjoying Thomas Hardy at the time, but the details are a bit hazy now.