Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jane Eyre by Linda Grant

On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Linda Grant

Linda Grant

Linda Grant
Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST

My Everyman Library copy of Jane Eyre was awarded to me in 1965 when I was 14, and has a bookplate inside announcing that I was the winner of the Rosa Chambers prize for reading aloud (junior). The cover is stamped in gold with the school crest, a young helmeted woman in profile encircled by the motto Knowledge Is No More A Fountain Sealed. The edition dates from 1908 and had been last reprinted in 1963. This is the only copy of Jane Eyre that I have ever owned and the print size is now almost too small to read. The next time I read the novel will be on a Kindle.

My teenage understanding of it – that Reader, she married him – was based on that happy ending, that the heroine had landed the Byronic figure of Rochester. Yet I retained a sense of discomfort, that compared with Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse I could not help but feel that she had been landed with damaged goods. Perhaps the note of quiet triumph in Jane’s voice as she announces that she has sealed the deal of marriage has a freight of darkness: Rochester recovers some of his sight but cannot read or write; he can just about make out the face of his son. Rereading many years later, I was extremely curious, as I hadn’t been then, about the figure of the mad first wife, the animal-like Bertha, all hair and grunts. In Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea I found the answer to Jane Eyre, that the pale figure glimpsed by Grace Poole had no idea what she was getting into. How perfect was her happiness really and how many couples tell the whole truth about their marriage? I can no longer read Brontë without Rhys.

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