Just Plain Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

So, I’ve decided to give the South African literature a break for a week and move on to some classic literature with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I was first introduced to Jane Eyre in my high school years (you can blame the Cambridge AS syllabus for that) and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy the read. I think it was because I wasn’t yet ready for a novel like that. I found the descriptions too long and drawn out. All I wanted was to get back to the action. Hey, I was still young! And the extent of my reading was Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and a bit of Meg Cabot. It’s a little difficult to jump from that straight into classic literature. But, I decided after a few years of maturity (I sound like a wine) to return to the book and try again.

Jane Eyre tells the story of her life. She begins with a terrible childhood but proves that even the toughest times can get better if you’re willing to hope and fight for what you desire. Jane’s journey continues into adulthood where she is appointed as a governess to a young girl who is a ward to a wealthy single gentleman. Jane befriends the gentleman though their friendship is one of mixed emotions. But, when Jane is surprised and what she has always hoped for in life is dashed away, can she still hope and fight that her one true desire will eventually come true?

Movie Magic:

Jane Eyre, like many of the classics has been adapted for the big screen many, many, many  (yes, that many) times over the years with the most recent film starring Mia Wasikowska (or as I call her Mia Wasisiskowski) as Jane. While I’ve enjoyed most film versions of my favourite classic literature, I couldn’t help loathing this version of Jane Eyre. Firstly, Jane Eyre (the book) is the chronological story of a girl’s life. But in the film, the story kept flashing back from one scene to her past and then back before flashing back again to another scene from her past. (Confused? Yes, I was too.) There is continual jumping between present and past with little indication of when the jump starts or ends. It actually gets quite confusing so that you don’t know sometimes if she’s in the past or the present or even if something she is experiencing is really happening (some scenes play out as dreams). The second thing that annoyed me in the film is that the producers left out some of the most important scenes in the book. I couldn’t believe it! Some of the wonderful and terrifying scenes at Gateshead were left out; most of the events at Lowood School were totally removed; some of the scenes at Thornfield were forgotten and some of the scenes at Moore House that were absolutely essential to the story line weren’t even hinted at. I’ve always said that reading the book is far better than watching the movie. But, in this case, I really mean it. If you watch the movie without reading the book, you may find yourself with a totally different picture of Jane’s life – one that is not very flattering to our heroine.

In My Humble Opinion:

The one thing about heroines that seems to be consisted in all stories (whether fairy tale, classic or even the more modern novels) is that they are all considered beautiful. Think about it: how many stories do you read (or watch) where the girl is described as unattractive, fat, or ugly. Cinderella was considered beautiful even before she put on her beautiful ball gown. Elizabeth Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice (check out the book review here), is described as beautiful (even if her awful mother doesn’t think so). And even Princess Fiona, from Shrek, is considered pretty in human form. Let’s face it, generally heroines have got to be pretty!

But, Jane is one heroine who isn’t described as particularly attractive. Usually the word “plain” comes up a lot in the descriptions she gives of herself. Even the other characters don’t really seem to see any real beauty in her and they generally tend to ignore her. But, why use the word “plain”? What exactly does the word “plain mean in the novel. Here’s my theory:

In cookery, we usually refer to food as plain if it lacks interesting flavour. In fashion, something is plain if it has no interesting pattern and is simply one block colour. And in people, I think, someone is considered plain if they have no interesting appearance, something unique and interesting in their face or surrounds. I mean, how often is it that the people we consider most beautiful are those who have something in their appearance that’s interesting to look at. Perhaps it’s an interesting hair colour, interesting eyes, a fascinating nose or even cute dimples. If Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (check out this link for the review) has taught us anything, it’s that beauty is not based on perfection but rather on interest, on uniqueness. How often have the girls with raven black hair or even red hair been considered beautiful? I’m a redhead and while I’ve never, that I can remember, ever been told that I’m beautiful (except by my parents), I’ve often been told my hair is beautiful. The reason: it’s unique! Not many other people in the world have my hair colour and even fewer have the shade of hair colour I have. Those of you with black hair may have had the same experience. It’s the same for if you have a particularly rare shade of eye colour or eyes that change colour in different situations or if your face has in it something which is rare. Think diamonds: the rarer the diamond, the more beautiful it appears.

I know a girl who, it seems, has never considered herself even remotely. And at the risk of sounding harsh, I can tell why. It’s not that she’s ugly, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that she has nothing unique in her appearance. She has brown hair, brown eyes, slightly tanned skin (not uncommon in South African)… Nothing in her appearance suggests uniqueness. Oh yes, I am sure that one day a guy will meet her and consider her completely irresistible in spite of (or perhaps because of) one or more of those qualities. But, I can see where she’s coming from. Her appearance is ordinary, plain.

And I guess this is Jane too. Brown hair, brown eyes, nothing to suggest uniqueness or difference from all the common physical qualities that man (or woman) possesses. She is ordinary and that’s what makes her plain. But, while the girl I know with all those common physical traits might never be the heroine of a novel, Jane somehow is. Why? I’ll tell you. It’s because what Jane lacks in physical uniqueness, she makes up for tremendously in personality (at the risk of sounding harsh again, something the girl I know could never do). While Jane might not be considered conventionally “pretty” she has those characteristics that are so unique and that all of us wish we had.

Jane’s feisty, intelligent, (at times) funny, hopeful and brave. Don’t we all wish we could have more of those qualities? The term “mousy” usually refers to girls with plain, brown hair but I think it should be used to describe a personality type. You can imagine it, right? Scared, weak and in no way adventurous or prepared to try something new. How many of us are like that? I saw a quote the other day that said “Do something that scares you, every day.” But why do we have to be told to do that? Why can’t we just be brave enough to jump right in? Jane is and that makes her one of the most impressive heroines in literature. She wasn’t afraid to say “no”. She wasn’t afraid to go somewhere new. And she wasn’t afraid to be hated or despised by those who were horrible. So why are we so afraid? Why don’t we just jump in and try something new.

So, I am going to issue you all with a challenge today and you’ve got to do the whole challenge (comment on my post to tell me when you’ve done it). Firstly, read Jane Eyre (click on the links above to get the book) and take note of how brave she was. Next, head on over to The Challenge page and take The Ultimate Novel List Challenge. Then, pick one book, any book on The List (that you haven’t read) and read it. Let me know which book you read and whether you’ve enjoyed it and if I haven’t read it yet, I’ll take up your challenge and read it too. So let’s do this! Le’s star now! GO GO GO!!

Happy Reading!



One thought on “Just Plain Jane Eyre

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