Last weekend, I reread Jane Eyre. I'd suspended my reading of Ulysses for a few days because it was all going over my head. And I wanted to read something I'd read earlier so that I might enjoy the text better without watching out for twists in the story. Jane Eyre was a book I read long ago; I was ten or eleven years old I think and it was one of those books that I borrowed from my neighbour A. She was five years my senior and was forever initiating me into new things. Looking back, this means that I got to Bronte before Austen. And even then it was just Pride & Prejudice and Emma I think. The rest of the Austen works were long after I'd fallen completely in love with Georgette Heyer.
During the summer holidays back then, I would wait for the first chance to rush into A's house and look at her books. Usually I found A lolling in her bed, grumpy and curt at being disturbed by a hyper kid. In order to get me out of her way, she would pick up some random book, offer me its praises and shoo me away. And gullible that I was, I would trust her taste and rush back to my room with the new treat. That is how I first read Jane Eyre. I remember being fascinated by the word Eyre and saying it aloud several times. My impression of the book was not very favourable then. I found it very gloomy and, needless to say, I did not understand most of the book. The parts about her boarding school and her little-girl conversations were about all I could relate to. Perhaps some of the pages about Adele's descriptions of her frocks as well. But that was it. The conversations of Eyre and Rochester were boring, the love in the air was literal and equally boring. But I remembered the book and some of its images. For instance, Jane Eyre was always clad in dirty brown in my mind. She seemed to enjoy reading and knowing about things (which I liked). After I was better at understanding what books I liked, I used to always append gloomy to Jane Eyre whenever I heard the book mentioned.
Years later, I flipped through parts of Jane Eyre to refresh my memory but I never sat and read it from cover to cover. That is why last weekend was so enjoyable. I'd started the book on Saturday, found it very entertaining and absorbing and read several pages. On Sunday I got rid of my chores and curled up with the book early in the afternoon. I missed phone calls, did not turn on the computer, offered monosyllabic replies to the husband and read away for hours until the book was completed. While reading, I thought of Chenthil's post on literary crushes and wondered if Rochester might make it to my list. I liked him very well in this reading. And I would have boxed St.John 's ears had I been Jane.
This morning, while writing this post, I got to wondering how many men liked the Jane Eyre kind of book. A few days ago I mentioned reading Jane Eyre to a friend and he offered an aaaargh. Nandhu, in this post, mentions that he tried reading Pride & Prejudice and did not get to the end of it of course. My husband (now, now he needs a better manner of allusion. Should I resort to Mr.L or perhaps use the initial V or say Lord L [ha, how furious he would get to hear this one!]?) refuses to read any book by a woman that I strongly recommend! He liked Mansfield Park because I pretended it was just okay. Now, how many men have actually read a Georgette Heyer? And if yes, did they actually enjoy it? I think the answers to both will throw up very few men with good taste (yes, pick up the fight). Therefore such brand of wonderful feel-good literature thrives because of its loyal women readers who can see that behind the formulaic love story sits tremendously delightful humour, perfect for those Sunday afternoons when we want to say to the men, go take a walk.
PS: for the interested:
Jane's Art and Her Story
Paul Rego's Jane Eyre, from the Tate magazine