Monday, October 6, 2014

The 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along, Week 3: Chapters 6 - 10

Welcome to the third week of 
the 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along,
brought to you by
A Night's Dream of Books

Jane Eyre
(Illustrated Junior Library)
Charlotte Bronte
Hardcover, 576 pages
Grosset & Dunlap
October 14,1983
Classics, Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction,
Literary Fiction, Mystery, Romance

Week 3  Discussion Questions:
Chapters 6 -10
(Questions provided by
Babbling Books)

Participants need not answer
all six questions, but are free to
select three of them.


1.) What are your impressions of the way Helen Burns endures punishment and abuse?

I have very mixed feelings about this. For one thing, I think it's very sad that Helen takes such undeserved abuse without protesting, relying on her faith alone to sustain her through every incident. To me, it doesn't seem quite normal. Most children, I think, would rebel, as Jane does. Helen's resignation to the abuse seems very unusual for a child her age. But then, in the history of Christianity, there have been martyrs and saints who have taken her attitude. Such people, if very young, are like prodigies in other areas of human endeavor; they are wise beyond their years. Helen certainly is very mature for her age. It's a well-known fact that people with such gifts don't live very long. I do think of Helen as a saint.

On the other hand, I think that perhaps Bronte is criticizing such a long-suffering attitude, which has been lauded by Christian leaders throughout the centuries. She might very well be stating, through the character of Helen, that this type of attitude is too masochistic to do real credit to Christianity, since it perpetuates abuse, instead of addressing it directly. 

2.) What are your impressions of the way that Jane sees punishment and abuse in comparison to Helen?

Jane's attitude toward these things seems more normal and realistic to me, especially for a child. In her short life, she has never done anything to deserve  the way she's been treated by Mrs. Reed and her son, John. So she is perfectly justified in feeling anger at the injustice, and consequently, the impulse to rebellion.

What I like and admire about Jane is that she refuses to be cowed by the horrible people in her life. She might not be able to defend herself effectively, since she's a child, but inside, she is able to hold on to her real self.

3.) Would Mr. Brocklehurst have been a more realistic and interesting character had he been less overtly fanatical, cruel and hypocritical, and just deeply flawed, instead?

This is a very interesting question! Perhaps he would indeed have been more interesting, had he not been such an obvious villain. I hate this character so much, though, I would not have wanted to feel any sympathy toward him, or any inclination to justify or excuse his cruel, despotic behavior, balancing it with any virtues he might have possessed.

Although Bronte could be criticized for creating such a patently cardboard character, I believe that she did so to forcefully bring the public's attention to the very real abuses that were being perpetrated by the religious establishment, and the society in general, of her time. Brocklehurst's hypocrisy is based entirely on the class prejudice then prevalent. The upper classes could do the most despicable things, and get away with such behavior. They viewed the lower classes with contempt, attributing all kinds of vices to them, while blind to their own. The religious institutions of the time actually pandered to the unjust, immoral activities of the rich.

There's an excellent PDF essay that covers this topic (although I do not agree with the writer's view of Helen Burns's situation).  It's titled Jane Eyre: A Rejection of Class Prejudice.    

4.) Helen Burns exudes confidence and is sure of her personal beliefs. Do you find it realistic that a young person exhibits such traits?

Well, sadly, I would say that Helen only has confidence in the value and efficacy of her own faith. She herself does not possess any confidence, outside of that. In fact, I would say that she's totally lacking in self-esteem, for she tells Jane that she (Helen) does have certain "faults". She meekly accepts correction for these so-called faults, which, when compared to the nobleness of her spirit, her kindness and compassion, her great intelligence, amount to nothing at all. Her teacher, Miss Scatcherd, being of a petty, mean-spirited nature, was, I believe, actually jealous of Helen's virtues. Such people, when confronted by the truly great in spirit, will do everything in their power to bring them down, to belittle and humiliate them.

Although Helen's views are indeed unusual for such a young person, I feel that she is either a saint, and/or Bronte was using her character as a counterpoint to Brocklehurst, much as she did with Miss Temple. Still, it's very obvious that Helen, like Jane, is a very special child. 

5.) Miss Temple seems to influence Jane's personality and outlook on life during her stay at Lowood. Would Jane have developed differently without her influence?

I definitely think so! Without Miss Temple's influence, it seems very clear that Jane would have grown up to be a very bitter young woman. Also, her passionate nature needed to be channeled properly, and I'm sure that Miss Temple had a very calming effect on her. Besides, through her teacher, Jane saw that not every Christian was a hypocrite. Thus, Miss Temple was certainly an antidote to the poison injected into Jane's soul by Brocklehurst.

6.) Jane's time at Lowood is marked in the narrative by the seasons and the description of weather. Does this have any significance?

Absolutely! The weather and seasons play a major role throughout the novel.

When Jane sets off for Lowood, it's a bitterly cold winter morning. This mirrors Mrs. Reed's coldness toward Jane; she doesn't even bother to get up early to see the child off. 

Jane's journey to the school begins at the crack of dawn; this marks the beginning of a new life for her.

The rain and the cold at Lowood are indicative of the deplorable conditions being endured by the orphans. It is also a fact, stated in the novel, that Lowood is located in a very unhealthy, damp, region of the country, "a forest-dell", which brings typhus into the school. It's ironic that this takes place as spring is beginning to arrive in the area. Jane points out this irony when she contrasts the gloomy halls of the school, smelling like a hospital, with the beautiful, flowering gardens and hills surrounding Lowood. 

Discussion Questions for 
Next Week: Chapters 11 - 14
(Questions Provided by
A Night's Dream of Books)

1.) Jane meets her pupil, Adele Varens, in Chapter 11, and we learn more about her in subsequent chapters. How is this little girl contrasted with Jane herself, when she was a child?

2.)  How does Bronte set the general atmosphere surrounding Jane's  awkward meeting with Mr. Rochester, in the country lane, which takes place in Chapter 12? 

3.) Jane states that she would not have offered her help to the fallen rider, had he been conventionally handsome. What does this tell the reader about Jane?

4.) What further information about Jane's personality, and her philosophy of life, do her paintings convey?

5.) What do you think is the real purpose of Mr. Rochester's interview of Jane? Or do you think it's the typical interview an employer would conduct, when hiring a new domestic employee?

6.) Do you see any hints of foreshadowing in Chapter 14? Please explain. 

Post & Reading Schedule

Announcement/Signup Post
Sept. 9th
A Night's Dream of Books
Babbling Books

Week 1: Sept. 22nd

Reading: Chapters 1 - 5
Thoughts on Reading Jane Eyre 
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 2: Sept. 29th

Reading: Chapters 6 -10
Discussion Questions: Chapters 1 - 5
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 3: Oct. 6th

Reading: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions: Chapters 6 - 10
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 4: Oct. 13th

Reading: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions: Chapters 11 - 14
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 5: Oct. 20th

Reading: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions: Chapters 15 - 19
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 6: Oct. 27th

Reading: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Questions: Chapters 20 - 23
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 7: Nov. 3rd

Reading: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions: Chapters 24 - 28
Discussion Question for Next Week:
A Night's Dream of Books

Week 8: Nov. 10th

Reading: Chapters 34 - 38
Discussion Questions: Chapters 29 - 33
Discussion Questions for Next Week:
Babbling Books

Week 9: Nov. 17th

Discussion Questions, Chapters 34 - 38

Week 9: Nov. 21st

Book Reviews Posted

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  1. Super commentary Maria.

    In regards to Helen, I did not see Bronte as depicting her in non credible way. However, your commentary is making me think and I may come back to discuss more in a couple days.

    I completely agree that her passivity is frustrating and that I relate to Helen so much more.

    The odd thing about the Spring is that it coincides with disease and death but it does seem to be the beginning of better times for Jane, at least after the death of Helen. I saw a sign of hope in the spring but I will also think about this for a few days.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thank you for the compliment! This novel, like all classics, has a rich collection of layers of meaning that bears exploring.

      It's so interesting to see every reader's reaction to the same book! Yes, I thought Helen's passivity was not only frustrating, but unrealistic, as well. However, as I mentioned above, Helen could have been one of those strangely mature children who don't live long. Joan of Arc was one of these, and she was burned at the stake at the age of 19. I really much prefer Jane's rebelliousness, of course! I think Bronte is using it as a harbinger of the social changes that were brewing at the time.

      Yes, it's ironic that Spring coincides with such horrible events. I do agree with you though, that there's a sign of hope, too. It was after this that the conditions at Lowood came to the public's attention, and steps were taken to better them. How sad that a tragedy has to happen before reforms are undertaken......yet, this is the way it's always been, in human history.

      I'm glad that my comments have been thought-provoking for you, as I'm sure yours will be for me!

      Thanks for the great comment!! : )

  2. Your commentary is excellent with thought-provoking observations. Your comments about Helen challenge my own belief that she has an uncommon, but realistic personality based on her strong faith. Like many of the characters we have met in the novel her characteristics are heightened to a point that seems unrealistic (Brocklehurst is the epitome of this). Perhaps this is part of the Romantic edge with which Charlotte Bronte has imbued this whole novel?
    Your discussion of the weather echoes my own gleanings from the episode at Lowood school.

    1. Hi, James!

      Thank you for the compliment!!

      Yes, I do think that Bronte's portrayal of Helen Burns is not entirely realistic. Brockelhurst is also much exaggerated; he's really more of a caricature, perhaps. However, in his case, I feel more comfortable with Bronte's characterization, because he's an adult.

      You have an interesting observation regarding the way Bronte presents Helen and Brocklehurst, and I do agree that this could be true. It makes this novel more emotional, more passionate, which appeals to me tremendously, as I totally ADORE the Romantic movement, in literature, art, and music! This is why I prefer Charlotte Bronte to Jane Austen. I do admire Austen's skill as a writer, and a keen observer of human nature, but for me, Bronte is closer to my heart. This novel is very, very special to me in a way that "Pride and Prejudice", for instance, can never be.

      I'm glad we've had similar reactions to the use of weather as a reflection of events, as well as the feelings of characters, in this novel. This is another typically Romantic technique.

      Thanks for the great comment, and for participating in the read-along!! : )


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