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Reading Is Sexy: Jane Eyre and Jane Austen

There are a small number of things I love so much, I can barely bring myself to talk about the depth of my feelings for them. Social Distortion and Mike Ness. Popcorn. Dave. Jane Eyre. It seems too revealing, too intimate for general, social conversation.

But the facts about my relationship with Jane Eyre, I can share.

I read the book in its entirety a few times a year.

I keep a copy on my desk at work so I can read it at lunch, when no one else is in the break room, or I’ve forgotten to bring whatever other book I happen to be reading at the time. I just plop it on the table, let it fall open to a random spot, and pick up the story mid-stream.

I’ve started a collection of copies — dog-eared and battered, illustrated, hardbound, tiny, oversized, and now, in the form of two to Christmas gifts from Dave, versions that are specially typeset and marked with satin ribbon.
My mom and I saw Jane Eyre: The Musical together on Broadway in 2000. We had seats just behind the orchestra pit, and during the song “Brave Enough for Love,” I watched the finale of the show through tears that ran unabashed down my cheeks. It was gorgeous and overwhelming and dramatic and everything a Broadway rendition of a Gothic story should be. When I’m feeling moody, I put on the soundtrack and revel in the feeling of gloomy, windswept English moors, even if I’m listening to it in 90+ humid degrees, smack-dab in the middle of Texas.

When I was a few hours out of my recent surgery, unable to get comfortable, not hungry, not thirsty, not able to sleep, Dave sat by my bed and read to me from a copy of Jane Eyre (a not-very-favorite-copy, in case we lost it at the hospital). From the first line… “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”… I settled into a woozy, warm state.

Until last year, my favorite movie version was the one from 1996, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. But then Masterpiece Theater produced a gorgeous, sexy (!) 4-hour version that’s won my heart. When the bus ride home is more annoying than usual, I watch the movie on my iPod and the people around me disappear.

I wish fervently sometimes that I could wipe my memory of all traces of Jane Eyre, just so I could read it again for the first time and be surprised at the plot twists and the charming conversations Charlotte Bronte put into the mouths of Jane E. and Edward Fairfax Rochester.

It’s an understandable mistake, I suppose, but one I find painfully irritating: For those who have not been caught in the Jane Eyre spell, it’s easy to confuse the Gothic heroine Jane Eyre with the English novelist Jane Austen. They’re both named Jane, they’re both British, and they both wonder around in floor-grazing gowns, speaking proper British English among outdated class customs.

I’m here to tell you, the differences between the two Janes are vast. But the devotion that Austen enthusiasts have to their Jane rivals that of mine to Ms. Eyre. Which, finally, brings me to the point of this blog post.

I’ve never read Jane Austen’s novels. And while I passionately disliked the very well-reviewed book The Jane Austen Book Club, I quite liked the movie (although many critics disagree with my sentiment.) I was inspired by the obvious pleasure the characters in the movie/book found in reading Austen’s novels, and I’ve decided it’s time to rectify this deplorable blind spot in my literary education. Starting today — right now! — I’m going to read all six of Austen’s novels.

I’m starting with Northanger Abbey. It’s the first book Austen wrote, but was the last published — in 1817 along with Persuasian. I like the idea of starting with her first novel, and then I’m moving on to Pride and Prejudice, because I loved the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice and because I found a totally badass used copy at Half-Price Books that felt so good in my hands, I couldn’t leave it there.

I’ll let you know how it goes with Northanger Abbey. Here’s what the back of the book says:

A deliciously witty sattire of popular Gothic romances, it is perhaps Austen’s lightest, most delightful excursion intoa young woman’s world. Catherine Morland, an unlikely heroine, forsakes her English village for the pleasures and perils of Bath. There, among a circle of Austen’s wonderfully vain, dissembling, and fashionable characters, she meets a potential suitor, Henry Tilney. But with her imagination fueled by melodramatic novels, Catherine turns a visit to his home, Northanger Abbey, into a hunt for dark family secrets.

And the first sentence is a good one: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”


UPDATE:
I tried. I did! Jane Austen is really, really not my thing.

If you’d like to check out Jane Eyre, you can read it for free online at this link. But I recommend finding yourself a used copy that appeals for some reason or other — a lovely cover illustration, interesting notes scribbled in the margins, a nice heft to the book itself — and curling up in a comfy chair.

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10 Responses to “Reading Is Sexy: Jane Eyre and Jane Austen”

  1. hopeinbrazil says:

    Dear fellow lover of "all things Jane Eyre", Please do not start with Northanger Abbey or you will learn to hate Jane Austen. It's the least popular of all of her novels! It's the only one of her books that I've never been able to finish. Emma is the next most difficult. Start with P&P or S&S. You won't be sorry.

  2. Melicious says:

    Thanks for the advice! I'm almost finished with Northanger Abbey (am in the middle of the section that takes place at the Abbey, with Catherine making up mysterious explanations for everyday occurrences), and while I haven't loved it, it's been a pleasant enough diversion. I couldn't sleep last night and plowed through about 100 pages! I'm still on track to finish this one, then start on Pride & Prejudice.

  3. Janis says:

    I just bought a second hand copy of Jane Erye and I’m reading it for the first time ever. Your passion for this character is understandable- I love her! I’m about to start chapter 12, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thanks for introducing me to this world!

  4. Melicious says:

    Oh, awesome! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. Jane is pretty badass. And I have to admit, I’m a sucker for Edward. If I remember right, you’re just about to meet him and the misadventures really start happening. Keep me posted on what you think as you move through the story.

    Happy new year!

  5. Janis says:

    OH my shit. I just finished chapter 26 (I think) and found out who Grace Pool was. I cried and cried for Jane!

  6. Melicious says:

    Aw… yeah, that’s a rough part.

    The part that ALWAYS gets me is chapter 23, when Jane and Edward are talking under the tree, and he says, “…it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”

    GAH!

  7. Janis says:

    I finished today and I cannot thank you enough for introducing Jane!
    “…Sacrifice? What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. TO be privilaged to put my arms round what I value-to press my lips to what I love-to repose on what I trust; is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice”

    I can’t wait to read it again.

  8. Melicious says:

    Oh, awesome! I’m super excited that you liked it. And now, I feel like I want to go get a copy from the living room (oh, wait! there are two right here in my night stand ;-) and read it again.

    Shoot me an email at mel at chancemccoy dot com, and I’ll burn you a copy of the musical soundtrack, if you want. It’s SO awesome to listen to after you know the story.

    Happy new year!

  9. Louise says:

    Lol – we must be complete opposites (by the way, it was fantastic meeting you in Palo Alto with Michelle and Diana a few months ago). I’ve always loved Jane Austen – read everything by her, even the unpublished and unfinished stories. I’ve watched every single movie based on her books (the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite movie ever despite being over 5 hours long). However, I really really dislike Jane Eyre – I tried to read it 3 times before finally managing to finish the book (only because it was required in high school). But glad we agree about food – haha :)

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