Jane vs. Jane

I was reading Kara Jorgensen’s blog this morning, and it got me thinking. Today, she posted on “10 Bookish Confessions”, giving a list of ten facts about herself and her relationship with books (reading as well as writing them). Now, I’m not going to follow suit and give you one of those Lists of Ten, fun though they may be – some other time, perhaps. No, what got me thinking was the first item on her list. (The second item, her book-related charm bracelet, didn’t get me thinking, it brought a slightly greenish tinge of envy to my face. It’s just too cool.) Anyway, the point was: “My favorite classic is Jane Eyre.”

CharlotteBrontePortraitAnd that started my train of thought on Jane-Eyre-People vs. Jane-Austen-People. Jane vs. Jane. Just to be clear on that, Jane Eyre was not, repeat NOT, written by Jane Austen. Got that? NOT. I don’t know how often I’ve heard someone say “Jane Austen? Oh yeah, I love her books. Jane Eyre is great.” Uh, no. Yes, they’re both Janes and have something to do with romance stories from the 19th century, but that’s where the commonalities end. Jane Eyre is a fictional character created by Charlotte Brontë in the middle of the 19th century; Jane Austen is a writer who created fictional characters (including a Charlotte or two) at the beginning of said time period. But for some reason ignorant people (i.e. anyone not a rabid fan of either of those Janes) keep muddling the two.

IMG_20150427_123501Which is a travesty, because those two Janes are very different. Actually, Charlotte Brontë, rumour has it, disliked Austen’s writing (I know – how could she?). That should tell you right there.

I don’t mind Jane Eyre. I’ve read it a time or two (or three), and own a couple of the movies – I like the one with Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton; I have it on VHS, taped off the TV when you could still do that, and definitely would like to get a DVD of it. But I don’t love it like I love Jane Austen. Now, I know or have heard of several people who are absolutely crazy about Jane Eyre. Mr Rochester is their romantic ideal. Personally, I could take him or leave him – leave him, more likely. I don’t go for all that capital-D Drama, the overwhelming (and capital-P) Passion, the capital-everything-plus-boldface ROMANCE. I’m not sure what it is, but Jane Eyre is just a little too intense for me. I always skip over the first few chapters of the story, because I can’t handle accounts of child abuse, and I get the idea (that Jane’s had a horrible childhood) without reading every detail of it, thank you very much. So I usually start reading or watching at about the point where Jane becomes a governess, and finally has some control over her life. She’s a great character, of course – what a woman of strength! And what an ending! “Reader, I married him” – that line is almost as quotable as “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionAlmost, but not quite. At least for me. Actually, those two lines are quite indicative of the differences between the two Janes. See, one of the things that make me love Jane Austen’s novels so much is her sense of humour. Austen is funny. I mean, the first line of her most famous book is a piece of tongue-in-cheek satire! The Brontës, on the other hand, take themselves and their characters very seriously. Jane Eyre is nothing to laugh or even quietly chuckle at – her story is serious, heart-gripping, adrenalin-pounding, sweeping passion. Evil relatives, pathetic death scenes, hot-tempered despotic men, a catastrophic house fire, physical exhaustion to the point of nearly dying – it’s got it all. In Austen, the worst catastrophes you get are along the lines of a cad running off with a girl, another girl hitting her head when jumping off a rock wall, or a third having to ride the stage coach alone without a servant in attendance. Her death scenes invariably take place off-screen, and the only case of debilitating physical exhaustion is Fanny Price getting a IMG_20150427_123745headache from having to walk through the park in the heat. Austen’s heroes are always gentlemen, calm, rational and self-controlled. None of that Rochesterian “I must have you for my wife or perish!” stuff. Austen’s writing is full of what the Marianne of the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie would disparagingly call “polite affections” – but Marianne would have found herself completely at home in Brontë’s world.

I can’t really make any definitive statements about the readers who love the Victorian Jane more than the Georgian one; whose imagination prefers crinolines and a bearded, autocratic Edward Rochester to empire waists and a smiling, civil Edward Ferrars, Mr Darcy or Mr Tilney. I only know that for myself, I’ll take Ciarán Hinds’ Captain Wentworth over his Mr Rochester, Jane Austen over Jane Eyre, because that’s the kind of person I am.

But I’m glad that both those Janes exist. Our world is richer for them.

Life, the Universe, and Jane vs. Jane. We each can choose our own.

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6 Comments

Filed under books, Jane Austen

6 responses to “Jane vs. Jane

  1. I prefer Elizabeth Gaskell to both! Although out of Austen vs Bronte, I would definitely pick Austen. I love Jane Eyre, for what it is – the sweeping feel to it, the barely-contained passion, Jane’s incredible spiritual strength. And I love Austen’s books for what they are – a sly commentary on society, a gentle poking-of-fun at customs and manners, and a rich and varied palette of personalities and characters. And out of those two things, I would pick the latter to read and re-read on a regular basis over the former. Jane Eyre is like a heavy dessert; rich and decadent, but you definitely don’t want it every night. Jane Austen is like sparkling wine; a little heady, but refreshing and delightful and will do you no harm unless you seriously over-indulge.

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    • amo

      Interesting! I’ve not read much Mrs Gaskell up to now other than “North & South” for school. But I only just got through “Cranford”, and loved it (I’d seen the miniseries, which was nice enough, but gave me quite a wrong impression of what the book was like – it’s missing most of humour of the book and replaces it with *Drama*). I’ve got “Wives and Daughters” on my “to read” list; now thanks to you it just got bumped up!
      But, *is* there such a thing as overindulgence in Austen? 😉

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      • Well, I know I get a little sharp-tongued and prone to snarkily judging others when I’ve been too heavily immersed in Austen for too long … but that’s a failing on my part, not necessarily hers (since I have tendencies that way naturally, and have striven my entire life to overcome them). 🙂

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  2. I have read very few Jane Austens…sorry to say. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. I mean to read more… I’ve also read Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” and Emily’s “Wuthering Heights”. So, I can say that yes, the Bronte gals tended to take their stories ever so much more seriously. Whereas Jane tended to write about manners, proprieties, and love among the absolutely civilized, the Bronte sisters were wont to take their imaginations more afield. I mean, Elinor and Marianne would never have entertained the notion, for a moment, of riding bare-backed and barefoot over the English moors with a wild young man and staying all hours in the mud and the moss. But that was Emily’s feral Cathy, and Heathcliff, well, Heathcliff makes the most villainous of Austen villains seem like choirboys by comparison. And Charlotte’s Edward is not at all a good man. I often wonder what life was like for the Bronte sisters growing up. But I did read somewhere about the life of Jane Austen, that she said all her female protagonists would find their one true love, and every story would have a happy ending. I love that about Jane’s books. I know they’re love stories, with rather maudlin scenes, and somewhat contrived plots where the conflicts are definitely the “first world problem” types, but why shouldn’t they be? Why shouldn’t love stories be about overcoming obstacles, and finding enduring love? It seems, Jane asked the same question, and couldn’t come up with a good enough reason not. Heathcliff and Cathy are torn asunder by the unfeeling world that pulls and beats against them. They seem separated by a pane of unbreakable glass, and then Cathy dies, leaving Heathcliff to slowly descend into madness and starve himself to death. And the horror of the scene where Mr Lockwood puts his hand out the bedroom window, and Cathy’s pale and cold hand takes hold of him, “Let me in! I’m come home! I’ve lost my way on the moor!” Ghostly, anguished, and with an air of utter finality. And Jane Eyre, discovering that she was about to enter a bigamist marriage to a man who kept his first mad-as-a-hatter wife locked in the attic,…just, ugh. The Brontes had such a pessimistic view of the world and of love…no wonder Charlotte didn’t care much for Jane. But Jane’s stories were set on solid ground. No scary ghosts or murderous lunatics to be found in Jane’s books, and so, mushy or not, far more plausible. Jane Austen is like a sedative in a stressful world, and a go-to for anyone with a broken heart. The Brontes, not so much. And leave the light on… 🙂

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    • amo

      Uh, mushy and maudlin scenes? You must be thinking of yet another Jane. Or maybe you’re mixing up Austen with Dickens (now, he had maudlin down to an art form… amidst all his awesome writing).
      However, as for Wuthering Heights – don’t get me started. Heathcliff is a freakin’ *psychopath*, and the thing that’s keeping them apart is not the cruel world, but Cathy’s arrogance and self-absorption. But seeing as there is not a single Jane in that book, it doesn’t really come into this, and I shall stop ranting about it. 🙂

      It’s not that there isn’t darkness, or potential darkness, in Austen’s novels. It’s just that she handles it so deftly, doesn’t dwell on it. She hints at it instead of wallowing in it. Depending on how you look at it, Austen is still the last writer of the 18th century, with its rationality and enlightenment – or the forerunner of the Romantics, with their “Feeling is All / Name is but clang and smoke” (that’s Goethe). Anyway. Could go on about this for a long time, but I won’t now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I know. 🙂 We see Jane Austen a little differently, but that’s okay. I really do like her. But I know you love her, so ’nuff said. And, you’re right about Heathcliff.

    Liked by 1 person

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