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The First Irun Book Club Meeting and "Jane Eyre"

On Friday, November, 14h we've celebrated our first IRUN BOOK CLUB meeting. Thank you all for your interest and for coming and participating. Without you it wouldn't be possible! The first meeting was dedicated to Charlotte Bronte.

As during our Donostia Book Club meetings, we've first talked about her biography, to get some background for her works.

Charlotte Bronte was born on April 21st 1816 at Thornton, Bradford in Yorkshire, as a third child of the six Bronte children. Her father, Patrick Brontë, was the eldest son of a respectable Irish farmer in County Down, Ireland. The natural course for him would be managing the farm he was to inherit; instead, he first became a school teacher and a tutor and, having attracted the attention of a local patron, acquired training in the classics and was admitted to St. John's College at Cambridge in 1802. He graduated in 1806 and was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1807. In addition to writing the sermons he regularly delivered, Patrick Brontë was also a minor poet, publishing his first book, Cottage Poems, in 1811. 

mother, Maria Branwell Brontë, was born to a prosperous tea merchant and grocer and was raised in Penzance, Cornwall. She married Patrick Brontë in 1812, bore six children in seven years—Maria (1813), Elizabeth (1815), Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818), and Anne (1820)—and died of cancer in 1821 at the age of thirty-eight, when Charlotte was only five years old. Charlotte remembered little of her mother; when, as an adult, she read letters that her mother had written to her father during their courtship, she wrote to a friend on 16 February 1850, "I wish She had lived and that I had known her."

During Maria Brontë's illness her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, came to care for the family temporarily and, because Patrick Brontë's attempts to remarry after his wife's death were unsuccessful, she stayed until she died in 1842. "Aunt Branwell" has often been characterized as a gloomy and rigid Methodist, but Charlotte's close friend Ellen Nussey remembered her in an 1871 memoir as "lively and intelligent" and capable of arguing "without fear" in conversations with her brother-in-law.

In 1824, when she was eight years old, Charlotte and Emily joined their older sisters at the newly opened
Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in the parish of Tunstall. Although later made infamous by Charlotte's description of "Lowood School" in Jane Eyre, Cowan Bridge had, in fact, much to recommend it to Patrick Brontë's notice.
According to a December 1823 advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer, the aim of the school was to provide a "plain and useful Education" that would allow young women "to maintain themselves in the different Stations of Life to which Providence may call them" and to offer "a more liberal Education for any who may be sent to be educated as Teachers and Governesses." Patrick Brontë's decision to send his four eldest daughters to Cowan Bridge reflects his concern for their material as well as intellectual and spiritual welfare, a concern that he passed on to Charlotte, who of the three Brontë sisters that survived to adulthood came to feel most anxious about her need to establish herself in a fulfilling and yet economically viable career.

While there with her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Emily they suffered the harsh regime, cold and poor food. In June 1825 Charlotte and her sisters were finally taken away from the school for good. Her two eldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth already seriously ill. They both died of consumption (tuberculosis).

The loss of Elizabeth and Maria affected Charlotte's life and helped shape her personality. Suddenly becoming the eldest child forced her into a position of leadership and instilled in her a sense of responsibility, one that conflicted with a streak of rebelliousness and personal ambition.

However, she seemed to have quite a happy childhood. On 5 June 1826 Mr. Brontë returned from a trip to Leeds with a present for Branwell: a box of toy soldiers. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Ann, playing with the soldiers, began to write about an imaginary world which they called Angria. Each child selected a soldier as his or her own and, naming them for their respective childhood heroes (Charlotte's was the Duke of Wellington), they began to construct plays and narratives around and through the voices of these characters.

Charlotte Brontë's tales revolved around the imagined adventures of the Duke of Wellington's two sons, Charles and Arthur Wellesley, and the social elite of "Glass Town," later transformed into the kingdom of "Angria." Arthur, soon elevated to the "Duke of Zamorna," is a recognizably Byronic hero who engages in romantic intrigues as well as in political treachery; his younger brother Charles is a less powerful, often humorous figure, who spies and reports on the scandalous doings of his Angrian compatriots--particularly his brother and his many paramours. Both Wellesleys are authors, and it is significant that Brontë's attractive but morally reprehensible Duke of Zamorna develops into the poet of the family while Charles emerges as a storyteller and her favorite narrator.

These early tales reveal the themes that preoccupied Brontë as a young writer and which reemerge in her adult writing--themes of romantic passion and sexual politics, desire, betrayal, loyalty, and revenge--but also reflect her early awareness of an issue central to early Victorian literary culture: the concern that poetry writing was a self-indulgent and even morally questionable activity. Romantically alluring but destructively egotistical, Brontë's "self-concentered" poet-duke is one of the means by which she represents her own early ambivalence about being a poet.

In 1829 Charlotte begins to write stories:The Search After Happiness, History of the Year. She also works on stories with Branwell, such as the Angrian and Glasstown sagas.
In January 1831 she enrolled at Roe Head where she met Ellen Nussey who becomes a life-long friend. In June 1832 she completed her education at Roe Head, temporarily went home to take care of the other children, but in July 1835 returned to Roe Head as a teacher. She truly hated it. She wrote in her diary:
Must I from day to day sit chained to this chair prisoned within these four bare walls, while the glorious summer suns are burning in heaven and the year is revolving in its richest glow and declaring at the close of every summer day the time I am losing will never come again? Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.”
She resigned in May 1838, as she missed home and writing rutine so much and returned to Haworth.

In December of 1836 Brontë decided to try professional writing, with the hope of earning her living as a publishing poet. She asked the advice of Robert Southey, then poet laureate of England, to whom she sent a selection of her poems. HE however discouraged her in his letter of 12 March 1837:
Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.”

She kept his letter with anote "Southey's Advice | To be kept forever" which might suggest suggest that she submitted to his authority, but her literary rutine says otherwise. Between January 1837 and July 1838 Brontë wrote more than sixty poems and verse fragments, including drafts of what were eventually to be some of her best poetical works. It was not until 1845 that she was able to revise them into poems she was willing to publish.
She accepted two positions as a governess, working for the Sidgwick family in nearby Lothersdale from May to July in 1839 and for the Whites at Upperwood House in Rawdon from March to December 1841. Both experiences ended badly, largely because she could not accommodate herself to her situation.

In the summer of 1841 Brontë began negotiations for a loan from Aunt Branwell to establish a school that she and her sisters might operate. In December she declined Miss Wooler's generous proposal that she replace her as director of Roe Head, turning down a fine opportunity to take charge of an established school with a good reputation.
In February 1842 Charlotte and Emily left Haworth for the Pensionnat Heger at Brussels. While there they learnt French, German and Music. they went back to Haworth for Aunt Branwell's funeral in November 1842, Emily chose not to return to Brussels.
In January 1843 Charlotte returned to Brussels to teach English. The decidion was partly taken because of Constantin Heger, a teacher of literature, who, unlike Southey, encouraged Brontë's literary talent, giving her close, individual attention and challenging her to clarify her thinking about writing as well as to refine her writing skills. Brontë's regard for Heger quickly developed into a grateful infatuation with the man whom she addressed in a 24 July 1844 letter as "my literature master . . . the only master that I have ever had." Understandably, Madame Heger soon tried to put some distance between her husband and his interesting English pupil. Hurt and angry, Brontë withdrew from the Belgian school in January 1844 returning to Haworth. She kept on writing passionate letters to him:
Day or night I find neither rest nor peace. If I sleep I have tortured dreams in which I see you always severe, always gloomy and annoyed with me. I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to every kind of reproach - all that I know - is that I cannot - that I will not resign myself to losing the friendship of my master completely - I would rather undergo the greatest physical sufferings. If my master withdraws his friendship entirely from me I will be completely without hope ... I cling on to preserving that little interest - I cling on to it as I cling on to life."
Charlotte's "master" did not return her love, but Jane Eyre's did.

An unsuccessful attempt is made to start a school. In November the Brontë sisters abandoned their plan since not one prospective applicant had responded to their advertisements.
In May 1846 under the Pseudonym of Currer Ellis and Acton Bell, a book of Poems was published, Charlotte contributed 19 poems. She tries to have her novel the Professor published without success. In August she began to write the novel Jane Eyre. October 1847 Jane Eyre is published under the pseudonym Currer Bell.and quickly becomes a bestseller.

On July, 8th 1848 Charlotte and Anne visited London to meet their publisher and revealed their true identity. In October 1849 Shirley was published, in January 1853 – Villette.

In December 1852 Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte's father curate, proposed to Charlotte. She informed her father, who was not pleased, so she wrote to Nicholls rejecting him. In January 1853 Patrick Bronte wrote a reference on behalf of A.B. Nicholls to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. He said that Nichols had been his curate for seven years and had ‘behaved himself wisely, soberly and piously.’ Nicholls had applied to the SPG for a missionary post in Australia after Charlotte turned down his proposal of marriage. In February Nicholls wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel enquiring whether his application for a missionary posting had been received as he had not had a reply. But after having all planned, collecting a farewell present from his parishoners, he changed his mind and on April th, 1854 he proposed to Charlotte Bronte again and she accepted. On June 29th 1854 Charlotte Bronte marries A.B Nicholls.

In January 1855 she was examined by Dr Mc Turk and was found to be pregnant. On March 31st ,1855 9 months after her wedding, at the age of 38, Charlotte Bronte died. On April 4th 1855 Charlotte Bronte was buried in the family vault at Haworth church.
In 1864 Arthur Bell Nicholls married again. He died in 1906 at the age of 87.

Many of this events are reflected in her most famous work: “Jane Eyre”.
It's without any doubt a book about coming of age: we see a character balanced between childhood and maturity. In fact, she uses the tension of this balance again and again to give her story energy. Some even argue that it is kind of a Classic Young Adult. Surpring comparison, isn't it?

"Jane Eyre" does not contain explicit sex, but it is very direct when it comes to descriptions of feelings and passion and that shocked its Victorian readers. Jane struggles to untangle feelings of lust from feelings of love. She wonders what it would be like to marry her cousin St John, a man who admires her, but does not have “a husband’s heart” to give her, and she frankly considers what it would mean to consummate a loveless marriage with him, ultimately finding the idea “monstrous”. That must have been outrageous to read back then!

However, the quality of writing and the innovation of the subject were very important for literature. Virginia Woolf , one century later wrote for Common Reader, 1916 about “Jane Eyre”:

"When we think of her we have to imagine some one who had no lot in our modern world; we have to cast our minds back to the ’fifties of the last century, to a remote parsonage upon the wild Yorkshire moors. In that parsonage, and on those moors, unhappy and lonely, in her poverty and her exaltation, she remains for ever. (...)
A novelist, we reflect, is bound to build up his structure with much very perishable material which begins by lending it reality and ends by cumbering it with rubbish. As we open Jane Eyre once more we cannot stifle the suspicion that we shall find her world of imagination as antiquated, mid-Victorian, and out of date as the parsonage on the moor, a place only to be visited by the curious, only preserved by the pious.(...)
We read Charlotte Brontë not for exquisite observation of character — her characters are vigorous and elementary; not for comedy — hers is grim and crude; not for a philosophic view of life — hers is that of a country parson’s daughter; but for her poetry."

The last part is clearly more critical, but all the previous fragments prove how highly estimated was Charlottes's writing 100 years later.

Jane Eyre: Main Topics

- views on women and family

The conservative Lady Eastlake suggested that if the book was by a woman ‘she had long forfeited the society of her own sex’. In addition to this lack of femininity, she also diagnosed a spirit of rebellion which she likened to the working class uprisings of the Chartists, with their demands for votes for the working people, and also the political revolutions which were then sweeping across Europe. Jane Eyre unsettled views as to how women should act and behave, suggesting, in Lady Eastlake’s eyes, almost an overthrowing of social order. Jane demands equality and respect. ‘Do you think’, she demands of Rochester, ‘I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings?’. She speaks to him as one spirit to another, ‘equal – as we are’ (ch. 23).

Would a romantic attachment be likely between two people so different in age? T.L. Nichols, in his 1873 book How to Behave, advocated an age gap of about five years in favor of the man, saying that "The best age for a man to marry is from twenty-five to thirty-five; for a woman from twenty to thirty." He places far more importance on the social propriety of the match in term of class than in terms of age, saying "Happily the greater number of persons are too prudent to begin to love out of the range of matrimonial possibilities. Young women especially . . . seldom allow their affections to centre on those who are below them in social position." How To Behave does show how potentially scandalous Rochester's decision to marry Jane was — not because he was close to twenty years her senior, but because she was of a distinctly lower rank

- religion

Jane Eyre is largely the story of Jane becoming an increasingly Christian character as she learns to tame her romantic but often misguided and egotistical passions, cultivating in their stead the Christian virtues of love, charity, and humility. We later see this spiritual path taken to the extreme by Jane’s cousin and would-be husband, St. John Rivers. St. John’s behavior parallels Jane’s — he argues for curbing one’s romantic, but often egotistical emotions and behavior in order to become a virtuous Christian — but he goes much farther than Jane is capable of doing, completely eschewing both feeling and emotional attachments in favor of a pure and unswerving commitment to his ideals. While Jane deeply admires St. John’s spirituality, she ultimately rejects his approach as antithetical to her nature, raising questions about the nature and goals of Christian virtue in Brontë’s world. Jane’s spiritual path consists largely of reconciliation: by the novel’s end, she has reconciled her emotional commitments and duties to herself with a loving, humble Christian outlook; her worldly tendencies have become inextricably linked to her moral commitments and service to others. But this ability to love and sympathize with others — normally thought of as an essential Christian virtue — is a quality which St. John, with his harsh, judgmental moralism and abstract commitment to grand ideals, ironically lacks.

It is easy to condemn Brocklehurst's religious doctrine, but here Brontë also undermines Helen's absolute and self-abnegating religious beliefs. Jane's questions may not plant any seeds of doubt within Helen, but the reader would be hard-pressed to miss her point. Helen and, later, St. John Rivers seek happiness in Heaven; Jane is determined to find hers here on Earth.

- Reason vs. Passion

The novel draws a marked implicit contrast between the strong, self-controlled figure of Jane, and the animalistic qualities of Rochester’s first wife, Bertha Mason. But as many critics have shown, there are parallels between the angry child shut in the red room, and the mad wife confined to the attic. Significantly, Jane first sees Bertha in her own mirror, and she refuses to condemn her as Rochester does. The novel was shocking in Rochester’s frank descriptions of Bertha’s sexuality, and his own debauchery, but it is important to note that the novel also depicts Jane as a heroine with strong desires. When Jane is courted by St John Rivers, she fears that if they married, he would ‘scrupulously observe … all the forms of love’ while the spirit was absent: he would offer sex, in other words, without romantic love. Jane feels this would force her ‘to burn inwardly and never utter a cry’ (ch. 34). Images of passion, and of fire, run through the novel, symbolised most forcibly in the fire that burns down Thornfield. Brontë establishes explicit contrasts between Jane and Bertha, but she also suggests that there are underpinning parallels between these two passionate forms of womanhood.

In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre share various attributes in their characters: passion, restlessness, and a will to follow their nature. Later in the novel Jane sees Bertha’s burning passionate nature and it warns her that she will only become the maniac that Bertha has if she follows her passion and her temptation for her one love Mr. Rochester. In this way, Bertha and Jane serve as doubles for one another how are described with passion and fire, how their moods are reflected through nature, and how Bertha serves as a warning for what Jane’s passion, like Bertha’s own, could become.

- Mr. Rochester a Byronic Hero?

The phrase "Byronic Hero" is a reference to the English Romantic poet, Lord Byron (pictured left). Byron was known not only for his poetry, but for his difficult romantic entanglements, including an affair with Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley.

The Byronic Hero is a version of the Romantic Hero. He is typically dark and handsome. He is also intelligent, but somewhat self-destructive, arrogant, and jaded. The historian Lord Macaulay described the Byronic Hero as "a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection." A Byronic Hero often rejects society's rules, and in some way is also rejected by society. He also usually has some past crime or sin, for which he has not fully apologized for or learned from. He is sensitive, moody, a "bad boy", in modern terms

Jane Eyre: Metaphor Analysis

The Moon: In Jane Eyre the moon is a metaphor for change.  The moon is either described or looked at many times throughout the novel when Jane's life will take on a new direction.  Just a few examples are when Jane leaves Gateshead, when she first meets Rochester and right before Rochester proposes to her.

Food: Food is used throughout the novel to represent want.  One example of this is when Jane is at Lowood School.  Here the food is scant, and older girls often take it from Jane in the beginning.  Examples such as the burnt porridge are given.  However, the hunger Jane feels is not just a physical desire for food, but for personal growth as well.  When she is accepted at the school and begins to accomplish things for herself in drawing class, she is no longer focuses on her hunger, as it has been fulfilled by her own achievements.  She says,
"That night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper, of hot roast potatoes, or white bread and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my inward cravings.  I feasted instead on the spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark - all the work of my own hands." (Chapter 8).
A similar case can be seen in Jane's hunger before she is welcomed to Moor House.  She has not eaten much, has had to beg for food, and is physically weak from hunger. She is not only hungry for food however, and when she arrives at the house and is welcomed there, Jane is more satisfied with the friendship she finds than the food she is offered.  She had been hungry for companionship, and she finds it with Diana and Mary.

Fire and Burning: Fire is used throughout the novel to represent passion as an uncontrollable force.  When it first becomes truly obvious that Rochester has feelings for Jane, she has just saved him from the fire in his bed.  When Rochester tries to keep Jane with him after this incident, she says, "strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look" (Chapter 15).  Another example is when Rochester suggests that he and Jane remain together even though they cannot be married.  Jane writes, a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved (Chapter 27).  Jane is tempted to succumb to her and Rochester's passions, but she does not.

The Chestnut Tree: This tree that had been struck by lightning during a storm is a symbol for the relationship between Jane and Rochester.  When Jane is running in the rain toward Rochester, she sees the tree and writes that it had not been split in half, but that while there was a hole in it and it was separated much, the roots held it together.  Jane says, "You did right to hold fast to each other." At the end of the novel when Rochester compares himself to this ruined tree, Jane says that he is not ruined, but that plants will grow around him and take delight in him.

That is just a top of the iceberg. What are your thought on "Jane Eyre"? Share it with us in the comments!