Becoming Jane Eyre

OK, there’s a new Jane Eyre movie out, and I’ve finally realized that I’ve never actually read Jane Eyre. It’s just that I’ve heard so often about Jane Eyre, the governess who falls in love with cold, old Mr. Rochester and discovers he has a mad wife hidden in the attic that it feels like I’ve read it. In fact, I had trouble remembering which Bronte sister wrote Jane Eyre and which, Wuthering Heights. One was by Charlotte and one by Emily, but which was which? (Poor Anne, the third sister — hardly anyone remembers her.)
But no more, because I’ve just read Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler, a short novel about Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte. The three Bronte sisters — rather plain, with little hope of marriage, and knowing they only had a monthly income as long as their father lived — send out their manuscripts of novels, stories, and poems to publisher after publisher under male pseudonyms. Despite their feverish writing and rewriting, the women’s hope of earning a living for themselves and their unemployable younger brother through their writing weakens with every rejection, until Charlotte’s success with Jane Eyre makes it seem suddenly possible but not wholly desirable.
Was it because my high school English teachers were all male that my impression of Jane Eyre was that it was essentially a Gothic romance and could be skipped?
I don’t plan on seeing Jane Eyre at the movies, although it does have Judi Dench in it, but I do plan on finally reading Jane Eyre, after reading about these literate women in Becoming Jane Eyre. Reading Becoming Jane Eyre isn’t like watching a period movie like Jane Eyre or a PBS mini-series about 19th-century women, so I don’t know how much lovers of historical fiction will like it; it’s more like a psychological, anatomy-of-a-writer-style docudrama.

Read The New York Times review of Becoming Jane Eyre here.
Read about Becoming Jane Eyre on other book blogs here:
As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Love Letters to the Library

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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I was surprised by Malcolm Gladwell‘s recent New Yorker article about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Is it fair to judge the actions and sensibilities of characters in a novel from a different time by the standards of today?
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, as seen through the eyes of his young daughter, Scout, was willing to stand up in court and defend a black man against the charge of raping a white woman — an unpopular move and one that was doomed to failure. Mr. Gladwell seems to be arguing that Atticus Finch shouldn’t be held up as a hero because his defense largely rested on asking the jury to make moral distinctions rather than racial distinctions, and because he accepted the reality of the status quo in his small Southern town. Mr. Gladwell thinks Atticus should have been angry at the jury’s unjust verdict although he would have known from the start what the outcome would be, because he knew the racial prejudice of the jury. He faults Atticus for being too tolerant of his fellow townspeople’s intolerance, and seems to miss the point of the book almost entirely in his zeal to present it in a new light.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960. I think it stands up well almost 50 years later as a testament to a single individual’s principled attempt to act as he would have others act.

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