Thursday, August 9, 2018

Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics) Paperback by Charlotte Bronte (Bantam Classics)

The Gothic romance is a staple of English literature, but none is as successful in this genre as Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. She excels in capturing the essential ingredients of any novel: plot, character, and setting. She is particularly adept at creating a rich world of fascinating characters, and the various settings in which the action takes place are so deeply described that they become characters as well.

This is a strong and powerful book that deservedly has withstood the passage of time. It has been the subject of several movies, but, alas, none of the movies capture the intensity and richness of the novel. Unfortunately, they tend to distort the book rather than represent it. This is a book that demands to be read. There is a reason this text is considered part of the Western literary canon, and it is so often assigned reading. What must not be overlooked, however, is the thoroughly entertaining nature of this book. It is not another dreary assignment to be drudged through. The tempestuous romance that drives this novel must be emphasized.

Although the text itself presents a rich tapestry on its surface, it reveals an even greater depth when the covers are pulled back for a deeper analysis of the novel. One point to be noted at the outset are the multiple layers of narration in the book, none of which can be deemed reliable. Even the ostensible master narrator who speaks to the reader is shown to be unreliable as he repeatedly makes mistakes that are pointed out to the reader. What other mistakes does he make that remain unrealized?

With multiple narrators come multiple frames. There is the master narrator, and the bulk of the story is told to him by a servant. This servant's narrative, too, is subject to omission and is tainted by what she wishes to disclose to her auditor. The book's author herself hides behind a pseudonym when the book was published originally. What is hidden and what is revealed? At its deepest level, the novel raises the question of what unambiguously can be known about *any* work of fiction.

Another device that pervades the text is the use of doubling and mirroring of the characters. Characters form pairs that stand in opposition to each other, as well as pairs that resemble each other. The book provides an exceptionally rich ground for an outpouring of analyses and interpretations. Ultimately, however, this novel resists any definitive interpretation. I do not consider this a flaw in a text, but, rather, a factor that makes it more intriguing and interesting.

The edition I read was the Fourth Edition of the Norton Critical Edition. (I recommend choosing the Norton Critical Edition whenever it is an option). This volume includes a selection of contemporaneous reactions to the text, as well as a selection of critical essays. The critical essays are varying in quality. J. Hillis Miller's essay is particularly outstanding, and Lin Haire-Sargeant's essay describing how the novel was translated into its numerous cinematic versions also was helpful. Still, I recommend reading all of the critical apparatus because readers may find other essays more useful. This edition also included a sampling of Emily Bronte's poetry, and she is as able a poet as she was a novelist.

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