Dreams in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

I thought that it was about time that I tackled one of my favourites. I didn’t really want to review books that I unconditionally love because it leaves them open to attack, and I know that every book has its faults, none of them can be prefect because statistically speaking perfection cannot exist; but some of them are pretty darn close.

I recently wrote an essay on the function of dreams in Jane Eyre and it really got me thinking because there seems to be so much relevance, all the events in the novel are so perfectly interconnected and almost mystical that it seems like an obvious observation. Yet the first time I read the book, which has to be at least four years ago, I didn’t pick up on any of the uncanny elements of the text. To me it was just a romance, set in the my favourite time period. Jane was a strong-willed woman who was an inspiring character to both the reader and the other characters in the novel. She always followed her brain, often to the detriment of her heart, but she wanted independence – financially and socially. Once she had achieved this, she was able to wrap the story up with a marriage and happily ever after.

But Jane doesn’t have it easy. She is locked up by her aunts, attacked by her cousins, alienated for the entirety of the novel, even at times by the man she loves. Jane’s experience in the Red Room seems to establish her entire story and future, it is such an important part of her childhood that it influences her in later life. It pops up frequently throughout the novel, particularly involving the incidents with Bertha before her wedding. The Red Room symbolises Jane’s alienation and therefore warns her of her heart and her passions, it protects her from becoming dependent on other people. Jane wants to be independent and marry someone on equal terms, but being financially dependent on her husband is contrary to this.

On the search for independence

On the search for independence

Bertha is also an interesting dream-like character as for the majority of the novel she isn’t seen, isn’t even spoken about she is just heard and the consequences of her actions seen. She is entirely invisible, the madwoman in the attic, locked up because she is ‘crazy’. To some extent she is mad, setting the bed on fire and destroying Jane’s veil, but she is only this way because of her treatment. Abused, mistreated and confused. Jane relates to Bertha, she is the passionate side of her character, the side that let herself become dependent on Rochester, marry him and then be traded in for a younger model.

Of course I don’t read the book in such a cynical way, it is still a love story in my eyes – but something about Bertha and the haunting aspect of dreams has revealed the harshness of the text. Imperialism and the role that Britain played in the colonies is hinted at in the novel, with Bertha and Mason coming from Jamaica. The Lowood institution that Jane is sent to as a child is another example of Victorian cruelty and the expectations of children and orphans.

Yet despite all of that, the suggestions at a political agenda, the hauntings, dreams, deaths, the novel is still beautiful. It is written so eloquently, with Jane as a character dropping in and out of her opinions, talking to the reader as it makes the book personal. Jane is talking to you. Jane is in search for a man she can marry and live happily with, it just so happens that certain events have to get in their way before Edward Rochester is her man. The hauntings are only there to make the novel more realistic. Reading a romance is enjoyable regardless of the likeliness of the conclusion, but when one is so heavily soaked in truth and at the same time impossibility it seems impossible for such a thing to occur. Yet Charlotte Bronte has done it, and created a book that is pretty close to perfection in my eyes.

 

Books, bookcases and deadlines.

I love reading. Always have and always will. There is just something so eternal in reading, you will never run out of things to read. Your library will forever expand, and if you are like me, expand way too quickly for you to facilitate where to store all of those books. I hate to leave books in piles on the floor, they deserve to be shelved or at least stacked on something to avoid being kicked or abused, but sometimes that is just the only option.

A couple of years ago I asked for a bookcase for Christmas. A strange present for a 16 year old girl to some, but it was by far the best investment I ever made. It managed to accommodate all of my books nicely…well it did until I discovered a little secondhand bookshop with all books for £1 and before I knew it…I was back to stacking on the floor.

English Degree...history books seem to be a bit more dusty.

English Degree…history books seem to be a bit more dusty.

But the other real problem that I find with reading, is that because there are so many books I can’t decide which one to read. Or worse than that, I just read them all at the same time. This indecisiveness once led to me reading 7 books simultaneously, in fact I think I still haven’t finished one of them.

You find a nice juicy book. You read for a few hours and get hooked and before you know it chapter 7 has already flown by. But then you find another book, one that you have been searching for and you want to read that one too. Yet you know that the original is at the peak of its excitement and yet the lure of this untainted and unexplored territory is what you really want. You must know whether that new book is as good as you think it is, or how it stands compared to the one you should be reading right now.

And then just as you are resolving your dilemma and you decide that you will finish the one you are reading and then move on, you remember that you have to finish that reading for class. That reading for your essay due in next week. That journal article that has nothing interesting in it, except perhaps for a few quirky gimmicks that make you remember you love history because of the simple stupidity of some people. The book that you have to read and review to keep your blog up to date. Reading to a deadline is the kryptonite to reading, it takes away all the joy that people find in that discovery process. Fair enough you may have got hooked and read the book in a night regardless of the seminar you have on it at 11am tomorrow. But it is the inability for you to decide which book you want to prioritise which is sad.

If I could have it my way, reading in summertime would be year round. But I guess taking a degree in English and History comes with the guarantee of changing people’s love of reading. Hopefully though, it won’t be for long…

Review: The History Boys by Alan Bennett

Education and knowledge are always interesting points of discussion. Learning the right information just so that you will pass the exams at the end of the year, or knowing for the sake of knowing. It is sad that in the modern day schooling system that knowledge has become a necessity and not an enjoyment, even those who go on to read a subject at university normally only do so to further there career. Fast-track way to get a better job in theory…

This issue seemed to be at the heart of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, with the two different teachers Irwin and Hector. Hector taught his boys things that they enjoyed and that they would remember in their last days, poetry recitals, French plays and gobbets of information that could potentially be useful in an exam, but wouldn’t necessarily enable them to make the cut and pass the Oxford entry exam. Whereas Irwin has been specifically hired by the school to help the boys study what they will need to get into the prestigious university, he is their private tutor.

History nowadays is not a matter of conviction. It’s a performance. It’s entertainment. And if it isn’t, make it so.

This was one of the problems that was central to the progression of the play, the clash of old and new in the schooling system. Hector is there to teach the boys ‘General Studies’ things that should help them in later life, but in the current climate the boys have no need to waste time memorizing Thomas Hardy’s Drummer Hodge they want to get into Oxford or Cambridge and so they should be studying for those exams.

The play also questioned the extent to which pupils should have a relationship with their teachers – and I mean that in every sense of the word. The sexuality of both the teachers and the students are not only questioned but pushed to the very limits, which I found very interesting to read. In my school experiences I never saw a student openly ask a teacher on a date and yet it didn’t seem too odd that it could happen at this school set in 1980’s Sheffield.

"History is just one fucking thing after another"

“History is just one fucking thing after another”

Although the narrative jumped around and was in no-sense of the word linear, the flash-forwards and flash-backs because of the intertextual references make the setting believable. The play is set in the past, it is also set in the present day, it also talks about the past even further back than the 1980’s. This is a school where students learn, regardless of what they learn, the primary intention is the pursuit of knowledge. For me, it was this that helped the play really connect with me as a reader. Everyone has been in a classroom and it is a place that is safe, ok you may have to sit a horrific exam in there at some point, but nonetheless it is still a place where you can develop as a person. The characters in the play felt like real people. Real people who just want to do the best and the most they can with their lives.

Review: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is NOT a small book

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things  is one of those books that seems to come along once in a blue moon. It seemed to defy all the conventional ‘rules’ of literature and in the process created a sensation. The characterisation, non-linear narrative, and unfamiliar and yet at the same time familiar setting make it hard to put down.

The story is set in Kerala, India and retraces the lives of an upper caste family in the lead up and aftermath of a tragic drowning accident, with  focus on the destruction of the fraternal twins Estha and Rahel’s lives. The story starts at the end, finds the beginning in the middle and finishes somewhere in the middle which allows the characters to be developed and seen at different stages of their lives. The vast array of characters also aid the storytelling because the narrative is not restricted to one person’s viewpoint; third person narrative enables us as readers to experience India through the eyes of children, grandparents, women, men and untouchables.

What I liked most was the political aspect of the novel. At the very heart of the plot was the transgression of the laws that have built Indian society and yet they were so easily broken, broken by ordinary people. The laws that surround religion, nationality, caste, gender, sexuality, incest: the laws that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” But it remains relatable, although it discusses and leaves those issues open for criticism it is not a political attack on the system. It questions the importance of the small things over the big, or in this case the social ‘laws’.

Love Laws

Love Laws define who we can love, when and by how much…

I found one of the characters particularly interesting. Velutha who is the God of Small Things. What I most enjoyed was his presence in the text, for the majority of the opening he is only referred to, and is not seen or given a large role because of his place as an untouchable in the Indian caste system, at the bottom of the hierarchical system. But as the ‘laws’ were starting to become more apparent as the plot picked up and they started to be questioned and broken, he became a crucial character. Despite the stereotype associated with the untouchables to the other characters he was, and is for me, one of the nicest characters. He was not aggressive or violent towards those who were ranked higher in the heteronormative society.

Although set in India between 1960-1990 depending on which part of the narrative we look at, the text was familiar. I have been to India and was able to imagine the places I had seen and compare that to the descriptions in the novel, but regardless of my experiences I still felt that I was able to relate to the characters. The descriptions of the exotic didn’t feel like Roy was trying to sell India, like some people have criticised, but it just felt like a description of a family home in India. For Roy, the scenes that she writes about are quotidian, nothing more.

Review: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I can’t bring myself to write that I didn’t like this novel, declaring that outright seems almost like an offence. But I certainly didn’t love it. There is something so completely and utterly chilling in the thought that boys as young as 6 are capable of killing. I understand that this is an allegorical novel and that the children represent both sides of humanity, both good and evil, but Golding has used young boys as his medium to tell the story. Which for me almost made it too uncomfortable to read.

Lord of the Flies

I am glad that I did read it though on a few levels however, and so I don’t want to turn readers away because of my experience of the uncanny. Firstly, the character development is fantastic. Jack particularly interested me because he is determined to win, determined to receive more support than Ralph and determined for things to be run his way. Jack represents all that is bad with mankind, savagery, brutality, an instinct to prey on the weak and vulnerable and most importantly the desire for power. Without Jack acting as the novels antagonist there would be no need for Ralph. Without this murderous 12 year old boy the book would perhaps have been more enjoyable to read, which is why I like him. He manipulates fear to his own advantage, even for a brief moment convincing Ralph and Piggy, the figureheads of order and civilisation, that being a member of a tribe is the only option.

Secondly, glasses. Piggy and his glasses. For me this was a crucial aspect of the novel because so many of the events relied on who had possession of the glasses, and therefore who has power over fire. Although the glasses were crucial to the boys survival on the island, something about them experimenting and playing with an ordinary object helped them to be children again, no matter how briefly. Similarly at the begin of the novel when they swim in the lagoon, this is easy to read because it is children acting the way we expect them to in society. This becomes uncanny and uncomfortable to read when events turn sour very rapidly.

Finally, the Lord of the Flies himself. The dark and confusing island that the boys inhabit is a hot bed for the mythical and savage. The boar’s head represents all that is wrong with humanity whilst at the same time offering salvation, without sounding too philosophical. The head declares that the beast lies within all the boys and they are the only ones that can do anything about it. SPOILER ALERT Simon’s death however takes the truth with him and this has a strong resonance, I felt in reality. For everything that is good, there are far more things that are evil.

It was this that I found so disconcerting and uncanny, the book offers no real salvation, no optimist opinion of the future. The future is bleak because all humans are instinctively savage and brutal and those who do possess rare inherent moral values would be “dealt with”.

The only redeeming point that I can pick out from that would be that at least those people do exist.

Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

On my reading list for this week was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and I know what you are thinking, why are you writing a review about one book and talking about another? Once I have finished reading that book it is definitely going to be making its way onto here soon because I have so much to say. But what interested me the most about it was the frequent references to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I read a few years ago.

Heart of Darkness is one of those novels that you have to just grin and bear. Take it with a pinch of salt. Imperialism has so many emotional strings attached to it that it can often spark outcry and rebellion if the wrong thing is said, and I am a little nervous attempting to review it on here. But from reading it, it seemed to be about the issues of alienation and confusion and not just imperialism.

The novella follows the story of Marlow, a sailor who has gone to Africa in the hope of filling in the blank spaces on the map. He meets the man Kurtz who has become a local hero to the villagers and is worshipped like a God. Even the idea of “filling in the blank spaces on the map” seems to suggest a Western superiority that Conrad seems to be criticising in his book. The treatment of the local Africans in the Congo is horrific to read and really brings home the cruelty and harshness of colonialism.

But what makes the novel really hard to read, for me, was the ease at which the soldiers who were stationed in Africa changed. Kurtz is a man who has gone mad with power. He has been left alone to his own devices for too long and has “gone native”. He collects ivory by brutally killing locals in a manner that doesn’t seem to bother him. This made me most uncomfortable. How everything is just accepted. Although Marlow as a narrator often questions the actions of his colleagues, he is not a reactionary, nothing is done. His inability to see that he could do something and doesn’t is saddening.

Heart of Darkness

Despite all of this, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For some reason the brutal realism that was present throughout was refreshing. Conrad hasn’t attempted to hide and cover up the horrors of imperialism, he has stripped it bare. Revealed it for what it truly was and it is for this reason that I feel this novel is so widely considered a ground-breaking novel.

Review: Wise Children by Angela Carter

This has to be, undoubtedly, one of the most confusing novels I have ever read. Parties, performances, A midsummer’s nights dream, America, the bard, twins, twins and even more twins. The carnivalesque mystique that presents itself through the novel is both extremely entertaining to read and aids the fairytale, surreal and magical tones that Carter has written in. But I think more importantly, the garish and hectic lives the characters live is a reflection of theatricality in itself.

The narrative follows the lives of Nora and Dora Chance, twins who both want to make it in showbiz like the rest of their family. The events that occur in the story are flashbacks and so the story in itself is confused as it does not follow a linear time scale and is able to jump around depending on the moods and thoughts of the female twins. The endless stream of characters; people they knew in childhood, family, relatives, husbands of actresses, illegitimate children of actors, film producers and comedians does not make this an easy text to read. If it was not for the family tree provided at the back of the book I would have been stumped from chapter 1.

But despite this chaotic and frenzied tone often overwhelming the reader I feel that it is because the events that occur are so interesting and peculiar that you cannot put the book down. Carter has reached the boundaries of what magical realism can do in literature. Carnivalesque and clocks. The simple combination of the everyday with the extraordinary is what makes it so fantastic. The frequent references to Shakespeare help the reader to make their own connections with the Chance sisters and the events that occur in their estranged lives. Again bringing something that is relatable into the mythical.

My final thought on this book is the beauty that seems to transcend the harsh realities of the text. Although Nora and Dora have lived through very hard times, lost people they loved and more often than not been seen as outsiders and not accepted into other people’s lives; they are still happy. They are still willing to grab life by the hand it pull themselves along with it. Persistence: a great coping mechanism. They seek pleasures in the small everyday things in life and although hoping for the world, the are happy to settle with a house in London.

 

"What a joy it is to dance and sing!"

“What a joy it is to dance and sing!”

Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

America. Alienation. Adolescence. These three words, to me, seem to summarise The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger’s only full length novel focuses on the troubles and difficulties of growing up and the desire to belong whilst maintaining ones own identity.

The protagonist Holden Caulfield leaves his school after realising that he is unhappy being surrounded by people he doesn’t like because of their annoying personal habits or their outlook on life. Phonies. Phonies is the go-to word of the narrator. Adults that he meets whilst spending time in New York city drinking, smoking or just generally wandering the cold winter streets are phonies. They are superficial products of the post second world war society. The worst part for Holden is that everyone is unable to realise their phoniness. Even sadder is the fact that Holden doesn’t realise that he is a phony himself. His compulsive need to lie and the speed at which he disregards people because of this highlights the phoniness that is present in the world.

Holden is both alienated and alienates. He is unwilling to grow up and take that final step into the adult world, like a traditional bildungsroman. He also refuses to like various characters in the book because of their artificial qualities. He also alienates himself because relationships confuse him. Opportunities for emotional and physical relationships present themselves to Holden throughout the novel but he inevitably declines because he wants to remain individual and apart from the norm.

The Catcher in the Rye

I think it this that has left The Catcher in the Rye with such a legacy. But also a universality. So many people can relate to Holden as a character. He is just one small person trying to be himself in a world full of phoniness and change. His fascination with the natural history museum shows how isolated and alone Holden both is and likes to be. The creatures frozen in time haven’t changed since he was young and this is one of the only static elements of the novel.

In a world that is rapidly developing, with technological advances and a booming economy, there is no time to build up the intimate relationships that Holden believes should exist. His romantic view of the world is outdated and again he prevents himself from belonging. Sex is prevalent throughout the novel, with his need to lose his virginity and his apparent interest in it. Holden is a product of this changing society. He wants to lose his virginity to someone he respects and loves but is also aroused by people he doesn’t care for and considers stupid.

It is this inability to grasp the world which makes the character of Holden so relatable. Although the reasoning behind his self-alienation and inability to connect with the real world is unique to him, I feel that I can relate to him as a character. The social pressure to belong in a constantly moving, changing, growing world is something which cannot be done without trouble. Everyone has problems. Some people are just better adjusted at coping with them than others.

Phonies

First Post. Great.

If I am completely honest, I am not really sure how to do this. I never caught onto the tumblr or instagram trends and so this all seems to be slightly odd. I sometimes even struggle just to tweet. But the writing part, the writing is fun. That is what I enjoy. I am not even really writing about anything particularly interesting, and so apologies to any of you that happen to come across this post, but this is my first attempt and I hope you will be considerate enough to let me off the hook this one time.

So to get started why not start with a classic? Weather. If I look out of my window to the world outside it actually would create a sense of one being in a paradox. To the left there is a ominous looking pale grey cloud, which unsurprisingly (although surprisingly considering it is the middle of March) it is snowing. Snowing tiny little fluffy flakes. To the right in comparison, is a lovely blue sky with rays bursting through the clouds and glaring onto my laptop screen to the extent that it is making this a little difficult to write clearly. How annoying.

But if life progressed the way you intended it to then where would the excitement originate from? The importance of novelty is paramount in everybody’s lives. The necessity for spontaneity to exist is vital to ensure that you don’t stay on that mud-ridden track for the rest of your life. This idea of time progressing is one that needs to be understood, the past is history. Fact. It is the only thing that we can be certain of. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fantastically over-quoted last line of The Great Gatsby “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Love.

Love.

In any case, I promise that my second post will be far more enlightening than this one on how confusing the Great British weather has been recently.