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Cathy

On Jane Eyre being postcolonial

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This is really a response to a query on the 'Introduce yourself board, from Megustaleer

 

Apparently , according to the postcolonialists Jane Eyre is all about anxiety over the loss of empire and the "degeneration" thought at the time to be caused by mixing with other races. There is a passage somewhere which suggests the woman in the attic is mixed race, and the whole thing with her being in the attic is sort of trying to repress the colonial thing. At least that's how I remember it from university.

 

But as I say on the other board, I don't believe this interpretation at all, and it really nearly spoiled Jane Eyre for me. I mean, Jane Eyre is an amazing Romance with a capital R, and as you may be able to tell from my username this is right up my street!

 

Thankfully, I am now coming to terms with the trauma and have been able to enjoy Jane Eyre again recently! Although I really, really wish I hadn't annotated my text (all be it very sarcastically) at uni.

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Thanks, R.O.

I often toyed with the idea of doing Eng.Lit. 'A'Level at an FE College, but the idea of analysing classic texts, as opposed to reading and enjoying them never appealed.

If that is an example of the way novels are picked over, and squeezed out of shape to fit a poltical theory, I'm glad I never bothered.

 

I suggest you dispose of the annotated version of Jayne Eyre, and treat yourself to a new copy!

 

 

(I was quite amused by Jasper Fforde's use of Jane Eyre, in 'The Eyre Affair!)

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I'm with you RO, it's a romance more than anything else, albeit one that was described at the time of publication as 'rather coarse'. This was rather a good article about Charlotte Bronte in yesterday's Guardian here. It has provoked some outraged correspondence in today's letters page.

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I read that article yesterday too Darkstar and it did amuse me. I rather like someone rattling the literary cages of those who seek to give some female 18th/19th Century authors a moral and saintly background, or believe the historical biographers implicitly. I've read Elizabeth Gaskells biog on Charlotte Bronte and I agreed with some of the points made in the article about Gaskell's cleansing of Charlotte's character when she practically stalked the married professor in Belgium! Artistic envy must certainly have made Gaskell green with envy I bet!

I love Jane Eyre, it is a marvellously dark romantic novel rather than anything else, part of me does hope that CB did get off on writing some of the passages for Jane and her responses to the male characters. It makes her more human and humourous that she can infuse her writing with the passion that women had in those days too, rather than be a Victorian paragon of virtue and womanhood. I read an interesting book years ago called 'The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte: The Secret History of the Mysterious Events at Haworth. Written by a Crime/detective writer called James Tully it sort of spins the Bronte legend on its end and asks maybe if CB didn't do a few of her sisters in during her fanactic search for fame and fortune. It doesn't seem at all likely and it does get a little confusing if you don't know the historical facts to weed them out of the fiction that Tully includes. It is an enjoyable hypothesis on what might/could have happened though... I thought it was interesting; some make call it sacriligious. ;)

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I haven't read the Gaskill biog, but my copy of JE belonged to my great grandmother and is a late 19th c edition complete with Gaskill extract as the forward. It's saccharine hagiography, not biog.

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I totally disagree that analysing a book spoils it. If so, why are we taking part in this discussion, reading the Guardian article etc. We can reject or accept the ideas as suits us and they can add a new dimension to the reading. I remember reading one critical article about JE (unfortunately can't remember name of writer), along the sexual obsession line, that had counted the number of times fires were mentioned in the book - 493 or something -, itemised the phallic symbols (including mention of Rochester's strong forearm!) and was convinced Jane's needlework/knitting in her lap was a reference to her pubic hair. It was great fun to read; I didn't believe 80% of it but it did make me much more aware of the sexual undertones and increase my appreciation of the relationship between J and Mr R, the romance in fact.

The post-colonial reading is just another view and is only an opinion. Why is there so much about Jane before she meets Mr R if that was the books main purpose? It may have been in CB's mind; it adds a bit of interest but to me does not detract from the romance. All romances have some context.

 

P.S. Jean Rhys wrote a book called 'Wide Sargasso Sea' about Mrs Rochester. How convincing it is is a matter of opinion, but in the way that it assumes that the characters in JE are real people with a life outside the book it can add to the interest of the original.

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I agree with Jill that analysing a book doesn't necessarily have to spoil it, although it can exasperate you that someone else has taken something COMPLETELY different than you from a novel you loved. You might even find it interesting Megustaleer. It's definitely a useful tool in reading novels and getting the most from them, even if you don't necessarily agree with one particular theory it gets you thinking.

 

For the record I'm with RO about the Jane Eyre thing, and to be honest you could really just pick a theory at random and if you analyse a text hard enough you're always going to find SOMETHING to back up your ideas, and thats waht I think happened with Jane Eyre and the POst COlonialists!

 

At uni I did a module on LIteraray THeory, and I have to say I thought most of it was rubbish, but it provided interesting thinking material and forced you to think more about the book to try and find out why you didn't agree with the theory.

 

In fact, since this thread has sparked a lit theory discussion i may refresh my memory on some theories and start up another thread about lit theory in general!

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I totally agree with Jill that we all see what we want to in a book, to a certain extent. In fact, I even think there is a little something in the post-colonial theory, in that even in the descriptions of Jane earlier on in the book refer to her obsession with exotic books and her unworldly, fairy-like aspects, but I don't think its a major part of the book, I think its a way writers at that time enjoyed vaguely exotic, foreign things, but didn't have any real reference point so part of Jane being a strange child is expressed in her foreign-ness. But durng the particular module I was refering to, we also read Wide Sargasso Sea, and then proceeded to (it seemed) analyse Jane Eyre as if it was a given that Wide Sargasso Sea was truly the background to the story. I'm disappointed we never focused on the sexual undertones because I'm sure there is more in that theory! (though perhaps not the knitting thing) I mean, woman of 18-something were still sexual beings. Moreover, they had a disproportionate amount of time to think about romance and invent romantic heroes. In fact, I will stick my neck out and say that the romantic heroes of the Brontes will stand as ideals for all time. There are some very funny chapters about Cathy and Heathcliff in one of the later Jasper Fforde books - I won't spoil it for you just in case - the thing is the heroes are attractive and repulsive... ooh, very complicated and psychological, I think I'm out of my depth and better stop here!! I think getting into too much literary theory can spoil literature, the good side is Jasper Fforde and the bad side is 'Ping', i think by Beckett.

 

OMG, a thread about Lit Theory!! Aaargh! But funnily enough, I think I might be drawn to look at it....

 

BTW, how rubbish is it, being at work on a Bank Holiday?!?!?!?!

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I haven't read the Gaskill biog, but my copy of JE belonged to my great grandmother and is a late 19th c edition complete with Gaskill extract as the forward. It's saccharine hagiography, not biog.

 

 

You are right Darkstar the Gaskell book on CB is very much idealised.

 

I agree with most of the comments regarding analysis of literature giving something to your reading of a text rather than taking away enjoyment. I usually get so involved in a good story that analysis tends to take a back seat whilst I'm enjoying the book. Then after finishing it if I am still interested in the story and the author I'll take that interest further and do a bit more thinking. Probably I should be analysing as I go but I usually get a bit caught up. The industry of literary analysis and historical biographies will always find new and interesting angles to justify producing another book on a well covered subject or person. There was though, an awful lot of correcting to be done after the Victorians had finished with history. I can't help buying them though, I think I've got at least five on Jane Austen! Where there are a small amount of books by an author, buy an analysis on them and their world instead? Less satisfying than the original but still able to give that fix.

 

P.S I loved the Jasper Fforde books use of literary characters too RO!

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Jassie - Thanks so much for the link to the Guardian article, I've just got around to reading it, and its hysterically funny while also ringing true. I think its a shame when people sanitise historical figures, for example a lot of people seem to read Austen without ever really getting it, thinking she wrote nice romantic little stories where everyone is happy or gets what they deserve in the end. Maybe even Charlotte didn't get it, looking at her opinions of Austen. On the other hand, the article very much leaning towards the opposite extreme to be provocative, which is very clever. Presented with these two extremes, Gaskell's and the Guardian's versions, I would rather believe in the Guardian's but in truth we can never know what went on inside her head or behind closed doors. From Tanya Gold's analysis, there wasn't much post-colonial anxiety going on then?! What sort of reponse did this get in the letters?

 

And hurray! Even Charlotte got bored-to-death at work, that gives me hope!

 

By the way, Megustaleer, my experience of 'A' level English Lit was very enjoyable, I really hope not to put you off with my waffling! Put it down to bitterness that I didn't get a first! ;) Only kidding (well, I really didn't get one though!) Plus even at University, there are ways of avoiding the post-anything people, I stuck to Medieval studies, which was fun at the time, but hasn't exactly landed me in the job of my dreams :(

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Plus even at University, there are ways of avoiding the post-anything people, I stuck to Medieval studies, which was fun at the time, but hasn't exactly landed me in the job of my dreams :(

 

Medieval studies? That's what my son did...don't remember him reading Jane Eyre! I thought the Dark Ages ended in about1500? (Actually, I don't remember him reading Beowulf either, nor much Chaucer...in fact not reading much of anything! )

He's now working in P.R., not many career openings in Medieval studies unless you want to be an academic, or present a popular-history TV show. :D

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The Jane Eyre thing was one I didn't have a choice in :rolleyes: I did a fair bit of medieval within English, Chaucer, Gwain + the Green Knight, Piers Plowman (thanks to which I got an obscure joke in a David Lodge novel once, and that's all the use its been really), plus an odd bag of other useless things like Shakespeare films (not the plays... what is our education system coming too ;) ).

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The job of literary theory is to highlight interesting ways of looking at literature, not to crowbar a novel into a box that it doesn't fit in. Yes, there are post-colonial elements to the story of Mrs Rochester, but then these are theories we have applied to the novel, and mainly from the latter half of the Twentieth century, so our modern readings may be very different to contemporary readings. It's incorrect to read the entire ovel in post-colonial terms because it's too limiting and gives, I think, a skewed idea of what the novel does.

 

I have to say I love literary criticism. I think it opens up literature to so many different viewpoints and angles, and makes reading more exciting. And I'm really interested in post-colonial theory and hope to study more of it when I start my course in September. I do agree, though, you can't read Jane Eyre entirely in a post-colonialist vein.

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1)I remember reading one critical article about JE (unfortunately can't remember name of writer), along the sexual obsession line, that had counted the number of times fires were mentioned in the book - 493 or something -, itemised the phallic symbols (including mention of Rochester's strong forearm!) and was convinced Jane's needlework/knitting in her lap was a reference to her pubic hair.

 

The post-colonial reading is just another view and is only an opinion. Why is there so much about Jane before she meets Mr R if that was the books main purpose? It may have been in CB's mind; it adds a bit of interest but to me does not detract from the romance. All romances have some context.

 

P.S. Jean Rhys wrote a book called 'Wide Sargasso Sea' about Mrs Rochester. How convincing it is is a matter of opinion, but in the way that it assumes that the characters in JE are real people with a life outside the book it can add to the interest of the original.

 

HI JILL

1) Your rendition of the Guardian article (I hope I can find it online ... can't get it in part of US I live in) and the sexual analysis is really hysterical. The Bronte girls were so immersed in taking care of their father and Branwell I find it hard to believe that any of them set out to write a "sexually fiery" book. Wuthering Heights is the most sexual ... raw sex ... natural sex ... frustrated sex. A damaged male and a confused female on the brink of insanity. But JE I understand how that writer disseminated the words to make a point but no I don't buy the thesis.

 

2) I admit I don't really understand what is meant by reading JE as a "post colonial" treatise. Perhaps someone can explain? I'd really appreciate that.

Thank you in advance.

 

3) Wide Sargasso Sea is one of my favorite books on its own but as a companion to JE IMHO it is required reading. Bertha was of mixed blood and Rochester was fooled by her family into marrying her. Jean Rhys must have seen JE as a very important work if she chose to write a novel in her words about Bertha and Rochester.

 

If anyone is looking for an exceptional bio. I recommend Emily Sunstein's major work. It's excellent.

 

ENJOY

GERBAM

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2) I admit I don't really understand what is meant by reading JE as a "post colonial" treatise.

This thread was started in response to the two posts quoted below.

 

Originating posts:

in the "Please Introduce Yourselves" thread.

Hi,

I've been on this site most days for a couple of weeks now, finally got around to introducing myself!! I heard about this site through a friend and it provides ample distraction while I'm bored at work when I can get away with being on the internet. It makes up for the lack of stimulating conversation with my colleagues!! And now I find myself logging on even now I'm at home... I did a French and English degree, though my interest in reading is as a fan not an academic (I can't forgive what the post-colonialists did to Jane Eyre, for example). I am currently obsessed with Jane Austen and am reading all her books having discovered them at a shamefully recent time (English graduates... doesn't mean anything 'these days' etc...). Hence the username. But taking a break to read Villette by one of the Brontes... can't remember which one it is... My favourite books of all time are Possession by AS Byatt, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I would add some Austen but as I'm reading them all for the first time I don't feel I've had enough time to really reflect on it. You can usually find me on the 'Anything but Books' page at the moment, purely because its a nice environment to escape to from the safety of my desk!

Sorry, RO (Cathy), having gone no further than Eng Lit 'O' level (and that at the 2nd attempt, over 30 years ago), and Jane Eyre being in my top 10 books, I would really like you to explain this to me. Ta!

As I now think I understand it, Postcolonialism is a form of literary analysis in which modern, enlightened scholars study a book written during the time of Empire to find ways in which colonial attitudes are revealed (consciously or unconsciously).

I stand to be corrected, as I read purely for pleasure, not erudition.

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This thread was started in response to the two posts quoted below.

 

Originating posts:

 

As I now think I understand it, Postcolonialism is a form of literary analysis in which modern, enlightened scholars study a book written during the time of Empire to find ways in which colonial attitudes are revealed (consciously or unconsciously).

 

 

KATHY AND MEGUSTALEER

THANK YOU BOTH FOR THE INSIGHTS INTO THE POST-COLONIAL DEBATE

I REALLY APPRECIATE IT ;)

 

PS

I AM NOT SHOUTING I JUST CANT; SEE AT THE MOMENT AND FORGOT TO MAKE MY FONT BIGGER SORRY WILL TRY HARDER

 

GERBAM

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There is a book full of essays about women in Nineteenth century lit called The Mad Woman in the Attic by Gilbert, which has an essay in it discussing the postcolonial influences in Jane Eyre and I think some of the Jane Austen novels. It was regarded quite highly when I was at uni

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As I now think I understand it, Postcolonialism is a form of literary analysis in which modern, enlightened scholars study a book written during the time of Empire to find ways in which colonial attitudes are revealed (consciously or unconsciously).

Yes, but not just books written during the time of Empire. Potentially, any book can be studied from a Postcolonial perspective.

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There is a book full of essays about women in Nineteenth century lit called The Mad Woman in the Attic by Gilbert, which has an essay in it discussing the postcolonial influences in Jane Eyre and I think some of the Jane Austen novels. It was regarded quite highly when I was at uni

 

Katrina

Kudos to you. 'THE MADWOMAN IN THE ATTIC' by Gilbert and Gubar is a "Bible" for English Lit. majors and anyone interested in Womens' Studies. These women are stalwart advocates for women and wrote 3 books after 'MADWOMAN'. One of my profs gave me a copy when I graduated and it is well dog eared and underlined.

Thank you for mentioning it.

GERBAM

 

PS

Can someone send me the link to The Guardian story you have been talking about? I tried to find it with no luck. I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you

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An interesting thread. It'll be no surprise to regulars that I find literary theory interesting and revealing, as well as extremely valid. Sure, fundamantally we read to enjoy the story, good writing, etc., but there is so much more in quality books besides that and approaching texts from a particular angle can reveal entirely new facets.

 

Novels are inevitably far more than just the story in the author's head - they are going to reflect much else that the author was not necessarily consciously putting in there, but which is inevitably part of their mindset. So, if you live in the time of Empire, you will absorb many of the prevailing thoughts and attitudes about it, combined with your own feelings. If your story involves any elements about the colonies then something of those attitudes is bound to inform the way you write about it, even if you are not deliberately encoding some message.

 

The same goes for sex. Sexual urges have not suddenly increased in modern times - they are a biological constant - they have simply become more open. In Victorian times, when at least in public there was a very prudish attitude to sex, it would be no surpise that girls brought up in a parsonage on the moors might have a certain amount of repressed sexuality that seeped out in the psychologically revealing medium of the novel.

 

Not that I don't understand how many people might not want to consider that when simply enjoying a classic romance. Indeed, it came as a shock to me. When in my first lecture at university we were introduced to the idea that Jane sitting in the window of the Red Room symbolised her being on the edge of puberty through its symbolisation of menstruation, I have to say I was taken aback. Still, the more you look at the text, the more you are struck by male figures standing erect as great pillars in front of Jane, etc., etc.!

 

That sort of thing would come very much from the psychoanalytical school of thought.

 

The problem with literary schools is that they are too exclusive. The focus on a particular concept helps to reveal clear schemes and ideas that might not otherwise have been evident, but it can be to the exclusion of other things. So, you could look at texts as a Marxist, Feminist, Psychoanalyst, Structuralist or Post-Structuralist, but I always feel that these approaches give you ways in rather than comprehensively defining books.

 

When a book you love is given 'the treatment', as it were, I just feel it opens up a whole new interesting side to an old friend rather than bashing him over the head!

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Can someone send me the link to The Guardian story you have been talking about? I tried to find it with no luck. I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you

The actual Guardian article has a link from earlier, but I'll stick it in again here, GERBAM.

 

However, I think you might have mistaken the points that Jill was listing as part of that, when I think she was referring to a detailed work of literary criticism. This probably isn't online.

 

EDIT: If you're really interested in these approaches you could have a read of this, which looks at the Brontes from all the different schools of thought in literary criticism.

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