Wednesday, January 06, 2010

TV tropes: Jane Eyre

I recently discovered a very interesting web site, TV Tropes but in spite of its name, it also deals with tropes from movies, theatre and literature. It devotes an entire section to Jane Eyre.

Some Jane tropes identified (the original page has spoilers blanked out - just highlight them to see them):

  • Anguished Declaration Of Love: Jane has one of these moments when Rochester is supposedly about to ship her off to Ireland.

  • As The Good Book Says: The novel positively groans under the weight of its Biblical allusions.

  • Bertha In The Attic: the Trope Namer.

  • I Am What I Am: From Jane, after walking away from her best (and only) friend in the world : "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."

  • Kick The Dog: The Hon. Miss Blanche Ingram, in addition to all her snubs against Jane, truly puts herself on the despicable list by the spiteful and mocking way she treats Adèle, Mr. Rochester's ward. (And we're not going to mention Mr. Rochester here.)

  • Kissing Cousins: St. John: "Hi, Jane! I'm your long-lost cousin. We should get married and become missionaries and go off to India." Amazing, she objects on the grounds that she doesn't love him, not on the grounds that they're, y'know, cousins.
    • To be fair, cousin marriage—including first-cousin marriage—was not considered incestuous or otherwise shocking when Bronte was writing, although some Victorians frowned on it. The real Squick, from Jane's point-of-view, is that St. John will feel obliged to have sex with her ("all the forms of love") even though he has made it clear that he neither loves her nor finds her sexually desirable. In fact, he thinks that she's physically repulsive.
  • Lawful Good: St. John Rivers. And Helen Burns, in so many ways.
    • Rochester is probably Chaotic Neutral. Jane is probably Neutral Good - she's not a slave to convention, but she respects it, one obvious example of many being her reaction to the revelation that Mr. Rochester is married. Moreover, she's actually envious of others' capacity for devotion to the law; take for example Helen Burns, whose saintliness includes unwavering respect for the obviously abusive and unjust teachers at Lowood, and who is held in awe for this reason by Jane.
  • Love Redeems: Subverted. Rochester thinks that loving Jane will make up for the minor matter of the inconvenient wife in the attic. As he quickly finds out, it doesn't.
    • Played straight in that it is Rochester's love for Jane that turns him away from the dissipation of his Mysterious Past.
  • Luke I Am Your Father: Jane, We are your cousins! Who knew?
    • Inverted with Rochester and Adèle, since he's stuck with her but doesn't acknowledge paternity (and Jane can't see any resemblance).
  • Values Dissonance. Possibly the most blindingly obvious instance in 19th century English literature. Bertha Mason is shown as being evil beyond redemption because she is insane. Worse, the very first really humane asylums for the mentally ill were being opened at the time and place the book is set (Yorkshire in the 1810-1820 period). Rochester could have afforded to send Bertha to one out of his pocket change with nobody knowing who she was. Yet he instead kept her hidden in his decrepit attic in rags with only a drunken slattern as company - quite possibly a fate worse than death. Jane's acceptance of this explanation shows that she (and her author) were out of touch with the times - during the Enlightenment people started to reject the idea that people who were insane were morally degenerate and evil and that it was an illness that should be treated - however bizarre the treatments occasionally became.
    • It's actually Moral Dissonance, internal to the novel, if you read some of the Bronte sisters' social essays. You have to keep in mind that Rochester is explicitly pretty much evil for most of the novel.
    • Actually, Jane does call Rochester out on his behaviour: "Sir," I interrupted him, "you are inexorable for that unfortunate lady: you speak of her with hate—with vindictive antipathy. It is cruel—she cannot help being mad."
    • Rochester insists that he doesn't hate Bertha because she's mad, she was just (apparently, if you believe him) that wicked.
    • Some of that was Bronte trying to make it clear that Bertha wasn't to be reviled because she was crazy. In later years Bronte spoke in several letters about wanting readers to feel pity, not revulsion, but never quite being able to create that in the writing.
    • It is suggested by the description of Bertha in the book, that as a Creole she may not be completely white. This is seen as a valid reason why she might be insane. Look at the words used to describe her — savage, common, vulgar, vampiric — these and the description of her biting Rochester all play into the savage cannibalistic stereotypes of the period.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: When Rochester proposes to Jane, a storm hits. Then lightning blows up one of the trees in the garden, cracking it in two. Huh. Is somebody up there expressing an opinion?

    Lots of other literature chapters including Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn.

  • AND my favorite cartoon - The Powerpuff Girls!