Thursday, June 28, 2012

Freedom through Expression

Currently Reading: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (how obvious is my homesickness for Ireland?), and Bossypants by Tina Fey (best. audiobook. ever.)

You will see the title repeated a lot in this post. I'm just warning you.

As I wrote in last Wednesday's post, I discover something new every time Jane and I get together. This time, besides paying attention to and musing over the bird metaphors (which I may discuss in another post), I was completely struck by the underlying theme of freedom through expression. Actually, this does tie into the bird metaphors, as you will see in just a bit. (Warning: many, many spoilers below! If you haven't read Jane Eyre and want to be surprised, then immediately go find a copy, read it, and then revisit this post.)


The "freedom through expression" thing appears early in the novel- the first chapter, in fact. We discover that Jane, while an emotional child, has never before acted out, for her aunt is appalled at her behavior when she finally reacts against her abusive cousin. In that moment, Jane remembers, "It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty." Through her reactions, by expressing her deepest self, she is finally free to assert herself and take control of the situation- a small victory for ten year old Jane, but an event that ultimately changes the course of her life.

Throughout the rest of the novel, Jane's life and victories follow this pattern, in large and small ways. For instance, Jane realizes her freedom to escape Lowood and discover her own path when she is honest with herself and mentally "soliloquized" her restlessness and desire for action. Jane also discovers freedom through expression in her growing friendship and then love for Mr. Rochester. From their very first conversation at Thornfield Hall, both discover that they are free to express themselves to the other. Around Jane, Rochester does not need to wear the facade he does around his aristocratic friends; Jane does not have to hide quietly in the shadows, never considered and never free to honestly express herself. While Jane is a very passionate person, she has had to learn to keep her emotions and thoughts within herself, for she never had someone in whom she could confide. Yet with Rochester, she discovers, "he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;-I am sure he is,- I feel akin to him,- I understand the language of his countenance and movements; though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him." Trust and respect play an equal part in the growth of their friendship and love for the other, fed and nurtured by open communication and the slow revealing of their souls.

Despite her attempts, Jane's love for Rochester does not stay secret; on a stormy night in a garden, (one of the best scenes in the book) she finds freedom only in expression, thereby breaking the last barrier between herself and the friend with whom she has fallen in love. Jane describes the moment perfectly: "The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway; and asserting a right to predominate: to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last; yes- and to speak." No longer a bird ensnared in a net or trapped in a cage of her own making, she finally gains a sense of liberation and equality with Rochester in speaking and asserting her love for him. Having done so, she declares that she will leave him, rather than watch him marry another. When he objects, she passionately declares, "I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you." Only in expression does she feel she is truly free to decide her own destiny- which she continues to do throughout the rest of the novel.

Rochester too is a trapped bird, though in other ways than Jane is. Trapped by circumstance rather than feelings, he sees the entrance of Jane into his life as a way out of the existence he has been forced to lead and onto a path to better himself. This is a delicate piece of the book, and one that most readers seem to misunderstand. I have heard many statements about Rochester's cruelty for deceiving Jane or leading her on, for like St. John, many assume that he is a bad man with bad motives. But he isn't. He is merely a man, hemmed in by unhappiness and hopelessness, who finds the peace and happiness he lost so long ago, the keys to the cage that has kept him trapped for so long, in the form of a remarkable woman, his inferior in society but his equal in his soul. He recognizes that Jane's presence has the power to reform him, and he sees a transformation within himself because of her influence. He is a man with a good soul, but he is the product of a desperate, hopeless life. Trapped inside the walls of Thornfield, inside his secrets and lies, he discovers that loving Jane provides the freedom he has so long craved. His love for Jane is his liberation, but he tries to force the lock too early, impatient to stretch his wings. It is only after he has "walked through the valley of the shadow," and fallen on his knees in desperation to God, that he too finds freedom in expression. "That I merited all I endured, I acknowledged- that I could scarcely endure more, I pleaded; and the Alpha and Omega of my heart's wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words- 'Jane! Jane! Jane!" Through his cry for Jane, he receives the freedom he has sought for so long, because though they are miles apart, in the depths of their souls they both hear and respond to the other. Freedom through expression indeed.


Jane and Rochester constantly struggle for liberation throughout the book: liberation from their past, their social status and obligations, and the influence of others. And here is the most beautiful part: each of them serves to liberate the other. Their relationship is the "freedom through expression" theme in action. With St. John, who is presented as a contrast to Rochester in the novel, Jane found herself once again trapped, for "he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind...I could no longer talk or laugh freely when he was by..." St. John was the type of man who stifled her sense of self. In comparison, Rochester is her soul's mate because he encourages her freedom of expression and loves her for exactly who she is. She is free to be herself when she is with him; in a very modern throwback from Charlotte Bronte's world in 1847, marriage to Rochester actually gives Jane more independence than she has ever known, an independence of the soul, as well as the body. As Jane ends the book, "To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking." Through open communication, through expression, comes trust, respect, and equality. Many women at that time could only dream of such a partnership; thankfully, Jane's and Rochester's once unattainable relationship has now become reality for so many of us. I see Jane Eyre, then, as Charlotte Bronte's own personal act of freedom through expression. Through her written words, she was free to create characters that fell outside the norm of her day; she gave them lines of dialogue that represented her own feelings. Like many other women writers of her time, her novels were the keys to her own cage.

For anyone else who has read Jane Eyre, what is it that you love most about the book? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Feeding My Soul

Currently Reading: On Celtic Tides by Chris Duff and Bossypants by Tina Fey

These past few days, with another birthday celebrated, memories of Ireland haunting my thoughts, and pondering the thoughts and reflections I have read in On Celtic Tides, I have been doing so much thinking. Looking inward, exploring the crevices of my soul, looking at who I am and how I live this wild and precious life I have been given. Jotting down words, eager to capture the thoughts that dart like small fish from rock to rock through my mind. It is so healthy to stop, and breathe, and peel back those inner layers. So life-affirming to focus on each breath and recognize that I am alive! There are several reasons why I should not be here, why this exclamation means so much to me. And though I too often let life pass me by, this year I truly have made a conscious effort to stop and notice the happiness that abounds in the little things around me. There are days where I forget and I let the unimportant things overwhelm me but, in an honest conversation with myself, I can say that I feel I am slowly but surely succeeding in fully living my life.

And I don't know why the urge to write all of this out came upon me tonight but my soul feels like it will burst with all of the images and thoughts that have been brewing inside, so writing will be my form of release, helping me sort and organize the contents of my soul tonight. My soul.. that beautiful, enigmatic thing inside me that cannot be X-rayed or operated upon, but that is so obviously there. I feel it more assuredly than I feel my own blood in my veins. This precious and delicate thing that I hold inside an imperfect body, the only thing I will take with me when I discard my body here on Earth. I live to feed it, to make it strong, and to help it grow. Like an athlete building muscle tone, I follow the passions and intuitions that allow my soul to expand and try to notice the little gifts God drops into the day, adding substance to the soul inside of me.

Things like: reading books, getting lost in the words and worlds to be discovered in each one; spinning in my living room to music that moves me; dust motes dancing in a band of early morning sunshine; kneading pliant bread dough, feeling the smooth elastic under my hand as I shape it into place; watching the clouds change second by second as the sun sinks ever closer to the horizon; forming poems out of nothing but images and letters twisted into words; gazing at the moon; feeling connected to the stories and the mysteries of times past, and the sacred wonder of the fragility of time; the hum of good conversation; baring my soul to someone I trust; an early morning hug in a coffeeshop; remembering, with bittersweet happiness, our front-seat viewing of the dance of sun on water and water against cliff, on a holy island in Donegal Bay, my head on my true love's knee.

Little, simple things that form a life, like ingredients coming together to create a feast. And I am oh, so grateful.

My soul feels calm again, and I am satisfied. Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flesh and Blood

Currently Reading: Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd, On Celtic Tides by Chris Duff, and Bossypants by Tina Fey

Unless it's a textbook, I usually don't write in the margins when I read. I have never felt comfortable with doing so. I like to keep the book pure, for it seems almost as if I am desecrating another's work when I add my two cents. Yet as I started out on this reread of Jane Eyre, I practically felt drawn to record my thoughts and note the details as I read. Perhaps this is because I have read it so many times or because I was looking forward to the experience so much that I wanted to preserve it in some way. Regardless, I chose a copy from my shelf that I didn't mind writing in and set to it. I read for pleasure, getting lost in the music of the words and savoring every bit of the world which I love so much. But this time, I also read to take note of the deeper themes and nuances of the book- the symbolism of birds, the themes of independence and freedom, the meaning behind the talk of fairies and the supernatural, the true characters and personalities of the main players- all things I have noticed and written about and pondered before, but this time fixing my thoughts right on the page alongside the printed words.

I finished it tonight. Over time, I have noticed that each time I read Jane Eyre, something new speaks to me or I notice something I never did before or I understand something that previously eluded me. One year, after meeting and falling in love with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I cried tragically at the scene where Jane leaves Rochester. Never before had I cried at that, but never before had I really been in love and so I could not empathize with the pain in Jane's heart or the willpower it took for her to take one more step away from he who loved her. Yet at that stage in my life, and forever after, I have felt that scene strike me in the gut and I always come away shaken.

This time, my new reading experience was eye-opening.

Like many other women (I assume), I tend to fall into the nasty habit of comparing my life and myself to others. And not in the material, "I wish I had her car" kind of way, but in a "I wish I was as optimistic as she is" or "I wish I could be so confident" or "How come she can seem to get everything done and I can't" sort of way. I second-guess myself, I am quick to point out my faults, and I seem to find the ideal in everyone else around me. Or in a book. For years, Jane Eyre has been my hero. To an eleven-year-old kid (heck, even to a twenty-four year old adult), she is a woman to admire, a woman of so many pure qualities that after twelve years of idolizing her, she no longer seemed human. Ridiculous, isn't it?

For me, this past year has been one intense learning opportunity and I have simultaneously embraced and fought it. More than ever, I feel as if I am in the process of discovering exactly who I am and what I am capable of- while also recognizing and addressing my faults as well as learning to accept the things I cannot change about myself. (Whew!) So perhaps it is because I feel like I have grown as a woman since my last reread in the summer of 2010 that I truly, for the very first time, saw Jane for exactly who she is.... and found her not to be perfect, but to be my equal. There are faults within her, and doubts, and mistakes. She is not a quiet-tempered angel but a fiercely passionate, emotional woman who doubts herself, and has regrets, and gets confused. She sits in her room and practically broods over her decision to leave Thornfield, paralyzed with fear that her actions ruined a man's life; for one agonizing hour, she sincerely doubts Rochester's love for her. She knows herself and has strength beyond measure, but is also capable of being intimidated and influenced, as she was with St. John. She can be frightened and she can lose her nerve to speak. Even when comfortable, she can be restless, wishing herself elsewhere, envisioning a different life. These things don't make me love her less; instead, they make me love and understand her even more. How have I missed these obvious and beautiful depictions of a real woman, one who is not so much different from myself and many others I am privileged to know? Here is a flesh-and-blood woman, with positive and negative qualities, one who has such a capacity to love- who is compassionate, loyal, quick-witted, a hard worker, and one who speaks her mind. A woman like any other, who is guided by reason but who also lets emotion and passion dictate her actions. A woman like me.

This book is truly an Aladdin's cave, a treasure trove of ideas and inspirations and revelations that are always fresh and new to my thirsty mind. I revel in it. And in Jane.

More to come on various themes and symbolism- oh, I had such a wonderful time!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jane and I.... A Twelve Year Love Affair

Currently Reading: Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I was eleven. My sixth-grade class that year was doing a reading challenge, where we recorded all of the books we had read on a giant chart, so that we could see how many we read by the end of the year. For whatever reason, I took the challenge quite literally and really strove to challenge myself. I still don't know why I got it into my head to find the biggest, thickest books on the school bookshelf with the biggest, longest words. It's not like I still didn't enjoy Babysitters Club or other small chapter books, designed expressly to be read by children my age. While I don't remember the inspiration that drove me to check out Great Expectations, or Dr. Doolittle, or Wuthering Heights, I did. And while my little head could not understand every word or plot point or character development, it took in enough to realize that there was so much to discover beyond the books I had read before. None of the three books I mentioned above became favorites. In fact, I have never reread them (although I tell myself I should. I have no doubt it would  be like culture shock, to reread something as an adult that I only ever experienced as a child.) Yet one classic stuck. And her name is Jane Eyre.

About a year ago, I revisited my old grade school's library and found the copy I first read, sitting there still on the shelf. Small in size, the words are printed tight together on browning pages. The cover is white with a blue border; a drawing of a woman in period dress stands in the foreground, while behind her is a man on a horse. I am an avid collector of copies of Jane Eyre and my bookshelf has a beautiful assortment, ranging in size and color, publication dates stretching from the early 20th century to the present. Yet this is the copy I would love to have over all others (except an 1847 first edition. If you have one of those, let me know!), for it is my original, the one where I first discovered Jane, and Thornfield, and Rochester. In that copy, I found my favorite place, the book that spoke to me above all others, even at a young age. I know others have checked it out after me, but the memory of my first discovery must still be nestled somewhere in those pages, held there indeterminately.  I held the little tome in my hand, showing it to my husband, who (bless his heart) has always appreciated and understood this love affair of mine. It felt so right, as if I was reliving a memory and found everything as I had left it, perfectly waiting for me.

Looking back, I can't remember what prompted my small self to notice the book or grab it from the shelf or take it home but I knew that I fell in love instantly. Inexplicably, at the age of eleven, something in my soul recognized a piece of itself, kept within a book cover, hidden on a shelf. And whenever I pull a copy from my shelf and start reading again, the anticipation and excitement that follows is the same as it was even then. Twelve years later, I view Jane Eyre as a friend, a home, a place familiar and welcoming to me, yet also a place where I never cease to discover something new with each visit. Our love affair is still going strong.

Me and Jane on my wedding day, one year ago, at the hair salon. 

I have so much to share about my newest experiences rereading Jane Eyre and I look forward to writing about my favorite book on my blog. I already have so many notes and thoughts, just waiting to be shared. P.S. Just for fun, did you know the background on this blog is a picture I took of several of my Jane Eyre copies opened and spread out on the table? :) I thought you would like to know!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Currently Reading: Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Yay!)

The air is heavy with heat, weighing down the bright green vegetable shoots, waving in their pots, decorating my balcony. The sky is a pinky blue-gray, holding on to the last vestiges of sunlight before slipping under the blanket of night. A fan whirrs, tub water runs. The smell of cilantro and lemon juice hang in the air. A Saturday ended, with nothing accomplished at home- I have calls to make, errands to run, articles to write. Yet the stillness begs me to pause and breathe and soak it in, that I may actually be part of these moments. A good time to reflect and ultimately, write.

Although my days are no longer regulated by the pattern of school days, I still experience an instinctual thrill at the onset of summer, a deep longing and anticipation for warm nights, swimming in the pool, the smell of barbeque smoke and new-mown grass, the taste of fresh veggies and fruit, and the freedom to read for hours on end. Preferably in a hammock. With a cold glass of lemonade. And a tomato to munch on.


Obviously my schedule is not as free as it once was, and my reading opportunities are no different now than they were this winter, but I still find myself making that summer reading list, daydreaming about the hours of summer reading stretching ahead of me. What is it about summer that awakens this desire?

Perhaps it's because I have always associated summer with transformation. Summer is what changes you from, say, a mere third grader to the hallowed status of the fourth grader. It propels you forward, preparing you for what is ahead. But at the same time, it holds the promise of restoration, of rejuvenation, as it gives us an excuse, an allowance to relax and breathe deeper. Dishes can wait, obligations can take a break, for it is summer time and if my book wants to be read, then I must oblige it. I look forward to slowing down, breathing deeper, and discovering life both in and out of the pages of a book.

Making lists is one of my favorite things to do and a summer reading list is like ice cream on a brownie- deliciousness piled onto deliciousness. Just making my summer reading list was so exciting, I felt as if I was writing my letter to Santa Claus. So exciting, in fact, that I showed it to my husband several times and to my sister twice. (They were very nice about it and pretended to be half as excited as I was. Thanks, guys!) And now I get to share it with you! Although I am sure I will add to it as the summer progresses, here is my official Summer Reading List 2012.

Jane Eyre
Inventing Ireland
Midnight in Peking   (Finished in two days)
Tenant of Wildfell Hall (also being read by my blogging friend Jillian)
The Homemade Pantry (cookbook)
The Sevenwaters Trilogy (YA, maybe, but perfect for my Ireland-homesick heart)
The Wilder Life (memoir)
The Shadow of Night (a much anticipated fantasy read)
Isle of the Saints (Irish history book)
Lady Gregory's Complete Irish Mythology (are we sensing a pattern here?)
The Bluest Eye (my second Toni Morrison)
People of the Book (a little inspiration before grad school begins)
The Hunger Games series (why not? It's summer)
On Celtic Tides 
Annie's Ghosts (a genealogy memoir)
Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (because I am and I do)
The Origin of Species 
And add some Louisa May Alcott books and a Yeats and/or Lady Gregory biography, and I will be good to go. I think it's a nice mix of "just for fun", historical, and classic fiction books. Just the way I like it.

At the end of August, I'll look back and see how I did.

Are you making summer reading lists? I'd love to hear about them.. and get some more ideas for mine!

Keep On Reading...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...