Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Marjorie Kehe on Jane Eyre

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail

Today's favorite book is from Marjorie Kehe, the book editor for the Christian Science Monitor. She blogs daily at Chapter and Verse. She has a degree in Italian language and literature from Middlebury College and a PhD in comparative literature from NYU. Marjorie lives in Boston, Mass., and reads most comfortably with two cats in her lap and her dog Sheba at her feet.

Is it true that what we are at 10 is pretty much what we remain for the rest of our lives? Perhaps so, because I was 10 the first time I read Jane Eyre and several decades have passed since but it is still my favorite book.

I have no idea how many times I have read it. It seems to me that between the ages of 10 and 12 or so I practically memorized it. After that, I began to pick it up once every few years or so.

Every time I do, I discovered something new. When I was younger it was, of course, the romance that appealed to me most and I tended to rush through the pages that didn’t include Mr. Rochester.

As an adult, however, I’ve come to love the stretches when Jane is on her own – enduring her horrid family, growing as a student at Lowood, wandering lost after leaving Thornfield, and living quietly, purposefully, with St. John and his family. These are the periods in which she develops her character and her courage and it is that character that makes her – for me – the perfect literary heroine. She’s not beautiful, she’s not wealthy, she’s not physically imposing in any way. But she’s brave and she’s bright and she’s got a fiercesome ability to put her thoughts into words – especially when she’s indignant.

I’ve long thought that you could divide all women into two categories – those who prefer Jane Eyre and those who prefer Wuthering Heights. I am definitely in the former camp. Nothing against Wuthering Heights. But picture, if you will, a tiny, plain, working-class woman addressing her wealthy employer – a man with whom she happens to have fallen in love. She thinks he is leaving her to marry someone else. She tells him, “I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.”

But we readers know that he will never willing leave her, because the beauty of her character has captivated him, and, as a result, the Blanche Ingrams of the world no longer stand a chance.

Maybe it’s time for me to read it again.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely review! Makes me want to run to the bookshelf right this second and pull out "Jane Eyre" again. It's been too long since I've visited with her. (And I'm with you, Marjorie, firmly in the JE rather than the WH camp.)