[LMB] OT: Jane Eyre

James Burbidge jamesandmary.burbidge at sympatico.ca
21 Nov 2003 21:52:53 -0500


On Thu, 2003-11-20 at 22:42, Corrina Lavitt wrote:
> > On the other hand, "Reader, I married him" has to be one of the
> > stupidest decisions in all of literature.
> >
> > In a nutshell: where Austen or Fielding or Sterne (or...) nudge the
> > reader into a critical approach to all the characters, including the
> > viewpoint character by continually inviting the reader to pass judgment
> > and by keeping the authorial - versus - narratorial tensions alive,
> > Bronte encourages the reader to identify with the narrator without
> > judging, rather than maintaining a degree of detachment.
> >
> > It is this aspect of _Jane Eyre_, the "directed" reader experience,
> > which makes it Harlequin-like, in contrast to the classical novel.
> 
> Yes, that it does have in common with HQ categories, encouraging readers to
> identify with the narrator. Books written in first person do the same.
> 
> Why is this self-indulgent, however?
> 

To put it really briefly, because it abandons the _utile_ for the sake
of being all _dulcis_ (for a rather extended variant of _dulcis_,
admittedly).  Because it encourages a one-sided approach to life, if not
quite all heart and no head then very nearly so.

I could expand this into a whole discourse on critical principles, which
would reflect my firm classical/Aristotelian position, but the width of
the margin, and the time I have available, is not sufficient to hold it.

The same split is visible on the other side in Charlotte Bronte's
well-known dislike for Jane Austen.

> Granted, it is a *different* reader experience and no doubt one that many
> readers would not enjoy or actively dislike. I am certainly not arguing that
> anyone has to like romance novels.
> 
> But art, real art, to me is about getting to the truth of the human
> experience--of conveying *something* about that truth to the person
> reading/seeing/experiencing that art.
> 

[Snippage]

"Art" is a tendentious or at least polysemious term in itself, but I
would be more likely to say that art is (not so much "is about" but
simply is) mimesis, and is about "truth" in two main ways: first, in the
sense that we say that something is a "true image", i.e. is believable;
and secondly, in the sense that insofar as it makes us reflect on
"truths" of any sort, and in any arena it is better art (i.e. where the
"instruct" comes in as well as the "delight").

Just to note that a "romance" in this context is pretty well by
definition something which will work only as an indulgence  -- if a work
will stand up to multiple approaches then it may have "romantic"
elements, but it will not be confinable within the boundaries of a
"romance".  (To choose modern examples, how about _Checkmate_ and _An
Infamous Army_.)  Also, of course, a "romance" need not be "romantic" --
any book which simply encourages uncritical identification with the
viewpoint character (especially in a first-person narrative or a tight
third person narrative) is equally an heir of Bronte.  (Note that
_Wuthering Heights_ is not a "romance" on this reading, simply because I
can't imagine anyone sane identifying with any of the characters,
although I'll readily grant that along other classifications it most
definitely is one.  It's a better book for my money than anything
Charlotte ever wrote.)