Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Warning: here be spoilers

When Jane fights back against her abusive aunt and cousins, she is sent away to a boarding school for charity cases. There, she is starved, punished severely, and witnesses deaths of students due to school negligence. After living this life for 18 years, she is thrilled to find a place as a governess for the ward of the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. They find love, but only at a great cost. 


I first read Jane Eyre as a teenager and wasn’t thrilled with the book. I thought Rochester was a jerk. And Jane. Well. She started out feisty enough, but as an adult she allowed Mr. Rochester to be a total jerk to her. When she discovers his deep, dark secret, she throws herself about dramatically upon the steppe until she is rescued. Then she meets this nice cousin (St. John Rivers) who proposes to her and offers to whisk her off to India and she says no! 

I just listened the brilliant Juliet Stevenson narration of Jane Eyre with a more mature ear. I noticed several things – Jane’s fiestiness in the first chapters of the book were not necessarily looked on as a good character trait by Charlotte Bronte. In current times we have this view that everyone is equal and we should defend ourselves against abuse instead of just taking it with a bowed head. But look at it from the perspective of a Christian in the 19th Century who may have been taught to accept what she can not change. 

This acceptance is demonstrated to perfection in young Helen Burns – Jane’s friend at school. Helen patiently explains her philosophy to the angry Jane, and Jane heartily disagrees. They seem to be opposite ends of a spectrum. Jane wants to change everything because it’s unacceptable, and Helen wants to accept everything because it’s unchangeable. When Helen’s character dies with acceptance, Jane seems to adopt her philosophy – thus taming the fire within.

It is with this acceptance that she deals quite calmly (most of the time) with the rudeness and games of Mr. Rochester. Jane recognizes that this is how he is, she’s unable to change it, but she is still able to see the kindred spirit within. In other words, it is her acceptance that gives her a trait that I can admire – forgiveness. And it is this acceptance which brings her love in the long run. 

But Jane does not accept to the point of having a weak character. When Rochester gives her an unacceptable choice – living with him as an unmarried couple – she chooses to leave. This is not weakness. This is strength. Yes, she flopped about dramatically on the steppe for a couple of chapters, and it was her own fault for losing her money, but this was a choice she made when she left Mr. Rochester. She couldn’t stay, so she took an option that was very brave: the total unknown. Many a weaker character would have sacrificed her own values and self-worth by staying with Mr. Rochester because she had nowhere else to go. But Jane found a way to change when the “unchangeable” finally became “unacceptable.”

Jane is strong to accept what she can not change and she is strong to change what she can not accept. 


The Chimes, by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, by Charles Dickens, narrated by Richard Armitage
When Trotty’s daughter brings him a happy surprise (tripe and news of her engagement for the upcoming New Year), he is quickly disillusioned by a group of wealthy people who delight in “putting-down” poor folk. That evening, Trotty explores his beloved bell-spire and sees things that he never expected to see. 

This story was hard to read at first because it was so darned depressing. I mean, here Trotty was as happy as a clam (because we all know clams smile all the time) and suddenly these horrible wealthy men stomp all over his happiness. As the story goes on, the family becomes even more downtrodden. In fact, I was wondering if the story was going to turn around into a happy Christmas story until the very end. 

This wasn’t my favorite of Dickens’ works. It’s nice to read another of his lesser known Christmas stories, but I guess it’s lesser-known for a reason. It was quaint and a good poke-in-the-eye to the strong who “put-down” the weak. But other than that, it was kind of a “meh” book for me. 


The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic / Regency Romance

Reason for Reading: I’m rereading all of Austen’s novels. I’ve seen these Annotated versions and been tempted to try them out for a while, and this is the one I ended up picking up. 

Synopsis: Emma is young, rich, beautiful, and the most important gentleman’s daughter in her neighborhood. When her governess marries and moves away, Emma must find another friend to entertain herself. She chooses Harriet Smith, the love-child of nobody-knows-whom, and boarder at a local country school for girls. Emma, well-meaning but naively self-important, makes a mess by foisting potential suitors upon poor Harriet, while Emma’s old friend Mr. Knightly tries in vain to check Emma’s eager naivete. 

My thoughts: I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. This is the third time I’ve read this novel, and I’ve seen all the movie renditions multiple times. I love watching Emma grow in wisdom throughout the story. And her romance is, in my opinion, the sweetest of those written by Austen. But I recognize that this is a difficult book for many people to get into because of Emma’s painful flaws and poor choices. Another reason that Emma is less appealing to some readers is because the narrator’s perspective is so unique. The POV focuses almost entirely on Emma’s perception of the world, to the point where it is easy to be mislead about what is really occurring since we are only seeing what Emma sees. Emma, especially at the beginning of the novel, tends to be very self-centered and aloof, and so is the narration of the novel. However, even though this POV makes the story harder to get into than the other Austen novels, this is Austen’s most appealing work for character study.  

The annotations of this book are lengthy and detailed. Many interesting images and comments are included so that we can visualize antique customs, fashions, and furniture that Austen’s readers would take for granted. That aspect of the annotations was fantastic. The annotations also included a lot of character analysis commentary, such as “Emma thinks such-and-such is happening, which shows you how much she lacks self-awareness at this stage.” These annotations included a lot of spoilers (the reader is warned which annotations include spoilers, but sometimes these warnings were dropped out of the ebook version – so caution should  be practiced if you’re reading the book for the first time and you have ebook format). These character analysis annotations were sometimes interesting, but mostly they told me things I’d already knew – either because I was familiar with the story or because I am sensitive to Austen’s nuances. Therefore, I think this annotated version is for you if 1)You are interested in having some historical perspective, 2)You are reading the book for the first time and don’t mind spoilers, 3)You’re re-reading the book, but don’t remember the details and nuances, and/or 4)You just love reading annotations. In other words, I am glad that I read this one book from The Annotated Austen series, because I enjoyed the historical perspective notes, but I probably will not pick up any of the others because I think I got the main idea now. 


The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Reason for Reading: Group read with Simpler Pastimes

Review
This classic fairy-tale-style story is set in a land where the Goblins and Humans have had a “cold war” for many, many years. Long ago, the Goblins threatened that some day they will steal a princess…and their day finally comes when Princess Irene’s nurse accidentally keeps the Princess out after sunset. Luckily, they are rescued by a miner’s boy, Curdie – but now the Goblins know where the Princess lives and what she looks like. When the Goblins hatch a devious plot, Curdie and Irene become fast-friends as they act in turn as heroes. First and foremost, this is a fairy-tale. But it is also an allegory about faith. Princess Irene has a great-great-grandmother – a mysterious and heavenly woman that only she can see. Irene’s very-great grandmother gives the Princess a magical string and tells her to follow the string whenever she’s afraid – never doubting it or deviating from it, regardless of where it may take her. Irene must learn to have faith even when she thinks that the string has led her astray. And Curdie must learn to have faith in a very-great grandmother that he has never seen.  This is a sweet story, nice for reading aloud to young children. 

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Reason for Reading: Well, actually, it was an accident. I watched the BBC movie with my mom and she asked me how similar it was to the book. I said that it was very close to the book, but that there were a few things in the movie that I didn’t really believe happened that way in the book. So I picked up the book and started reading. Got sucked in. 🙂 I was wrong, though, all three incidents happened in the book. 

Review
This is the story of two very different sisters: Elinor is a sensible (yet secretly passionate) young woman who must continuously reign in the wild passions of her mother and sisters – especially Marianne whose head is filled with romantic notions of one-true-love and tragedy. When their father suddenly dies with their newly-acquired estate entailed away to their half-brother John, the sisters are left destitute. John and his wife Fanny descend upon the mourning family within a fortnight and make the sisters and mother feel like unwelcome guests in their beloved home. Elinor soon forms an attachment with Fanny’s brother Edward, but Fanny doesn’t approve of Elinor’s lack-of-fortune-or-name. So the family moves away to a cottage, leaving Edward behind. Poor Elinor must struggle with her own worries about Edward while at the same time monitoring the expensive of the house and trying to reign in the wild, all-consuming attachment of Marianne to the dashing young Willoughby. The romantic hopes of both girls spiral downwards as more and more obstacles appear. 

I love this story because I’ve always admired Elinor for both her passion and her ability to handle all problems that come her way. I also admire Colonel Brandon for his devotion to Marianne despite her ecstatic preference for the younger, handsomer, and less reserved Willoughby. This time around, I also really appreciated Marianne’s character. Her youthful ideas about love were cute – and realistic for many girls of 16. 🙂 Her development throughout the story was extraordinary. I loved the way she slowly, cluelessly, began to understand the world around her. I don’t admire her, but I think she’s cute and very funny. And, frankly, a more interesting character than Elinor (due to her development-of-character).

To be honest, this book is just as much a favorite as Pride and Prejudice. Yes. That is right. I ADMIT that I like this book just as much (possibly a little more) than the beloved P&P.

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1930 and has been sitting on my shelf for years. 

Review
While sitting idly one evening in her antique shop, Hitty, a 6-inch-long doll carved out of Mountain Ash wood, decides to write her memoirs. She begins her narration with her birth into the brave new world of 1830’s Maine. Her little girl drags her on many adventures beginning first with their village and ending in a far-off land…where she finds a new owner. Follow Hitty’s adventures over a hundred years as she changes hands and lands and occupations. This is an adorable little classic of historical fiction for 8-9 year-old girls. The story is sweet and generally easy to read (though some of the historical references went over my head, and the book succumbed to the racial stereotyping common for books written around the turn of the century). I’m glad I finally picked this one up. 

Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop, 

Written by Charles Dickens, Narrated by George Hagan

Reason for Reading: I’m making a point of reading all of Dickens’ major works. This month, Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Delia from Postcards from Asia hosted Dickens in December, a month dedicated to Charles Dickens. This will also count for the 7th completed book in my Classics Club list

Review 
When Little Nell’s grandfather drives himself into gambling debt (in hopes of raising money for Nell’s future), they must take to the streets to escape the malicious designs of more than one nasty character. Nell’s grandfather increasingly becomes a doddering old fool, and Nell is left to her own devices in finding refuge from the cold, the hunger, and the devious people-of-the-streets. Unbeknownst to them, their good friend (and former servant) Kit is desperately looking for them – praying for their safety and not knowing why they have left. I think this is my least favorite Dickens book so far. Generally, I am able to get involved in the complex narrative and the variety of character in a Dickens novel, but kit was the only character I really cared much about. Nell and her grandfather were so melodramatically pathetic that, although I felt sorry for their situation, I couldn’t get myself to really care about the outcome. Perhaps this was just timing – maybe I’d have liked the book better in another mood. But I can’t say I’ll ever try reading it again to find out. Not a bad book – but Dickens can do better.