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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature, and today were going to be

  • talking about Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” It’s a classic! It says so right

  • on the spine. Mr. Green! Mr. Green! You sound like Dirty

  • Harry. Yup, I got a cold, Me From the Past. Plus,

  • it was just kind of a tubercular era, so I thought I would try to capture it by bringing

  • you my husky voice. Mr. Green! Mr. Green! You sound like the voice

  • of Death Itself. You know what, Me From the Past? I know you

  • that skipped school when you skinned your knee, but some of us are committed to learning.

  • SoJane Eyreis full of wisdom, but here’s an important lesson, all you Crash

  • Course viewers: If any of you decide to embark on a career as a governess and you end up,

  • like, working for a mysterious stranger at an isolated house tutoring his sexually precocious

  • illegitimate daughter and this mysterious employer proposes marriage, take a walk up

  • to the attic. Because it is quite likely that you are going to find an insane syphilitic

  • arsonist spouse locked up there. And that’s going to be bad for your relationship.

  • [INTRO] SoJane Eyrewas one of the great successes

  • and scandals of the Victorian age, and as soon as it was published in 1847, people began

  • trying to identify the author who wrote under the alias Currer Bell.

  • Ugly men of fashion gave themselvesRochester airs,” ladies adoptedJane Eyre graces.”

  • Some critics decried the novel as dangerous and anti-religious owing to its outspoken

  • heroine. But no less a reader than Queen Victoria called

  • it, “really a wonderful book, very peculiar in parts, but so powerfully and admirably

  • written.” Stan, I can’t believe you gave Queen Victoria

  • that voice. It’s totally unfair to her. She was a lovely monarch!

  • So Charlotte Brontë was born in 1816 into a typical English family, except that pretty

  • much everyone was a literary genius and died tragically young from tuberculosis and opium

  • and repressed desire. You know, it was Victorian England.

  • As a child, Charlotte Brontë was sent away to school with three of her sisters, two of

  • whom died while in attendance. So Brontë returned home and she and her surviving siblings

  • created the elaborate fictional worlds of Gondal and Angria, full of intrigue and passion

  • and ridiculous names. Basically Harry Potter. No, it wasn’t really like Harry Potter.

  • It was more like all that extra Lord of the Rings stuff, you know, like the Elvish dictionaries.

  • Then Brontë became a schoolteacher and eventually a governess, experiences that she drew on

  • while writingJane Eyre,” which she published just after her sister Emily brought outWuthering

  • Heightsand just before her sister Anne publishedAgnes Grey,” all under male

  • pseudonyms of course. Lest you think all Brontës were brilliant,

  • for the record, their brother Patrick was a terrible writer. I feel a little bad saying

  • that because he died of tuberculosis and opium overdose when he was just 31, but he had no

  • potential. Anyway, Charlotte’s pseudonym was Currer

  • Bell and as she wrote to the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, she felt that the alias gave her

  • daring. If she relinquished it, she said, “strength and courage would leave her and

  • she should ever after shrink from writing the plain truth.”

  • Brontë lived long enough to publish three more books and get married before dying at

  • the age of 38 from tuberculosis and complications associated with pregnancy. Did everyone have

  • tuberculosis in 19th century England? So, what actually happens in the story? Well,

  • let’s go to the Thought Bubble: Sad orphan Jane Eyre is raised by her mean

  • aunt, who neither likes nor loves her. Jane leaves this miserable situation for a charity

  • school (very much like the one that Brontë attended) at which many of the girls die of

  • typhus. She completes her schooling, teaches at the school for a while, and then decides

  • she wants a wider experience of the world, so she takes a job as governess at Thornfield

  • Hall, the country estate of the gentleman Mr. Rochester. Despite many red flags, including

  • an episode in which Mr. Rochester disguises himself as a fortune telling gypsy woman in

  • an attempt to find out how Jane feels about him, they fall in love

  • Just when theyre about to marry. Jane learns that Mr. Rochester is actually already married

  • to an insane woman that he keeps locked in the attic. Jane flees and after nearly

  • dying from cold and hunger, she’s rescued by the Rivers siblings who conveniently turn

  • out to be her long lost cousins. She’s at the point of being bullied into marrying one

  • of these cousins when she senses that Mr. Rochester calling her. He lost an eye and

  • a hand when his wife burned down Thornfield Hall, but on the upside, his wife died in

  • the fire, so he is now an eligible bachelor. Jane is free to marry him and his sight is

  • miraculously restored, and everyone not already dead lives happily ever after.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble. Now that plot summary may not make it sound like a terribly sophisticated

  • novel, but in fact, I think it’s one of the most sophisticated novels of the 19th

  • century. Like as with a lot of great works of literature,

  • it’s pretty hard to assignJane Eyreto just one genre. I mean, to get things off

  • to a complicated start, the subtitle calls the book an autobiography. But clearly it

  • isn’t, because it has an author’s name that isn’t Jane Eyre.

  • But then again, in a more abstract sense, maybe it is. Like one of the book’s first

  • admirers, George Henry Lewes wrote, “It is an autobiography, — not, perhaps, in

  • the naked facts and circumstances, but in the actual suffering and experienceit is

  • soul speaking to soul; it’s an utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering,

  • much- enduring spirit.” Lewes’s companion, the novelist George Eliot

  • (another female writer who used a male name) described Brontë almost exactly as Brontë

  • would describe Jane Eyre, as “a little, plain, provincial, sickly-looking old maid.

  • Yet what passion, what fire in her!” And that really gets at something at the heart

  • ofJane Eyre,” like people assume that women who are plain and provincial and sickly-looking

  • didn’t have the rich inner lives and the fire and the passion that we find in Jane

  • Eyre. And that’s part of what made the novel so

  • revolutionary and so popular with female readers. I mean, any reader who learns even a little

  • of Brontë’s biography will notice a lot of overlap between her experiences and Jane

  • Eyre’s, like, particularly in the descriptions of Jane’s time at the charity school and

  • also her sense of the intermediate position between servant and lady that a governess

  • occupies. But whether you choose to readJane Eyre

  • as a fictionalized autobiography, it is certainly a great bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is

  • a fancy German term that we use to describe a novel about a young person’s education

  • or coming of age. So at the beginning of the book, Jane has

  • no education and is punished whenever she tries to think for herself or defend her independence.

  • But then in each subsequent section of the novelthe school, Thornfield, her escape,

  • her returnJane learns something that helps her way in the world and to assert herself.

  • And it’s only at the end of the novel, when she can approach Mr. Rochester as an equal

  • partner rather than a dependent, her education is complete.

  • Jane Eyre,” like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” borrows from the traditions of the Romantic

  • and gothic novels, like from Romanticism we get the radical focus on the individual and

  • some of Jane’s interest in dreams and intuition and the supernatural.

  • And from the gothic tradition, we get the fun page-turner stuff: the mysterious house

  • with the person you don’t expect to be there, the mad wife, the arson, the stabbing, the

  • shock of the interrupted marriage ceremony. These days we associate so-calledgenre

  • novelswith a lack of seriousness, but what makesJane Eyrespecial is its

  • seriousness and its psychological realism. It’s also, and I think this is something

  • that goes underappreciated a lot when we talk about books, really good writing sentence

  • to sentence. I mean, this book came out more than a hundred

  • and sixty years ago but the writing is so clear and so precise that it often feels contemporary.

  • The poet and critic Adrienne Rich wrote ofJane Eyre,” “It takes its placebetween

  • the realm of the given, that which is changeable by human activity, and the realm of the fated,

  • that which lies outside human control: between realism and poetry.”

  • And we noted earlier how for most of the novel, Jane is between servant and lady, Mr. Rochester

  • is between married and unmarried, and Bertha, the mad woman in the attic, is portrayed as

  • being between an animal and human. So all kind of like crazy - oh it must be

  • time for the open letter. Oh look, it’s Funshine Bear. We can’t

  • all be as happy as you are, buddy. An open letter to Psychotropic Drugs.

  • Dear Psychotropic Drugs, there’s this whole thing about how, like, artists need to be

  • mentally ill and, need to, like, wallow in their illness in order to create things.

  • But when I read about the way that mental illness was dealt with in Victorian England,

  • I feel profoundly grateful to you. In the end, Psychotropic Drugs, you don’t

  • make me less creative, you make it possible for me to create.

  • Long story short, Psychotropic Drugs, I am very grateful that I don’t live in a 19th

  • century English attic. Best wishes, John Green. Crazy, horrifying, very gothic things keep

  • happening to Jane, but she reacts to most of them in her level-headed governess way.

  • Someone tries to burn Mr. Rochester in his bed? Someone bites his houseguest? She stops

  • to ask herself, “What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion,

  • and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner?—what mystery, that broke out

  • now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night?”

  • Jane has these terrible disturbing dreams the night before her wedding and a horrible

  • lady monster thing appears in her room and rips her bridal veil in two? But Jane manages

  • to just put it all aside, and goes through with the ceremony.

  • It’s not until a man stands up in church and reads out a notarized document explaining

  • everything that Jane admits there’s definitely something suspicious going on. And it takes

  • her another day to decide to leave Thornfield. So we know thatJane Eyreisn’t a

  • detective novel, right? Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that while Jane is

  • a feisty and very appealing heroine, she is no Sherlock.

  • So why does Jane keep failing to recognize what seems to the reader so obvious? Well,

  • if youve ever been in love, then you might have noticed you have an astonishing ability

  • to ignore red flags. For instance, Meredith used to date a ginger

  • (red flag #1), who kept hitting on her roommate (red flag #2), and eventually, of course,

  • you know, it happened. Byit,” I of course mean that he burned

  • her bed. I’m sorry gingers, that was a cheap joke,

  • but I do dislike Meredith’s ex-boyfriend. Anyway, more importantly than any of that,

  • in the middle of the novel, Jane’s education is still ongoing. She hasn’t yet achieved

  • financial independence or independent thought, she hasn’t yet found the strength to give

  • up Mr. Rochester when he proposes that she live with him as his mistress.

  • And by the end of the novel, she’s much better at reading clues. Like when she hears

  • Mr. Rochester’s voice calling out to her from clear across the country, she doesn’t

  • think, “Wow, that seems improbable.” She goes!

  • And when she finds him, he’s lost his sight, but of course, Jane has finally learned how

  • to see, to pay attention not just to what’s in front of her, but also what’s happening

  • beyond and beneath the visible world. So when Charlotte Brontë was young, she wrote

  • to the poet Robert Southey hoping for encouragement. He acknowledged her talent, but told her not

  • to waste any more time at it because, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life,

  • and it ought not to be.” Now Jane seems perfectly happy to give up

  • writing her autobiography in favor of having all of Mr. Rochester’s babies and her declaration,

  • Reader, I married himis probably the most famous sentence in the book. But it’s

  • important to remember that Jane doesn’t marry Mr. Rochester until she can meet him

  • on an equal, if not superior footing. Like earlier in the book he has all the money

  • and all the power and all the secrets, right? By the end of the novel, she has money, and

  • also vision, both literal and metaphorical. Jane consistently rejects men who try to control

  • her and she shows a lot of perceptive critiques of gender dynamics, like a passage in which

  • she declares: “Women are supposed to be very calm generally:

  • but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field

  • for their efforts as much as their brothers doand it is narrow-minded in their more

  • privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings

  • and knitting stockings.” Sorry, pudding lovers but this novel clearly

  • says to heck with pudding! I’m only making pudding when I can make pudding on my own

  • terms! Also, who would want to wear knitted stockings?

  • So I think you can read the novel as striking at least a soft blow for gender equality,

  • but many feminist critics, like Sandra Gilbert, sense that there’s something a little more

  • disturbing going on in Jane’s journey from abused child to perfect Victorian wife.

  • Gilbert focuses where very little of the actual novel does, on that mad woman in the attic,

  • Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Bertha Mason. I mean, was Bertha really the fallen woman

  • that Rochester describes? Let’s remember that Mr. Rochester freely admits to keeping

  • a lot of mistresses, but the novel never really scolds his sexual behavior.

  • Meanwhile, keeping mentally ill, inconvenient wives chained to the attic, which, by the

  • way, really happened in Brontë’s day, is more or less approved of.

  • Now some read Bertha, who hails from a tropical island and has dark skin, as a commentary

  • on Britain’s treatment of its colonies. But my favorite reading is to see Bertha as

  • a kind of dark mirror for Jane, of all the feelings and desires that Jane has to repress

  • in order to fit the mold of Victorian womanhood, a creature whosnatched and growled like

  • some strange wild animalwhile Jane sews and teaches geography.

  • I mean, every time that Jane gets upsetlike when Mr. Rochester talks about all of his

  • mistresses or fools her with that weird gypsy thingit’s Bertha who acts out.

  • And when Jane feels anxious about her marriage, Bertha comes to her room and rips the veil.

  • And let’s not forget that it’s Berthawild, untamed, sexual Berthawho has to die in

  • order for Jane and Mr. Rochester to finally get married.

  • Jane has to lose part of her nature to fit into the expectations of her social order

  • and in that sense at least, this happily ever after ending isn’t entirely happily ever

  • after. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week.

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Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature, and today were going to be

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Reader, it's Jane Eyre - Crash Course Literature 207

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