The Corner

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No Safe Space for Jane Eyre

Madeleine Worrall in Jane Eyre. (National Theatre/via YouTube)

Yesterday I wrote about a recent interaction with employees of Powell’s Books, in Portland, Ore., that left me a little, well, hot.

But it was a conversation I overheard among fellow customers that made me downright depressed.

Hunting down a novel, I found myself a few feet away from a young woman pausing in the same row of the fiction section when a young man came around the corner to join her. They appeared to be college kids.

Young man: Have you read this? It’s, like, a sequel to Jane Eyre. [He was evidently referring to Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s imaginative prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s great novel.] It’s sooooo good. It shows that Jane Eyre was about racism, because Mr. Rochester was hiding his wife in the attic because she was black. [?!]

Young woman: Actually I haven’t read Jane Eyre. Should I?

Young man: Well, yeah, I guess so, it’s, like, a classic. It was written in — you know, back in the day. I had to read it for a class.

Young woman: What’s it about?

Young man: It’s about this governess who works for this guy, Mr. Rochester, who keeps his wife in the attic, and it’s about the guy’s power over the women. He’s super-masculine and super-manipulative, and everybody used to love him, but now —

Young woman: Oh now everybody hates him, right?

Young man: Yeah, everybody hates him, cuz he’s, like, so hateable.

Ah, so that’s how Jane Eyre is being taught now. Maybe it’s just too late to rescue literature from the poisonous critical theories that have been eating away at it for the last few decades.

Reader, I looked up and said: Well, I love him.

The kid gave a nervous laugh, clearly regarding me as the madwoman in the fiction aisle, and the couple went their way as I went mine.

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