Some books are yours. That even though you’re content to twiddle your thumbs and indulge in boundless book love in your corner of the vast interwebz, you have to add to the pot-stirring amid the cobwebs around you because there are very objectionable [and unconscionable] things being said about your book, and that won’t do, it just won’t do at all.
Laura Miller’s article, “In Defense of Jane Eyre,” caught my eye this morning. My first reaction, upon reading the title: “I didn’t realize Jane Eyre needed any defending.” My second, upon actually reading the entire thing: “Holy Sebastian Faulks, Batman! Is he serious?”
The gist of it. A few days ago, novelist Sebastian Faulks, in an excerpt from his new book, declared that Jane Eyre is a heroine—not a hero like Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, mind you—and that “no one seems to question the distinction: it’s obvious.” He also goes on to say:
Jane Eyre is a resilient woman, of higher moral caliber than Becky Sharp, but her happiness, and her psychological “completion,” seem to depend on her securing the love and companionship of another, Mr. Rochester. All her battles from the orphanage onwards, with whatever doughty and feminist intelligence they are fought, are presented as leading to this one end.
I do not know Becky Sharp, but I have a deep and abiding love for Jane Eyre, borne of a friendship that has lasted more than half of my life. I have nothing against Becky Sharp, who Faulks so extravagantly praises—I am sure she is a very fine person, and I might just like her when I do get to meet her.
I do have a lot against Faulks [and a smidge for Miller the Defender.]
It’s appalling—and amusing, actually—to witness this kind of misinformation in so pedantic an article. That is, I shrieked: “No! Seriously? Did this man even read the goddamned novel?”
Where to begin? The confusing-for-this-day-and-age tone hinting at the moral superiority of the Hero title as opposed to the Heroine title? That Miss Sharp is a far interesting person because, as a hero, she “imprints her qualities on society and by doing so overcomes false or smothering social restrictions.” That Miss Eyre is kind of lame because like “most women in fiction,” she “[clings] at some stage to their feelings for a man as a fixed point or priority; it is at least one known star by which to steer?”
Or just the simple fact that Faulks gets so many things wrong?
THAT BECAUSE MISS EYRE HAPPENS TO FEEL ALL SWOON-Y FOR THE AWESOME MR. EDWARD FAIRFAX ROCHESTER AND DITTO FOR HIM SHE’S A LESSER BEING IS THAT IT HUH MR FAULKS?
Aherm. Yes. Where was I?
Miller makes a lot of valid points and sound retorts against Faulks’ glib condescension. She expresses her bafflement of Faulks’ Hero-Heroine dichotomy, and immediately takes note of Faulks’ “(mis)characterization of Jane.” And Miller proceeds to characterize Jane herself.
And this is where I got all itchy again.
The reason that I find Faulks’ argument so contentious is that I think he’s a careless, misinformed bleep. Now, the reason why I’m whining about Miller’s counter to Faulks is that I don’t fully agree with what she says. In fact, I found some parts of her argument as frustrating as Faulks’—and the saving grace is, of course, that Miller loves Jane Eyre—we simply don’t have the same kind of love.
Yes, that’s the beauty of a great novel—the wide spectrum of passion it evokes in its lovers. I suppose I’m up in arms—more calmly, of course—against some of Miller’s assertions because I don’t feel like she’s a bleep like Faulks: I feel her respect and love for Jane Eyre. This is a civil, albeit dorkily nit-picking-y, discussion.
Miller states that Jane Eyre, “despite its fictional legacy, is not a romance novel.” [A paragraph before, there’s this palpable disdain at the possibility that the new Jane Eyre adaptation will “treat the book as a simple love story.”]
The pivotal moment in Jane Eyre is not the one in which the Byronic Mr. Rochester professes his love for the “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess and asks her to marry him. Rather, that moment comes after Jane learns that she can’t wed the man she loves because he is already married (to a madwoman, whose existence he has concealed from her). Rochester attempts to keep Jane by suggesting they run away to France together, but she refuses. She flees his house and, without family or other protectors, the penniless young woman is soon reduced to beggary, grateful to eat scraps originally intended for pigs.
The episode is only one of a series . . . that describe not Jane’s quest for love but her assertion of her autonomy in a world that regards her as entitled to none. In the past, Jane rebelled against auhotrity figures to defend the legitimacy of her feelings, but when she leaves Rochester, it is her own desires that she defies, this time on behalf of her principles.
Now. I agree with what she so astutely says. But I just can’t fully agree. See, I can’t imagine  hinging everything on this episode (it is a significant episode, demmet—but not the end-all and be-all of Jane Eyre), and  how much more valuable Miss Eyre’s rejection of Rochester and her defiance of her own desires were than the fact that Miss Eyre and Mr. Rochester got their shit behind them—remember? Reader, I married him. Remember? Jane dismantling all mouse-y characterizations of her, saves the doomed Rochester?
Yes, Miss Eyre is fiercely independent—her resolve is one crucial turning point of the novel, and it is precisely her firm grasp of her principles that turn her into the heroine—oh, sorry, Mr, Faulks—that she is.
But, I have always viewed it thus: Her willingness to relent. Relenting isn’t a terrible thing, it’s not the compromise of one defeated—it’s letting a collusion of her strength and her love, their love. That this would defeat the demons, that this would gah-damned heal the gah-damned blind for cripes’ sake. That Jane—oh, Miss Eyre!—and Rochester lived happily ever after because  Miss Eyre stood up against her own desires but  also allowed herself to realize that those desires—her love!—need not be in conflict with her principles.
She was The Awesome when she chose to turn her back from Rochester. She was The AwesomeSauce when she allowed herself to return—on her own terms.
Reader! I! Married! Him! The power in this statement, the utter windswept glory of it all, its strength, its assertion: Reader, I married him. Jane doesn’t lose. Jane never loses.
I think Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Why find this distasteful, Miss Miller, Mr. Faulks? Why must “love story” connote a concession? Most importantly, why must calling Jane Eyre a romance novel, a love story, imply a belittling of the novel?
In the name of all the elves in Christendom!—Love is AwesomeSauce!
But ultimately, I am at peace with Miller. Not least because she classily grinds Faulks’ harebrained argument to a pulp. In the penultimate paragraphs, she says:
Of course, Jane does get her man in the end, as every reader of Brontë’s novel hopes she will. Marrying Mr. Rochester makes her happy. Why shouldn’t it? Faulks claims that “a hero can be disappointed or defeated in love and it will not matter, because pairing off is not the goal or completion of the heroic trajectory.” But this amounts to saying that love (as Jane obtains it, in her own terms) shouldn’t matter that much, that it is a less worthy goal than wealth and influence. . .
A paragraph that probably proves that I’ve been yammering away for nothing, disrupting the stasis of my little cobwebby corner.