Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who's afraid of Charlotte Bronte?

My interest in Jane Eyre revived when I realized that it could be incorporated into the system of symbols which Iqbal had used to interpret the world literature in order to decipher the ambitions which societies nurture in their hearts often without knowing it themselves. Hence I do not claim that the interpretation which I am offering was also known to Charlotte Bronte when she published her book in 1847 (although I have a few interesting observations on that matter as well).

I see Jane Eyre as the spirit of Christianity (which makes her the same as "the spirit of all human beings" described by Syed Ahmad Khan quite independently in his short story 'Time Bygone' in 1873). In that case, Rochester becomes the embodiment of Western civilization and the body politics of Europe. Its dark secret is the fruits of colonialism which it is trying to hide in the attic because that is a bargain that went wrong: the marriage with the mad woman took place in Jamaica (a colony), and it has only brought anguish.

However, Jane is a moral phantom like destiny itself, who cannot be diverted. Her principles do not bend any more than a force of Nature. Hence she leaves Rochester (the spirit of Christianity leaves the body politics of Europe). She does not find solace in the company of puritans either (just as Christianity is no more content with monasticism and is yearning to become a guiding force for civilization again).

The mad woman does not represent the colonized nations. She represents no individual. She is an epitome of that moral weakness in Rochester himself which led him to seek fortune abroad. It is that same moral weakness, now personified in the shape of this woman, which brings doom to his estate: she puts fire in which she burns herself as well as the estate of Rochester, and he loses his eyesight temporarily.

Uncanny, that this is exactly how Iqbal prophecied the end of colonialism in his seminal poem 'March 1907': "Your civilization will commit suicide with its own dagger." I do not mean to suggest that Iqbal was deliberating over the matrimonial problems of a 19th Century governess when he wrote this climactic poem about destinies of nations, yet it is extremely interesting to note that a particular interpretation of Jane Eyre brings out an embedded message completely identical to that of Iqbal.

Is it my personal interpretation? Well, I belong to a tradition where every writer since Nezami Ganjavi in the 12th Century (and including Rumi, Jami, Bhittai, Sir Syed and Iqbal) has used the metaphor of the beloved to mean the spirit of a society, identical to "the spirit of all human beings." It is only natural for me to interpret Jane Eyre in this manner.


  1. hmm...Shafique Sahib

    Intersting interpretation, if this is what you are thinking then I was thinking about the happy ending of the two departed ones at last in harmony and peace and of their new life together.

    And with the help of innocence and caring of one, the other get better and come back to life.

    But then comes into my mind that Rochester was left alone by Jane to deal with his wrong decisions himself and herself starts WAITING...

    What she was waiting for....????

    For Rochester to become more insane or want him to be strong to see the things and find a way to do something about it???

    Is that what our "Spirit of Human" want us do???

    Find our own way and then reach for its(spirit of human) hand...???

    Allah knows in this journey of finding "human spirit" our collective ego would find a happy ending or whether would become more insane.....not every story got the happy endings. :)

  2. The collective ego didn't run the risk of more insane - Rochester is not collective ego, Jane is. According to Iqbal, there is bound to be a happy ending.

  3. What a fascinating and incredibly apt interpretation . There are stories in literature that exist upon the page and there are underlying, hidden, inner stories within them and inside the page (between the lines, so to say). If the reader can get to the heart of a book or the play within the play he has got to the truth. The story (external) on page or stage of Dancing at Lughnasa for example is the depiction of a month in the life of 5 impoverished women but the pretext or the underlying narrative dances a Pagan wheel-dance around the festival of Lughnasa. The radio-with-a-mind-of-its-own acts as a chink that links the inner narrative with the outer. The skeleton key to the play lies in its closing monologue

    And so, when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me.

    But there is one memory of that Lughnasa time that visits me most often; and what fascinates me about that memory is that it owes nothing to fact. In that memory atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory. In that memory, too, the air is nostalgic with the music of the thirtees. It drifts in from somewhere far away - a mirage of sound - a dream music that is both heard and imagined; that seems to be both itself and its own echo; a sound so alluring and so mesmeric that the afternoon is bewitched, maybe haunted, by it. And what is so strange about that memory is that everybody seems to be floating on those sweet sounds, moving rhythmically, languorously, in complete isolation; responding more to the mood of the music than it its beat. When I remember it, I think of it as dancing. Dancing with eyes half closed because to open them would break the spell. Dancing as if language had surrendered to the movement - as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness. Dancing as if the very heart of life and all its hopes might be found in those assuaging notes and those hushed rhythms and in those silent and hypnotic movements. Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary.

    (Friel, Brian. Dancing at Lughnasa. Faber & Faber, 1990. 71).

    And such interpretations of texts have been made. One prime example is that of Ted Hughes' magnum opus in prose Shakespeare & the Goddess of Complete Being. Unfortunately always unacknowledged in the 'cloisters of academe' though.

  4. the interpretation is so thoght-provoking!!!!!
    as i knw every literature, every society nd every story told in this world is linkd wid da othr
    its a classic piece of example of my belief!!!!
    i nvr thoght on these lines b4 bt nw i m going to re-read jane-eyer as to understand da underlying!!!!

  5. Thinking, Rehan, Rabia and Namrah, thanks.