Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reed, Pool[e], River[s]...

"My eyes were covered and closed: eddying darkness seemed to swim round me, and reflection came in as black and confused a flow.  Self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, I seemed to have laid me down in the dried-up bed of a great river; I heard a flood loosened in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come: to rise I had no will, to flee I had no strength.  I lay faint, longing to be dead.  [...] It was near: and as I had lifted no petition to Heaven to avert it—as I had neither joined my hands, nor bent my knees, nor moved my lips—it came: in full heavy swing the torrent poured over me.  The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above me in one sullen mass.  That bitter hour cannot be described: in truth, 'the waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.'"
This was my third careful re-reading of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. In graduate school, our discussions of the imagery focused on the reds and scarlets in the seemingly all gray and misty narrative landscape. But this time, on my own, it was the water imagery—and especially rivers—that captivated my mind's eye. I found myself having a conversation with Charlotte about how she deliberately placed the idea of "rivers" into the reader's mind. I did some flipping back and forth between passages and saw all the rivers leading up to her collapse on the doorstep of...St. John Rivers.
How many times does Jane nearly drown, figuratively speaking? How many times is there actual, literal water at hand, and how does it prefigure the metaphorical inundations Jane experiences? The culmination of this water imagery in her relationship with St. John Rivers takes one's breath away.
And yes, we could be having this same discussion about burns and fire, but seriously, St. John Rivers: Has a creepier literary character (who isn't an outright villain) ever been created? Deceptiveness cloaked in Christian charity, though he admits he is cold (soulless, is what he is). He lacks the charm and sex appeal (okay, and fortune) of Newland Archer (the greatest name in all of literature) from Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, but Rivers and Archer are two of a kind, indulging in self-sacrifice until their own lives and the lives of those closest to them are wasted.

Does Jane escape this River[s] that threatens to pull her under, as she had escaped the Reed and the Pool[e]? Reader—The only thing better than reading Jane Eyre is rereading Jane Eyre.

Thank you, Charlotte Bronte, you trickster you.

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