What is the soul? Is it our capacity to feel things or the parameter of our existence? Art needs soul. In order to make art one must have a soul.
For the sake of being transparent, I’m going to start off by saying that I’m not a huge fan of Jane Austen. While I understand her place in the literary canon, I find a lot of her writing to be boring– long winded chicken clucking to be completely honest.
For a while I thought it was my inability to enjoy the heavy handedness of the classics. As much as I love reading, the wordiness of Dickens, Austen, and the like have been a huge turn off for me. It’s hard to admit, because it makes me feel dumb. I recall attempting A Tale of Two Cities and spacing out in the middle of a passage because the train of ‘superfluous’ words stunted my imagination.
But this all changed when I picked up Jane Eyre for the second time as an adult.
I attempted Jane Eyre in high school but I wasn’t a well rounded reader in my adolescence. At the time, my go to books were cheap paper-back romance novels and Jodi Piccoult Wal-Mart dramas.
This time around, two months ago, Jane Eyre spoke to me. The language floated off the page and I devoured all of it. Wordiness and all. Jane Eyre easily became one of my favorite books.
And I had to re-evaluate my prejudice towards classics. What about Jane Eyre was so easy for me digest versus Austen’s Emma.
After weeks of staring off into space trying to solve this riddle, the concept of the soul struck me.
Jane Eyre had a lot of soul about it. The female soul to be specific. Charlotte Brontë effortlessly expressed female fragility and emotional turmoil. Jane feels things deeply. Jane talks about her feelings. Well, she inner monologues about her feelings. This is absent from Austen’s work. I enjoyed Emma but it’s missing vulnerability.
Now I’m not going to say that Austen lacks spirit. She definitely has a lot of it. If she didn’t she wouldn’t be such a polarizing figure in our pop-culture today.
And honestly, there’s no point in criticizing a dead woman’s work. It’s not like Austen can evolve as a writer now from this irrelevant critique.
So this is just my own think piece. Personal self reflection I suppose. I don’t want to make this about putting two female writers against each other. They were different types of story tellers to be fair.
Jane experiences so much personal growth. She does retain the small flaws she had as a child, but overall she overcomes her spitefulness. And she’s honest. I found myself crying whenever she dealt with strife. When she finally tells Mr. Rochester how she feels, it’s so raw. Primitive, beautiful, and raw. Jane Eyre has a humanness to it that even today’s writers can’t seem to grasp. To bring back to my point regarding the soul, Jane Eyre is deeply spiritual.
I think the closest we can get to a modern literary fiction that shares a likeness with Jane Eyre is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Unbridled emotion bursting with a sense of morality. I think this is what makes a good female protagonist. I think this is what Austen is missing in her works, what a lot of books in general are missing.
I read Jane Eyre immediately after I finished Emma for the sole purpose to compare and contrast them, but I realized that it’s not fair to either writers. They are in completely different lanes. What they do have in common is their easiness to understand. The concepts are easily accessible to any type reader with the patience for classics.
What was the point in this post? Not sure but it was on my mind and I felt like posting it somewhere.
Before you light the torches, strike your gavels and sentence me to reader jail, this is just my opinion. It can evolve.