Sunday, 1 August 2010

Struggling through Jane Eyre

The Oxfordshire Sky

I promise I am trying but I am struggling. Don't get me wrong, it is a great plot and I like the grey/gothic undertone but good lord the syntax. Round and round we go swooping up and down and under and over. I will persevere but in the meantime I'll talk about what I have been up to this week. Whilst avoiding nineteenth century literature.

This week we bought our very first car so that we can do a myriad of not very exciting things like go to the supermarket (no I haven't given up on the market but I like to bulk buy cleaning products) or the local recycling centre. We like to find excuses to celebrate so last night we took ourselves off for a celebratory 'we have a car' meal at the Trout Inn at Wolvercote. A totally picturesque pub outside Oxford with the river running by and this lovely bridge connecting one side of the garden to the other. The pub also boasts its very own pet Peacock which struts around looking for attention.

On our way home we caught a glimpse of Godstow Nunnery through the hedge.

Godstow Nunnery

I immediately made Mr Bell stop the car and I leapt out and climbed over the fence to go and have a poke about, leaving him bemused to wait whilst I basked in a ruin glowing with evening light. Godstow Nunnery was finished and dedicated in 1139 and was made famous through the fact that it was the final resting place of Rosamund Clifford or 'Fair Rosamund'. Rosamund was the mistress of Henry II (who accidentally ordered the murder of Thomas Becket) and is the focus of several legends including the legend that Henry II's queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had Rosamund poisoned out of revenge.

'Fair Rosamund' was immortalised in John William Waterhouse's painting of her which he painted in 1917.

As I walked around the site I wondered about the lives of these women. Were they all dedicated to a holy life or were some of them there against their will? Sold to the church to ease their family's financial burden. I had only cows for company as I wandered around a silent site which would once have been bustling with activity. The Nunnery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 and passed through various different hands until it was eventually acquired by the University of Oxford. Apparently, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) took Alice Liddell (aka Alice in Wonderland) to the site for picnics.

Jane Eyre is calling. I fear this is turning into an epic journey of realisation that my veins flow with the juices of modernism - and there is nothing that consumptive nineteenth century types can do about it. But we shall see.


  1. Fabulous post--though I have to disagree with you about Jane Eyre (then again, I read it first when young & knew nothing about overwrought syntax). As for the nunnery (many thanks for the history lesson), have you ever read Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede? Twentieth rather than twelfth century nuns, but great insights into the "life."
    Completely jealous of sunset, pub & Oxford in general...

  2. Lovely! And I am not consumptive, thanks very much - my cough is all gone!! I'm very impressed that you're still pushing through my beloved Jane Eyre, but the language is all part of the pleasure and you've got to just IMMERSE yourself in it. Don't make me start lecturing you that without 19th century literature, modernist literature wouldn't even EXIST...!!

  3. Oh, that was wonderful! And just to let you know not everyone in the world loves those Brontë girls. Me, for one. And here is someone who didn't like Wuthering Heights:

  4. Oh please do persevere with Jane Eyre. I read it for the first time a few months ago, and though it was hard going at the start, it has now one of my favourite novels :o)

  5. Keep going! Jane Eyre had me in tears at a particularly poignant place in the book, I was that emotionally involved.

    Congrats on the new car and the pub sounds lovely!

  6. Lovely photo of Godstow Nunnery! I'm always surprised that it's there when I walk past it...

    Afraid I'm going to be an old-bore and say "The Trout isn't what it used to be..." - new management a few years ago, who made it very pretty but also took away a lot of the atmosphere and most of the good food...

  7. A new car - awesome! Great photos, by the way! And as for Jane Eyre - it really is a good book. Hope you keep on reading it and enjoy it (if not all of it, some parts of it). Don't get me wrong, I don't really care much for Rochester (selfish!) or Jane (hypocrite!), but the writing is good. If anything, read Wide Sargasso Sea afterward and learn about Rochester (pre-Jane) and the woman in the attic. Cheers!

  8. Gosh!
    I'm sure you will LOVE Jane Eyre in the end. I gobbled it up when I was twelve -- but that was in the dim distant past when
    we had no TV
    blah blah.
    Much easier to read long stuff with no distractions.

  9. I will admit that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than read Wuthering Heights again, but Jane Eyre is another kettle of fish. First read when I was eleven, didn't understand half of it but loved reading about her early life and times at school. Read it again as a teenager and enjyed it more and then re-read in my early twenties when I became totally immersed and hooked.

    The scene in which Jane 'poor and plain' claims equality with Rochester made every hair on my body stand on end and I still get goosebumps now when reading or writing about it (yes while I am writing this comment). The impact it made on my in my youth I have never forgotten and no wonder if was regarded as a subversive and dangerous book when published and mothers would not let their daughters read it.

    One of my favourite books of all time alongside Bleak House, Middlemarch and Persuasion. Do persevere - you won't regret it

  10. Jane Eyre is okay, and I do love it, but all the Bronte books I've read have felt old, and a little bit lacking in humour. All that passion can get a bit tiresome. If you want to carry on experimenting with victoriana then I can recommend Wilkie Collins potboilers - they don't take themselves very seriously. I find I get pulled into them and get used to all the words at the same time which in turn makes something more worthy less daunting.

  11. Interesting responses to this post. I read Jane Eyre in my late teens and just loved it. I then reread it in my early thirties and couldn'tw quite see what I'd loved the first time around. Maybe I'll read it again when I'm forty and see how I feel/think about it then.

  12. What beautiful photos! And what a really lovely place to enjoy a meal.

    I'm curious now to hear your response to Jane Eyre when you're done. I'm also impressed that you're slogging through it when you're not loving it - I tend to stop reading if I'm not enjoying the book.

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