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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Twilight and Jane Eyre--closer than you think!

Take two handsome Edwards! Add to that forbidden love and sexual tension and you have two block busters: Jane Eyre and Twilight.

I am making the case that there is a kinship between Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

For your consideration, I present first: Jane Eyre.
Edward Rocherster, darkly brooding tortured man has a mad wife locked away in a tower.
She is his nemesis: the sad, pathetic creature who is holding him back from the wedded bliss he could have with the young governess he has fallen in love with.

"I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame..."
--Edward Rochester

That got me where I lived as a teen! Still does, and besides--what more heart-wrenching scene can there be than the wedding scene?

It's a lovely wedding and we're happy for these two, but then the lunatic wife's brother storms into the church to declare an imediment to the marriage!

Rochester takes the wedding party to the tower to introduce his mad wife at last. It is an unforgettable moment.

We understand his dilema. Her family never told him that their daughter was mad, he was used in the worst way.

Jane flees--frightened and confused, which only adds to Edward's misery.
But alas she can find no peace for her longing is great.

So what do we have? We have enough sexual tension and unfulfilled desire to make us chew ice cubes!


Twilight: Edward Cullen, dark and handsome, brooding and tortured too—loving Bella despite himself.

He too has a dark secret. But it is not locked away in a tower, it’s in his veins!
For it is his sad destiny that he is one of the undead--a vampire!
Bella, awkward and clumsy, is newly arrived in town. When she sees Edward she is smitten by him. But he appears to hate her, avoiding her at every opportunity.

We feel for her!

But then we find out that he didn't want to hurt her, he was fearful of his vampiric hunger!

The two get to know one another, he saves her life--they fall more deeply in love.

 "Besides…the more time I spend with you, the more human emotions seem comprehensible to me. I’m discovering that I can sympathize with Heathcliff in ways I didn’t think possible before."
— Edward Cullen

See?! Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights, penned 150 years ago by Emily Bronte!

She is needed, she fills up his life, her feelings for him are so great that she is willing to become a vampire!

Stephanie Meyers on Jane Eyre:

''I read it when I was nine,'' says Meyer, ''and I've reread it literally hundreds of times. I do think that there are elements of Edward (Cullen) in Edward Rochester and elements of Bella in Jane. Jane was someone I was close to as a child — we were good friends! I think in some ways she was more real to me than any other fictional character…”

And you know what? I can see it too. Not only in the brooding Edwards but in Bella and Jane.

Each is shy and retiring—each has arrived in a strange place. Each knows lonelieness and isolation and each wants desperately that brooding intense man they have fallen in love with.

Jane does not understand Edward Rochester’s unhappiness and at first she thinks him uncaring.

Bella too doesn’t understand Edward Cullen’s behavior and thinks he hates her at first when in fact it has nothing to do with that!

Jane Eyre is a romance in the gothic tradition.

Twilight is a romance in the new gothic tradition.

Each has captured the imagination of a wide audience.

Both are great romances and romance is romance.

A quesetion: why do we love our heroes to be tortured?
Answer: because it makes the story that much more involving, that much more gripping.

We care about Jane and Edward as we care about Bella and Edward.

And why is that? It is because we have well-drawn characters facing tremendous conflicts.

Added to that, we have a great love story! No! Make that two great love stories!


Zee Monodee said...

You're so right - I'd never made the connection before!

Can't say I'm a fan of Twilight but Jane Eyre is one of my favourite reads ever. One that was transposed to the screen brilliantly in the Charlotte Gainsbourg/William Hurt version. Cannot picture another Rochester in my mind!

Very good post, loved it!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Zee!
When I read what Meyer herself said about why she chose the name of Edward--and her comments about having loved Jane Eyre, something clicked.
Then I read Twilight. I generally write and read very dark horror, but this was different.
Then I just started to see aspects of each of the stories that I thought were the sparks that ignited those stories into the block buseters they became.
btw Hurt, I'm sure was excellent.
My own favorote will always be Orson Welles!
That version is my fav!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Great post. Maybe I'll have to break down and read *Twilight*. I love vampires, but my teenage daughter being wild about this one turned me off. Perhaps I'll give him a go. I love *Jane Eyre*!

Anonymous said...

wow, thanks Amanda!
I was won over too finally, and found it quite affecting. I liked the Bella character and found Edward really interesting. I kept wondering what his lips were like (you'll see what Imean)! very intriguing.
yes, Jane Eyre! Still love it.
I'm a transplanted New Yorker, living in England and I pay yearly pilgrimages to Haworth and the Parsonage. I can sense the Brontes all around me when I go there!
again, thanks so much for your comment!

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Anonymous said...

Carole, this is a great post and as a fan of both Charlotte Bronte's and Stephanie Meyer's writing I can see the conection. However, I can actually see the connection to Jane Eyre better than to Wuthering Heights. Another novel you might want to try a comparitive reading with is Anne Bronte's 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall'. I've just picked it up off the shelf and am considering it myself. I had forgotten quite how passionate and compelling the story is.

I do think an understanding and interest in the literature from the nineteenth century is important. The Brontes' novels are particularly good as, at the time, their heroes and heroines could be considered 'transgressional', they did not conform to convention or the law. In an age when women lived in a constricted world centered around the home, they aired the dirty linen of the age in the public forum of the novel.

I think of 'The Twilight Saga' as a romance rather than a vampire novel and as such I can see why it's captured the imagination of a generation of girls, but also older women for whom the romance novel was a staple in their youthful reading diet. Each novel has its own darkest-before-the-dawn ending and each tells, like all the classic novels, of a love that anihilates boundries and brings not only the couple, but also the society they live in, to a happy ending.

Anonymous said...

thank you Gaynor! Yes, that’s an excellent suggestion! Just ordered it. I never read that one.

I quite agree, the heroines in their novels did not conform at all to society.

And you’re right they did air things in a public forum which makes them truly remarkable women of their time.

Further, as the quiet daughters brought up in the parsonage it is even more extraordinary and it is what makes them icons to us—literary Joan of Arcs!

I also agree that the Twilight Saga is more romance than vampire story and I think that’s why women have become such fans of these books.
They are an extension of the classic novel—an update perhaps for some readers and a familiar component to others in that they see the basics of the best kind of storytelling—storytelling that is unforgettable, for that is what we as writers should strive for.

Thank you so much.


Interesting post. I actually came to read it once again. I am sorry if I sound too critical - it's my academic background that has made me so :)

I have a question for you. What do you mean when you say that "both are romances and romance is romance". What do you mean by romance? Why are they not "novels"? By the end, they become "love stories" :) Are they "stories"? Careful with the categories here :) Sometimes we try to attribute labels to things that are not easy to define.

Being a student of the French school, I consider the major error of American Comparative Literature to be the total absence of structural, linguistic and historical research when examining two works of fiction. Here, you are dealing exclusively with thematic and element likenesses, which, as you all probably know, can be interpreted as we like it :) Seeking universal truths in established literary archetypes is good but we must know what these archetypes are.

Anonymous said...

I found your comments very interesting and on reflection I could have explained ‘romance and romance is romance’ a little better, but I think this does mirror the general confusion surrounding the classification of the popular romance novel.

Is it simply a love story, written as a two dimensional caricature, with unbelievable plots and protagonists as formulaic as the dime novels popular over a century ago?

With the popularisation of individual genres,
I think we readers sometimes miss the point that, especially with a broad church such as romance, there are different qualities in the modern romance novel compared with its nineteenth century counterpart, but at the same time they share a remarkable amount in their structure and iconic characters.

Comparative Literary Theory demands that we look cross culturally at novels using not only the text, but informing our deductions with background knowledge on both the writer and the culture and convention in which the novel was produced.

The argument for using a wider set of interpretations than just the text is valid in academic study. However from the point of view of a writer, in my opinion, the text alone produces enough questions and, if we’re lucky, answers to satisfy our quest to understand how novels work and why some have become universally popular both in their own time and in ours.

While this post wasn’t intended as an academic paper, it does raise some interesting points in my mind about the process of writing a modern romance novel, after all none of us write in a vacuum.

The novels, termed romances, of the nineteenth century were extensively read by both genders as a form of entertainment for a class that had the education, free time and inclination. Today we live in a more egalitarian world where the novel, at least, is accessible to all who wish to read it and, therefore, this must change the production values of the writer.

Yet we still see the ghosts of the canonical authors of the past in the subtext and structure of the modern novel.

What Stephanie Meyer seems to have done in The Twilight Saga is to make the link explicit rather than leave it to the reader to make the link themselves.

Romance, more than any other genre, has suffered from false attribution of certain stereotypes. It isn’t just the love in what is laughingly termed a love story that attracts readers to the work of great authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte or Sir Walter Scott.

Reader empathy is, I think, why these writers have survived into modernity. Shakespeare is a classic example, to most uninitiated readers or watchers of the plays, the language and perceived age of the writing is off putting and yet, once you have experienced the universal and unchanging humanity through the eyes of a 17th century playwright, love, hate, war and even madness become somehow clearer in the modern novel.

From a literary point of view I would, if pressed, write this post using Reception Theory and discuss the different cultures in which the novels Jane Eyre and The Twilight Saga were produced and consumed. In keeping with this theory, I read what I read and I write conclusions to the novels that are mine alone. My experiences and culture colour my reading and also my writing.

Thank you again for reading and I did enjoy your post.