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Jane Eyre: Youth in Revolt

It's an interesting experience, reading Jane Eyre so soon after finishing (and loving) Pride and Prejudice. Charlotte Bronte, born the year before Jane Austen died, wrote a famous rejection of her predecessor's work which she believed lacked sufficient passion and emotion:

What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death--this Miss Austen ignores.

In some ways this seems right. Austen's prose does eschew full descriptions of intense emotional moments, preferring a more cool, not-quite-ironic distance from which to observe the novel's action. Which is not to say her stories don't contain emotion or an understanding of romantic passion. It is most certainly present, just not stated. It's inferred. As with the humor in Pride and Prejudice, Austen often leaves the emotion unsaid. 

She's winking at us, trusting us to fill in the blanks.

Charlotte Bronte, so far as I can tell in the first 100 pages of Jane Eyre, leaves no such blanks to fill. Compared to Austen, her prose is thick, dense. Almost soupy. This (over?) description is particularly noticeable in the book's opening chapters, where Jane, an orphaned 10-year-old, suffers under the relative tyranny of her aunt's household. 

Within the first 15 pages, we get a flash of the high emotion Bronte missed in Austen's writing. Indeed, it is so unexpected and raw in its (for a child) cruelty, I had to read it twice to make sure I was getting it. 

Jane's bullying older cousin, John Reed, has just told her to go stand by the wall. Jane narrates from there:

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm; not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp; my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.

The effect is sort of like watching an old nature documentary on TV, as some British-accented narrator (most likely an Attenborough) talks us through what we're seeing, leeching out some of the immediacy of the experience by describing it in more words than necessary.

After the first hundred pages, Jane goes from age 10 to 18, and a new phase in her life begins. Similarly, the prose thins a bit. (Or maybe I'm just getting used to it.)

But so far, my score is Jane Austen 1, Charlotte Bronte 0...