Jane Eyre and DH LawrenceBoy, was I surprised to come across DH Lawrence's comments on Jane Eyre.  I didn't know his literary criticism stretched its arms so wide. He says (ahem) that JE...

Jane Eyre and DH Lawrence

Boy, was I surprised to come across DH Lawrence's comments on Jane Eyre.  I didn't know his literary criticism stretched its arms so wide. He says (ahem) that JE "verg[es] toward pornography" in its account of Rochester's wounds.  He continues that in the novel "sex has become slightly obscene, to be allowed in, but despised.  Mr Rochester's sex passion is not respectable till Mr Rochester is burned, blinded, disfigured, and reduced to helpless dependence.  Then, thoroughly humbled and humiliated, it may be merely admitted."  DHL refers here of course to the novel's conclusion when Bronte allows Jane to marry him only after she becomes wealthy and he loses in the fire all Lawrence details. 

One response to this is that DHL gets it all wrong for the point of R's injuries is not to humiliate him but to transform him into someone who can enjoy an equal relationship with a woman in that the wounds break down the emotional wall he has built around himself--in this view, they are not a punishment but the first step toward a reward. 

I personally always read this part of Jane Eyre as a measure of Bronte's own politics of resistance, making sure Jane will have a modicum of power in a relationship where she previously had little--which is one reason she left.  Comments on Jane??

Asked on by sagetrieb

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Very interesting post! I do wonder whether Lawrence does have a point regarding Jane Eyre though. So much of the novel can be read in a very sexual way, and Rochester's "humbling" or whatever you want to call it does seem to be a bit excessive. Obviously, considering the novel as a whole, we can perhaps read this as a "taming" of the passionate nature of his character, something that Jane herself has to do, but the picture of a rather forlorn and broken Rochester at the end seems to be a little excessive. Maybe this is Bronte agreeing with the Wife of Bath and giving her protagonist "maistrie" - both physical and sexual - over Rochester. I don't think Bronte would have done this consciously though!

sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Oh, I am so pleased not to hear a response defending dear DH, for i agree with your take on him completely--and I like Steinbeck based just on his assessment of the guy.  I could have quoted more of what Lawrence said concerning Jane's issues with powerful men but the remarks were not fit for this venue--but you might guess what they entailed (no pun -- or only slight pun--intended).

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Jane Eyre and DH Lawrence

Boy, was I surprised to come across DH Lawrence's comments on Jane Eyre.  I didn't know his literary criticism stretched its arms so wide. He says (ahem) that JE "verg[es] toward pornography" in its account of Rochester's wounds.  He continues that in the novel "sex has become slightly obscene, to be allowed in, but despised.  Mr Rochester's sex passion is not respectable till Mr Rochester is burned, blinded, disfigured, and reduced to helpless dependence.  Then, thoroughly humbled and humiliated, it may be merely admitted."  DHL refers here of course to the novel's conclusion when Bronte allows Jane to marry him only after she becomes wealthy and he loses in the fire all Lawrence details. 

One response to this is that DHL gets it all wrong for the point of R's injuries is not to humiliate him but to transform him into someone who can enjoy an equal relationship with a woman in that the wounds break down the emotional wall he has built around himself--in this view, they are not a punishment but the first step toward a reward. 

I personally always read this part of Jane Eyre as a measure of Bronte's own politics of resistance, making sure Jane will have a modicum of power in a relationship where she previously had little--which is one reason she left.  Comments on Jane??

I guess there might be some merit to DHL's comments, though I never took them that way.  I think John Steinbeck's comments about DHL as a writer of women were right on.  In a letter to a friend, he wrote: 

Most of our literature was written by men, and I am inclined to believe that they have given us other men a highly erroneous idea of the sex.  There is Cabel who has known only one woman and so he would tell us that all are like the one he knows.  There is Conrad who never knew any and S—(illegible) who knew three and D.H. Lawrence who only knew his mother. 

Lawrence, as I understand it, had .... issues... with dear old mum.  I find Jane to be not only in possession of a modicum of power, but a gentle power that usurps her husbands in the end. 

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