Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Mary Sue on the Moors
Tonight we went to see the latest film version of Jane Eyre. Gary suggested it since I'm an English professor, which means it should be just my cup o' tea.
Please note: I love Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I love the little-known The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by the least famous Bronte sister, Anne (in fact, I wrote part of my doctoral dissertation about it). But Charlotte Bronte bores me. I find both Jane Eyre and Villette dull and humorless; both of their heroines strike me as utterly self-involved drips.
A Victorianist colleague who loves Jane Eyre, and hates Wuthering Heights, once informed me that most people hate one and love the other, and strongly implied that smart people prefer JE whereas ignorati with no taste prefer WH. I stand by my guns.
I'd hoped to like the movie anyway, but neither Gary nor I enjoyed it. The actress playing Jane gave her all the personality and character of a doorknob. Her two suitors are both despicable and unconvincing. Even Bertha was boring. I mean, c'mon: if you can't make the madwoman in the attic colorful and compelling, something's wrong!
Watching the film, it suddenly struck me that Jane's a classic Mary Sue. She's an orphan who suffers terrible, unmerited abuse, but rises above it to become very accomplished, but of course is totally modest, but is nonetheless so fascinating that all the men she meets fall in love with her while most of the women turn snippy and jealous. She endures angst, unrequited love, rejection and exile, but nobly and selflessly forgives all the despicable people who done her wrong, and then -- surprise! -- discovers that she's really a wealthy heiress (previously defrauded by the despicable people who done her wrong), at which point she gets the guy.
In other words: too good to be true, which means boring. Aaaah: so that's why I've never liked her!
And yes, I know, Jane Eyre's an important book that captures the oppression of women in nineteenth-century England. That's fine. But Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte and Jane Austen do the same thing, and -- for my money -- are a lot more entertaining. They can laugh at their characters. Their characters can laugh at themselves. They're just more fun to read, okay?
Your mileage may vary, as does the mileage of the author of this blog post, who ponders the issue of whether JE is an MS, and decides she's not. The author of this review, on the other hand, agrees with me. Granted, it's a review of the film, which probably suffers from the problem much more than the book does, although I don't intend to reread the book anytime soon to find out.