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On re-reading the classics

classicsclub3This month’s Classics Club meme looks at the question of whether re-reading a favourite classic at various stages of life provides different insights. 

Digging deep into the memory banks for instances where I’ve read the same book multiple times, I came up with Jane Eyre and Middlemarch. And in both cases I can say without question that with each reading I discovered aspects of the novel I had not previously noticed. 

I first met dear Jane when I was about ten. I was totally oblivious to the romance element of the book. Instead what stuck in my memory was that it was a sad story about a young girl who had a horrible time in school. The episodes that had the most effect on me were the ones where Jane has to stand on the stool all day because she is accused of being a liar and then the death of her close friend Helen.

Fast forward to my mid teens and reading it again it was now the love interest that grabbed my attention.  I shed tears for poor Jane, destined it seemed never to wed the love of her life, and then more tears when she is reunited with him. It was all So Romantic! So Dramatic!

Not until I started studying English literature in earnest in the late 1970s did I begin to think more about the craft of the novel than the plot. There are so many genres and sub genres melded into this novel and so many different issues. We get a taste of gothic horror and Bildungsroman, of romance and realism along with the exploration of themes like the Woman Question, social class and moral responsibility.  But what made the novel even more powerful was the way Charlotte Bronte used the idea of a physical journey to explore Jane’s identity and reveal her inner consciousness.

Each time I read this novel now it’s that issue of Jane’s identity that keeps me intrigued. Bronte varies the narrative voice so much that it’s often not clear which Jane is telling the story – the young girl, the governess or the married Jane. Depending on which voice you hear, the story takes on a different dimension. Not many books can withstand multiple readings but for me, Jane Eyre is so richly textured and has so many different layers of meaning that re-reading it continues to be a rewarding experience.

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