First, I must apologize to Zoë Triska. Her article, “11 Lessons That Jane Eyre Can Teach Every 21st Century Woman About How To Live Well” was not the first nor only example of what I’m about to criticize, but rather the one that set me off, and the clearest recent example of this phenomenon. Also, I will not assert that the writing of such an article was demonstrative of malicious intent. I’m a blogger as well, and while I knee-jerk cringe at any kind of Buzzfeed-style, “x [Lessons/Reasons/Pictures/Gifs/etc] That Will…” I understand that this is what audiences enjoy reading. That’s also precisely my problem: we are catering to a fast-food, Cliffs Notes culture.
I’m going to reveal to you just how exactly Jane Eyre can teach every 21st century woman how to live well, and I’m going to do it in under 10 words:
F***ing read Jane Eyre.
I’m sorry, did you want me to summarize a Brontë work for you, so you could go back to your other tab about the kitten and puppy who think they’re related? Well, I won’t, because if you’re a self-proclaimed 21st century woman and you haven’t read any of the Brontës’ work and yet you read articles or buy magazines because they boast such articles with titles like, “8 Ways to Improve Your Relationship,” here’s a news flash: you may be a part of the problem.
This kind of article warrants precisely two responses:
1. Anyone who’s read Jane Eyre thinks, “Wow, that was a good book. I should go back and read it again.” These folks then largely proceed to not read it again.
2. Anyone who hasn’t read Jane Eyre thinks, “Hey, Jane Eyre sure sounds like a good book, but I have so little free time, I’m glad I have this helpful summary here.” These folks then largely proceed to have zero reason whatsoever to read Jane Eyre, yet will make it a practice to throw one of the Brontës at random (usually Emily) into every pro/anti-feminist discussion from there forward.
Oh. Actually, I left out room for a third response:
3. “Jane Eyre? Lol; b*tch, please. Try Wuthering Heights.”
Now, again, I don’t think Mrs. Triska’s point was to disincline all but the 2% of her readership who have managed to retain that childish sense of responding to challenge with curiosity required to actually gain new information in their adult years from (re)reading Jane Eyre. I’m sure her intent was to celebrate what is, truly, a great piece of English literature (no, I’m not saying it’s the best English literature, or even the best Brontë work—put your pitchfork down). Indeed, Mrs. Triska asserts before her list: “Every time I encounter a woman who hasn’t read this book, I advise reading it immediately. Women can learn so much from this great Victorian heroine.”
(That is so something Charlotte would say.)
So my question is, why would a writer who apparently enjoys Jane Eyre effectively eliminate the need to read said book by sucking all of the marrow out of the novel and spitting it back out on the plate for us to more easily digest? This is why we have literature—so when we recognize our friends going through something, like a stage in their life we’ve read about, we can say, “Here, read this! I too know what it’s like to feel like I’m fighting my shadow, but Ursula K. Le Guin writes about it so much better than I can!”
Again. I get it. I’m not mad at Mrs. Triska. I’m mad at the collective audience that makes writers like Mrs. Triska, myself and others continue to feel we must vomit out less-than-Cliffs Notes-depth articles hoping that the choir is large enough for the resounding “Hail, Mary!” to be heard even on mainstream media. Maybe someone out there will say, “You know, I should read Jane Eyre.” I would not feel out of place betting that such would be the conclusion Mrs. Triska hoped for. But if such is the case, why not just say that? Four words: “F***ing read Jane Eyre.” Six words, total, if we want to add, “No, seriously.” If we budget ourselves for ten words, we could even include either, “Just do it” or “Just trust me” and still come out ahead!
Rather than 11 lessons which can be imparted to 21st century women, why not instead recommend 11 books for every 21st century woman which would help teach them how to live well? That invites investigation and debate; it allows (in this case) a woman who thinks, “Am I a 21st century woman? Well, by Jove Hera, I sure as hell want to be!” a chance to take matters into her own hands, yet still have an expert guide—or at least friendly suggestions—about where those hands should go. It also allows (nay, demands) for the readers to experience what makes those stories continue to be relevant today: the language by which those ideas are expressed.
I will note that Zoë does have a recent article similar to such an idea: “11 Books that Make Great Dates,” but if that article’s comments section is any indication (one commenter suggested The Iliad and another shortly thereafter marveled seemingly un-ironically at how nothing 50 Shades was included), I can only wonder what kinds of dates Mrs. Triska’s readership are expecting to go on.
Yes, such an article I understand would still feed into that “x Reasons…” Buzzfeed culture. Sometimes, I like to play in the shallow end of the pool from time to time too, but if we want our conversations to have any kind of depth to them, then sometimes it’s best to begin just by jumping into the deep end. Wading in slowly, I’ve learned, is one of the most awful ways to go about getting there.
Jane Eyre falls within public domain (that’s literary-speak for “free”). Yes, I’ll agree that paper is so much better, but when it comes to online mediums, I’ll make what concessions I must if it means getting more people to read for self-improvement. But either way, 21st century women have little excuse to not have read it. So, go, read it! Just f***ing read it!
The only reason one should sum up Jane Eyre (or any classical work like such) into any number of thematic points is because they’re going for a grade on a high school paper, which—unless Mrs. Triska’s 12th grade AP English teacher is also her managing editor—I doubt is the case here. Still, Mrs. Triska’s 12th grade AP English teacher has probably already read Jane Eyre, and knows how that book can positively or negatively shape the way a 21st century woman looks at the world. Said teacher probably would have the third response I listed, above. I know sure as hell mine would*.
*No, really, Mrs. Grey (name changed to protect the sassy) was probably the first person I ever heard saying, “B*tch, please” as part of a critique, usually when someone did something like over-romanticize how Mr. Darcy was “totally just, like, the best boyfriend evar.”
This article originally appeared on Be You Media Group.