Book Review: Jane Eyre

I decided to read more classics this year, and after finishing Anne of Avonlea, I thought I’d try Jane Eyre before going back to the series. I actually borrowed this from the children’s section of the public library. Late one evening, when I was struggling to fall asleep, I decided to do some light reading and opened it up. After the first chapter, I was in a nightmare! It wasn’t the best choice for bedtime reading. I put it down and didn’t pick it up again until a few weeks later. I have a habit of borrowing too many books and then continually renewing them every two weeks until the limit of five renewals is reached, then, either force myself to binge-read in the last few days, or just give up and return the book(s) unfinished. When I picked up Jane Eyre again, I was hooked. The language is not exactly the easiest to understand and I often had to reread passages again and again but the story was captivating. I started to enjoy the overly detailed descriptions of Jane’s thoughts, conversations, surroundings and feelings. I started to feel like I was in Jane’s head and felt how she felt. Her narrative was so honest and pure and I wanted more and more. I devoured the 500+ pages in one week, picking it up every day, reading during breakfast, between meals, before bed. It’s a good thing I don’t have to go to work and do freelance at home, or else I wouldn’t have this luxury. Needless to say, I hardly did any work that week.

The first volume of the book was the most depressing part of the story and I felt so bad for Jane. Orphaned as a baby, she was forced to live with her aunt and cousins who all clearly despised her. They accused her of things she didn’t do and after getting into a fight with her cousin, John Reed, she was locked in the red room of the house where a ghost appeared to her. I was screaming in my head. I normally love thrillers and scary stories and wouldn’t think much of a scene like this, but for some reason, I got goosebumps when I read this – maybe because I was relating to her as a nine-year-old girl.

When she was finally sent to Lowood boarding school, I thought things would improve when she became friends with Helen Burns, but no! She had to suffer even more and eventually grieve the death of Helen, her one true friend! She did become much stronger and even became a teacher at the school for two years, before she advertised to become a governess. And here is where the plot gets really good.

Jane was hired to be a governess to a young girl named Adele in Thornfield Hall, owned by Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester. She grew up into an intelligent, confident and strong-willed young woman and was cared for, appreciated and accepted for who she was, though she remained poor, obscure, plain and small. She began to fall in love with Rochester, which, at first I found it difficult to understand because he was described as ugly, abrupt, strange and secretive. Even more surprisingly, he loved Jane back! But through her honest and detailed descriptions, I started to fall in love with Rochester too – even with all his faults, questionable behaviour, awkward expressions, and despite the fact that he was twice Jane’s age (40+). I wanted to know more, see more, feel more of him. Why? Who really knows? It was like a sickness. Even after the strange fire, the bloody attack of his guest, Richard Mason, and Rochester’s insistance on keeping all that had transpired a secret, did not affect those feelings at all. I – I mean Jane, still loved and wanted him.

Everthing about their relationship was unconventional and uncommon, you may even say sinful, but I was rooting for it! When Jane declared her love for Rochester, I was so happy! Rochester was such an immature man and made her think he was to be married to the least interesting woman on earth! What an asshole move! Why does the woman always have to be the bold one and the man the coward? Finally he proposed and I hurrahed, but I thought that this happy ending is happening too early in the book – there are still over 200 pages left. Clearly, I was right and their wedding was stopped when Mason appeared and informed everyone that Rochester’s previous marriage to his sister, Bertha Mason, was an impediment to his getting married to Jane. Uh, WHAT? Ah, yes… Mason, the man that was stabbed by an unknown being, who turned out to be his sister, has decided to prevent Rochester from getting married to Jane and be happy. Yes, this was what was going through my mind at that moment, not the fact that Rochester had lied and tried to trick everyone and kept a mad woman locked up in the house for years! But, come on! That Bertha is a mad woman! They could not get divorced either. And Jane, the noble, smart, intelligent young woman who was also full of integrity and virtue, decided to leave Rochester and Thornfield Hall and run away without any money, instead of essentially becoming a mistress if she were to stay with Rochester. I can’t describe how much my heart ached at that point. It crushed me to read that Jane and Rochester couldn’t even spend one night together after all that waiting!

After she ran away, she suffered for three days without food or shelter until she came upon the Rivers’ house and begged them to take her in for the night. St John, the kind missionary, let her in. She told them her name was Jane Elliot and shared limited details about her past, expecting to only stay a few nights but she became quite good friends with the Rivers, who nursed her back to health. St John later gave her a job as a mistress of the girls’ school he had opened and her life was slowly getting back to normal. Later, it was discovered that Jane was related to the Rivers and were cousins when her uncle John Eyre of Madeira passed away and left his entire fortune to Jane. The Rivers learned of Jane’s real name and why she had left Thornfield Hall. Jane, the saint that she is, decided to split the fortune among all four of them, so that they could accept her as their sister. This turn of events just seemed too convenient at this point in the story. Jane could have done so much with her inheritance, she could have been free and independent, but she valued and wished for a family more than anything. I don’t think anyone in this day would have done what she did.

One day, St John asked Jane to marry him and go to India with him, saying that he believes God had given Jane her gifts to become a missionary’s wife. Jane, whose heart still yearned for Rochester, agreed to go to India if she may go free and not marry him, which was not acceptable by St John. They argued a few times on the matter and it was finally resolved when Jane suddenly heard her name being called in the middle of the wood, convinced that it was Rochester, she set out to seek him in Thornfield Hall again. Upon arriving in town, Jane learned that Thornfield Hall had been burned to the ground and that the arsonist was none other than Bertha Mason, who then jumped to her death from the roof. Rochester, while trying to save everyone, including Bertha, from the fire, was badly injured and had become blind. So when Jane could finally be with Rochester legally and sin-free, he had become an invalid, an incompetent, dependent, ageing man left with nothing. This had to be the most unsatisfying love-story ending of all time. I expected Jane to be smarter than this and choose a different path, but the heart desired to be chained to Rochester, no matter how ugly, useless, incompetent he was or that she would have to spend the rest of her life taking care of his every need like a nurse. But that was the path she chose and even though he did eventually gain part of his eyesight back and hinted toward a better future for Jane and Rochester, I had so many mixed emotions about this love story. When I finished the book I half jumped for joy and half screamed in frustration. I wanted to reread it and go back to the blossoming romance before all the chaos, but I quickly realised that every part of their romance was chaotic! They never had any real time spent together alone without incident or interruption! There were even times when Rochester was away for weeks with no word but Jane’s love only grew stronger during those times. Yet, it was those moments that made the story so captivating – making you wait, yearn, anticipate, just like Jane did.

I had never read anything like this before and I loved it so much! There are also a lot of Christian and religious themes woven into the story which provided a lot of wisdom and truths. I found it odd at times when the reader was addressed directly in the narrative, sometimes breaking the flow and bringing you out of the story. There were a lot of place names that were written like “——–shire” or simply “S——-” which was rather strange and distracting. I don’t know if it was just the the particular edition I had picked up or what. I also missed a lot of the dialogue when it was written in French with no translation or when it was presented with strange spellings to represent an accent. I gave up trying to understand what the intended words were supposed to be. I might reread it again later and try to decipher them (I downloaded a free e-book version after I returned the book to the library).

After I finished reading it, I got the movie and watched it three times in one night! Michael Fassbender, who I absolutely love, plays Rochester. Though he is described as an unhandsome and unattractive man, I couldn’t think of anyone better to play Rochester. They skipped a lot things from the book but I liked how the story was told as a memory after she ended up with the Rivers. It tied everything together and moved the story along quickly for the movie audiences.

Overall, I loved this book and wish I had read it sooner! Definitely worth five stars!

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

Recently, I’ve been trying to do more Bible reading and study as part of my spiritual growth since I started doing the 2:7 Series. I’ve been reading the book of Mark and today, I came across a passage about Jesus cursing a fig tree:

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14 ESV)

For some reason, this passage made me pause and wonder. Why did Jesus have to result to such a drastic action just because the fig tree had no fruit, especially if it wasn’t even the season for figs? Why curse the tree so no one can eat fruit from it again? Surely it would have fruit later, right? Why kill all its chances of ever bearing fruit again? I asked my mum what this story meant. She was also uncertain so we searched for some explanations together. This is what we have learned:

At the time Jesus saw the fig tree, it would have been around March or April and fig trees usually bear fruit in May or June. However, they saw that the fig tree had leaves but no fruit. Generally speaking, the fruit of a fig tree appears before the leaves and blends in with the leaves until it is ripe. So when Jesus and the disciples saw that the tree had leaves, it would be expected that the tree would have fruit even though it was earlier in the season for a fig tree to bear fruit.

The fig tree is also used symbolically to represent Israel in scripture. After Jesus cursed the tree, he arrived in Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. These events are not unrelated. Jesus was denouncing Israel’s worship of God because they had used the temple to sell goods and make dealings with money. With the fig tree, he was symbolically denouncing Israel as a nation for being unfruitful Christians who profess to be ‘Christian‘ but have no evidence of a relationship with Christ. The fruitless fig tree symbolizes the spiritual deadness or emptiness of Israel. They seemed to appear outwardly religious, keeping to the traditions, sacrifices and ceremonies, but they were spiritually fruitless because of their sins. The cleansing of the temple and cursing of the fig tree both represent Jesus pronouncing his coming judgment of Israel. It demonstrated his power to carry it out and came as a warning to them. He was trying to teach the people of Israel that professing you are Christian does not guarantee your salvation, only those that bear fruit can be saved. God is not fooled by fruitless Christians and will judge them harshly.

There is another lesson from the cursing of the fig tree though. And it comes from Mark 11:20-25, after Jesus cleansed the temple:

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive your trespasses.” 

The lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples was one of faith. Simply believe in your heart that it will be done and it will be. When we pray, pray with complete faith in God. Of course, we should also be praying according to his will and not for selfish reasons. If we pray with a genuine and faithful heart, we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer. However, we also need to forgive others if we pray and ask God to forgive our sins. Not only is faith in God important, we need to continually restore our relationships with others and with God by forgiving and confessing our sins. This is the only way we can have an intimate relationship with God. And when we have a relationship with God, we are then able to ‘bear much fruit’! It all links and makes sense now!

(The same account is also given in Matthew 21:18-22, however, there is a slight discrepancy in the time of the events. In Mark, the account happened over two days – Jesus cursed the tree on the first day and it withered on the following day, but in Matthew, the fig tree withered immediately after Jesus cursed it.)

I rarely dwell on a passage like this and I never thought that a simple story about a fig tree could teach us so much about living a fruitful Christian life. It is not easy to understand scripture when you just read it once or twice. You really need to spend time to study, analyse, and meditate on it. Sometimes you need to understand the historical and cultural background and even the science of nature. I’m amazed how God uses everything in our world and surroundings to teach us about truth, faith, worship and what it means to bear fruit.

I’ve been rushing through my Bible reading for the last couple of months and haven’t looked deeply enough into what I was reading before, and this story made me pause and think. God was trying to tell me to re-examine my heart and my motivations for my Bible reading. I wasn’t reading to understand his word, I was simply reading to tick off a box on my to-do list. I did not have a real intimate relationship with Christ. I was just like those Israelites – outwardly religious, but spiritually fruitless. God knew I needed a reminder and spoke to me through his word! Sometimes, we need to stop and pause and take time to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. It may look like we are doing everything right but those actions are meaningless if our heart is not in it and if we are not honest with God.

Lord, thank you for speaking to me through the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. Thank you for your grace and mercy for my iniquities. I have taken you for granted and neglected to spend time with you and meditate on your word when you were trying to speak to me. I complain that I don’t hear from you even though you have been trying to speak to me, I simply didn’t listen. My prayer life has been very dry and I didn’t try hard enough to connect with you. Give me the patience to listen and wisdom to discern what is from you and what is from the world. Guide me to where I need to go and give me the courage to follow the path you want me to take. Take away my doubts so that I may have complete faith in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The most helpful reference I found was from Got Questions: https://www.gotquestions.org/curse-fig-tree.html

Did this scripture impress you? Were you confused when you first read it, like I was? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Book Review: Educated

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

There was so much hype surrounding this book, I decided to read it too. It was even highly recommended by Bill Gates and Barrack Obama!

educatedHere is my condensed book review on Goodreads of Educated by Tara Westover:

Get the Audiobook !

 

It was slow start for me but I couldn’t put it down when I got to Part 3. Her childhood was horrific and unsettling to read. I had to take breaks in between to digest. Tara suffered so much physical and emotional abuse as a child. However, as she describes those events, she attributed her strength, courage, perseverance and character to them. The way she just laughed off having her head pushed down the toilet made me cringe. When everyone around her tried to get her to see how abusive and broken her family was, she would time and time again return to them and ask them for help. There were times when her family surprised everyone by encouraging her, paying for dance lessons, driving her to auditions and rehearsals, then suddenly completely turn their back on her and cutting her out of the family. Time and time again, she returned home to attempt at reconciling with her family.

Her father was described as a survivalist with extremist views of the Government, even believing the Illuminati had infiltrated them, and later as having symptoms of bipolar disorder. His belief that his faith in God was enough to save him (even when he was badly burned with charred skin, he refused to go to a hospital) made me wonder if we should really refuse help from others when offered and say “God will save me!” Doesn’t God work through other people as well? I don’t think God ever said not to accept help from others. (But then, I read that he was willing to take Peter, Shawn’s newborn son to the hospital when he was born. What changed?) Are we really to cut off communication with non-believers who don’t agree with our beliefs? Aren’t we supposed to grow in community and not isolate ourselves from others, even if they are Gentiles? Are Mormons reading a different Bible – did they miss the whole part about Jesus in the New Testament? Perhaps it was a mental illness after all, which exacerbated his narrow beliefs. As I was reading, I found myself continually thanking God for blessing me with a loving and caring family, allowing me to grow up with an education and balanced world-view, and taking me to see the doctor whenever I was sick.

It frustrated me when her family told her to forgive Shawn and take her father’s blessing in order to be accepted back into the family. God does tell us to forgive others as He forgives us; to show grace and mercy. But He doesn’t withhold His love or blessings. A part of me wanted Tara to show forgiveness and take his blessing and be welcomed back into the family (they are her family after all), and another part of me wanted her to get justice – report them, sue them, something. What actually happened was estrangement from half of her family. Her attempt at reconnecting with her mother was met with rejection because her mother refused to see her without her father. I can’t imagine how much further damage the release of this book had caused to their relationship. Tara is only in contact with three of her siblings, the ones who had also left their home in Buck’s Peak and gotten an education themselves. (From a so-called ‘uneducated’ upbringing, never stepping foot in a school, it is miraculous that, not one, but three of them were able to get a PhD.)

I was surprised to read that the family lawyer (they have a family lawyer but refused to see doctors… ok) advised readers to read the story with a grain of salt and that the Westovers would not take any legal action against Tara because they love her and don’t want to hurt her. Perhaps there is some hope for reconciliation in the future? I would like to hear the other family members’ side of the story, maybe from Tyler or Richard.

The feeling I got while reading her memoir was that everything seemed so matter-of-fact and lacked emotion. Perhaps this was because she is an academic and used to writing academic papers? Nonetheless, it was a very well-written and detailed memoir. I like the way she organised and structured the chapters as well, describing specific events as a whole and the effects they had on her life, rather than a chronological year-by-year account.

It did make me think about whether or not I should pursue further studies and apply for a PhD. I have more resources than Tara ever had and she could do it! We are even the same age! Unlike her father, mine would have been extremely proud and ecstatic if I got a PhD. My mum would definitely be more than happy. Well, we shall see… it’s not like I have any ideas about topics to research at the moment.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Here is a video of an interview Tara did on PBS NewsHour if you want to know more about her.

Disclaimer: I apologize if you haven’t read this book and don’t know or understand what I’m talking about, but I wrote it for those who have also read it and hopefully share similar thoughts or feelings.