Now, to anyone who has read Jane Eyre, this comparison may seem ridiculous… and it is.
But there is a need, mostly because Stephenie Meyer has put Jane Eyre in the same sentence as Twilight several times (trivia I could have lived without: originally she named Rosalie “Carol”). She said that she got Edward’s name from Mr. Rochester, and has listed Jane Eyre as one of her “inspirations” for Twilight.
“I read it when I was nine,” says Meyer, ”and I’ve reread it literally hundreds of times. I do think that there are elements of Edward in Edward Rochester and elements of Bella in Jane.”
You heard it right folks – literally hundreds of times. So, she must know Jane better than I do, because I’ve only read it a couple of times a year since I was 13 years old; sometimes I read it more often and sometimes less. That means I’ve probably only read it between 20 and 40 times, but Stephenie Meyer has read it literally hundreds of times. Yikes! She must read it at least seven or eight times a year to get that number.
There is a parallel between the creation of both characters:
- It is said that Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre to prove that a heroine doesn’t need to be rich or beautiful to be interesting. Similarly, Meyer has said that Twilight was based on an idea about a “normal” teenage girl and a vampire.
- They are both teenage (17 and 18, respectively) brunettes who are exceptionally pallid in complexion.
- Both Bella and Jane have somewhat weak constitutions, with a tendency towards fainting episodes.
- Both Bella and Jane closely resemble their creators. Bella looks like Stephenie Meyer and Jane looks like Charlotte Bronte.
- Both of them get to experience the fantastical love of a Byronic hero which their authors never had in real life. I feel fairly safe in saying that Meyer probably never actually got to be worshipped by a vampire and I also know that Bronte’s real-life Rochester, Constantin Heger, probably never loved her back and definitely never married her.
When I list it like that, it seems like they’re practically sisters, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, Jane could kick Bella’s ass from here to eternity using the sheer force of her awesomeness.
[Beware of spoilers]
Jane has real problems.
Let’s look at Jane’s life, shall we? Orphaned, raised by people who didn’t love her and sent to a school where you had to break ice just to wash your face in the morning. The highlight of her week was a Sunday lunch consisting of a single piece of bread with butter on it and this was usually stolen from her.
Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger.
Half of her friends die of typhoid, and her best friend dies of tuberculosis in her arms. When she is 18 she ventures out into the world to work for a stranger as a governess to a child she has never met. Over the course of the book she ends up destitute, begging for food and freezing nearly to death in a field.
Bella has problems too. She doesn’t like the place where her daddy lives, you know. Forks is rainy, you see.
It was in this town that I was compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead. It was to Forks that I now exiled myself – an action that I took with great horror. I detested Forks.
But wait! That’s not all! She also has to buy a car, pronto, or her father might end up having to drive her places.
My primary motivation behind buying a car, despite the scarcity of funds, was that I refused to be driven around town in a car with red and blue lights on top. Nothing slows down traffic like a cop.
Before the book is done, Bella will be subjected to gym class, be propositioned by several attractive young men, get lost while out shopping with her friends, and take an unnecessary taxi cab ride to a ballet studio in Phoenix before ending up in the hospital with people hanging over her lovingly.
Jane has a healthy self-esteem.
Throughout Jane Eyre, it is made clear that Jane is not pretty. She herself admits to it, and she is often referred to as plain by other people. Even Rochester, who worships her, calls her his “pale little elf” and his “mustard seed”. Jane has no pretensions about her looks.
I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer[….] I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked.
But she doesn’t let it get her down. Wistful as she might be at times about her appearance, Jane overall has a good opinion of herself. She believes herself to be respectable, intelligent, and a moral person, and she considers this to be more important than looks or wealth. She applies this principle to herself as well as to others. Mr. Rochester was not chosen for his looks.
“Am I hideous, Jane?”
“Very, sir: you always were, you know.”
Even when she thinks that Mr Rochester is going to marry Blanche Ingram, who was beautiful and rich, she tells us dryly,
I was not jealous: or very rarely;–the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word. Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling.
That’s right. Jane feels superior to the beautiful and wealthy Blanche. She pooh-poohs Miss Ingram for being proud, unkind, and unoriginal. She believes that she herself is Mr. Rochester’s true intellectual equal. Nor is she afraid to tell him so.
“I have as much soul as you –and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal –as we are!”
Hey, Bella! Do us a favour and treat us to a sample of your self-image, will you please?
“I’m absolutely ordinary — well, except for bad things like all the near-death experiences and being so clumsy I’m almost disabled. And look at you.” I waved my hand toward him and all his bewildering perfection.
Oh. Well, it’s okay to be ordinary and there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a disability. Deep inside, you must feel that you and Edward are akin to each other, and that he is your intellectual equal, right?
I wasn’t interesting. And he was. Interesting… and brilliant… and mysterious… and perfect… and beautiful… and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.
Well. But no one’s perfect, right? I mean, I have a Perfect Husband, but it’s the husband stuff he’s perfect at. He’s not a perfect person. You understand that Edward has flaws, too, right? Like (oh, picking something at random) a desperate thirst for your blood?
He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.
Ohhh, right. You have the self-esteem of a wet dish rag and are nowhere near as useful.
Jane is feisty.
As anyone who has ever taken a Victorian Lit class knows, Charlotte Bronte was a feminist and Jane Eyre pretty much kick-started feminist literature. Jane spends the entire book verbally kicking ass and taking names. When a boy four years older than her throws a book at her, she descends on him in rage and attacks him. She wins a verbal battle against her unloving aunt at the tender age of ten. Her pugnacious attitude remains at adulthood, although it is tempered by some reason and maturity. Jane stands up to all of Rochester’s shenanigans, even when he is her boss and she his humble dependant.
“Give me back nine pounds, Jane; I’ve a use for it.”
“And so have I, sir,” I returned, putting my hands and my purse behind me. “I could not spare the money on any account.”
“Little niggard!” said he, “refusing me a pecuniary request! Give me five pounds, Jane.”
“Not five shillings, sir; nor five pence.”
“Just let me look at the cash.”
“No, sir; you are not to be trusted.”
Nor is she afraid to tell Rochester just what she thinks of his choice in bride, even as she struggles in his manly grip.
“you are a married man–or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you–to one with whom you have no sympathy–whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you–let me go!”
“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
Bella, by contrast, has the backbone of a whelk or some other flaccid sea creature. Observe Bella caught in a physical struggle with her own tempestuous Byronic hero:
“Let go!” I insisted. He ignored me. I staggered sideways across the wet sidewalk until we reached the Volvo. Then he finally freed me – I stumbled against the passenger door. “You are so pushy!” I grumbled.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, I was preparing to give him the silent treatment — my face in full pout mode — but then I recognized the music playing and my curiosity got the better of my intentions.
Way to stay strong, Bella. You just let a teenage boy you hardly know whisk you out of school in the middle of the day and physically force you into his car. However, I’m sure your chosen weapons of pouting and silent treatment would have overpowered him eventually, if only that tinkly music hadn’t distracted you.
Bella spends her time cooking for her father, folding laundry, and mooning over Edward. She also spends a lot of time falling over and protesting feebly.
I tried to get up, but Edward’s cold hand pushed my shoulder down.
“Just stay put for now.”
“But it’s cold,” I complained.
Not only does Jane totally avoid the pouting routine, but she even stands up to Rochester when he starts getting disgustingly saccharine. When Rochester sings love songs at her about how he loves her eternally etc etc, she tells him off for getting too sappy.
I whetted my tongue: as he reached me, I asked with asperity, “whom he was going to marry now?”
“That was a strange question to be put by his darling Jane.”
“Indeed! I considered it a very natural and necessary one: he had talked of his future wife dying with him. What did he mean by such a pagan idea? I had no intention of dying with him–he might depend on that.”
“Oh, all he longed, all he prayed for, was that I might live with him! Death was not for such as I.”
“Indeed it was: I had as good a right to die when my time came as he had: but I should bide that time, and not be hurried away in a suttee.”
“Would I forgive him for the selfish idea, and prove my pardon by a reconciling kiss?”
“No: I would rather be excused.”
Here I heard myself apostrophised as a “hard little thing;”
Every time I hear her going on about how she has every right to die whenever she wants, I laugh. Now, let’s look in on Bella and see how her little romance is going, shall we?
“I’m here…which roughly translated means I would rather die than stay away from you.” I frowned. “I’m an idiot.”
Hey, Bella, you said it, not me.
Jane can write; proper, sentences.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
Now, that’s a way to start a novel. It sets the scene. The words flow easily off of the tongue. Even more importantly, it is grammatically correct. Moreover, the novel continues to use good grammar right to the very end!
Bella starts with,
I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
Now, if you include contractions and variations in tense, that single opening sentence contains the verb “to have” five times. Two of them are right next to each other (“I had had” is grammatically correct but phonetically awkward)! I struggle with passive voice myself (an echo from writing term papers in school) but Bella takes it to a whole new level!
Meyer says she can see elements of Jane in Bella. She must mean the love of semicolons and dashes, with which both Jane and Bella pepper their text freely. However, Jane uses them correctly. Bella, on the other hand, writes as if a full stop is something to be avoided at all costs. Bella writes sentences like this:
It was just as well; the recent growth spurt had left him looking gangly and uncoordinated, he was probably no better a dancer than I was.
That’s right. Despite a multitude of ellipses, dashes, and semicolons, Bella still manages to commit a comma splice. She also commits atrocities like this:
I heard my favourite sound in the world: Edward’s quiet laugh, weak with relief.
Either Bella’s favourite sound is specifically Edward laughing weakly with relief, or she has failed again to use punctuation correctly. Bella’s fear of the full stop, however, can occasionally be overcome, usually just before a coordinating conjunction:
He was friendly and clearly admiring. But it wasn’t enough to ease my irritation.
or before a sentence fragment:
Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble even.
Now you may wonder why I pick on Bella for this, when obviously it is Stephenie Meyer’s fault. Well, it isn’t, really. I’m sure the world is full of authors who overuse their commas and start sentences with coordinating conjunctions. I know that I am guilty of it frequently. It’s an editor’s job to catch incorrect spelling and punctuation. A high school English student would catch a sentence like this:
The thickset man shrugged away from the wall as I came warily to a stop, and walked slowly into the street.
First of all, who walked slowly into the street? Was it the thick-set man or Bella? This is the kind of poorly structured sentence which anyone with the word “Editor” in their job title should be able to spot in their sleep. Secondly, and Bella makes this mistake constantly, she uses commas before “and” when it’s followed by a non-independent clause. For the example above, there shouldn’t be a comma before “and” because “walked slowly into the street” is not an independent clause. I don’t expect Meyer to know this. Everyone makes this mistake. I bet if you trawled through this post you could probably find at least one example of me doing it (let me know when you find it!). But it’s an editor’s job to catch basic stuff like this.
The fact that the editor did NOT fix sentences like the ones above tells me one of two things: either Meyer’s editor is an uneducated idiot who would make Strunk and White roll over in their grave, or this is actually a character point. In other words, they left in the terrible sentences and punctuation because that’s how Bella writes. Since I refuse to believe that there are editors out there who are paid good money to miss obvious grammatical errors, I choose to believe the latter. So that makes it Bella’s fault, right?
I wouldn’t mind so much except that Bella spends a lot of time sighing about how easy school is and how little she pays attention (do you see that? There is no comma!).
Jane doesn’t need to remember her autonomic functions
Very few people point out this quality in Jane Eyre. I myself never gave it much thought until I ran into Bella Swan. It is remarkable that in all the times I have read Jane Eyre (and I have read it at least once a year since I was 13, although this hardly competes with Meyer’s “literally hundreds” of times) that I never noticed how easily she breathes. Jane may be freaking out with fear in the red room, or suffering shortness of breath after discovering the contents of Rochester’s attic, but she always remembers to breathe. She even says
while I breathe and think, I must love him.
This indicates to me that Jane considers her breathing to be a fairly constant and unstoppable physiological reality. Not all heroines have this quality, you know.
It wasn’t until my head started to swim that I realized I wasn’t breathing.
In a separate incident, there was this:
“I think I forgot to breathe.”
It’s not just breathing, either. Bella’s brain takes the “my heart skipped a beat” expression a little too literally.
The beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether. He pulled back abruptly, his anxious expression turning to relief as the monitor reported the restarting of my heart.