First, Jane Eyre is a favorite of AP Lit teachers for summer assignments. So why did I choose it? Our reading during the year doesn’t include a Victorian novel; and, frankly, a Victorian novel is long for reading during a busy school year. (And I used a semi-colon in that last sentence because I’m writing about Victorian novels.)
(Yes, there’s a recent Jane Eyre movie. I liked it. You might like it, too, even watch it before or after reading the book. But watching the movie doesn’t substitute for reading the book.)
Second, a disclaimer that I have borrowed many of these ideas. Just as I expect you to do, I’ll acknowledge the source of my information. Much of what follows comes from EDsitement, a great humanities website sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Third, the internet has a boatload (literally) of opinions/papers/blogs/rants about our friend Jane. Don’t look at it. Really. Your thinking will be a fresh look at the book, not a rehashing of someone else’s opinion. Few people make a living commenting on books, but we all need to learn to think for ourselves and to write clearly.
We’ll spend first semester considering ways to read and think. As you read Jane Eyre, you’ll think about the historical implications of the book, specifically about how Jane relates to the ideal Victorian woman. Author Charlotte Bronte took flak for her creation of Jane, but according to Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Bronte,
She [Brontë] once told her sisters that they were wrong—even morally wrong—in making their heroines beautiful as a matter of course. They replied that it was impossible to make a heroine interesting on any other terms. Her answer was, 'I will prove to you that you are wrong; I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.'"
So what’s the summer assignment?
1. Read and take notes on background information. (Links are at the end.) The guiding questions for this part of your reading are the following: What is the ideal Victorian woman? What are her traits? With what activities does she concern herself? These notes can be compiled digitally or in a bound notebook. During the year, you’ll develop close reading and response strategies. You’re beginning that practice over the summer.
2. Consider the following question: How does Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre refute the notions associated with the ideal Victorian woman? (This is a fairly common question people ask about the novel. We’ll discuss other aspects of the novel, too, at the beginning of the year.)
3. Read Jane Eyre with this background information and question in mind, using sticky notes to mark significant passages that reveal Jane’s character and the expectations of the society toward women. Then create a close reading journal with excerpts from the book and your own analytical comments in response to those excerpts. How many excerpts? I won’t give you an exact number, but your journal should be thorough and robust in its exploration. You’re not counting excerpts, but thinking through the novel.
4. Write a 1-2 page response to the question listed in #2. Make specific references to the novel to support your thinking.
5.Take a picture of yourself reading Jane Eyre in some summer location.
The picture should be sent to the following address no later than August 9:
This is an address you’ll use all year long for turning in essays.
August 30 (tentatively – the school calendar hasn’t been adopted): the first Friday of your senior year!
The complete response journal, including notes on background information, notes on the novel and your 1-2 page response.
Links for background information:
Goethe’s “The Sphere of a Woman” (read 209 and the top of 210) (this is a primary source)
BBC’s “Women’s Rights Quiz” (this is a secondary source)
BBC’s “Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain” (this is a secondary source)
“Ideal Husbands; or, School-Girl Fancies” from a March 1850 Godey’s Lady’s Book. Read just the first chapter of this story. (Godey’s Lady’s Book is a primary source: you can browse the whole issue here.)