Monday 26 October 2015

Jane Eyre and the Harry Potter generation

This piece was written by Justine Gauthier, a student at the Université Saint-Louis in Brussels where the Brussels Brontë Group hold their talks. Her year is studying Jane Eyre and she and her fellow-students joined members of our group to hear our speaker Tessa Hadley’s talk on Jane Eyre on 17 October.

Every generation shares its own references, favourite books, heroes and heroines. The current young adult generation grew up with the Harry Potter saga by J.K. Rowling. The heroes −Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley −are all part of our reader’s imagination.  While reading Jane Eyre, I was struck by the many resemblances I could find between the two best-selling works, the saga and the novel. These led me to reflect that what touches us in a good novel doesn’t alter so much with time; we all love mystery, adventure, heroes in search of themselves and romance.

I indeed find something of Jane Eyre in the three characters mentioned.  Harry Potter, for instance, is an orphan raised in the family of his horrible aunt, his uncle and their spoilt son, Dudley. He is mistreated, considered inferior and becomes his cousin's whipping boy. Still, he knows he is different, and in a sense, superior to them. When turning eleven, he receives a letter telling him he is a wizard and is bound to go to Hogwart's witchcraft school. That is where he grows up, makes friends, discovers the secrets of the castle and fights evil.

Although Hermione Granger is a plain girl, she has a fiery intellect and always stands up for her friends and those in need of protection. Some of her fellow-students consider her inferior and call her a mudblood because she was not born in a wizards' family. Their prejudice against her is based on social class; while she does not belong to their group due to her non-magical origin, she still surpasses them all thanks to her intelligence and humane qualities, also as a witch.

Ronald Weasley is not intelligent, handsome, or particularly courageous. Yet he has a great sense of friendship and of family. Because of this he has to face up to many of his fears, which in the end makes him a real war hero as well as Hermione's loving husband.

The plot, in Jane Eyre as in Harry Potter, follows their heroine's and hero's development from their unhappy childhood to their happy marriage and parenthood throughout  a succession of tests, sacrifices and losses.

Even the settings of both works share something in common: under the external appearances of respectable family homes, Gateshead for Jane as Privet Drive for Harry are places of torment. Thornfield as well as Hogwart, where they find each a real home, have their hidden secrets, and are finally destroyed, the one by a mad woman and the other by a mad wizard and his followers.
What appeals to us in both works, I feel, is their combination of very ordinary characters whom we easily identify with, with a great and eventful plot. We sympathize with these poor and abused children, support them in their revolt, feel excited when a hopeful change comes their way, and share their concern in front of omens of danger or loss. We cannot but respond to both narratives' evocation of the deepest dimensions of life, to supernatural mystery as to true love romance.

We are looking for heroes who in their own, modest and honest way find their way out of difficult circumstances, and who – though lacking favour, power and support, come out victorious thanks to their inner force of character, courage and intelligence.

The narratives of Jane Eyre and Harry Potter are demonstrations that hard work, courage, honesty, friendship and love can overcome every obstacle. These are inspiring role models and wouldn't that be what we seek in or expect from literature?  No impossible ideals of beauty and accomplishment, but examples of ordinary yet heroic characters in their patient and enduring progress to happiness.
Justine Gauthier

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