Favorite Classical Novel vs. Favorite Post-1950s Novel

Although published a little more than 100 years apart from each other, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and The Magician of Lublin by Isaac Bashevis Singer have a lot in common. Both of these literary works contain main characters that encounter heartbreak and face personal struggles. The tragic events that occur to Jane Eyre and Yasha Mazur, the main protagonist in The Magician of Lublin, happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and they happen when both characters are achieving a sense of fulfillment in their lives. Although their situations are very different from each other, both of these characters find the courage to keep moving forward after experiencing personal loss and heartbreak. Jane Eyre and Yasha show that a person’s sense of bravery is stronger than adversity.

In Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, published in the 1840s, Jane Eyre begins to form a personal relationship with her employer, Rochester, and Jane experiences a sense of happiness with this male character. Unfortunately, their relationship is torn apart when Jane learns about Rochester’s estranged wife, who is kept locked away on the house’s upper level. Immediately after learning about Rochester’s spouse, Jane feels too uncomfortable to remain in her current position as the household governess to young Adele, and she decides to leave the household. Unemployed and unmarried, Jane must now seek another employment position. Suppressing her feelings and remaining in her current position would have granted Jane more security in her life, but she shows her readers that she is not afraid to venture out on her own.

During the time of Jane Eyre’s initial publication in Victorian England, men were becoming the sole financial providers of their families, largely due to the Industrial Revolution, and women began staying at home to take care of the children and tend to household matters. Jane wanders alone, desperately seeking another employment position, and in this specific instance of the novel, Jane Eyre attempts to support herself at a time when a woman’s main occupation was being a housewife. She is determined to take care of herself, and her strength and independence are vividly shown to Charlotte Bronte’s readers in this instance of the novel. Jane does not allow herself to be consumed by self-pity over her broken relationship with Rochester, and Jane Eyre stands out as an independent and incredibly strong heroine who shows Charlotte Bronte’s readers that a woman does not need a man to support her.

Published in 1960, The Magician of Lublin by Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer features a male as the main character. Unlike Jane Eyre’s first-person narration, this novel is told in third-person narration and tells about the interesting and unique life of Yasha Mazur. Yasha is an acrobatic performer in the circus, and he also performs as a hypnotist. Being a part of the circus means that Yasha travels frequently and does not get to see his wife at home very much, but absence does not make the heart grow fonder in Yasha’s case. Yasha has several mistresses, but he develops strong feelings for one woman in particular: Emilia. It is for this woman that Yasha is willing to abandon his current marriage and other various relationships so that he can build a stronger and more consistent relationship with Emilia. Yasha informs one of his other mistresses, Magda, of his plans and expresses his devotion for Emilia. Magda does not take this rejection from her lover very well, and the next time that Yasha goes to her apartment, he discovers Magda hanging from the ceiling and all three of her pets strangled to death in another room.

Magda had killed her animals before taking her own life, and Yasha knows this horrifying incident that he has walked in upon is because he rejected Magda for another woman. He knows that he is the cause of this young woman’s suicide, and images of Magda’s dead body haunt Yasha and dominate his thoughts. Magda’s suicide has a powerful affect on Yasha, and his life turns in a completely different direction. Over the course of a few years’ time, he resigns from the circus, decides to remain faithful to his current wife, never pursues a relationship with Emilia, and becomes a well-respected rabbi within his community. Many members of the community turn to Yasha for guidance and support, and he devotes himself to religious studies. Yasha can never undo the tragic events of the past, but he becomes less self-centered and develops into a much more introspective and caring individual. The Magician of Lublin demonstrates to its readers that tragic and unexpected events happen, which a person has absolutely no control over, but these events cannot stop a person from creating a fulfilling life for himself. Both Yasha and Jane Eyre show that tragedy does not break a person’s strength or spirit, and although the writers’ novels were published in different centuries, both of these characters possess a sense of bravery and perseverance that stands out to readers.

Written by Kaitlyn Boland






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