Burning Down the House: Ambition and the Search for Love

I have been haunted this week by two women: Jane Eyre and Janis Joplin. I finally got around to reading Jane Eyre for the first time, and PBS aired a Janis Joplin documentary. They keep blurring in my imagination.

Jane Eyre, plucky, ruggedly independent — almost to her detriment, pig-headedly so, looking for love, for acceptance. Janis Joplin, spirited, different, also seeking love, acceptance. Surprised by her own talent if not her fame, she nursed ambition fairly nakedly. Janis understands that her ambition is really just a search for love, and says so. Jane also has ambition — to be independent, live life as she sees fit. But she wants to be loved for it.

Jane exits her safe spot at the school to find some other place in the world. Janis flings herself out of her cramped hometown to groove it up in San Francisco. Jane finds Mr. Rochester and falls in love inappropriately. Janis strings herself out on drugs so bad that her friends ship her back home. She finds Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Jane, in a fit of misplaced morals and senseless independence, casts herself out of Thornfield Hall to wander penniless and cold. She crumples on a doorstep. As she is the product of fiction, she falls handily into the lap of actual relations and a chunk of change, and wins her desire for love. We could all use that kind of luck.

Janis, is this is real life, wins her ambitions but not exactly the kind of love she needed to save her from the prices of fame and the search for love.

And then there’s the mad woman in the attic. Don’t we all have one of those? Do they always manage, in one way or another, to burn the house down?


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