It is my belief that the mark of a truly great novel is that you carry something different away from it each time you read it. Recently I re-read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë in preparation for Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories inspired by the most famous line of the entire book.
If you have not quite gotten around to meeting Jane, I suggest you put it at the top of your TBR. It is one of my favorite classics next to The Picture of Dorian Gray (free Kindle version).
Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead and subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.
With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.
I read Jane Eyre once upon a time for a high school English class, almost a decade since now. I did not recall much of the plot, but I remember being enthralled by the mystery and horror of Thornfield. All of the other plot’s nuances swept beside me as that pivotal moment kept me riveted. Jane Eyre was one of my first experiences with Gothic fiction and everything was novel and new to me.
Ten years later I am married and have a family of my own. The relational aspects of the book I once swept by finding nothing that relates to me were the things that I began to dwell on. And how much is there! What stuck out to me the most reading the book is the concept that Jane and Mr. Rochester are not attractive. Often it is tempting for a writer to make it so that their characters are conventionally perfect and beautiful: something I feel has a negative impact on body image. Charlotte Brontë did not glamorize her characters or make them out into dashing personages: rather they were plain and instead the strength of their character lied in their personalities. And that was OK. It gave the book a feeling of authenticity and made it more endearing to me this reading.
Now for the unpopular opinion here guys. Rather than being weak kneed at the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester, I found myself more disgusted than anything else. I am an independent and stubborn woman, so I was appalled by the idea that Jane was willing to sacrifice everything including her comfort if she thought she had done something to displease Mr. Rochester. I had a hard time comparing the two’s relationship to my own egalitarian partnership.
But I suspect that my complaint lies more with the difference of the period and what was conventional in Victorian England relationships. I do not think I can blame the book, but rather it is the fault of the culture as a whole.
A lot of commentaries I have read praise Jane for turning a bad situation around for herself, and while I agree that maybe she did have the strength to stick with her conscience and leave when things went against her morals, I did not get the feeling that she was the grab ’em by the bootstraps type either. She had things given to her and Mr. Rochester was not exactly a pauper.
So did I like the book? In a word, yes. Five stars. While there were many parts of the book I disliked, it was not because of poor writing or a stagnant plot. I think there are several layers to the book and it is worth reflection.
Question of the Day:
Have you read Jane Eyre? What were your impressions? If you were to go back and read a book for the first time, what book would you pick?