Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much more than its “gothic romance” label, thank goodness. Yes, there’s a sheltered teenage girl who falls for her employer, an arrogant, seemingly unattainable “bad boy.” But the deeper love story was not between man and woman; it’s the love Jane showed for herself by never, and I mean never, compromising what she believed right. That’s why Jane Eyre is a “classic” and must-read for all ages.

Orphaned Jane Eyre endures an unhappy childhood, hated by her aunt and cousins and then sent to comfortless Lowood School. But life there improves, and Jane stays on as a teacher, though she still longs for love and friendship. At Mr Rochester’s house, where she goes to work as a governess, she hopes she might have found them – until she learns the terrible secret of the attic. (Source)

Paperback cover dover jane eyreCharlotte Brontë knew exactly what she was doing when she started the story in the midst of Jane’s torment at the hands of her loathsome aunt and cousins. Immediately I was on Jane’s side and admired her for standing up to authority; most children her age (and gender) would be too scared to do or say anything in opposition. Her passion was evident from the get-go and the quality of her character revealed itself naturally through her experiences at Lowood and in her life at Thornfield. Jane’s coming-of-age was believable and relevant. I never felt she did anything contrary to the person she made herself out to be.

While Jane Eyre‘s themes are timeless, its prose and scandals are not. Modern readers may view the narrative as somewhat boring, certain plot points as too convenient, the romance as contrived, and the “twist” not shocking but bland. For me, the heavy role of religion in everyone’s life was the least relatable aspect of the story. So when Jane’s reliance on God’s rules rubbed me the wrong way, I reminded myself of the century, the country and the culture in which this novel was written. When read within that context, the tale features ground-breaking ideals and spotlights female empowerment. Whatever your opinion, 165 years after publication, Jane Eyre still garners fanatical support from those deeply affected by the story – readers moved to tears then smiles then mixtures of tears and smiles.

For the record, I only cried once (Helen), but my emotions ranged from anger (Mrs Reed = EVIL!) to angrier (Mr Brocklehurst) to grief (Helen) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to relief (Jane’s newfound cousins) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to satisfaction (Jane’s CHOICE at the end). There aren’t many books today that offer such emotional depth to readers. I plan to re-read Jane’s tale at least every couple years.

2 comments

  1. Lol. It’s difficult to read classic novels without first getting oneself into a different headspace. Or at least, that’s what I’ve found to be true.

    The first time I read Jane Eyre I was probably a preteen and the early scenes with the aunt, cousins and at the school really chilled me and stayed with me. That was my first experience with that time period and it was an eye-opener. I was raised in a somewhat religious household and that part didn’t bother me. The twist was surprising (what can I say, I was young) and kept me turning pages to the end and I sighed at the mostly happy ending.

    The second time around, I was in my late teens and I know I skipped a lot of the religious stuff as my interest was waning and her dithering annoyed me. But, the gothic melodrama and dark Mr. Rochester fit with my tastes at the time.

    I still own the book but don’t feel the need to read it again yet because so much of it is still quite fresh in my memory. But I have always had a fondness for Jane. Her voice is so pure and her convictions so strong. I always admired her core of bravery and belief in herself, particularly because at the times I read the novel, I was feeling very much the opposite.

    Excellent review, Leah. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Eileen! And what you wrote is why I think Jane Eyre will not lose its “classic” status anytime soon; Jane will always be someone who readers will admire for her integrity, passion and courage.

      Side note: It’s interesting that I selected Jane Eyre and Rebecca to read within a month of each other, not really knowing anything about either’s actual plot points or characters. Both feature female protagonists who face similar situations yet could not be more different from each other in their approach. An interesting character study for sure.

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