Synopsis: Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, 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.
First Line: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Random Quote: Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom pronounced necessary for their sex.
Review: If you’re looking for a scholarly literary article on Jane Eyre, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’ve already written that paper – twice, in fact (once in high school and once in college). The re-read this time was purely for pleasure and because tomorrow I’ll be reviewing The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey (based on Jane Eyre) and I thought it’d be interesting to read them back-to-back.
About the time I was in middle school (and reading way above my grade level), my mother (a library director) would bring home pamphlets published by the American Library Association listing books for the college-bound. There were lots of different kinds of books on these, many of them classics, and I read choices from them throughout just about every summer. It was great because I read these without the overlay of academia and formed my own opinions about them, but those were 13-year-old opinions. That’s not to say 13-year-old opinions are bad, but the way one reads things and the things that stick out or become understandable change with age. This reading had a price, though. By the time I got to high school I had to re-read and write papers on many of them, and then I rinsed and repeated in college. It made certain aspects of both super boring – I always wanted college at least to introduce me to new types of classics. I will say that college gave me Homer, Ovid, and Chaucer and I am grateful to it for that.
In any event, I decided last year that I would re-read Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary again since it’s been years. I didn’t get to it last year, but hope to finish out the cycle this year. I loved all them as an adolescent for the romanticism buried in their hearts and want to find out what I love (or don’t love) about them now.
Jane Eyre is surprisingly modern in its language, themes, and story. For many people I suspect it’s all about Jane and Mr. Rochester (one of the original templates for the brooding emotionally unavailable hero in romance novels – more on that in a sec). For me it’s all about Jane. The romance is a side-plot (and kind of a predictable boring one at that), but Jane and her interior and exterior journey is what makes this book a pleasure for me.
I felt such a connection with Jane – the smart, different, unloved little girl trying to grow up into better circumstances. Much of her story resonates with me, the party scenes perhaps most of all as she sits in her chair in the corner trying to hide behind a curtain. I like her defiance and her willingness to pay the price for it (because sometimes the defiance is worth every penny of the price). Her intellect and curiousity appeal as does her attempt to balance her religious ideals against the real and beautiful world. This is an ongoing struggle for society as we attempt to figure out where we are in relationship to nature and natural things when much is mediated through religion, politics, societal conventions, and technology.
I liked Mr. Rochester for similar reasons. Both he and Jane seem to me to be outsiders in their own ways and to reject the conventional behavior of the time, although both are strongly bound to them. Of course they fell in love! That’s what kindred spirits do if they’re lucky enough to meet. As I said earlier, Mr. Rochester is a whole host of unattractive behaviors, but they’re complicated and tied up into a character with a tragic past, a mad wife in the attic, and a level of despair that I also understand. In later romance novels it is much less about the complexities of the unattractive behaviors, but rather the practice of them and the acceptance of them.
If you’ve never read this, or haven’t in a long time, I recommend you do. It’s a wonderful read, light in its own way, but filled with depth and many things that will make you think. I enjoyed the read very much.
FTC Disclosure: I downloaded for free onto my Kindle because I wanted to – so there
Reading Challenges: Back to the Classics, Eclectic Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge