Release Date: 1847 (original publication)
Age Group: Technically adult, but suitable for YA audiences
Genres: Gothic, romance, mystery(ish), coming-of-age(ish)
Pages: approx. 332 (Kindle)
Format/Source: Kindle, Downloaded free from Kindle Store (public domain works = AWESOME)
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Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
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.
Until now, people were always shocked when I said I hadn’t read Jane Eyre.
“But it seems like just the kind of book you like,” they would say. “Seriously, it’s kind of weird that you don’t love it already.” One or two people would add in a whisper, “You’re going to regret not reading it sooner.” Still others would look at me very gravely and say, “Mr. Rochester.”
Almost like threats.
It was all sort of sinister, as if reading Jane Eyre would induct me into some secret society that went around dropping mysterious hints about the book. Apparently, Jane Eyre was going to be a combination of my love for gothic fiction (mainly Edgar Allan Poe, because Poe’s short stories have my undying admiration) and my love for Jane Austen (enough said). Apparently it matched my tastes well enough that almost everyone I met expected me to already have read it. Apparently it was going to be one awesome classic that I could not miss.
And for once, it actually was. For once, my slender expectations were met – and, in fact, blasted away completely.
The title character is our heroine, Jane Eyre. And – gosh my love for this girl as a classic heroine is probably ranked below only Elinor Dashwood and Lizzie Bennet. In the beginning, I started out almost hating our Jane, as she seemed very gloom-and-doom, somewhat moody, and rather immature. Her rejection of those who dislike her at Gateshead may come off as an overreaction, as it did for me. I even thought once or twice that the Reeds might be justified in treating her so coldly if she was going to respond so obstinately, not even making an attempt to reconcile with them. It was all well and good that she had a rebellious spirit, but that sort of spirit had to be backed up by some common sense that I just wasn’t seeing. And then I was afraid that the story was starting to become stagnant until Jane was suddenly shipped off to Lowood for school. There were a few interesting highlights of that section – Miss Temple and Helen Burns, for the most part – but it felt rather dreary for a while. But a recurring surprise throughout this book was how quietly huge the changes in it were, and the first instance of that was here in Jane’s youth. Jane’s childhood is handled delicately but deftly, so that her maturation is apparent as she blossoms into a fiercely independent young woman.
Jane’s character arc was super cool and boatloads of fun to read, until she got to the point where she wasn’t afraid to subtly and skillfully sass even those she considered authority figures. Her strength is that she remains as kind as possible and treats nearly everyone as equal, but she feels free to assert her right to control her own life whenever she pleases. Can anyone say strong female character with me? Her fortitude in even the most trying times is incredibly difficult to hate (read: awesome to the highest degree), and her determination to win the respect of others through perseverance and intelligence was awe-inducing. And her development was rich and satisfying. That, I think, was what mattered most when it came down to it.
Mr. Rochester… *sighs deeply* Mr. Rochester, I don’t know what to think about you. On one hand, you certainly defy all the clichés of male love interests. You are obviously not physically attractive (Jane, good girl that she is, even tells you so to your face) and you are neither sickeningly sweet nor aggressively masculine (at least, not all the time). Your vehement displays of emotion are actually quite appealing, because they hint at vulnerability in your nature. I like vulnerability in my heroes.
However, Mr. Rochester didn’t exactly have the healthiest relationship with Jane. They still act like master and servant a lot of the time even when in an active romantic relationship, and he has sort of a domineering nature that makes him half-threaten her with this sort of I’ll force you to be mine if you won’t listen to reason ickiness. I can get past this with time, because it seems like Jane and Rochester are both comfortable in this position. I can even get past their twenty-year age difference, although my initial reaction to it was less than favorable. But Rochester always seems to subjugate or suppress Jane whenever he’s interacting romantically with her, and this was not altogether okay with me. And his backstory was… dubious, to say the least. Thankfully, Jane is able to catch on right away to the dubiety of Rochester’s past and have second thoughts about him.
I must say this, though: I loved the realistic high points and low points, the red-hot emotion, and the thoroughly refreshing dynamic of Jane and Rochester’s romance. And I loved that Rochester acknowledges Jane time and again as his intellectual equal – and sometimes even as his superior in that regard. That was what ultimately redeemed him for me.
Other supporting characters in Jane Eyre were well-rounded and full. Specifically, I have Mrs. Reed and St. John Rivers in mind, though there were lesser characters who also stood out to me, like Betsy, Adèle, and Helen Burns. Mrs. Reed, despite having a huge role in Jane’s childhood, sort of fades out afterwards until an unexpected moment much later on. Her dimensions and internal conflicts are brought to life perfectly in this unexpected moment, and while I can’t say more for fear of spoiling something, it brings her that much closer to the reader’s reality. I really, really liked the way Mrs. Reed was portrayed, despite her being an absolutely horrible woman in the beginning. The same thing goes for St. John Rivers – this portrait of a frighteningly pious man struck me close to the heart. His high-minded ideas, his contempt for earthly love, and his rigidity all combined to create a person so ridiculously interesting that I couldn’t help but try to read further into the text.
I also want to talk about something I found objectionable about a character in this book, but it is the HUGEST SPOILER OF HUGE THAT EVER EXISTED so please, please, please, I’m begging you not to highlight and read this unless you’ve actually read Jane Eyre.
I wasn’t altogether satisfied with the treatment of Bertha Mason (Rochester’s original wife), both her treatment at the hands of the characters and at the hands of the author. Mr. Rochester’s readiness to abandon her just for a mental condition that she couldn’t help seemed callous and off-putting, and even normally-awesome Jane didn’t spare a thought towards pitying or helping Bertha. This probably is mostly a reflection of the general opinion of mental health patients at the time – it’s not hard to infer that they weren’t getting the best treatment then. The author most likely didn’t realize or didn’t care that she was putting a very negative image on anyone with mental health issues. But I still didn’t like it very much.
Moving on – the storyline rose and fell naturally and realistically. I was afraid Jane Eyre would become character-driven without much of a plot to speak of, but it managed to be character driven AND have a well-executed plot. It was affected but not completely controlled by the fluctuations of Jane and Rochester’s relationship, and the pacing made both practical and emotional sense. It was realistic, and there were enough surprises that I didn’t get bored at all. Sure, this isn’t the most outstanding plot ever written, but for right now, it doesn’t need to be. It’s pretty good stuff, and leaving it at that doesn’t hurt the book in the least.
Besides the obvious accomplishments in both character and plot, Charlotte Brontë managed to hit the spot with her use of an unfairly and consistently gorgeous writing style. There’s not even much to analyze about it – kind of like a magic potion, where you don’t know exactly how it works but it has some amazing effects. This enhanced the atmosphere and settings conveyed throughout the novel. Every setting was filled with sensory details and beautifully crisp moods – the tone of the book always knew when to be slightly creepy or romantic or desolate. The writing style was very, very emotional, and Jane’s first-person narration drives her voice straight through to the reader.
Let me restate: I totally loved Jane, and I loved that she was the core of this awesome book. It may be a romance, but that isn’t really the point. The point is Jane and her own fulfillment in life. And that was a truly, truly rewarding reading experience that I heartily (yeah, like stew or something) enjoyed.
All in all, Jane Eyre is a beautiful novel full of passion and grace. Definitely one of my favorite classics – it’s a wonder that I didn’t get to it before, actually. I’d recommend this for anyone – that’s right. *points at random passerby* You. *points again* You too. *turns around with pointing finger at the ready* Don’t think you’re off the hook either. You all need to read Jane Eyre.