Genre: Classics, Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: June 29, 2006 (first published October 16, 1847)
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Charlotte Brontë tells the story of orphaned Jane Eyre, who grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, enduring loneliness and cruelty. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane's natural independence and spirit - which prove necessary when she finds employment as a governess to the young ward of Byronic, brooding Mr Rochester. As her feelings for Rochester develop, Jane gradually uncovers Thornfield Hall's terrible secret, forcing her to make a choice. Should she stay with Rochester and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions - even if it means leaving the man she loves? A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre dazzled readers with its passionate depiction of a woman's search for equality and freedom.
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.
I always find it difficult to review a classic. What could I possibly say to add value to a book which has done quite nicely for 170 years without my praise? Certainly nothing of substance. How can I assign a star rating to a book whose influence has lasted lifetimes before me, and will surely last lifetimes after? However, I will make an attempt, however paltry, at imparting my feelings and thoughts on Jane Eyre. (There will be spoilers below, and as this is such an old book, I won't be concealing them using the "hide spoiler" feature. Continue at your own risk, be you uninitiated!)
I quite enjoyed reading Jane Eyre, although I was surprised at how long it took me to feel emotionally invested in Jane and her well-being. Her character was interesting to me from the start in that she blooms in the midst of adversity, choosing virtuous living over bitterness and dejection. Despite ill treatment from nearly everyone she encounters at a young age, especially her brush with misinformed clergy, she grows into a solemn, witty, hardworking young woman who believes fervently in the redemptive grace of God. For this, and for Charlotte Brontë's magnificence as a wordsmith, I loved Jane in my mind, if not in my heart. The emotional connection finally settled in near the end, three chapters from the finish line.
I've heard many positive things about Jane's relationship with Rochester, which led me to expect a sweet, epic romance. What I found instead was, for the most part, rather unsettling. Mr. Rochester's manipulation, possessiveness, and dishonesty frightened me on Jane's behalf. Tricking information out of someone by concealing your identity, attempting to trick someone into sin and criminal behavior--I'm not sure what these things are, but they aren't love. When Jane reunites with him in the end, the physical maladies he has suffered seem to have bestowed on him the humility and grace he desperately needs during a great portion of the book, so I found myself happy about their reunion; however, their dynamic still concerns me, not from a literary standpoint, so much as how it seems to have been canonized as an ideal in popular culture.
Oddly enough, the usual arguments against Rochester--his mad wife hidden away in the attic, and the great difference in his and Jane's ages--do nothing for me. Mental health institutions during this time were positively horrific, and wards were often treated cruelly, so I understood why he felt locking her away with a caretaker was a better solution. The age difference was not as uncommon as it might be today, and Jane was rather old for her age anyway, thanks to her experiences, so I felt it balanced out.
While not my favorite classic, I did enjoy Jane Eyre greatly, especially when compared to my only other brush with the Brontë sisters--Emily's Wuthering Heights, which I did not care for. I look forward to revisiting this one now that I have perspective, and seeing whether my opinion of early Rochester changes at all.
Here, I will share with you my 3.5, 4- and 5-star reads. Let's fangirl together!