Author: Charlotte Brontë
Published: May 5, 1992 (first published 1847)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Genre: Classic Literature
Ranking: 5 stars
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”My Thoughts
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor - qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved? (Goodreads)
You would think that after reading or listening to Jane Eyre four, maybe five times, I would have grown tired of this story, but I don’t think that’s possible. If anything, I've grown even fonder of the story with each reading. I love revisiting Thornfield Hall, and meeting Mr. Rochester all over again, and watching as this all too familiar tale unfolds. Every time I read Jane Eyre, I feel like I've returned to a place near and dear to me, like I've ran into an old friend and we’re catching up, and it’s a lovely feeling. I know everything that happens, there are obviously no surprises, but I'm always deeply affected by this story nonetheless.
Jane Eyre tells the tale of a lonely orphan, who, after losing her parents to typhus, is taken in by her Uncle Reed. When her uncle passes away, she is left in the care of her Aunt Reed, who resents Jane for the favoritism she was shown by her late uncle. She is mistreated at the hands of her aunt and her three cousins, attacked with words and fists, and the constant object of scorn and suspicion even when she has done nothing wrong. Eventually, she is sent to school, a charitable school for poor or orphaned girls called Lowood Institution. Nearly starved and facing harsh punishment, her experience there is almost worse than the injustices she suffered at her aunt’s estate Gateshead Hall. Yet she finds friends and role models at Lowood, and as she gains an education, she grows into a respectable lady with many skills. She eventually applies for a governess position and finds a place at Thornfield Hall. Her interactions with the master there, Mr. Rochester, leave her feeling both confused and enamored. A complicated romance unfolds, and Jane begins to discover herself and a place where she might belong after so many painful years.
Jane Eyre revolves around the romance between Mr. Rochester and Jane, a romance that is far from typical, and cannot be called easy or straightforward by any means. Both characters have been hurt in the past, and both of them bear invisible scars that may never fully heal. It is this romance that keeps my interest, that makes for a gripping tale that will leave you raw and emotionally affected. While Mr. Rochester is superior in status and wealth to Jane, they are well-matched in intelligence and personality, and they recognize in each other a kindred spirit, something they have longed for.
Mr. Rochester is not a book boyfriend, or a fictional crush of mine. He is not perfect, or dashing, or charming in any sense of the word. He’s a brooding, temperamental character who tends to frustrate more than he wins over the reader. I’m not even sure I like him that much, although his fractured self, his maddening personality has me mesmerized and unable to put down this book. He holds a dark magnetism that has the reader wanting to read on, to discover more of his character and uncover his deep dark secrets. Just as Mr. Rochester is flawed, Jane can be cold, stubborn, and slow to trust, which is understandable given her rough past. But she is also strong and holds to her values. It is clear that the two are made for each other, at the risk of sounding clichéd, and they make a fitting pair. The reader may not always like these main characters, but you can’t help but cheer them on, hoping that they’ll end up together after all they have been through.
The characters of Jane Eyre may not be likeable, but they were never meant to be. And even so, I cannot help but sympathize with their plight, as I also find redeeming qualities in each of them. But while the characters are so complex, and wonderfully developed, it is the underlying messages conveyed that truly make this novel stand out. Ahead of its time, Jane Eyre brings up feminist and social class issues. When Jane tries to assert herself as an independent woman, she finds opposition from men in her life. Even Mr. Rochester would have her dependent on his money, happy to shower her with gifts when Jane would wish otherwise. Jane is insistent on the fact that she will not rely on a man’s fortune, and that she will not marry for a situation but only for love, and I really grew to respect her because of this. Then there are so many instances in Jane Eyre where characters will look down on the working class, and even Jane herself is guilty of this. She judges others for their class prejudices, but then shares in them herself. Jane Eyre takes a hard look at the hierarchical class system of England in this time period, and illuminates some of the hypocrisies and cruelties of the higher class.
While Jane Eyre heavily focuses on the achingly beautiful romance shared between Mr. Rochester and Jane, it is also so much more than a romance. It is a Gothic novel, containing elements of suspense and even horror as we try to discover Mr. Rochester’s dark past. It is also a social commentary on the time period, revealing how the upper class and even Jane herself discriminates against the lower classes. Jane Eyre is a classic for a reason, as it is a timeless novel, one that will never be forgotten. I’d recommend this one to any fans of classic literature or Gothic romance, as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.