Book Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Number in #100bookproject: 10
Level of Recommendation: High
Favourite 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 restrain, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer, and it is narrow-mindedness in their privileged fellow-creatures to say that the 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 has pronounced for their sex.”
And a worthy second choice –
“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I’m an automaton? – a machine without feelings? And can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it now for me to leave you.”
Jane Eyre is, in the truest sense of the expression, a British classic. Written by Charlotte Bronte, the eldest of the famous Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre was published in 1847 under the alias Currer Bell. Upon its release, with its original title Jane Eyre: An Autobiography the novel became a runaway success and injected an entirely new kind of fiction into the literary scene. Thanks to the structure of the novel and the way it so completely encompasses the character of Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte was bestowed with such great compliments as being “the first historian of the private consciousness.”
Jane Eyre is a sweeping novel set in the north of England between 1720 and 1820. The tale is told from Jane’s point of view and follows Jane’s life from her early childhood to her later adult years. Bronte’s work boasts a level of detail and vivid imagery that is astounding (though the amount of detail, can, at some points, be a little much and slow the overall pace down).
In many adaptations of the novel, the central focus of the story is Jane’s relationship with the elusive, gruff and brooding Mr. Rochester. Now, this relationship is pivotal to the plot of Jane Eyre but it is not, as the adaptions would suggest, the soul and purpose of the story.
In other words Jane Eyre is a not a love story, rather it’s a love story wrapped within a study of temperament. Upon turning the last page of Jane Eyre, you feel as though you’ve truly grown to know a person on an intimate level.
That is the true essence of Jane Eyre, it’s a study of a person. Anyone looking for a simple love story will be disappointed. Jane Eyre is a fully developed portrait of a woman and her romantic relationship with Rochester is only half the painting.
Now, as much as I believe, Jane Eyre is much more than Jane’s romantic entanglement I will say that Bronte’s ability to create two main characters that are equally matched in voice, personality, particular vices, and full bodied humanization, is brilliant. Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester may, in fact, be my favourite literary couple. Their witty exchanges, deep knowledge of each other souls, honest exploration into their flaws, back and forth of wanting and needing fulfillment from one another, fierce need to express their own independence and their ultimate ability to make each other feel whole is both truly satisfying and lovely.
Yet what makes Jane Eyre feel as though you are reading a classic is the way we truly see Jane develop page by page. Everything Bronte chooses to include gives a sense of Jane becoming the strong, independent and yet incredibly vulnerable (a.k.a human) woman that she is. Jane is no stranger to pain, loss, embarrassment, longing, loving and the myriad of others things that make up the human experience.
However, as Bronte brings Jane through those experiences, she doesn’t miss a chance to show the reader how Jane develops. For example when Jane is first brought to Lowood she is thoroughly scarred by her verbal and physical abuse she received at the hands of her Aunt and cousins at Gateshead. Jane sees the world as a cruel place and as the school treats her as a problem child (per her aunt’s request), Jane begins to see herself as a no good liar and a scoundrel because she is being told that is her reality. Yet when she meets a friend, Helen, who believes in her and gives her a little perspective about the world, God and the sufferings of people other than herself Jane’s entire view of herself and the world changes.
Through Brontes word choices and subtle changes in Jane’s characteristics after meeting Helen we see that Jane has evolved, that she is becoming more of her ultimate self. These small changes in Jane repeatedly happen throughout the book.
When Jane leaves Lowood, she is reminded how big the world is and chooses to embrace it despite her reservations. When Jane meets Rochester, she is afraid of her feelings and she chooses to suppress those feelings until she feels safe and is sure that Rochester sees her as an equal. After the discovery of Rochester’s wife, Jane chooses to not become a mistress and leave Rochester and in turn struggles with the feelings of heartbreak and loneliness afterwards. During that heartbreak she chooses to make a new life for herself as best she can but knows she will not love again the way she loved Rochester.
All of these situations and subsequent choices make Jane Eyre become Jane Eyre and we get to see that evolution. And at the end of the story when Jane returns to Rochester, this return is so much more satisfying because she has become her own independent woman.
And seeing Jane gradually evolve from a scared girl into a fully realized woman who has experienced a plethora of highs and lows and in turn created her own unique sense of self is the beauty of Jane Eyre, the allure of watching and feeling that quiet evolution is simply too good to ignore.
Next Up: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller