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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

Book review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Puffin Classics: The Essential Collection, 1994 [1847])

Mystery, hardship – and love

Orphaned Jane Eyre, hated by her aunt and cousins, is sent away to Lowood School. Though life improves for Jane, she longs for true love and friendship. Then one day she meets Mr. Rochester, and everything changes …

COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED

Jane Eyre follows the life of a Jane Eyre – a poor, plain, unconnected and very small-bodied young woman. When the novel begins, she’s ten years old and lives with her horrible Aunt Reed and her equally dreadful cousins, who enjoy bullying her. Deemed a troublesome and disagreeable (even “passionate”, gasp, the horror!) girl, Jane is passed onto Lowood, a school for orphaned girls.

After six years in that hell-hole, having survived a typhus outbreak and malnourishment, Jane is promoted to teacher, and stays on for a further couple of years, until the headmistress gets married and takes off. Eager to broaden her horizons now that her friend is gone, Jane advertises for a position as a governess. The only response is from Thornfield Hall, where a young French girl needs tutoring.

At Thornfield, Jane finds her pupil to be very vain, but agreeable nonetheless. The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, is an old dear and life is a bit monotonous … until the master of the house happens to finally return. Edward Fairfax Rochester – harsh, sarcastic, brooding … and oh such a darling deep within. And about 20 years older than Jane, but what does that matter when you’re in love? Question is, can an unconnected governess really find happiness with the rich master of Thornfield?

Perhaps you find it strange that it’s taken me this long to review the one novel you would’ve thought would be the first book review I I’d blog about. Well, what can I say? I do take a very long time to get down to business sometimes …

This has got to be my favourite book of all time, right? Actually, you’d be wrong. I love the story and the characters – I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the novel itself, because it has issues. Charlotte Brontë’s pacing is peculiar – the first twelve chapters tend to drag on a bit and she’s too fond of very long, rambling descriptions, like a NaNoWriMo writer in November who has to make up the day’s word count and is short of time and just tries to cram as much as possible in there. I mean, the whole bit in chapter one about Bewick’s History of British Birds is enough to send one to sleep. Yadda yadda yadda, bored. On the plus side, I like the ramblings when they’re describing nature. I mean, ahh, look at this:

If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there was not a holly, not an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path. Far and wide, on each side, there were only fields, where no cattle now browsed; and the little brown birds, which stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop.

How can that not fill your soul with poetry?

Then there are the over-the-top “coincidences”. The one doorstep she happens to collapse on turns out to be that of her long lost cousins! OMG! And then their mutual uncle just happens to die and leave Jane with a fortune! How fortuitous! And isn’t it terribly convenient how there’s a fire that removes a certain obstacle to the Happily Ever After? And so on. I believe the doorstep thing would be classed as “providence”, as Charlotte Brontë was a good Christian woman, but today it sounds a bit far-fetched.

On the other hand, it’s a novel that’s stood the test of time, and in fact, was way ahead of its time too. Jane is a woman you can push but not break. She’s not a demure little mouse who will sit quietly and just accept abuse – no, she’s feisty and fights back, and that was not “agreeable” for a woman to do in those days. She gets a second offer of marriage and refuses – most women wouldn’t have. Then again, other women might have taken Rochester up on the offer of becoming his mistress, which she also refuses. Not that she isn’t tempted, because BOY IS SHE, but because she wouldn’t be able to respect herself if she did. Kudos to you, Jane. What a great role model she is for young women everywhere, even today! Or perhaps I should say, even MORE so today.

As for Mr. Rochester … To quote Adam Wolstenholme in the Spenborough Guardian a while back:

And for me, the hot-blooded Rochester with his secret mad wife hidden in the attic is a far more intriguing hero than the brooding rich boys of Jane Austen’s novels.

Yes. Yes, he is. Mr. Rochester is layered, much like lasagne. I was going to use “lasagne” just to avoid saying “onion”, but it works surprisingly well. He’s crusty and hard on the outside but once you break that crust and look inside, he’s all gooey. He’s not much to look at, but wow, he’s delicious. Cheesy to, at times (thanks for the reminder, LadyLittleton!) And to think how many people keep misunderstanding him all the time. (Tara Bradley being a notable exception.) He’s a naughty boy, but he’s not a bad person; just one that has been dealt a really harsh blow by life – or, rather, by his greedy family.

While seriously rich, that’s not his main appeal (unlike, I dunno, Darcy whose £10k a year makes him very appealing indeed, of course). It’s his damaged character. Rochester is flawed but passionate and you know he would love you to the end of the world. And that’s why so many people love him, even to this day. He’s not a cardboard cut-out, he feels three-dimensional. And he’s not even pretty. You’d think that the leads of a famous love story would be good-looking, but neither of them are: the term “Plain Jane” could’ve been named after Jane Eyre. (It might have been, I wouldn’t know.) So far away from a Mary-Sue you could ever wish for.

Regardless of anything else, Jane Eyre is a melodramatic powerful story of love against all odds, self-respect and female independence. There are plenty of scenes we all know and love (my favourite is the “How do you do/Depressed” scene, end of chapter 17), and the story keeps being adapted for the screen time after time. It stays with you. At least if you manage to get through the chapters where Jane isn’t at Thornfield. I have to admit I find the Gateshead and Lowood parts a little tedious – I’m just waiting for her to get to Thornfield so the story can start for real. Then, I tend to shoot through the chapters and then it grinds to a halt in Morton and the pages drag on until finally, she’s gone to Ferndean for a final verbal sparring match before it’s Happily Ever After for real.

There is a reason some books are still read and cherished 160+ years after their first publication. It’s because they’re well-written, tell a compelling story and have themes which we can still associate with and understand. So what that it’s about an orphaned girl in 1830s England who grows up to become a governess to a French girl who may or may not be the bastard offspring of an English gentleman, who has a mental patient safely tucked away in the attics of an old manor house? We can still relate to Jane’s passion and a good love story always works. Charlotte Brontë’s most famous novel has stood the test of time so far, and I think it will live with us for many years yet.

4 out of 5 dreadful charity schools for orphans, because while I love the story, I’m not keen on the very convenient “coincidences”, nor at times the writing itself. Charlotte Brontë was a great dialogue writer, but her descriptions … sometimes she just doesn’t know when to stop.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

4 thoughts on “Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

  1. Mmmmm…lasagne….
    I can relate to that much better than the onion metaphor.

    For your future consideration:
    a lasagne rating for men in cravats:
    1 = Stouffer’s frozen
    2 = homemade, but with no-boil noodles and jarred sauce
    3 = homemade, from scratch
    4 = your best friend’s Italian grandmother’s homemade lasagne
    5 = lasagne with paper-thin homemade noodles eaten in Rome or the vicinity

    EFR being a 5 of course

    AWESOME review!!!

  2. LOL!!! Your comment made me laugh so much! 😀

    Lasagna is nice, though. Not to keen on onions, at least not raw ones. Too strong for me. Agree that Rochester would be a 5 on the lasagna scale. Darn, I fancy making one now, but it’s 1:30am so need to go to bed, really. 😉 Saw one made on TV last weekend, which used cottage cheese instead of a cheese sauce and they all said it was delicious, so I’m curious to try. We do have a special “all edges” lasagna pan and all!

    And thank you! Glad you liked it. Just need to read the book more. To think I’ve only read it cover-to-cover twice! (And dipped in and out for reference lots, but still.) Need to get back to my audiobook recordings.

  3. I’ll never forget the first time I read Jane Eyre, I was 11 years old and I think it was in Autumn 2000. We were going away and I got very bored in the car, (still do!) without a book so my mum gave me the paperback copy of Jane Eyre she owned at the time and placed it on my lap. From the first page I loved it! I remember not being keen on Rochester because of the way he deceives Jane but as I got older I understood Rochester more and more and fell head over heels in love with him. In September 2000 I started high school and I was bullied which made me very unhappy so Jane became my best friend and as I thought myself plain I could easily understand what Jane meant when she wishes she was pretty.

    Jane Eyre has also distracted me from my disability and has made me believe that a man will love me for who I am, despite my disability like Jane loves Rochester even though he is blind. It also taught me to resist temptation and I was amazed at how strong Jane was in leaving Rochester even though she loved him so much, I remember thinking how hard that must have been.

    One of the reasons I love Jane Eyre so much is because Jane stands up for herself and overcomes ever obstacle that people put in her path; I also love her morals too and I also like the fact that she is plain but is such a strong heroine. I love the language in this novel and think it is beautifully written.

    Another reason why I love it is because there is a brooding, dark, blunt, rude but a very passionate and gorgeous hero in the novel (what woman doesn’t like one of those?!) which is Mr. Rochester who loves Jane for who she is, is very kind to her and treats her like an equal, I know that he has his faults but I can’t help but fall for him! I also find him a very sympathetic character because he has a lot of very unfair things to deal with in his life.

    My favourite parts of the novel are:

    When Jane and Edward first meet
    The first conversation they have sat by the fire
    After Jane saves Edward from the fire
    The conversation they have when Jane leaves the drawing-room
    When Jane finds out Edward is the gypsy
    When Jane asks Edward’s permission to leave Thornfield Hall
    When Jane returns to Thornfield Hall
    The proposal! (This part is so passionate and romantic!)
    When Edward is explaining everything to Jane after their interrupted marriage and is trying to convince her to stay with him (I nearly cry when I read that part!)
    The reunion of Jane and Edward.

    Every time I read Jane Eyre nowadays I still feel like Jane is my friend telling me everything about herself, I love to read it in bed where I can get cosy and fall in love with the novel and Mr. Rochester all over again! I also have Jane Eyre on audio disc as well it’s lovely to listen to when I am unwell or the weather is bad. My mum often passes me one of my copies when I’m upset or ill. I often forget my worries when I read it. When I can’t sleep I read it, I once read parts of it at 5:00am! I read it many times a year. Edward Fairfax Rochester is my favourite hero in English Literature

    Jane Eyre is my favourite novel. I will love it forever and it will always be a very special novel to me.

    1. Such a beautiful comment. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

      Their talk when Jane leaves the drawing room is one of my favourites too. Gives me goosebumps every time.

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