Michael Fassbender and Mia Waskikowska in the current movie version of Jane Eyre
"This year, thousands of high school English classes will assign Jane Eyre (and tens of thousands of high school students will complain about it). But then, something magical will happen. Young women accustomed to the sarcastic chatty prose of the Gossip Girl series will get swept up in Brontë’s luxurious language. They will be enthralled by Jane’s story, her strength and determination. She is the thinking girl’s heroine, and they will see themselves in her. Because of Jane, generations of young women have been — and will continue to be — reassured that even if they are 'poor, obscure, plain, and little,' they can still make a happy ending if they are true to themselves.-Alexandra McAaron (hat tip: The Bronte Blog)
For years I've been saying that Jane Eyre is my favorite novel of all time--
and that it is.
But I've never written a review of it! I suppose I thought of the book as being so much a part of the fiction landscape that any review I would attempt to write of it would be superfluous.
But as my sister and I were chatting about the current movie version of the book (which is getting excellent reviews, by the way), I realized that not everyone has read this classic. She hasn't read it, although she's always had it on a mental to-read list.
I also realize there are a crop of young people, particularly young women, who may not be acquainted with the book. So I just finished reading it for possibly the 50th time (that probably isn't much of an exaggeration!), and while it's fresh on my mind, I offer my review.
This is the cover of the copy of Jane Eyre I've had since high school. The portrait is that of author Charlotte Bronte, and I must admit, when I read the book, this is who I picture as Jane
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
The story opens on a wet, wintry day. When we first meet her, Jane is a 10-year-old orphan who is living with an aunt-in-law who doesn't love her and cousins who despise her.
When Jane unexpectedly defends herself against her bullying older cousin, John, she is banished to a room that is particularly frightening to her. It's the room where her uncle died when she was an infant, with his last request being that his wife would raise Jane as her own.
Her resulting fright and hysteria, and her aunt's cold mercilessness in response, set the stage for the next chapter in Jane's life. She is sent away to school.
I won't go into much more of the story, because I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it yet. Suffice it to say that years later, Jane ends up as the governess of the little girl who is the ward of Edward Fairfax Rochester, a wealthy bachelor.
How this young girl--who describes herself as "poor, plain and little"--finds an all-consuming love, loses it, then seeks it again--is the basis of the story.
An indomitable heroine
The character of Jane is, to me, one of the most admirable and appealing fictional characters of all time. Poor and plain she may be, but her spirit is indomitable.
In an era when women were expected to be brainless and ornamental, Jane (through the words of Charlotte Bronte) refused to bow to those expectations:
"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 restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they 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 necessary for their sex."
Jane's love for Mr. Rochester is strong and profound, again without giving into the excesses common in Victorian fiction.
And later, when she is offered a marriage that would be devoid of that kind of love, Jane steadfastly refuses. She knows what real love is, and she won't accept anything less.
One thing that Jane Eyre does have in common with other books of the Victorian era is a tendency toward wordiness, many of those being words we don't toss around frequently nowadays, like "auditress and interlocutrice," and "cicatrixed visage." You may want to keep a dictionary nearby!
Why do I love this book so much? Even now, after having just finished it again, I have a hard time putting it into words.
But I will tell you that it's not the mother of all gothic novels for nothing. It has everything: romance, mystery, suspense, a dangerously attractive love interest and a heroine we admire and care about.
It's no wonder, 164 years after it was first published, this book is still captivating readers and prompting movie adaptations.
If you've never read Jane Eyre, I strongly encourage you to do so...I can't recommend it highly enough!