No, no, I’ve not been taken up the aisle.
Although thankfully I’ve been able to get around to doing some reading!
However, where do I begin with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë? It is regarded by many as one of the greatest works of English fiction, and Jane Eyre and I have a long-standing relationship. I first read it when I was 15 and I was entranced with her from the get-go. Call the book an old favourite if you will, but it’s one I’ve returned to again and again. Like an old pair of slippers, it’s comforting and the sort of book that reflects this dismal part of the seasons (not quite winter, not quite spring). I’ve already written a dissertation on the book and I promise not to write another one, this is more of a re-view than commentary.
Written in 1847, it is often regarded as an intellectual contemporary classic; however please don’t let put you off – yes, this is a ‘classic’ book, but unlike other books of the time is very accessible. And no, forgive me, I’m about to say something incredibly earth shattering here – it’s not a total romance. People seem so hung up on the romance between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester often bandying around such titles as “Epic Love Story” but this is actually a small fraction of the book, and worth looking past that. Charlotte Brontë loves to toy with her reader, and Jane Eyre is part feminist novel, part gothic horror and a classic story of the ‘other woman’ (indeed this theme would spur Daphne du Maurier to write another outstanding ‘other woman’ novel 70 years later).
As heroines go, Jane Eyre is passionate, wilful, spirited and has amazing courage – something for the time was unheard of. Written in the first-person, Jane Eyre is both compelling and exciting. In fact, Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel has pretty much everything going for it: beautiful settings, a passionate romance tempered by iron-clad morals, and a heroine whose poverty and lack of beauty only let her brains and courage shine brighter. And it’s all wrapped in the misty, haunting atmosphere of a true gothic story – madwoman in the attic and all.
Jane Eyre is pretty unlucky from the start – orphaned at an early age, leaving her in the care of her cruel Aunt – Mrs. Reed and at the mercy of her malicious cousin, John Reed. However, at the age of ten Jane Eyre leaves the Reed household to attend a charity boarding school known as Lowood where she befriends the mild-mannered Helen Burns and gains the education that allows her, at the age of eighteen, to take a position as a Governess at Thornfield Hall. Here she meets the dark and sardonic Mr. Rochester and falls in love with him.
I shan’t say any more of the plot, it will only spoil the fun.
Jane Eyre is one of those books that transcends the labels of genre. Charlotte Brontë spun a haunting tale around her semi-autobiographical heroine and Byronic anti-hero, filling it with brilliant writing and solid plot. And Brontë also avoided any tinges of drippy sentimentality while injecting some hauntingly nightmarish moments: “She sucked the blood: she said she’d drain my heart”. She even manages to include some humour. It has everything all the other books of the time had, however Brontë gives it depth and intensity without resorting to melodrama. Jane Eyre is written in the usual stately prose of the time, but it has a sensual, lush quality, even in the dank early chapters at Lowood. At Thornfield, the book acquires an overhanging atmosphere of foreboding, until the clouds clear near the end. And she wove some tough questions into Jane’s perspective – that of a woman’s independence and strength in a man’s world, of extreme religion, and of the clash between morals and passion.
Indeed, Charlotte Brontë does a brilliant job of bringing her heroine to life as a defiant little girl who is condemned for being “passionate,” as an independent young lady, and as a woman torn between love and principle. Jane’s strong personality and wits overwhelm the basic fact that she’s not unusually pretty. And Rochester is a brilliant Byronic anti-hero with a prickly, mercurial wit.
Of Charlotte Brontë’s few novels, Jane Eyre is undoubtedly the most brilliant – passionate, dark and hauntingly eerie.
Reader, go read.
The Knitty Gritty
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – it’s absolutely pointless giving you an ISBN here, there are 1000s of editions. Just pop to your nearest bookseller, it’s free on Kindle and iTunes or importantly – support your local library.
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy