The Compulsive Reader: Classics Corner: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Classics Corner: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I've been wanting to do a post about the awesome-ness that is Jane Eyre ever since I re-read the book...six months ago. Well, better late than never. And we know Jane is pretty darn awesome if she's managed to stay so popular for so long.

I feel like I need to stick a disclaimer on this post and let you know that even though I think Jane is a rocking protagonist now...I didn't always think so. I used to LOATHE this book. I couldn't stand trying to get through it, and I thought Mr. Rochester was the biggest you-know-what on the planet. Then I re-read the book for a class six months ago, and now I am in love with Jane. So, moral of the day: sometimes you need to wait four or five years to re-read classics because then you might like them.

So, Jane Eyre. She's an orphan. The whole world has turned its back on her. She's a plain, book-ish, intelligent, and rebellious child at the complete mercy of her relatives...which is basically the most undesirable position a girl can be in during 19th century England. She ticks off her aunt and amidst some odd supernatural-esque activity (didn't expect that, did you?), and gets herself shipped off to Lowood, a boarding school for girls.

But this isn't a nice girls' school, or a Hogwarts experience Jane Eyre style. This school is poorly managed by one dictator of a guy who singles Jane out to humiliate her, is hardly funded, and all of the girls are in similar positions to Jane's. There, she meets Helen Burns, who is appropriately saint-like, and finds a nice teacher, Miss Temple, and finds her motivation to become a good pupil and Make Something of Herself. Fast forward to the future, Jane is now a teacher at Lowood, but she's restless and wants another job. Which is how she finds herself at Thornfield Hall, the governess of Mr. Rochester's ward, Adele.

Jane loves Adele, Adele loves Jane, Jane loves Thornfield...but weird things happen. Like, Mr. Rochester is uncommonly interested in her opinion and conversing with her. There are strange noises in the attic. There's this crazy lady, Grace Poole, who laughs a lot, and not in the happy way. And then Jane does the unthinkable: she starts to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, even though she knows that he could never love her back. But through dinner parties, haughty ladies, crazy-sounding mediums, midnight attacks, arson, and pleasant walks in the gardens, Jane carries her love, and...finds out Mr. Rochester loves her back. They're going to get married. Life is beautiful.

And then Jane finds out what's really going on in the attic at Thornfield Hall.

I would come out and say it because I think it's pretty obvious to anyone in the English-speaking world what Mr. Rochester's secret is, but if I learned anything while reading this book for my lit class, it's that cultural literacy isn't as strong as I thought, and I hate a spoiler. So, he has a secret. You probably know it. For those of you who don't, go read Jane Eyre for heavens' sake!

So, this secret devastates Jane (and pisses her off), so she leaves Thornfield and a broken-hearted Rochester. She struggles a lot, but falls in with some good people. She has the chance to make a good life for herself. She might even take the chance. Until some more supernatural-esque stuff goes down, and she must decide if she wants to make a go at this new life, or go back and find out what happened to Rochester, whom she still loves very much. And that is where I'll leave you.

So, a lot of reactions to Jane and this book are, "She's so dumb! She never does anything!" or "She only cares about love," or "This novel is sexist." To which I say, "Whaaaaaaat???"

Not. True. Here's why I love Jane so much:

  • She's smart--even as a child. She's got a spark and a bit of a temper, but she knows how to take care of herself.
  • She's resilient. She goes through a lot of crap early on in her life, but she pulls through and finds happiness. Then, she goes through more drama at Thornfield, but she makes a new life for herself once more.
  • She's forgiving. It's hard for her early on in the book, but ultimately she does learn the value of forgiveness, which is an extremely important (and hard) lesson for everyone of us.
  • She's curious. She's not a passive person and she doesn't let things just happen--which is good. Her curiosity and activity save more than one person's life.
  • She's unconventional. She doesn't really believe in religion (which I'm not saying is good), and she questions the conventions of life. There's a reason this book was controversial when it was first published.
  • She doesn't sacrifice her values, no matter what. Even if she has issues with religion, she knows that staying with Rochester is wrong, no matter how much they both want it. She goes through a lot of pain and inconveniences so she can live a life that she can look back on and be proud of her actions, and that's AWESOME.
  • She gets her happy ending on her OWN terms.
Don't mess with Jane.
These are all very good reasons to read this book, but here are some practical ones as to why you might want to pick this up for your school project...it's a sentimental novel, which means that it is BRIMMING with meanings and not-so-hidden metaphors. This one has a lot of good stuff to work with if you need to analyze it. A LOT. It's a bit of a long read (though, if you're like me, get it for free on your e-reader and you can read it even faster), but if you get through Jane's Lowood experience, it'll be a breeze--it'll suck you right in, I promise.

Now, go get it. Read it, read it, read it! If not for school or for all the reasons I've listed above, but so that I don't make you mad when I talk about Rochester's big secret on this blog, because I swear to you, this is the only spoiler-free zone.


The book girl said...

I saw the movie, but i've never actually read the whole book. Bad experience in high school, that's all I can say:) Still, I AM older and--hopefully-- more mature now. I really respect your opinion, so maybe I'll grab my mom's worn out copy and try it again.

Sarah said...

I had to read Jane Eyre for my Brit Lit class and though everyone hated it, I loved the book! Your review was so much fun to read and I'm glad that you've found how great Jane Eyre is too! I think you sufficiently mentioned all the reasons why I love her. I haven't seen any film adaptations of her though, I hope they didn't mess her up!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have always loved this book ;) I've read it, like 4 times, I was never a Wuthering Heights kinda gal...It was always Jane for me. So happy you loved it in your reread!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have always loved this book ;) I've read it, like 4 times, I was never a Wuthering Heights kinda gal...It was always Jane for me. So happy you loved it in your reread!

Anonymous said...

I love Jane Eyre, It's one of those books that I still remember the first time I read it and I remember feeling physically all the excitement the first time Mr. R and Jane kiss - I remember how my heart was pounding and I was breathless.

It's such a lovely memory for me.

And I agree with you on Jane, she's awesome for so many reasons.

Cinnamon (A Thousand Little Pages) said...

I adore this book a lot, too. Might just go pick up the movie and try it out one of these days.

Nicole said...

SO MUCH LOVE for this book. <3

Amy @ Turn the Page said...

I absolutely adore Jane Eyre. It's a surprisingly passionate book - all these people who moan at TV adaptations where Jane and Rochester have chemistry and kiss obv haven't read the book - because their relationship is all about passion and desire imo.

My copy is all battered and falling to pieces :)

Shirley @ My Bookshelf said...

I loved this book and wanted so very much to see the movie but ended up sick with pneumonia and missed its limited showing. (We had planned to go in June as a book club). Your review covered it all very well and I would highly encourage anyone who hasn't yet found the poignant story of Jane Eyre to do so. So glad you gave it another try and encourage others to as well.

You will find my review here on My Bookshelf.

Jenn said...

I've had a similar experience with Jane Eyre. The first time I read it was in mi high school's British Lit. class and I was convinced that it was the most terrible book in the world. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when my classics loving friend forced me to re-read it so we could go see the movie together (we have a strict no seeing a book based movie without first reading the book) and I absolutely adored it. I really think that so many people hate the classics because when the read them for school they are told that they are good. They are reading to answer questions and write an essay, not for their own enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

I love Jane Eyre. I think it's the only book I've ever read that has a heroine is isn't all that special, isn't all that great looking - she's just ordinary and railing against the hand she's been dealt in life. I can totally relate to that character in a way that I can't to many modern creations.

Iva-Marie said...

One of my favorite books of all time. You might have inspired me to do a re-read.