Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Classic Re-Read: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Publisher: Everyman's Library
Date: 1847 (1991)
Format: hardback
Source: Honors College
Read: for an informal reading group
*spoilers alert - this review assumes the reader already has a basic knowledge of the plot*

From GoodReads: Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.  She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

My thoughts: My previous experience with Jane Eyre is reading an abridged version in the 2nd grade and the full version in 6th grade, meaning I didn't actually remember a whole lot about the book besides its most basic framework. I did, however, watch the 1996 film version back in mid-August, which led me to then obsessively watch YouTube video clips from the two 1990s and two 21st-century adaptations for a weekend. (Side note: My favorite Jane is from the 1996 film; my favorite couple/romance is from the 2006 mini-series, which I desperately want to watch in full.)

Anyway, I loved Jane Eyre in 6th grade, but it took me a while to get into it this time. (Then again, I seem to be in a years-long classics slump, so I wouldn't entirely trust this opinion.) Villette, which I read in 10th grade, is one of my favorite books because of the characterizations, so I was a bit disappointed in what I saw as differences in character between Jane and Lucy Snowe. Jane, for all her stoicness and independence and putting-off of emotions, can also be annoyingly sanctimonious and fragile. Perhaps this reflects the contradictions in all of our personalities, but it came off as out-of-place juxtapositions to me.

And the romance? I thought that the films' development seemed choppy due to having to cut out scenes and details, but no, I found, to a lesser degree, a lack of development in the novel as well. I think this is, quite simply, due to my coming in with expectations of how modern novels develop romance (gosh, I really need to go back on a classics diet!). I just couldn't always see the attraction between Rochester and Jane, though it did grow on me - Jane Eyre might not have become my go-to book for when I'm feeling a bit lonely and want to read some romance, but it worked as such for the couple of weeks our reading group took to complete it.

Charlotte Bronte's writing. I love it. Again, I remember the writing in Villette and Shirley more fondly, but those were written after Jane Eyre, and I haven't yet re-read them. There were some moments in the novel where the writing seemed just all amazingness and angst and genius, like the scene where Jane is debating whether or not to leave while Rochester pleads with her. You see Jane's inner struggles and feel with her, yet her negative reply to Rochester cuts to the bone and, if one had not seen into Jane's thoughts, would have appeared utterly cold and heartless. It was definitely my favorite part of the book.

Also, there's so much in Jane Eyre that makes sense only if you've already read it or at least know what's coming. I've heard of the references in the novel to "Bluebeard" before, but they seem to be simply random, insignificant details unless you know Rochester's secret and realize the references are actually pointing rather obviously towards the existence of his wife, locked up out of sight. These and other intimations of what's to come add an eerie, creepy air to the book; I had not realized before how much prophetic signs and superstitions play into the plot.

And so, my conclusion. I was disappointed that I did not enjoy Jane Eyre as much as I had remembered or expected, but it was still a pretty great read. I found myself reading through my newly-developing English major's eye and often finding the craft, the references, the messages more fascinating and entertaining than the plot itself. My appreciation for this novel, then, now comes more from Charlotte Bronte's excellent writing among 19th century authors than from a simple enjoyment of a good story.


  1. I should re-read this. I read it a long time ago, and what I remember of it is that I could not understand the love story. It was far too depressing and Rochester didn't seem romantic to me at all. But I read it way back when I was a young teenager. I don't remember details. I've been thinking it would be something I would appreciate more now. But maybe not! Anyway, I should re-read it for the writing and for the experience, but keep my expectations for the love story low.

    1. I at least still connected more with the romance here than I did with that in Wuthering Heights, which I hated. The one in Villette, though, is my favorite - maybe try that or Shirley instead of re-reading Jane Eyre?