I have just finished the last page of Jane Eyre and am writing this review while I am still reeling from the impact of the book. It has been a few years since the last time I read Jane Eyre. I choose to believe I have seen more of the world and formed stronger opinions about everything, in these past few years. Does that mean the hold of the book on me has diminished? Far from it. I feel young and naive, and completely enthralled by the love story. It is still a thought provoking stirring journey.
I don’t agree to all the choices made. I definitely don’t like all the character traits, but I was as engrossed in the tale, exquisitely crafted by Charlotte Bronte, as if every turn in the story was new to me. While I was trying to search for an image to put on this post I realized how dull and nondescript most of the books covers of Jane Eyre are. A dreary looking female, who is dressed usually in black, and often not even looking towards us; that is the image that graces most book covers.
‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.‘
Far from being dull, I find Jane Eyre captivating right from the beginning. At the start of the story, the reader meets an orphan girl who is treated with contempt by her rich relatives. She is unconventional and not sweet. She revolts against the injustice towards her and is sent off to a depressing reform school. The setting resembles an Oliver Twist gloomy boarding house. One of her only friends suffers silently and is a virtuous soul, but our heroine, Jane Eyre, is too passionate to forgive and forget injustice and cruelty. As in childhood, every emotion feels magnified. Specially a sense of loss, that brings with it acute suffering.
Years pass quickly and Jane is now teaching in the same school she once attended as an outcast from her family. From here she leaves to be a governess at Thornfield. Thornfield is the unsettling mansion, with sinister laughter and buried secrets, that will be a home for Jane. A place where she will belong. This is where the story takes a turn towards unforgettable romance. Jane has missed out on life. She is young, not all of twenty, restless and unsatisfied, even though she wants to be thankful for all that she has.
Then she meets Edward Fairfax Rochester. One of the most controversial heroes of literature.
“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is,—I feel akin to him,—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. […] I must, then, repeat continually that we are for ever sundered:—and yet, while I breathe and think I must love him.“
Edward Rochester is the archetypal Byronic hero. He is brooding, mysterious and much more flawed than any regular likable hero. He is drawn to Jane Eyre’s spirit. Her guile free responses, her free mind, her burning vivacity that is barely concealed under the exterior of the calm efficient governess. Everything about her draws him in. Jane herself has never felt more alive, more capable than in the presence of a man she has just started to know. Their conversations have a hypnotic charm.
Keeping this post spoiler free (or as spoiler free as can be) is tough since there is much I want to ruminate about Mr Rochester. He is forceful and domineering, but also capable of loving without restraint. Jane wants to maintain boundaries, but also wishes fervently to please. I often wonder is there was a subtext to Jane addressing Mr Rochester as ‘master’. There is an art in the writing that manages to make a man who can trick others, dress as a female and be scared (and that is the least of his faults) remain timeless and iconic .
The narration has a “show not tell” rule. The reader is made aware of the facts and left to infer the feelings of Jane at multiple points of the story. For me this is also one of the frustrating things about the character. She feels deeply, but wishes to portray calm and adhere to conventions. I get the feeling Jane deliberately deludes herself and us to show she is in control at certain points of the story arc, when I rather wish to see her break free of the society and self imposed shackles. And then there are moments when she does just that. Speaks her mind and drops all reserve. Those lead to some of the most profound moments in the tale.
Mr Rochester has a dark secret. One he will conceal and go to any length to make Jane Eyre his. She, however, will not overstep the boundaries of principle, even though she does love him terribly and entirely.
“I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart!“
Would living in sin be wrong with the one you love? My answer might have been different than hers. The answer depends on how high you rate love? Does love surpass all moral boundaries?
Jane did not think so. She chooses self respect and freedom. She protected herself and refused to weaken in the face of the most potent temptations. She also refused to weaken by the lure of duty and goodness in the form of St John, another intriguing character, introduced quite late into the novel.
“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”
A reckoning awaits and so does a happy ending. Not my favourite part of the book, but the novel is one I undoubtedly choose to read time and again.
A journey of self worth and untiring love Jane Eyre is a must read for every romance lover. If you prefer films to books, watch the 1943 black and white version. There is a newer adaptation of 2011, but I found that too austere and colorless for my liking.
Jane Eyre is not a regular love story. It is about passion and emotions that make you question society and standards. It is about risking everything for a chance at happiness, but also remaining faithful to who you truly are.
Love it or hate it? Tell me all about it.
You might enjoy our other classic reviews – Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.
Pic credit uploaders.
indrani robbinsJuly 8, 2015 at 11:06 am
made me want to read it again, rhea. we were just talking about woman and all that the world does to her, i think if you were writing in mid nineteenth century britain, the challenges of being a woman would naturally enter your tales and telling if you’re sensitive and she was that. i like what you say about rochester loving jane’s mind. ultimately most women would want that. not just appreciation of physical beauty though that has its place… not the place we give it when it comes to women however. glanced at her wiki entry… difficult life, lost her mother very young… then sisters. but really i wanted to say what the when i read she and her sisters changed their name when they first published, self financing the whole thing, so as to hide their gender… she was currer bell… they kept their initials. in college read about george elliot… wiki says mary ann evans adopted that male pen name because she wanted to her works to be taken seriously. so women’s writings were just treated as a bit you know. i remember jane eyre being totally romantic, and yes, the cover was blue with a tiny black etching of a “lady”. thanks, rhea, loved the taking of the mind to other places.
rhea sinhaJuly 16, 2015 at 10:28 am
Thank you for reading Indi di. I love talking about books and it thrills me to find someone to talk to about these old favourites.
Sometime back I had shared links here for a debate on Jane Austen vs Emily Bronte. In that also there is the mention of the effect of being a woman and writing, plus the lives lead by the Bronte sisters. I personally like Emily better. Did you know that Charlotte actually wrote a preface in Wuthering Heights trying to placate the various critics of the book who thought no sane sensible person let alone women could write such a story? I laughed and applauded Emily with all my heart when I read what people wrote about her. In this debate the speaker says what Emily gave the world was the freedom to write any which way we want to. Not just pleasant conventional things since we are women, but actually show a side of human beings that exists in everone irregardless of whether we are man or woman.
indrani robbinsJuly 17, 2015 at 4:23 am
never knew about that frothing at the mouth at w heights, though it is a difficult story i would say to sell even now in our oh let’s all be happy and sing songs world, but what a riot the sisters got to create. wonderful. i find we are again conventional beyond belief now. everything’s got to be happy or simply sad. no nuance, no torture no tremble of the innermost things… i bet if emily wrote w heights today she’d have to write in swedish or something to get a publisher. too rich in emotion, to fraught with depth… you know i remember nothing of the book, yet, say heathcliff and something near my heart lurches, a dark wind howls, a disquieting love gnaws.