Monday, March 17, 2014

Thoughts on the Classics: Jane Eyre

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.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

Jane Eyre
Bronte, Charlotte (1847). [Genre: bildungsroman?? romance? gothic?]

So. . . Jane Eyre. For the longest time it was one of those books I thought I'd already read, because I knew the plot line so intimately. I assumed I'd read it sometime around the first time I read Pride & Prejudice (12-14). But somehow I came to the realisation that no, I actually hadn't read it (have you ever had this?) despite having a copy of it on my shelves. So it got added to the to-read list. And the Classics Club list. And now I've finally gotten around to it. 

I'd heard mixed things about Jane Eyre. It seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it type books. My husband dislikes it, my sisters-in-law love it. I went into it suspecting that there were elements of it I really wouldn't like, from what I already knew of it. But folks, I loved it too. 

I loved. . . .
  • The feminist aspects. Jane Eyre is a girl who knows her own mind. I love that she strives to make herself independent and through doing so gains the ability to make her own choices (and makes them she does)
  • The themes of redemption. Mr Rochester was one of the things going into Jane Eyre that I suspected I wouldn't like, but I ended up loving his character. From the start he is a soul tormented and the character change he goes through across the novel is a joy to watch. He's not a perfect hero and is certainly more imperfect than other classic imperfect heroes (compare Mr Darcy's prejudice to Mr Rochester's generally debauched life), but undergoes a powerful transformation. 
  • Jane's relationship with God and Bronte's commentary on the character of a Christian. As can be expected from any novel of the time, all characters profess faith of some kind, but I adored Bronte's comparison between various Christian characters eg: Mr Brocklehurst & Helen Burns. The moment where Hannah implies that if Jane is a Christian she shouldn't beg, and Jane's retort that if Hannah were a Christian she should consider poverty a crime, was also a highlight.
  • The commentary on morality, on the meaning of 'home,' social class, the difference between love & passion. . . .
I suspect Jane Eyre is going to become a book I go back to time and time again. At least now I can be sure that I've read it! Unfortunately the beautiful edition on my shelf is still unread, because I struggled with the font so downloaded it on my kindle, but I need to go back to my edition to examine the illustrations. 

Have you read Jane Eyre? And can anyone give me any adaptation recommendations. I've seen the recent Michael Fassbender version, but found it overdid the Gothic side of things. 

Jane Eyre is a triple-whammy for me - it's on my TBR Challenge list, Classics Club list and I'll be counting it in the 'Classic by a Woman author' category for the Back to the Classics challenge 


  1. I enjoyed this for a lot of the same reasons you did. I've never actually seen a TV/film adaptation of it, I need to rectify that!
    Have you read Villette? I adored Jane Eyre but Villette blew my mind.

    1. I haven't, but I'll definately be on the look out for more Charlotte Bronte now!

  2. Jane Eyre is certainly one of my favourites! Brönte's portrayal of Rochester was so real …….. not at all your usual romantic hero but oh, so very human!

    My favourite adaptation is the A&E version with Ciaran Hinds as Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre.

    From Sam's comment above, now I must read Villette!

    1. Thanks for the adaptation recommendation, I'll have to see if I can track that one down :-)

  3. Jane Eyre is my favorite classic novel, and I get so happy whenever I hear a new reader love it as well! :) I second the Villette recommendation. It's long, and it's different, but any reader (whether they like the book or not) learns to appreciate it. New follower by the way.

  4. One of my very first classics, and one of my favorites! I've seen the Fassbender, the Toby Stephens and the William Hurt versions, none of which I especially liked. I found the ending in the Fassbender version so abrupt, and Mia was much too pretty to be Jane. I didn't care much for Villette, though.

  5. I did read Jane Eyre when I was about 12/13 but I only remembered the horror of her childhood and the awful aunt and something about a mad woman in the attic & a scary, angry man.
    When I read it again in my twenties I was amazed to realise that Jane Eyre is also a love story!
    A more recent re-reading highlighted the feminists issues and the ridiculousness of the wandering the moors and stumbling on long lost cousins scenes!
    But I think that's why I love it so - something for everyone at any age, any stage, any time :-)