I feel the need to start this review off by saying I’ve always been an Austenite. Knowing that there was a feud between Austen and Charlotte Brontë has always made me distance myself from giving any of the Brontë sisters’ works a chance (horrid of me I know). I began seeing previews of the new Jane Eyre film and they looked so good that I decided I had to put the feuding aside and give Charlotte a chance. Never did I think I would have the experience reading Jane Eyre that I did.
Jane Eyre is supposed to be an autobiographical novel told through the eyes of Jane. She begins her story by telling of her childhood growing up in the house of her aunt and uncle Reed. After her parents deaths her uncle Reed adopts her and takes her into his household as if she was one of his own children. Shortly after Jane moves in with the Reed’s her uncle dies, but not before extracting a promise from her aunt that Jane will be raised as one of her own children. Aunt Reed promises to do so but in reality does nothing of the sort. Jane is a very passionate child and aunt Reed decides it’s really “wickedness” and punishes Jane often, leaving her in solitude. Jane’s cousins are horrible to her as well, with her cousin John abusing her both physically and mentally. During one particular physical altercation Jane fights back against her cousin and is punished by being sent to the room her uncle died in, also known as the red room. During her time in the room she thinks she sees/hears a ghost and actually faints from fear. She is found and brought back to her room and a doctor is called. After speaking with Jane the doctor convinces aunt Reed to send Jane away to school. Jane is sent to Lowood Institution where she spends the next eight years of her life, six as a student and two as a teacher. The students at Lowood Institution are mistreated due to the neglect and greed of a Mr. Brocklehurst, the schools treasurer. After a bad typhus epidemic that kills nearly half the students in the school an investigation is launched and a complete overhaul of the school is completed. Jane spends the rest of her time there relatively happy, until age 18 when she decides that she would like to leave Lowood and become a governess. Jane places an ad in the paper which is answered by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall. Jane accepts the position and heads to Thornfield where her life will unknowingly change forever.
Shortly after her arrival at Thornfield she meets the master of the house, Mr. Edward Rochester, during one of her walks to the town. His horse comes out of nowhere in the fog, is startled, and slips on a patch of ice causing Rochester to fall off of his horse. Jane helps him up and sits with him until he is able to get back on his horse, thus beginning their strange relationship. I say strange because eerie things begin happening at Thornfield Hall and Jane seems to be there to help out just in the nick of time. Someone sets fire to Mr. Thornfield’s bed in the middle of the night, a man is attacked, and some of Jane’s clothing is ripped in the middle of the night by an intruder to her bedchamber. Through all of this Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester. Will Mr. Rochester ever find out that Jane loves him as deeply as she does? Will the strange events prevent a future for the two of them?
I think my favorite aspect of this novel is that it is totally pro-feminist. Jane has a horrid life, but she’s never a damsel in distress. She deals with the shortcomings of her life with grace and piousness. She doesn’t let the misgivings of her life turn her into a cruel person. She is forgiving and accepts the life she’s been handed.
The writing is absolutely exquisite. I found myself being so moved by certain passages that I had to go find my husband Todd and read them aloud to him. Brontë knows exactly what she wants to say and uses the most perfect and vivid language possible to convey it. The scenes I must specifically point out are the fortune-teller scene and the scene with Rochester and Jane in the garden. The narrative is absolutely breathtaking.
“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!”
It’s difficult for me to find the words to express how in love I am with this novel. Brontë takes the reader on an emotional journey that is stunning, vivid, depressing, shocking, romantic, dark, joyous, melancholy, courageous, righteous, and so much more. Your emotions while reading the novel literally go on a rollercoaster with Jane. Brontë’s writing allows you to literally become one with Jane and experience everything with Jane as she explains it. I’ve never felt more in tune with a character than I did with Jane. I laughed and cried with her, felt dejected and happy when she did, was depressed at some times, and overcome with joy at others. She is filled with a passion that I now see has been lacking in many other novels I’ve read. This novel has forever changed the eyes I read with.
I cannot recommend this novel enough. Upon finishing it I’ve watched two of the mini-series versions of it as well as a film version. I’ve become utterly obsessed with Jane’s story, and I have a feeling that you will too after reading it.
7 out of 5 Stars
Barnes and Noble Classics (2003)
Paperback 558 pages