Title Jane Eyre
Author Charlotte Brontë
Genre Classic English Literature
Publisher Penguin Classics | Originally by Smith, Elder & Co.
Publication Date June 29, 2011 | Originally 16 October 1847
Setting North England, late Georgian Era
Synopsis: With both parents deceased Jane Eyre lives with the brutish wife of his dead uncle Mrs. Reed and her equally self-serving three children. She suffers abuse until her aunt decides to place her in the austere orphan school of Lowood. There she utilizes her observant intellect to cultivate her mind for 06 years before spending another 02 years as a teacher. When all her friends and role models either pass away or move away, she advertises to become a governess and finds herself teaching the child ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy gentleman and owner of Thornfield Hall. Soon Thornfield Hall becomes her home, gaining her friends. She even learns to like the brusque, self-centered ways of Mr. Rochester, developing somewhat of an infatuation. When he brings a big party to the Hall, among which is a beautiful heiress playing for the role of his wife, she discovers she may even be in love with him. Following this, after Jane is called away for a month to take care of Mrs. Reed at her deathbed, upon her return, the two confess their love for one another and prepares to marry. On the wedding day, it is discovered Mr. Rochester is already married and is hiding his violently mad wife in the attic and the wedding is called off. Jane runs away since the only other choice of becoming his mistress is beyond her moral bounds and while begging door-to-door in a distant village, finds herself on the stoop of Mr. St. John Rivers and his sisters. There she finds new directions but she can’t seem to leave behind the concept of never being with Mr. Rochester.
Experience: I got into this novel as a self-imposed challenge, given my dislike for Charlotte Brontë the person (you can read more about that in my article on Jane Austen Vs Charlotte Brontë). To ensure that I remained completely objective in my reading, I decided to venture through the book the first time as I would any novel instead of holding it to the expectations of a classic. Once I got the story down, I immersed myself in the literary analysis. Both times, I enjoyed and disliked the same scenes and aspects so this should be a fairly unbiased review.
Definitely, the best aspect of the novel is how masterfully developed and consistent each of the characters was. Each character has very distinguishable traits and retains their driving force throughout the novel. This demonstrates Brontë’s obvious grasp of the roles they play, allowing the characters to appear and disappear from Jane’s life at the right moment and with significant purpose. With regards to Jane, no one can doubt what she is about from the very first scene and she remains true to the form designed for her to the end. As a writer, I found Brontë’s ability to remain faithful to her characters very admirable.
I also appreciated the feministic overtures made by Brontë in the novel. Jane is no frail damsel. She knows what she wants and, while she may not always know how to go about fulfilling her desires, she knows how to live within her limits. She does not grasp at the first opportunity to rise above her adversities nor does she rely on the goodwill of men but knows how to manage risks and fend for herself. In fact, all the female characters in this novel really are aware of their desires and go about attaining them with a lot of oomph. Not the level of independence or independent notions you would see heroines of that time displaying. I’m sure Brontë had the tongues wagging and good for her. She was not afraid to fight for the cause. And while there is a certain martyrdom to Jane’s acquiescence to circumstances, this is not wholly repulsive because it is driven by Jane’s moral compass but she also knows when to put her foot down. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the novel is in her argument with St. John where she tells him she is willing to follow him into the missionary but as a deacon and not as his wife.
Without a doubt, the most important aspect of this novel is its various themes. Feminism I have already discussed but the plot brought to focus other contemporary issues of her time as well and, more importantly, pointed out the right direction for changes. The employment of morality to serve one’s own agenda, for example, kept cropping up. While this is most defined when Jane refuses to become Mr. Rochester’s mistress, we also see how it is employed to serve the purpose of the chairperson of Lowood School Mr. Brocklehurst. We also see how different rules apply to different social classes and the way each social class is taught to view the other, though I didn’t always agree with Jane’s generalizing conclusions. I could value the questions raised on the application of religion by the various characters and Jane’s own spiritual conflicts, associations, and contrasts with the faith taught her, demonstrating she did not just take doctrines at face value. There is even a lot of importance placed on aesthetics; maybe a bit too much, more on this below.
What I did not enjoy about the novel was Brontë’s writing style. This is where I will compare her as a storyteller with others of her time as well as her predecessors. I was prepared for prolonged passages with complex sentences in both the narratives and the dialogues (it is expected from literary works of that period), but I found Brontë’s wording to be tedious beyond necessary. Whether it was a moment of passion or a dull moment, the characters sure took their sweet time to get their messages across, with analogies abound. Perhaps her attempt at being poetic was the influence of Shakespeare or Byron or Dickens, but I have never found any of these writers as longwinded as her heroes and heroines (perhaps because they all knew how to employ humor even in the tragedy whereas Brontë is one somber creation on earth). In fact, she goes to great effort when world-building – a place where long descriptions may be appreciated – but I kept losing my interest halfway through each time and just went blah-blah-blah in my head as I plodded on.
I also could not appreciate all her rhetoric – or “Jane’s” rhetoric – or the rhetoric of all the other characters. It was as though everyone was a critic and really took to their moment to opine. Now, I am a very opinionated person myself, but if I went on and on telling others what to do and not to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if I alienated myself. Reading this novel, I was beginning to understand why Charlotte had so few friends. She didn’t really like anybody else and was a bit too full of herself. Don’t get me wrong, I respected all the issues she brought up and was able to agree with most of her perspectives; I just could not appreciate how she went about voicing them. There was just such a holier-than-thou appeal to her presentation that made me feel as though she would not allow any opposing opinion from her readers even for the sake of healthy debate. Which only confirmed my theory that Brontë did not take well to criticism, constructive or otherwise.
The place where I most disassociated with Jane’s character was her fixation on people’s appearances. I mean, yes, there are people who behave that way but you don’t want the heroine to be one of them. In the context of the present society, she would fit right in with the stereotypical cheerleaders in any high school who welcome girls into their cliques based on the gap between the thighs. Except, everyone kept saying how homely she is so I doubt she would have belonged to one of those cliques so it’s even worse because then it just means Jane is petty. Hmm… Maybe Charlotte was writing about herself. And while I fully esteem the fact that Brontë completely revolutionized the art of storytelling from the “private consciousness” of the protagonist, I wish I had to read less of a heroine who kept comparing the many chins that walked through her world. And another reason why I feel this might really be an autobiography of Brontë and not just an autobiographical narrative by the character of Jane Eyre is because Jane is so obsessed by how everything affects her. Not only that, but even when Jane is in the mood to sacrifice, she labors her mind about what a good person she is to be sacrificing. While I agreed and lauded the heroine for most of her ideologies and the way she fought her battles, Jane Eyre is not a complete heroine. And while I like a heroine with faults, her brand of faults did not appeal to me.
Recommendation: Certainly, it is a very important work, if one is to understand the progress of society through the advances in literature. I felt the novel to be like a time capsule, very much affected by the contemporary themes of Brontë’s time. I cannot gush my love for the writing but I learned a lot from it and, therefore, am glad to have read it.
I feel as though I must also compare this work with Pride and Prejudice because, after all, I didn’t read this novel for the longest time because of Brontë’s criticism of Austen and now have read it for the same reason. I suppose, I now understand why Brontë may have felt that Austen did not explore subjects beyond what directly affected her characters, i.e. Austen did not allude much to issues affecting the general public of England at the time, but then again, Austen did raise topics that are quite timeless, such as the importance of upbringing and constancy in character. Austen’s heroines are just as enduring and feministic even if they do not suffer dire hardships every other chapter. Moreover, why should Austen have brought up issues that did not pertain to the plot? I also feel that because Austen references societal flaw with the subtle satire that is her style and not the grim despair that seems to be Brontë’s, Brontë did not fully grasp the importance of the topics raised by Austen for her target audience. We need to remember that Austen expected most of her audience to be of the circulating libraries and therefore her plot navigated such elements that deeply affected the lives of the women of society. When Pride and Prejudice came out, a novel written by a lady would be expected to be read by society ladies of the ton and not political mouthpieces. Brontë wrote during a time more liberal to women, as reined by Queen Victoria.
To the other points of dislike I feel towards Brontë, in reference to her own psyche, if anything, Jane Eyre’s characteristic flaws only confirms my conjectures.