By: Charlotte Bronte
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Passionate, poetic and revolutionary, Jane Eyre is a novel of naked emotional power. Its story of a defiant, fiercely intelligent woman who refuses to accept her appointed place in society – and instead finds love on her own terms – has become famous as one of the greatest romances ever written, but it is also a brooding Gothic mystery, a profound depiction of character and a transformative work of the imagination.
I read this book years and years ago when I started reading a lot more classic novels (thank you, Jane Austen). I actually reviewed it in the early days of my blog (review; yikes at my early reviews 😛 ) but for the longest time I had been meaning to re-visit it, discuss it a bit more. Pages Unbound‘s Charlotte Bronte week and discussion about the adaptations on Twitter last month finally prompted me to re-visit it indeed 🙂
Re-reading this novel, much of my first impressions resurfaced again: it struck me how Jane is very independent, strong-willed, she knows her own mind and what she wants and sticks to her principles no matter the situation. She is a very modern woman in that she respects herself first and foremost, regardless of her situation, her station in life. She loves Rochester but she cannot turn her back on her principles and her values no matter how much she loves him. She chafes under social expecations and social structures despite of her strong sense of what’s right; she will act properly, but at the same time desires more as a person, the same freedom as a man. She searches for means to be useful, to be independent, to live her life without being shackled to a particular person or situation. She was also a very fiery character when we are first introduced to her; while her time in Lowood and her friendship with Helen had tempered some of her forthrightness, you see that old fieriness when cornered (her confrontations with St. John, for example). Jane is such a fully-realised character, it’s very easy to slip into her story and root for her through thick and thin (and she does go through a lot over the course of the novel).
What also really struck me abut this novel was many, if not all, of the characters represent different types of people, different stations, different life experiences. You can draw connections and themes from many of them. For example, Elizabeth and Georgiana Reed, Jane’s cousins, despite being raised together are total extremes: Elizabeth is very stern while Georgiana is very soft and vain. St. John is of a different kind of rigidity, devoid of expressing or understanding human emotions of love and passion (I’m still sort of processing why St. John is the way he is) while Rochester is all passion and emotion, however towering and grumpy he can be. They all contrast in different and interesting ways with Jane’s character; it seemed to me as though Jane, by interacting with these characters, seems to be navigating to some kind of balance between passion and fortitude with propriety and what is right.
I can’t remember where it was that I came across this idea, but someone mentioned that Rochester was a man who was stuck by circumstances, that he was the way he was because of what was handed to him. I found myself contemplating about this quite a bit as I was reading this book. Rochester can be a towering presence, commanding rather than asking, expecting obedience even from those closest to him, even from Jane herself. He’s also a bit of a troll at times, playing with Jane’s emotions to incite some jealousy on her part and pulling that gypsy trick on his visitors. But in his quieter moments, I find myself agreeing with that idea that he was the way he was because of how he came to be married to Bertha, of his family life growing up. I don’t think he was always so demanding or so cynical; he’s well-educated, he has interests, he enjoys the quieter moments on his estate with Jane. He has his faults–trolling and demanding aside, not telling Jane about Bertha sooner was not cool–but his character is an intriguing one.
The writing is quite accessible, like Jane is conversing with her reader, though I did find that at times the characters can be going on and on in a very lengthy monologue without breaks (but then again I can’t imagine the information relayed being conveyed any other way, so…). But a lot of the dialogue felt realistic; I could feel Jane’s hurt when she tells Rochester that she has to leave when Rochester gets married, even Rochester’s anguish after he’s admitted how he came to be Bertha’s husband. I hate to bring the 2011 adapation here (review) but while those scenes felt stilted and out of place in the movie, it felt quite natural in the book (which is probably why I prefer the 2006 television miniseries; the speech was modernised here and there, but it flowed better as a visual medium). As an aside though, and credit to the 2011 adaptation, I can’t read Mrs. Fairfax’s lines now without hearing Dame Judi Dench in my head 😉
Trying to think of anything else I want to discuss here, but all in all I really enjoyed my re-read of Jane Eyre. It struck me how much Jane endured–especially when she escaped Thornfield Hall and the hunger and wandering she went through–and how she persevered with her values intact. The last portion with St. John Rivers was a little easier to read this time, though still a little less interesting compared to the rest of the book, but it does highlight the changes that Jane was undergoing and sticking to her gut despite of everything. I don’t remember why I gave it 4 stars the first time, but it’s definitely a 5 star read this time around; great characters, engaging story.