Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Fiction Review: Jane Eyre

Way back in my early 20’s, just after college, I bought a copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and loved it. We’d read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in high school (which I also liked), and friends had recommended Jane Eyre to me. Fast-forward more than 30 years. Last summer, I re-read Wuthering Heights, which was very good but a bit dark for my taste. This summer, I re-read Jane Eyre and remembered why I loved it so much the first time! It also counted for both my 2017 Classics Challenge (which I am doing rather poorly on!) and my own Big Book Summer Challenge.

Ten-year old Jane was orphaned as a baby and lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins. Mrs. Reed treats Jane like an outcast, constantly berating her for imagined slights while coddling her three own children. Out of her sight, though, Jane’s cousins are far worse than she imagines Jane to be, lying, fighting, and treating Jane poorly. After once again wrongly accusing Jane, Mrs. Reed punishes her even more severely than usual. When she decides to send Jane away to a boarding school, Jane is relieved. Though the school is a strict and spartan one, run by a religious fanatic, Jane enjoys living there and has far more freedom there to be herself, in spite of its rigorous environment.

As an adult, after teaching in the school for two years, Jane finds employment outside of the school that has sheltered her for almost a decade. Her new job is a governess to a young girl at the luxurious home of Mr. Rochester. The master of the house is sometimes gruff and brooding, but Jane gets along well with him and enjoys her new home. The house and its owner hold many secrets, though, and Jane only gradually grows to understand Mr. Rochester and his household. Jane even begins to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, though she has no experience of love, and his secrets may be an obstacle.

I loved this novel just as much 30 years later as I did the first time I read it, as a young woman myself. The mystery at the heart of the novel, plus plenty of other suspense, makes it a riveting read (even though I remembered part of the story). There are lots of plot twists and surprises along the way to keep the story moving along. Jane herself is the perfect heroine, having overcome such horrible beginnings to make a life for herself and seek her own happiness. Even Mr. Rochester, despite his flaws, is an interesting character. His tormented soul only makes him more earnest and real.

I enjoyed Charlotte Brontë’s writing, telling the story in Jane’s voice, and I tabbed many pages with insights from Jane that I want to remember and return to, like this one describing the root of her own restlessness:
“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must take action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

I remember now why I liked Jane Eyre better than Wuthering Heights. Though Wuthering Heights is a captivating story with interesting characters and many plot twists, I didn’t find any of the characters (except the narrator) likeable or relatable. Cathy and Heathcliff were both tormented souls also but wholly miserable and wanting those around them to be miserable as well. Jane is a heroine to love; she overcomes great challenges, keeps moving forward no matter what obstacles she encounters, and believes in love. Even the anguished Mr. Rochester is understandable (once you discover his secrets) and likeable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this re-read of a favorite classic. Originally published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, Jane Eyre is Charlotte Brontë’s most famous and best-loved work, with good reason. In it, she created a rather modern heroine for 1847 who lives her own life and follows her dreams, all within a poignant love story. Brontë combined romance, mystery, suspense, and drama into a compelling novel that has more than earned its accolades over the years. I am glad to have been re-introduced to Jane.

433 pages, Bantam Books (my original paperback, purchased in 1987!)

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Jane Eyre
by Charlotte BronteMass Market


  1. It is such a remarkable story and what a tremendous last line.

    1. Yes, just wonderful! I enjoyed revisiting Jane.

  2. I haven't read that book so far. Shame on me.

    1. It is a classic for good reason, Klara! Hope you get to it soon - enjoy!

  3. I am so not good at reading classics; I'll admit that I avoid them all. But, I don't know that I've ever heard the story of Jane Eyre and it sounds good. Perhaps I'll add this to my TBR and get inspired.