Please delight in another rendition of insights into the 19th century masterpiece gothic romance/bildungsroman narrative of Jane Eyre, penned precisely by the brilliant authoress Charlotte Brontë. This post will be quite long, I assure you, and you may not want to read it if you’ve not yet experienced the story for yourself. After eight months of almost constant study and reflection from the first point I discovered the story, I’ve found I’ve got quite a lot more to say about this work, which I will do here, in several parts.
First, a semi-brief and enticing summary of the novel, safe to read by those of you who’ve not yet read the work. In fact, this portion of the post is intended to convince those of you who’ve not yet read it to do so at your earliest convenience.
Jane Eyre is a 19th century story about an orphan girl disrespected and disowned by the only family she had left. She is sent away to a school for awfully poor and orphaned children, called Lowood. There, Jane sees her first ray of light in life, in the form of a girl her own age named Helen.
Helen replaces in Jane her sense of doom and misery with hope and dignity. When Jane is mortified in front of all her new classmates, it is Helen who shows Jane a new perspective, and that although it feels like her life is ruined, really only 80 or such people in the world heard the particular announcement, in a world of millions, and so she is not to worry over it at all. Helen also introduces Jane to a woman who would be Jane’s only true friend at Lowood for many years, Miss (Maria) Temple. Drowned for years in the negativity of her horrid Aunt Reed, these two ladies served to show Jane her self-worth; that where she came from is not who she is destined to be.
After eight years at Lowood school, Jane decides it is time for a change. After a sleepless night searching for an answer to the monotony of her life, she decides to advertise herself as a governess in the local newspaper. Eagerly the ad is written and delivered to that place, and within the week, Jane is presented with an inquiry to her services. Some short time later, she is installed at Thornfield Hall as the governess of a young French ward, Adélè Verans.
Thornfield is the picturesque vision of a gothic novel: large, secluded, empty, filled with the grandeur of centuries, and possessing its own aire of mystery. Jane, now 18, is quite an independent woman, a strict but understanding teacher, and quite dignified in attitude toward all she encounters. Suddenly and unexpectedly the master of Thornfield, Mr. Rochester, returns to that place, and in him Jane finds her equal in both intellect and emotional sympathy. Rochester is quite a schemer, manipulating truth from those he encounters by unconventional and occasionally dishonest means. Jane and Rochester quietly delight in each other’s company, although convention and pride keep them from openly showing their affection.
The rest of the story is in turns incredibly romantic, sinisterly heartbreaking, suspenseful, endearing, jovial, humorous, and grotesque. Brontë weaves a story so detailed yet vast as to spark an interest in even a skeptical reader, as I once was. The amorous themes of Love VS Greed, Love VS Honesty, and the sacrifice of love for one’s vocation, makes impossible to deny the presence and relevance of romance in this story. You will also find glimpses in these pages of independence, wit over beauty, dealing with the consequences of one’s mistakes, both the strengths and faults of family ties, happiness VS wealth, the mystery and uncertain bliss of falling in love, the reality that bites inevitably at some point afterwards, patience, honesty, and self-righteous dignity; this book has been declared a ‘Classic’ for a reason.
As many of you know, this book has quite enchanted me; it has changed the way I read. Never before have I reread a book so many times that I can reconstruct scenes perfectly in my mind and nearly recite my favorite passages. Never before have I unpacked and studied characters as I have of Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre, Mr. Mason, and nearly everyone they encounter throughout the book. In no other book have I gone through and highlighted, flagged, and underlined as I have done in the several copies of Jane Eyre I now own. Never before have I felt that a book deserved to survive through the ages and reach as many people as possible as much as this one. Never before has a work of fiction inspired me as much to weave and create a tale of my own, or made it feel so possible. To steal a line from another novel I adore: the novel of Jane Eyre has ‘bewitched me, body and soul’. Whenever I may find myself uninterested in reading any other book, there is always Jane Eyre.
My adoration of Jane Eyre has also led to me other books I’d’ve never read before, firstly, the aforementioned work of Jane Austen. This August I read two of her novels, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, neither of which I’d have much of a desire to read beforehand. Rebecca by Daphne duMaruier is another I’d never have read before Jane Eyre, and adored almost as much. Many other books I feel inspired to read from my love of this novel: Wüthering Heights, Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, all written by Charlotte’s sisters; Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Great Expectations, and many others. Not only is my interest now invested in these other works, but I feel I will have a much greater understanding and be more accepting toward them than I ever would have been before. Jane Eyre has completely renewed my faith and love of the written word: new and old. A good book is not just a myth, guys. They exist, and this is one of them!
While my wholehearted devotion to this novel does not span over every single page, I do believe the book, as a whole, is very successful. Without the background of Jane’s childhood at Gateshead (the Reed estate), we would not know Jane’s fierce spirit, or the oppression she faced from her own family. The beginning also lays a lot of groundwork for the times Jane was then living: class separation, servitude, the role of male inheritance, the importance of religion, belief in the supernatural, and the attitude towards children of the time, etc.
The first section also offers a lot of payoff later in the novel, when Jane returns to Gateshead to the deathbed of her sinister Aunt Reed. The moment Jane hears of the woman’s illness is the moment that solidifies Jane’s goodness. It would have been easy for her to refuse, or to have gone only to be either indifferent or even cruel towards her. Instead, Jane offers complete forgiveness – even as she learns the full extent of Reed’s faults against her.
We see what Jane has overcome, the hard lessons she had to learn, and who Jane loved and looked up to. Without Helen and Miss Temple, Jane could have grown up to become a very unhappy, resentful woman who showed little kindness to anyone in this world. Instead, she turned her experience to wisdom; she learned to value respect, loyalty, and self-control. She learned through the faults of others what is right and good, and strove toward those qualities as steadfastly as she was able.
Jane’s time in Morton is also not something I return to again and again. Of course, it’s crucial to the story (taking up nearly the last third of the novel), being where Jane asserts her independence and integrity above all else. It makes feminists everywhere rejoice, I’m sure. The very fact that Jane leaves Thornfield is a tribute to her character, for who in this world would willingly turn their cheek on true love? I believe it is this point in the novel where there are just a few too many perfect coincidences, which can be eye-roll worthy, to me at least. The one that really gets me isn’t fully revealed at first: when Jane is so weak from starvation she is on the brink of death, lays down to die, basically, and then happens to look over and see the house where her only relatives in the country live, who then nurse her back to health and basically live happily ever after – especially after Jane conveniently receives a vast fortune from a dead uncle she’d never met.
It also enrages me how she lets herself be molded to please St. John after she had come so far in coming into her own and sticking firm to her beliefs. Finally, when he proposes marriage to her, she snaps into her senses (somewhat) and refuses to marry him; although, her reasoning is that he himself proclaims he does not love her, it would only be to ensure her safety on their missionary work. It seems she completely forgets that she is not in love with him, and can therefore never be truly happy. Then again, she realizes that she will never find again the love and happiness that she shared with her beloved Edward, and is therefore resigned to her indifference; perhaps the thought of both of them being unhappy in their marriage was just too much sadness for her heart to bear. Either way, it makes me cringe. And what of her fate if Edward’s sweet voice did not carry over the wind? I mustn’t think of it!
And now a moment to wonder on the language of Jane Eyre. I think half of my love affair with this book is simply the language used inside it. I’m not sure how much of that is attributed to Charlotte’s writing, and how much on the time period in which it was written (still not well read enough in the era to know), but either way it moves me in strange ways; sometimes the particular language makes me laugh, sometimes it makes my heart burst, sometimes it has me longing for time to stop and that moment to be a reality. The phrasing of sentences is perfect: it makes the act of speaking, the act of writing, arts newly realized. Things are not said as quickly and precisely as possible as we would have them (in most cases) today, but as beautifully and fully as can be. The door doesn’t open, it uncloses. Rich words seldom heard anymore splash the pages securing memories of lost times in our minds. Phrases we use today and never think about are extended and taken back to their meanings through these characters. I am a lover of words and good writing, and this book satisfies my hunger for them more than anything else I’ve read thus far, it sets a standard above.
Here I will list some of my favorite quotes from this beloved novel: some I love for the language, some I love for the part they play in the story; some I laugh at, some I weep over; all contribute to why I love this book::
“‘Tell me, now, fairy as you are, -can’t you give me a charm, or a philter, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?’
‘It would be past the power of magic, sir.'”
“‘You shall walk up the pyramids of Egypt!’ he growled. ‘At your peril you advertise! I wish I had only offered you a sovereign instead of ten pounds. Give me back nine pounds, Jane; I’ve a use for it.'”
“I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, great and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.”
“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you – especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.”…..” I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”
“Good-night, my-” He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me.”
“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine- I am sure he is- I feel akin to him- I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him.”…”For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract: I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him. I must, then, repeat continually that we are forever sundered: – and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.”
“‘Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.'”
“‘There!’ he exclaimed, as he stretched out his hand and bent from the saddle: ‘You can’t do without me, that is evident. Step on my boot-toe; give me both hands: mount!’
‘I’ll laugh at you heartily when to-morrow is past; till then I dare not: my prize is not certain. This is you; who have been as slippery as an eel this last month, and as thorny as a briar-rose. I could not lay a finger anywhere but I was pricked; and now I seem to have gathered up a stray lamb in my arms: you wandered out of the fold to seek your shepherd, did you, Jane?'”
“‘You are passionate: I expected a scene of some kind. I was prepared for the hot rain of tears; only I wanted them to be shed on my breast: now a senseless floor has received them, or your drenched handkerchief.'”
“’Jane, my little darling (so I will call you, for so you are), you don’t know what you are talking about; you misjudge me again: it is not because she is mad I hate her. If you were mad, do you think I should hate you?’
‘I do indeed, sir.’
‘Then you are mistaken, and you know nothing about me, and nothing about the sort of love of which I am capable. Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still: if you raved, my arms should confine you, and not a strait waistcoat–your grasp, even in fury, would have a charm for me: if you flew at me as wildly as that woman did this morning, I should receive you in an embrace, at least as fond as it would be restrictive. I should not shrink from you with disgust as I did from her: in your quiet moments you should have no watcher and no nurse but me; and I could hang over you with untiring tenderness, though you gave me no smile in return; and never weary of gazing into your eyes, though they had no longer a ray of recognition for me.’”
“Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure – you as well as I: do so.”
“’Jane, I never meant to wound you thus…Will you ever forgive me?’
Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot.”
“You are no ruin sir – no lighting-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”
In 2014, an annotated version of Jane Eyre (geared towards writers) is being released by someone I greatly admire: KM Weiland. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.