Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Now here is a classic that I understand why it has remained a classic. Jane Eyre, the character, is ahead of her time and unforgettable. She is foolishly courageous, headstrong, opinionated, and usually right. Yes, this is, at its heart, a romance book, but it’s not your everyday romance book. In this book, the characters are all interesting and the romance plays a secondary role to the adventures of Jane. In fact, I really only recognized it as a romance book about half way through and even then you don’t really quite know how things are going to turn out.
The book follows Jane from her miserable adopted childhood under the protection of a begrudging aunt to her school days as both student and teacher at Lowood to her role as a governess for Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall to her flight from Thornfield Hall to her falling in with the Rivers family where she becomes once again a teacher for disadvantaged girls. Throughout, Jane is portrayed as very level-headed and well ahead of her time, much to the consternation of those, but especially the men, around her.
Interspersed between what is an engaging story is also some great social commentary. For instance, “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” Beautiful.
Also this: “It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced for their sex.”
So yeah, I think you can fairly say that Charlotte Bronte was feminist before feminism was cool (which is scheduled to happen in 2020 the way we’re going). And that’s just a smattering of what the book has to offer.
But enough about the social commentary portions of the book. There is much to be said about Charlotte Bronte’s storytelling as well. The book is absolutely mesmerizing up to the point where Jane Eyre first leaves Thornfield Hall. It does get a bit pedestrian after that, but you’re over two-thirds through the book before that happens. There are some legitimately sad moments that will have you near tears. There is a lot of amazingly witty dialogue, especially between Mr. Rochester and Jane during their first interactions. There is mystery that actually passes for mysterious. This is a novel that does everything well.
When I first started reading “Jane Eyre”, I couldn’t help but compare Charlotte Bronte to Charles Dickens. They both cover similar topics and Charlotte’s writing style reminded me of Charles’. They were contemporaries so it is possible that each influenced the other somewhat even if they did not know each other. Has there ever been a time in the history of humanity where so much good fiction was coming out of one place all at once?