Book: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
First published: 1847
Source: Project Gutenberg free download
Summary: (from Goodreads) Charlotte Bronte's impassioned novel is the love story of Jane Eyre, a plain yet spirited governess, and her arrogant, brooding Mr. Rochester. Published in 1847, under the pseudonym of Currer Bell, the book heralded a new kind of heroine--one whose virtuous integrity, keen intellect and tireless perseverance broke through class barriers to win equal stature with the man she loved. Hailed by William Makepeace Thackeray as "the masterwork of great genius," Jane Eyre is still regarded, over a century later, as one of the finest novels in English literature.
First impressions: It's always a bit of an adjustment jumping into the classics, and Jane Eyre is no exception. I was surprised at how quickly I fell into Jane's story, though, and consider this to be very accessible even for the most casual reader.
Lasting impressions: What an incredible journey for our young heroine! Jane experiences some of the toughest situations life can throw at you. Throughout the course of the story she is at times loveless, penniless, homeless, and friendless. When she does meet the few people in her life that bring her joy and affection, they are often torn from her in cruel ways. Yet Jane never lets life get the best of her. It's easy to see why she has been such an inspirational character for nearly two centuries.
Conflicting impressions: While Bronte's dialogue sings, some of the descriptive scenes can get quite boring. The book covers a large chunk of time, so I found myself getting impatient when I was ready to move on to the next section of the book. In particular, after she leaves Thornfield Hall and moves in with St. John's family, I was anxious to get to the part where I knew she'd be reunited with Rochester.
Overall impressions: Jane Eyre is definitely one of my new favorite characters. She is a passionate girl in a time where girls should be anything but. Orphaned at an early age, she is brought up by her aunt - her mother's brother's wife - who promised her husband on his deathbed that she would care for the child. She despises Jane, however, and shows her absolutely no love or kindness. As if that isn't bad enough, her son torments and beats Jane when no one is looking, and when Jane strikes back she is punished for it.
After one particularly unjust confrontation, Jane is locked in the room where her uncle died, and she experiences a haunting that terrifies her until she faints. After this incident she is sent away to Lowood School, where she remains both as student and teacher until adulthood. It is at Lowood that Jane makes, and loses, her first friend. Helen teaches Jane the value of restraint and acceptance in the face of brutality, which serves Jane well as she develops into a young woman. The impetuous nature of her childhood seems to cool a bit, and when Jane emerges as a strong woman from Lowood, she is much more reserved and capable of handling tough circumstances.
Jane's first job outside of Lowood is as a governess at Thornfield Hall, a property owned by Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester. He has a young girl, Adele, as his ward, who he took care of after her mother died in France - a woman Rochester seems to have spent quite a deal of time with. He is blunt, direct, overbearing, and not particularly handsome. He has a dark past that he hints at and ultimately is revealed later in the book. He is an intriguing character to be sure, and given Jane's own direct nature, the two engage in some zinging dialogue that carries you through the pages effortlessly.
It is through Rochester that Jane begins to understand real partnership. They are equals, relying on each other for strength, comfort, and the joy of each other's company. Jane has had no real contact with men, and at times Rochester takes advantage of this fact, as well as his station as her employer, to toy with her feelings. What could seem brutish and unseemly is rather understood to be merely the insecurity of a man who feels he is not deserving of any kind of love or happiness. When he finally reveals his true feelings, you get the urge to smile through your tears and punch him on the arm for putting us through all that.
While at Thornfield, Jane also experiences a number of seemingly supernatural events. She hears voices and footsteps in the halls, wakes to find Rochester's bed on fire, and on the eve of her wedding, sees a strange creature in her closet ripping her veil. I really liked these spooky elements of the story, and I may be developing a bit of a crush on gothic literature because of it. If you haven't read the book, do yourself a favor and don't read the plot summary beforehand like I did. I think the reveal behind the ghostly occurrences is quite powerful and surprising, so I promise not to spoil it for you here.
When Jane is forced by circumstance to leave Thornfield Hall, she ends up losing her belongings in a carriage and finds herself suddenly without money, food, or shelter. It is during this portion of her story that Jane proves herself to be wonderfully resilient. With another small kindness bestowed on her from a man called St. John, she manages to slowly build herself back up, eventually securing work again as a schoolteacher and having her own place to live.
I won't give away the entire ending, but despite all odds against her, Jane's story is a happy one. It is also a lesson in the power of who you choose to call family, how you choose to live your life, and what you choose to make of the life given to you. Your real family may disappoint you, and complete strangers may give you just what you need to get through the end of the day. One day you can be full of sadness, and the next may bring you complete joy. It is a journey, but one that should be endured and celebrated no matter what happens, for you never know what tomorrow will bring. Jane Eyre is a magnificent and truly timeless story.
Rating: 4/5 stars
I also saw the movie this weekend, and highly recommend it, particularly if you like period dramas. The movie has to skip over some material, as the book encompasses a LOT of story. We are given only the briefest of glimpses into the time Jane spends with her aunt and at Lowood School, with the majority of the movie taking place at Thornfield Hall. I found this appropriate since Jane's romance with Rochester is such a major point of the book.
The cast was exquisite, and the two leads portray Jane and Rochester with the perfect balance of decorum and playfulness. They downplay some of Rochester's faults (because Michael Fassbender ain't exactly hard to look at, if you catch my drift), and portray Jane as a bit more dense than she comes across in the book. Judi Dench is a dream as Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, often getting a big laugh from the audience with nothing more than a glance.
I did have an issue with the Big Reveal - in the novel it is quite a bit more shocking than it came across on film. That was disappointing, especially given how much they played up the supernatural stuff throughout the movie. There was also an inexplicable change to the relationship between Jane and St. John that I didn't quite get. I thought it was much more effective as written than how they handled it in the movie.
The movie seemed to match the book's pacing - slooooow. Neither version is jam packed with excitement, even given the volume of events that take place and the nature of the action. I found the movie quite enjoyable regardless, though I am always a fan of 19th century British dramas. If the story interests you but you don't have the time to read the book, definitely go see the movie - and then email me so we can gab about it!