Monday, July 11, 2016

'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte

 10210

 Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.


Genre: Great classics, Gothic fiction, romance. 

Warning: Although I usually take great care to avoid plot spoilers wherever possible, I consider old classics to be fair game. If by any chance you've never read 'Jane Eyre' and would prefer not to have any details revealed, you might want to skip this review. 

MY THOUGHTS: 
I read this novel more than once in my teens and early twenties, and studied it in my English course at Adelaide Uni. I thought it high time I read it again, to see how it strikes me after having been married and raised a family. I loved it more now than then. 

Firstly, Jane herself is a refreshing and interesting heroine, and it's easy to admire her for some of the same reasons she appeals to Rochester. She's an introvert reader's dream, as we probably share some of her best qualities. It's lovely to have a heroine admired for her quietness and caution. What a great role model she is. Serene and peaceful in her outlook, no matter what happens in the daily run of things. Anybody who wants to learn to enjoy their own company just needs to take a leaf from Jane's book.

As for Rochester, I remember deciding that he wasn't my favourite hero when I was a teenager. Back then I thought he sounded too old, ugly and controlling. This time through, I fell for his charisma and charms, and kept wanting to hug him. What ruggedness coupled with vulnerability, which nobody really sees but Jane. He no longer sounds that old, and his physical description is intriguing, in spite of the frequent use of the word 'ugly'.

Their relationship is based on a heart-warming friendship, which I believe all romances should be. They come across as soulmates in the true sense of the word. I love the way he refers to her as his 'little friend'. And when she's staying with her Reed relatives, she sketches Rochester's likeness just so she can comfort herself that she's looking in the face of a friend. This sort of detail shows that they bring out the best in each other, and then when the romance heats up, we can't help loving it and feeling that it's just right.

I don't remember if this question ever occurred to me as a teenager, but this time round I even started to Google it, and the search engine finished asking my question instantly. Why couldn't Rochester divorce Bertha? The procedure wasn't unheard of in their time, and I thought he would have had excellent grounds, with a snarling, fang-dripping wife who was hanging out to set him on fire or rip his flesh with her teeth. The responses that came up didn't seem very satisfactory, the main one being that insanity might not have been seen as a reasonable grounds for divorce. Sounds pretty silly if that was the case, but if it had been easy for him, Charlotte Bronte might not have written her brilliant novel.

I appreciate the way Rochester's possible rival didn't turn out to be a villain or heartless scoundrel, but a great guy in his own way, as well as being Rochester's contrast in many ways. Several of us may have had run-ins with people like St John Rivers, or been related to them. They are living, breathing guilt trips in human form. He has a crusader's zeal, erring on the side of earning his salvation. Doing arduous, sacrificial tasks makes him happiest, and he expects the same of everyone he admires most. Jane was wise, at her young age, in figuring out that St John 'is a good and great man but forgets the feelings and claims of little people in pursuing his own large views.' It's a pity St John couldn't have hooked up with Jane's pious cousin, Eliza Reed. They could have been awesome together.

I was fascinated by the archaic and unusual words Charlotte Bronte used throughout the story. Some of them sound beautiful, and it's a shame they've been pushed out of the modern dictionary. Words like chimera, incubi, charivari, diablerie, cynosure, hierophant and cairngorm. Does anyone have any idea what someone might be talking about who says, 'She has cairngorm eyes'? I certainly didn't, until I looked it up. (No, I'm not telling you. You'll have to look it up yourself.) It's interesting to see Jane mention feeling a 'ruth' for her aunt's or Rochester's great sufferings. I've never seen it used before. Funny how we've kept 'ruthless' but dispensed with 'ruth'.

Needless to say there are a quantity of wonderful quotes from Jane and Rochester, regarding the depth of their love for each other. But one of my favourite lines comes from the cold St John. When Jane mentions the beautiful Miss Oliver's admiration for him, he says, 'It's very pleasant to hear this. Go on for another quarter of an hour.' Then he actually takes out his watch to mark the time. What a guy.

Of course this book hasn't delighted thousands of readers for nothing, and deserves full marks. If only there had been a sequel. Has anyone ever written any fan fiction about Rochester and Jane's son, that baby with his father's dark eyes who was mentioned on the last page? 

5 stars

Jane Eyre also appears on my list of a dozen famous orphans.

13 comments:

  1. I re-read Jane Eyre for about the third time in my life a couple of years ago. While I find some of the language a bit cumbersome these days there is still an endearing quality about old classics that makes it so worthwhile revisiting them. Thanks Paula - loved your review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Hi Lesley,
      I'm so very glad I re-read it too. It kept giving me flashes of my teenage years. I think the way authors like Charlotte Bronte constructed their paragraphs helps us to slow down a bit while we're reading, which maybe isn't such a bad thing from time to time.

      Delete
    3. Hi Lesley,
      I'm so very glad I re-read it too. It kept giving me flashes of my teenage years. I think the way authors like Charlotte Bronte constructed their paragraphs helps us to slow down a bit while we're reading, which maybe isn't such a bad thing from time to time.

      Delete
  2. I'm doing the Pop Sugar reading challenge at the moment and was thinking of doing this one as my 'book that's at least 10 years older than you'. Have downloaded it on Kindle, but haven't braved it yet. Was wondering if it would be too heavy, but your review might make me reconsider :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Whoops - That was supposed to be '100 years older'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol Nola,
      I was thinking you really got in there with a wide margin for at least ten years older than you ;) I'd recommend it, as I'd be interested to see your thoughts. Knowing that you enjoy writers such as Kate Morton, there's nothing like going back to read tales about original Gothic old houses.

      Delete
  4. Love everything about this book. The story, the characters, the romance, the language, and the faith themes. I can't help but think that most run-away successful modern romances all nod to this story. The dark, dangerous hero and the meek, but strong-willed heroine. Hello!!!!! Twilight, Shades of Grey - and all the rest. This was the first. It's still the greatest. And will always say more that all that followed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rose,
      Hurrah, that's well said, Rose! It's wonderful to think of little Charlotte Bronte and her ability to bring together all that you've just said, considering her youth at the time of writing, and the rough life she'd had. What a master of her craft, and mostly all from her heart without formal lessons.

      Delete
  5. And - a fabulous review, Paula. I loved reading it. :-) xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks :) When I get into more classics, I hope they'll all be as fun to read as that one.

      Delete
  6. Ah, one of my all-time favourites. And I've used the word 'tyne' in Scrabble before. Mr Rochester claims he's going to attach Jane to his watch chain, 'Lest my jewel should tyne'. Hubby argued with my use of the word but I pulled out my copy of Jane Eyre and overruled him. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was a great idea, Lynne. A copy of 'Jane Eyre' could be an excellent tool to have on hand, along with the dictionary, when playing Scrabble. I wonder if Words with Friends would accept some of them.

      Delete