Writing this reflection is intimidating because Jane Eyre is a big-ass book and I have a lot of thoughts about it. When I write these pieces, I like to include as much of the thoughts I had while reading so that when I reread this reflection later, I can easily recall the experience of reading the book. But right now, it’s daunting to get my thoughts in order and jot them down.
From the book jacket:
Fiery love, shocking twists of fate, and tragic mysteries put a lonely governess in jeopardy in JANE EYRE
Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.
But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?
[This review will contain spoilers. But this is Jane Eyre so everyone probably knows everything about it already.]
As mentioned before in one of my posts, I read this book to catch up on homework I failed to do 4 or 5 years ago in college. My professor assigned us to read Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Ryhs, which provides a backstory for Bertha, Rochester’s wife, a.k.a. the “the madwoman in the attic,” and compare them. I read the first few pages of Jane Eyre, deemed it too boring to continue with and read Wide Sargasso Sea and decided it’s too confusing to bother with. How did I make it through the discussion and paper? I do not know.
Returning to Jane Eyre now, however, wasn’t bad. I found myself appreciating the story and even liking it at times. Sure, it’s long and has boring spots, but I could relate to Jane sometimes and I admired Brontë’s writing. Upon scanning the novel to locate the passages I highlighted, I realized my liking of the story has increased so much that I’m even considering to reread it in the future. [As a major rereader, liking a story so much that I’d want to reread it later is a big deal.]
The first thing that stood out to me about this story is the atmosphere. It’s gloomy, cold, and haunting. People (meaning Rochester) mention fairies and sprites, which he often compares Jane to, there is a ghost, and there is a lunatic in the attic whose maniacal laughter sometimes shatters Jane’s still nights. It’s not that the characters believe in the paranormal, but mentioning them in certain contexts adds to the atmosphere of the story.
I also liked how the story is written. It’s told in the first-person from Jane’s perspective and consists mostly of prose rather than dialogue. I love how Brontë writes prose and the variety of sentences she uses. Some are long and go on for a few lines as Jane describes what she sees. I liked reading these sentences because Brontë’s descriptions are quite vivid, making it easy for me to imagine the scenes she describes.
“It was now the sweetest hour of the twenty-four: ‘Day its fervid fires had wasted,’ and dew fell cool on planting plain and scorched summit. Where the sun had gone down in simple state — pure of the pomp of clouds — spread a solemn purple, burning with the light of red jewel and furnace flame at one point, on one hill peak, and extending high and wide, soft and still softer, over half heaven. The east had its own charm or fine deep blue, and its own modest gem, a casino and solitary star: soon it would boast the moon, but she was yet beneath the horizon.”
Also, because the story is mostly prose, I found it easy to read. I have a hard time reading dialogue in classics written back in the 1800s. It’s the major reason why I hated reading Pride & Prejudice, which is 90% dialogue. But unlike Pride & Prejudice, the dialogue in Jane Eyre was a little easier to read. I couldn’t puzzle out why that is.
As for the major characters, Jane was wonderful to read about in the first half of the story. I liked her personality when she was a child, all fire and passion. Such traits follow her into adulthood, but the fire within her was tempered by the training she received at Lowood School. There were also times when I strongly connected with Jane despite the distance of years and difference of culture between us.
An example that readily comes to mind is when Jane tires of working at Lowood. She wishes for freedom and to explore and experience someplace new. This desire leads her to place an advertisement in the paper, offering her skills as a governess. I could relate to this, as I’m sure most young people can. Eventually, most of us grow tired of being at home or stuck in college and are eager to explore and engage with the wider world and see and experience new places and people.
“I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!’”
I admire Jane. I like that she strives for independence and is resilient despite all the hardships she has endured. I also like that she remains true to who she is despite Rochester’s attempts to change her image and St. John’s attempts to change who she is. I also find Jane to be humorous at times because she tends to get a little dramatic. This is more apparent when she is a child, but the trait stays with her into adulthood. Unfortunately, I can’t think of an example in the text that illustrates this, but it’s a thought I had while reading. Though, looking at the passage I highlighted above, I think the ending sentence is a bit dramatic:
“‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!’”
During the time that I read Jane Eyre, I listened to a podcast on the book that aired on BBC World Book Club and someone on the podcast mentioned how Jane must have been perceived by the servants at Thornfield. I hadn’t gotten to that section when I listened to the podcast, but it stuck with me while I read and made some of the passages a little funny. I began to wonder what Grace Poole must have thought of Jane when Jane became curious about her thinking that the random laughter in the attic was because of Grace. I wondered if Grace thought Jane was a little weird too, and imagining Grace casting curious glances at Jane while Jane did the same toward her made me laugh.
As for Jane’s relationship with Rochester, I don’t think it’s very romantic and neither was their courtship. I didn’t like it. I kept thinking Rochester is a prick. And speaking of Rochester, I didn’t like him. I do not know why some readers find him appealing. Sure, he’s not a bad guy, but he’s not a good one either. However, he is a quirky man with a playful mind so I guess that’s what endears him to some readers. But I think he’s an ass because he doesn’t appreciate women.
Women are objects to Rochester. I say this because he is a womanizer (or was. I guess he reformed his ways after meeting Jane) and he often uses them without any care for their feelings (I’m thinking here of how he uses Blanche to make Jane jealous). He also treats his wife — Bertha — horribly; though, considering the time in which the story is set, I guess such treatment of the mentally unstable is as good as it gets. I wonder if women who read this book when it was published admired Rochester despite how he treats Bertha.
Speaking of Bertha, I wonder if she is really crazy because she seems to have a lot of sense to me. It could be that she has fits of mental instability that us, readers, aren’t privy to; but it’s Rochester who tells us that she’s crazy because she doesn’t conform to the way he wants her to be so who knows. Bertha doesn’t seem crazy to me. She seems to be a woman fighting to be heard in a story, world, that oppresses her and prevents her from speaking. Throughout the story, her attacks are targeted at Rochester and others who oppress her (like her brother) and even when she “visits” Jane, it doesn’t seem that she intends any harm. I wondered what she was thinking then. Did she pity Jane? Because if Bertha is sane, then she must have wondered why Rochester was hanging around for so long when his visits to Thornfield are usually short.
Bertha is quite an interesting character and her parts of the story reminded me strongly of Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” In that story, which takes place in the U.S., a wife is also locked in a room by her husband, who believes she’s crazy. Like Bertha, her husband stifles her voice and like Jane Eyre, the husband in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is weakened when his wife escapes the room — when she’s freed. Some might see Bertha’s death as something negative, but her suicide was an act of freedom. How else was she to escape a windowless room in a country she’s unfamiliar with, in a society that refuses to listen to her because she’s a woman and that is quick to believe she is crazy because of how she looks?
Overall: ★★★★☆ 1/2
Every time I think about this book, I bump it up a star. I think I gave it 3.5 stars initially. It’s so long that when I completed it, I was just glad to be done. It’s while reflecting on the story that I realized how much is packed in. And now I’m considering calling it one of my favorite classics. 😮
It’s a well-written book. Though dense, the writing is easy to get through. I enjoyed the story more in retrospect, but I still recommend it. Apart from the horrible characters, the only other thing that irked me about the story are the coincidences, mainly the major one where Jane develops bionic ears and can hear Rochester miles away saying her name (or she develops a deep spiritual connection with him). That was kinda cheesy but I’m glad to saves her from St. John.
I had a lot to say about this book so I also wrote two Weekend Reads discussion posts on it. The first discusses Jane’s relationship with Rochester and why I think he was disabled, and the second discusses Jane’s interactions with St. John and why I think he’s a horrible person.
Also, there are 3 books I plan to read because they are influenced by Jane Eyre. The first is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which will be a reread and is Bertha’s backstory; the second is Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt, which I’ve already read and is an illustrated children’s book; and the third is Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, which I haven’t yet read and is about an orphan named Jane who is a serial killer.
Hopefully, I get to Wide Sargasso Sea this year. [I’m so glad to be done with this reflection.]
Quotes from the book:
“It is a happy thing that time quells the longings of vengeance and hushes the promptings of rage and aversion.”
“The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above me in one sullen mass.”
Other thoughts on the Jane Eyre:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (consolationofreading.wordpress.com)
The English of Our Past (littlegeekychild.wordpress.com)
15. ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys (iwouldratherbereadingblog.wordpress.com)
Jane Eyre — Charlotte Bronte (kattemptsrgrc.wordpress.com)
Reviews of books based on Jane Eyre:
Review | Jane Steele by Lynsaye Faye (clairehuston.wordpress.com)
On Barb’s Bookshelf: Unclaimed (franciscanmom.com)
Jane Steele [Review] (snazzybooks.com)
Book Review: Charlotte Bronte: A Life (cultureandanarchy.org)