October 25, 2009

Review: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Oh, Jane Eyre, how I do enjoy you. You've got everything: the plucky orphan, the brooding Byronic hero, the madwoman tucked up in the attic. You are great.

Now, does everybody know the story of Jane Eyre? It was first published in 1847 and has been made into a movie no less than 19 separate times, so I'm going to go ahead and spoil everything. Agreed? Yes? Excellent; we proceed.

So, once upon a time there is an orphan named Jane Eyre, who lives with her horrible foster family, the Reeds. And they are thoroughly awful, but at last she is sent to a boarding school, and is finally away from the awful Reeds -- except that everyone is starving at the school, and her best (only) friend dies of consumption. Tragedy! But Jane stays at the school -- goodness knows that the Reeds don't want her back -- and eventually becomes a teacher there. One day she decides that such a life is not enough, and at the age of eighteen she acquires a job as a governess for Adèle, the ward (and/or love child) of the brooding Mr Edward Rochester. And then Jane and Rochester fall in love, and are going to be married, except -- right at the altar -- Jane finds out that he actually has a wife already, and that she's not only alive, but she's crazy and has been tied up in the attic the whole time. Tragedy!

Jane runs away, therefore, and after nearly dying of exposure on the moors she falls in with a family of siblings, the Riverses, and their housekeeper. They give her a place to live, and eventually, a job as village schoolteacher. And then it turns out that they are actually all cousins. Coincidence! And they are very happy together, especially when Jane inherits a fortune from their mutual uncle -- whom none of them have actually ever met -- and splits it evenly among the. But then, St John Rivers, her drippy drip of a cousin, wants her to go to India with him as his wife, and Jane can't do that, as he is a drippy drip (and as she still loves Rochester, deep in her heart). Angst!

And she almost, almost goes off to India with dopey drip St John, but one night she hears Rochester's voice floating across the moors to her. So she re-runs away, and ends back at Thornfield Hall, Rochester's residence, only to find that, in the interim, it has burned right down to the ground, and its former inhabitants are gone. After some sleuthing, though, she finds Rochester again: he was severely injured in the fire and is now crippled and blind. Tragedy! But she loves him anyway, and crazy Bertha perished in the fire, and they get married (for real, this time) and live happily ever after. Relief!

There is the plot; and now that you have it out of the way, you will be able to concentrate on the writing itself, which is largely exquisite (and I don't mean that solely because it is filled with semi-colons, my favourite punctuation mark by far). The writing is both profound and beautiful, and I will give you two examples with which to whet your appetite:
Still indomitable was the reply -- 'I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad -- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I may break them, what would be their worth?' (p 280)

And again:
By this time he had sat down: he had laid the picture on the table before him, and with his brow supported on both hands, hung fondly over it. I discerned he was now neither angry nor shocked at my audacity. I saw even that to be thus frankly addressed on a subject he had deemed unapprochable -- to hear it thus freely handled -- was beginning to be felt by him as a new pleasure -- an unhoped-for relief. Reserved people often really need the frank discussion of their sentiments and griefs more than the expansive. The sternest-seeming stoic is human after all; and to 'burst' with boldness and good will into 'the silent sea' of their souls is often to confer on them the first of obligations. (p 329)

Is not that lovely? It is -- but even if you don't think so, read Jane Eyre anyway, so that you can go on to the reward of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. You won't regret either of them.

13 comments:

Mrs. Micah said...

Reading this, I realized how many times I've read the book. Several times before college, then multiple times as part of my intro English class, esp since we had to write a paper on it. I don't even remember what I wrote.

Then there are the 3 or 4 film versions I've seen. I've even got the most recent one around here somewhere, gift from a friend.

I know this story backwards & forwards. Like Jane changing her name to Elliot (or Eliot?) in order not to be discovered.

Am I a bad person for liking Timothy Dalton as Rochester?
.-= Mrs. Micah´s last blog ..I’m Being the Match =-.

Haley said...

Thanks for the review! Jane Eyre is one of my very favorite books, EVER (and as a bibliophibian* and book-lusting English major, that's saying something. I haven't read it in a couple of years; I'm taking this as a sign that it's been long enough, I can pick it up again!
Also, thanks for the recommendation of The Eyre Affair; it's on my potential to-read list (contingent upon further investigation and discovery of positive reviews by actual, real people). So I'll move it higher on my ever-growing list now!

* = http://wondermark.com/442/

Kristen M. said...

My mom first handed me this book when I was maybe twelve and it's so interesting to experience the story in a different way each time I read it again. When I was young, I thought the beginning was the saddest thing I had ever read. But in my last reading, I was much more heated about the class snobbery.

By the way, I just might have read The Eyre Affair as many times and I've read Jane Eyre now. I love that book too!
.-= Kristen M.´s last blog ..New Release: Spellbinder =-.

zibilee said...

I think I am the only person in the world who hasn't yet read this book, so I only skimmed your review. I am going to be reading this very soon, and I will definitely be bookmarking this page to come back to your review and see what you thought if it!
.-= zibilee´s last blog ..The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter - 304 pgs =-.

kevin said...

Ta for this.

At the moment too many people I know are reading the version with the bloody zombies (aargh!)
.-= kevin´s last blog ..Stochastic Fats =-.

Christine said...

Did they do a zombie Jane Eyre as well? I thought that it was only Pride and Prejudice -- and Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters is out there as well, I think. Doom, doom....

Emily said...

What a cool appreciation of Jane Eyre! I love it too, so much, and I agree that The Eyre Affair is total enjoyment as well.
.-= Emily´s last blog ..Nathaniel's Nutmeg =-.

EL Fay said...

I think the genius of Jane Eyre is that there is SO MUCH going on with the plot that the whole thing could've been just so convoluted. But Bronte not only pulls it off, she writes a masterpiece.
.-= EL Fay´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday (Halloween Edition) =-.

Care said...

Reading this only makes me question if I really ever have read this - I know the story oh-too-well! Perhaps this is a fabulous book to try reading now/soon (again or not). Thank you, wonderful post; I enjoyed your thoughts very much.
.-= Care´s last blog ..The Giver by Lois Lowry =-.

S. Melville said...

Love this book! It's one that's grown with me -- I think I read it for the first time when I was 13. The writing is truly amazing, Romanticism possibly at its best.

Also, that's the copy I have. Go Dover Thrift!

Ariel said...

First of all, semi-colons=sublime. Absolutely.

And yes, Jane Eyre is ever delightful, endlessly rereadable. My favorite moment has got to be the scene in which Rochester dresses in drag to pretend to be the fortune teller, just to have an opportunity to peek under Jane's normal reserve. Seriously, wonderfully weird. And almost never discussed in conversations about the book. In fact, it may only be rivaled for weirdness by the moment in Mansfield Park in which a character - a JANE AUSTEN character - tells a joke about the Navy being filled with "Rears and Vices" (meaning Admirals, of course!).

Have you ever read Margaret Drabble's "The Waterfall"? It is my favorite of her novels, and it contains quite an ingenious reading of "Jane Eyre" by the main character, who is obsessed with the fact that Jane *needs* Rochester to be physically maimed at the end of the novel in order to recalibrate the power structure of their relationship.
.-= Ariel´s last blog ..Sunday Salon: Loving a good series (and some bad ones) =-.

Irina said...

I love the book. It seems that my relationship with it is quite a common story - I read it first as a child and then re-read it many times while I grew up, but I never get tired of it. What's less common, I've always associated myself with Jane - there's an unmistakable likeness in our characters, despite all the differences in our backgrounds. Perhaps, that's the reason why I think of Jane as a real person rather than a character in a book.

I regard "Jane Eyre" as one of the best books ever written.
.-= Irina´s last blog ..“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde =-.

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