This is the first time I have read this novel, even though it has been sitting on my bookshelf since 2012. It comes with several expectations attached simply because of its popularity, and fortunately I wasn’t disappointed. I had seen the 2011 film adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, so I knew the basics of the story, but I have to admit that the book was even better (as they often are).
Brontë’s novel follows the story of a young Jane Eyre, from her time growing up in her aunt’s household, to her progression into adulthood as she seeks work as a governess. Despite its sophisticated and somewhat tricky archaic language, the narrative is confessional and conversational, which makes it a healthy page-turner. The reader becomes an intimate, a friend, a witness to all that prevails in the book, which I found was a skilful method of keeping readers like me invested.
I didn’t expect to find the narrative quite so compelling, but as a heroine, Jane is intriguing and embodies a lot of qualities which make her a great role model for young girls and women even today. Jane is not a character who settles with what she has. It pains her to think that all she might behold in life is limited by the horizon she sees before her every day, while a man can travel and learn and do whatever he chooses. Through her protagonist, Brontë explores the truth that women in this period of history wanted more than they were allowed to want by society, and this is what I found so fascinating about the novel. Jane’s unconventional traits are what make her such an appealing heroine. She promotes female agency at a time when women were generally perceived to be the inferior sex, and refuses to sacrifice her dignity and self-respect for a man, even when it pains her to do so. I found that incredibly empowering, and walked away from this text with great respect and admiration for Brontë’s heroine. If she teaches readers nothing else, I hope Brontë succeeds in convincing them that a person’s self-worth is more important than whether they are ‘plain’ or ‘unattractive’ or ‘inexperienced’.
This novel takes the shape of a bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) which explores many different topics and themes throughout: romance, feminism, class struggles, family/absence of family, to name a few. I particularly liked that the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester wasn’t all that conventional. Rochester’s conversations are challenging and provide Jane with a mental stimulant to push boundaries and question things openly, and the main reason he’s able to offer her this is because he asks her to speak to him as if they were equals. Given the gender inequality of the period, I’m making an educated guess that not many men did this, which is why Rochester lives fairly high in my esteem.
Jane Eyre is a text I have heard about many times but never encountered on a college or university reading list. Part of me regrets this because I’ve been living ignorant of just how good a text it really is for much longer than I like to admit. But another part of me is glad because I’ve been able to read it at my own leisure. I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter, and wasn’t under any pressure to finish in time for a seminar discussion. I didn’t have to read it with a highlighter in hand and a fresh pad of sticky notes to flag important passages or language use (though my brain still notices them by default). In short, I whole-heartedly enjoyed Brontë’s novel, and commend her for providing the world with an ordinary yet extraordinary heroine.
October Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James