Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I somehow got through several years of honors English classes in high school and a Bachelor's degree program in English without reading Jane Eyre.  I recently read it for the first time and am so glad I did.

If you dislike classics due to the formal, stuffier language that was de rigeur, you won't like Jane Eyre.  But if you can parse the more complicated text - and I assure you, it's not too much in this one - you'll find yourself wrapped up in this story of love lost and found, with a bit of crazy mixed in, too.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, the titular protagonist is an orphaned ward of her Aunt Reed, who, in the typical "evil stepmother" (in this case, step-aunt) fashion, can never love Jane as she does her own children.  Jane is maltreated and, as a spirited, animated child, has a difficult time biting her tongue against her abuses.  Aunt Reed sends her away to Lowood School, a religious boarding school for orphans and the poor.  Jane remains there as a student and later a teacher until age eighteen, when she advertises for a governess post, and receives employment at Thornfield Hall.

Mr Rochester is Master of Thornfield, and the way the romance between he and Jane unravels was positively swoon-worthy to me.  This is not a Harlequin bodice-ripper; Bronte was writing, after all, in the nineteenth century.  But the slow-building, tantalizingly drawn-out flirtation between the two was almost too much for me; I adored it.  So imagine my dismay when, towards the end of the middle of the book, the wedding between Jane and Rochester was not to be, and Jane dashes off in the early morning, presumably never to return to Thornfield.

Having read my share of literature by Bronte's contemporaries, I was shocked and delighted that in the end, Jane and Rochester are reunited, marry, and are deliriously happy together.  This was exactly as I'd hoped the book would end, and it did.

Aside from a happy ending, I also loved the character of Jane.  Forgive me if I'm restating the obvious that critics and writers more talented than myself have already concluded, but Jane is such an unusual character for the times for her outspokenness and willingness to follow her emotions rather than do what is societally expected of her.  There were points in the book in which I wanted to throw it across the room shouting, "Damn society, Jane!  Do what you feel is right for you!"  I nearly gave up on the text, feeling certain it would be another bleak, Victorian downer. 

I've probably given away the best of the plot now (though I did save a wonderful, surprising little nugget to be discovered!), but if you haven't read Jane Eyre, do.  It's really a classic worthy of the name.

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