Book Review: "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte
Nowadays it is common for people to associate classic literature with a not so nice adjective: boring. I believe that most adults can understand, or at least respect the importance and the power of classics. However, young people that were born in what we can call “the era of the teenage novels” are more difficult to persuade. It is perhaps, the fact that they believe that a book written so many years ago cannot relate in any way to their life, their feelings or their problems. Maybe it's simply the fact that school contaminates the idea of reading classics with a sense of obligation; it's something you have to do whether you want it or not to please the teachers instead of for personal enjoyment. Let’s remember one of the classics for excellence and a proof that some books will never be out of fashion.
'Jane Eyre' is a story about an orphan child. Jane’s parents died when she was still too little to remember them, and it is her uncle (her mother’s brother) who takes her in. Jane's uncle also dies not to long after this, and he makes hir wife, Mrs. Reed, promise him that she will take care of his niece as if she were her own. Unfortunately for Jane, her aunt does not fulfill that promise: She considers Jane a bourdain and dislikes her for being poor. Her children are no better. Under their mother’s indulgence, they mistreat their cousin constantly, always making it clear that she is inferior to them.
It is only at age ten that Jane managed to get out of her aunt’s house, but her quality of life does not improve much. She is sent to Lowood, a charity school directed by the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst, who does not hesitate in making the pupils face hunger, cold and even physical punishments in what he considers a chance to 'save their souls'.
Our protagonist remains at Lowood for eight years, six as a pupil and two as a teacher. After that, she decides that it is time to find a new situation and advertises in a paper offering her services to educate children. The only answer she receives comes from a place called Thornfield, in Millcote, and is addressed by a Mrs. Fairfax, who hires her to be the governess of only one child.
Jane’s life in Thornfield Hall is more satisfactory that she could have expected. She likes Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, and her little pupil Adele, who soon become very fond of her, too. Jane also gets to know Mr. Rochester, owner of Thornfield, with whom she develops a strange friendship that eventually turns into love. But it will be no long until she discovers that the unequal social positions and the difference of age are not the biggest obstacles that their relationship has to overcome. On the eve of their wedding a terrible secret comes out, tearing Jane away from everything she has ever known.
Why should you be reading it?
It can be noticed, even while going through the first pages of this book, that the writer has a special sensibility when it comes to the perception of the world around her. This story is presented by Charlotte Bronte through the eyes of its protagonist, what gives us a very personal insight into what Jane is thinking and feeling at every point. And it is especially the way that feelings are expressed what stands out the most while we are reading: The descriptions of Jane’s emotions are so wonderfully well developed that you can even feel them in your own skin, something that not many authors are capable of achieving.
When we speak about Jane, we cannot ignore the fact that we are seeing one of the most famous feminist characters in history, probably one of the first feminist characters ever. Even though she is not constantly going over it, we get to see that she has strong moral convictions, and advanced ideas when it comes to the lives and the capacity of women. This shows up, for example, when she has to decide whether to stay with the man she loves and become his mistress, or leave him and find a respectable life somewhere else. She knows that leave is going to make her unhappy, but she also knows that she could never live knowing that she is acting against her principles.
"I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself (…) Laws and principles are not for the 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 might break them, what would be their worth?”— Charlotte Bronte
I believe Jane’s most striking quality is her duality. On the outside, she always looks correct, immutable, even resigned. On the inside she is not only intelligent and observant, but also passionate and sensitive.
I think it is precisely this duality the one that calls Mr. Rochester's attention the most, at least at the beginning. Jane is only eighteen when they first meet, but she is very mature for her age, and that is something Mr. Rochester gets to discover through their conversations. Jane does not say much, but when she is asked she always gives a reflective, sensible, and above all, honest answer. As time goes by, Rochester starts to confide her pieces of his past life, and even to ask for her advice. Converse and share thoughts and opinions is something essential for them as a couple. I am aware that the story of the girl who falls in love with a man of a higher social class is not new at all, and the difference of age is not something so peculiar either, but here it is treated in a way that makes it impossible to compare with others already written.
“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”— Charlotte Bronte
It is indubitable that this book is a masterpiece, but I also believe it to be a book of self-discovery. The love story is one of the best I have ever come across, and the construction of every character is thoughtful and detailed. The dialogues simply bristle the skin.
So, to everyone who is looking for something powerful and life-changing to read, do not search anymore: Here it is.
I highly recommend it.
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