Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This was a real surprise to me. I was searching for a quote from something else and there were enough word matches to place me smack dab in the middle of an html version of Jane Eyre. I wasn't sure what it was and had to scroll to the top to see; but sure enough it turns out that it was Jane Eyre. I've always thought Jane Eyre to be a sort of gothic romance; and it is. Never took much interest and was never obligated to read it all through school and college.
When I got to the top I started reading it.
Of course I'm aware that everyone these days in the writer’s forums talks about a great opening and a good hook. I'm not sure this had that but somehow it did manage to draw me in and now I'm perplexed. I read this in two sittings taking up half of two days; but I found I needed to read it.
It starts quite simple enough:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Told in first person it is at the onset difficult to tell if this is some poor child being neglected or if she is truly in need of some bit of civilizing and has rightfully been partitioned off from her cousins and subjected to severe discipline. Being an orphan living with her uncle's family; on her father’s side; and being that her mother is reputed to have come from a poor family she should feel privileged to be here. But now her uncle has died; almost orphaning her again in a manner of speaking; and she's left with an aunt who doesn't want her and wouldn't care for her, but for the promise she made to her late husband before he died. As the story unfolds it becomes very clear that Jane is aware of all of this and that might influence her behavior some. Once again this is first person and told in a way that it is evident that it is the past and the narrator is likely a much older wiser Jane Eyre and yet it sometimes is difficult to separate that out, so it leaves the reader often seeing Jane as someone a bit more mature than her age. This and the acceptable mores of the time in relationship to woman’s place in that era sometimes make the novel frustrating until the reader remembers this is a very young girl in distant past times.
I suppose that one thing that drew me immediately into the story was the moral and physical privation Jane suffers once one clearly sees what is going on in this family. She's not just an outsider looking in; she's a prisoner of an unjust development of circumstance and an almost predatory indifference from those who should be close to her. She virtually lives in a closet. All of this reminds me of my favorite Dickens novels and is partially the reason I continued reading. But after her cousin strikes her in the head with a book, drawing blood, and comes at her violently; forcing her to defend herself, she’s chastised and sent to the red-room for punishment.
This is where the gothic element comes into the story. The red-room is the room her uncle died in and Jane is quickly overcome with the suspicion that his ghost resides within the room. Her aunt will have nothing of her complaints and relegates her to further time in the room. Eventually the unreasonable fear overtakes her and she passes out to be found that way some indeterminate time later. This leads to a visit from a doctor who is keen enough to recognize some things and suggest to the aunt that perhaps Jane would be better tempered if sent off to a school. His true motive seems clearly to be to somehow release the aunt of obligation and save Jane. There is still some struggle ahead before Jane is sent off and when she is her aunt sends a message that she is troubled and demon possessed child.
In school she meets more disagreeable sorts and the stigma of that pronouncement of her aunt threatens her condition until one teacher, Miss Temple, contacts the doctor for the true story and is able to acquit Jane. Jane makes a quick friend of Helen Burns who seems to have a quite Christian view about her life despite her own troubled nature and often tries to entreat Jane to follow her example; which in many ways might help Jane because she has become a person who vacillates between grudging acceptance to igniting like a flame when pushed too far and always getting herself into trouble with her honest forward nature during that time. But by now much of Jane's character has been formed and though some of Helen Burns does seem to rub off on her; she has her own specific treatment of morality that will mold her life later on.
Soon Jane is introduced to harsh reality of life in those times when her friend Helen grows sick and eventually dies on a night that Jane sneaks in to comfort her. This can't help but have a profound effect on Jane. Eventually because of poor conditions at the school many more of the girls die from Typhus and changes are eventually made to the way the facility is administered to make sure this doesn't happen again.
It is interesting to note that up to this point there are many parallels that historians and biographers draw between the life of Jane and that of Charlotte Bronte, though Charlotte was far from ever being orphaned.
The novel soon fast-forwards through her schooling to the time she becomes a teacher at the school and then becomes discontent enough to decide to reach out to become a governess to privately teach someone’s children. This leads to the real meat of the story that is a strong reflection of the time and mores and Jane's constant struggle to stay within the limits and confines of what is expected of a young woman and yet still stay within her own self defined moral concept.
I recall at the time I was reading this that there was a writer in a forum attempting a period piece that was near; but still quite a reach from Jane's time and during Suffrage. I made the observation that in one instance the inner dialogue of the young girl seemed to weaken her and that if she was working toward woman suffrage then perhaps she might not think so conventionally. Another reader commented that it would probably still be that way (the conventional way of thinking) for that time and cited Bronte's work among others to support this. That got me to thinking and I had to respond that although Jane Eyre tried to stay mute in many situations, when push came to shove she always shone through like a lioness with quite a lot of disregard for convention when it butted up to her ideal of moral sense and self worth.
Jane Eyre was way ahead of her time and was in many ways doomed to almost too much tragedy that would leave me shaking my head until I reminded myself of the era in which this was all taking place. Still there could have been no more liberated a woman in that time than was Jane Eyre and though tragic, it was inevitable that the only way she could enter into a happy marriage was with someone who was free to marry and who truly loved her and could treat her as an equal.
Eventually things work out; but not before a lot of hardship and few more brushes with what borders on the gothic with mentions of ghosts and vampires often leaving Jane in bits of melodramatic narrative. But all is well because Charlotte Bronte has a powerful command of the language and storytelling and it all works to support the framework of her story.
Not my usual fare but not as far away as one might think. A great Gothic Romance that is still worth reading today, as it was back then. For lovers of Gothic and Paranormal and of course Romance though much more the tragic romance.
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