After Wuthering Heights about three years ago, this year I finally got a chance to read another Brontë’s. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was definitely more enjoyable than Emily’s WH, but I think WH was more intriguing than JE. From the books, we could recognize the different personalities of both sisters; Emily is more passionate, while Charlotte is much reserved. As Jane Eyre has been taken as Charlotte’s autobiographical novel, we can assume Jane’s voice is Charlotte’s own voice.
Jane Eyre is an orphan who is adopted by her uncle, Mr. Reed. After he died, Mrs. Reed dislikes her, and with her children, treats Jane with hostility of being so sensible for a child her age. Jane is quite relieved when she goes to a charity school of Lowood Institute. But there she is also tortured by the poor accommodation. She endures it however, and even becomes a teacher for several years, before finally leaves it forever when she gets a job as governess in Thorfield hall.
Thornfield Hall belongs to an eccentric landlord, Mr. Rochester—Jane’s pupil is his ward. Mr. Rochester lived alone in his big house with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, and his ward, Adele. Even if you haven’t read this book, you would guess that soon the master and the governess would fall in love to each other. When there is a love story, there must be an obstacle to their relationship. Firstly, their age difference and their social status; but love is more sensible than social laws.
But then, it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is actually still married to his lunatic wife, whom he has secretly been hiding on the house’ attic. This fact gives the couple an immense blow. Mr. Rochester might think that he is eligible to marry another woman, as his present wife is practically lifeless. But to a sensible girl like Jane Eyre, who is a reverend’s daughter and has been educated in strict Christian morality, to become a married man’s mistress is not possible. So she runs away from Thornfield Hall, from happiness, and from her dear Mr. Rochester, to avoid degradation and humiliation. Is that the end of the story? Of course not, Charlotte then takes us to follow Jane’s new life. Whether she will or will not meet Mr. Rochester again, is a question you must keep in your mind while reading on this book to the end. I won’t give you any spoiler, if you have not read it. :)
To me, Jane Eyre is rather dull, especially when Mr. Rochester was absent, or have not yet appeared (in the first part). It is perhaps typical of Victorian women’s character of narration: emotionless and submissive. Or maybe it’s Charlotte’s own personality which was reflected to this story. Either way, I remembered that I have almost thought to put this book down, when Mr. Rochester appeared. Then, this book was not so colorless as before. He is so vigorous and full of energy, that the pace of second part suddenly felt much faster than before. Jane Eyre too, seems to become more alive everytime she converse with Rochester. Their dialogues are always witty, and are actually the best part of the book!
In Jane Eyre, I sensed the struggle of balancing the freedom (for happiness) and the principle (of conscience). In marriage, unlike most Victorian women, Jane seeks love, because marriage without love can’t guarantee her happiness. That’s why she refused St. John Rivers’ proposal, despite of the honor and security he can provide. If Jane could not marry Rochester, and won’t marry other men whom she doesn’t love, what would she get? Yes, she is now a quite rich woman, but I think not that rich that she can support her entire life without having to work. For a woman in that era, I believe this is a difficult choice. But Jane takes it confidently. Maybe this is what the readers see as early feminism: the courage to be herself; to follow her own principle, and not to bow down to the customs.
[spoiler alert] Actually, the feminism theory could be justified if the story ends up there. However, when Charlotte made Rochester fell completely (physically as well as mentally), to open a way of bringing a happy ending to this love story, then I began questioning whether Charlotte saw feminism as woman overpowering man. Is that what she really thought? Of course we would never know, and we would be wondering over and over again, what this novel is really about. Maybe….this is, after all, just about the power of love and a struggle of a woman….
Three and a half stars for Jane Eyre.
I read Penguin Red Classics paperback edition
This book is counted as:
82nd book for The Classics Club Project
80th book for 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die