Monday, 19 March 2012

'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

Synopsis: Jane Eyre is a fictional autobiography. The heroine Jane Eyre is an orphan. She spends the first 10 years of her life in the home of her cruel aunt Mrs Reed and her horrible cousins. Jane is then sent to a charitable boarding school called Lowood. The living conditions at the school are harsh and Jane's only comforts are her friend Helen Burns and her teacher Miss Temple. Jane spends 8 years at Lowood and becomes a teacher there. She then decides to seek a position as a governess. Her advertisement is answered and she journeys to a majestic, gothic estate called Thornfield Hall. The estate is being run by a kind housekeeper called Mrs Fairfax. Jane's pupil is a young French girl called Adele Varens, who is the ward of Edward Rochester. Jane spends several months at Thornfield before she finally meets Mr Rochester. Although Rochester's manners are initially brusque, Jane finds herself being quite drawn to him and a friendship soon grows between them. At the same time Jane is also discovering that not all is right at Thornfield. She can hear creepy laughing in the night and, after a number of incidents, Jane begins to suspect that the culprit is the mysterious seamstress Grace Poole. Jane's affection for Rochester grows into love and she comes to realise that he feels the same for her. The pair become engaged but, as they approach the altar to make their vows, Jane discovers that Rochester has a terrible secret. Jane is then faced with a difficult dilemma. Should she stay with Rochester and deal with the consequences, even if it goes against her morals and principles? Or should she follow her convictions even if it means leaving the man she loves? Jane chooses the latter and runs away from Thornfield. After spending a few days wandering on the Yorkshire Moors, Jane is then taken in by a clergyman called St John Rivers and his two sisters Diana and Mary. Jane becomes a teacher at a local school. A year passes before she suddenly becomes a wealthy woman thanks to an unknown uncle. St John then asks Jane to marry him and accompany him to India as a missionary. Jane is then faced with a new dilemma. Should she become the wife of a man that doesn't love her even though it would enable her to travel and find a new purpose in life? Or should she follow the calling of her heart by finding out what has become of Rochester?

Jane Eyre is an absolutely beautiful book. To be honest I don't much care for Charlotte Bronte's other novels but that hasn't altered my opinion of Jane Eyre one bit - it's still without question one of my favourite books. I love that Jane Eyre manages to work on two different levels. On the one hand it's an inspirational coming of age novel about an unwanted and unloved orphan who rises from the ashes of a lonely and cruel childhood. And on the other hand the book is a passionate gothic romance of epic proportions. The book has well and truly stood the test of the time and it has pretty much everything going for it. Jane Eyre is so beautifully written and it's just so vivid and engaging. Every time I read it I get completely swept up in its haunting, gothic atmosphere and I find every single part of the book fascinating. I know some readers out there find Jane's childhood years a bit hard-going but I'm not one of them. 

I also love Jane Eyre because Jane and Rochester are such brilliant characters and the romance between them has so much passion and intensity. Jane is a fantastic character, she's extremely likeable, and she's one of my favourite fictional heroines. She might well be reserved, calm and quiet on the surface but underneath she's burning with spirit and passion. She's also intelligent, independent, brave, sensible and moral. She stays true to her beliefs throughout and she shows unbelievable strength, courage and morality in giving up Rochester. She's passionately in love with him but she gives him up because she knows that it's the right thing to do and that she wouldn't be able to respect herself if she did otherwise. This is so incredibly inspiring! But thankfully Jane is genuinely flawed and she's by no means perfect. She has a temper. Admittedly her temper is worse as a child and Jane does learn to control it better as an adult but it's still there. Jane isn't beautiful either - both she and Rochester are in fact plain and this is so refreshing. Even today it's still incredibly unusual to have a romance novel where neither the hero or the heroine is attractive! I can't even think of any other books where this is the case! *Can you?* Even in the film adaptations of Jane Eyre the actors playing Jane and Rochester tend to be attractive. This is unfortunate but most actors do tend to be good-looking, that's just the way it goes. And then there's Edward Rochester, who I didn't actually like at first. At the beginning of the book he's moody, brusque and abrupt to the point of rudeness. If he'd stayed like that for the whole of the book then I wouldn't have liked him at all. But as Rochester gets to know Jane, and falls in love with her, he lightens up considerably and his sense of humour begins to be revealed. *Yes, there is actual humour in Jane Eyre! Granted there isn't as much humour in Jane Eyre as there is in any of Jane Austen's books but there are still funny moments. There's Jane's line on what she must do to avoid Hell: "I must keep well and not die". There's also the scene where Rochester dresses up as a gypsy woman : D* Rochester's caring and kind side is revealed as well and he truly and deeply loves Jane. And that love leads him towards redemption. I love all of the conversations between Jane and Rochester and I love the affection between them. I love that their relationship feels so real and believable. Quite simply Rochester was made for Jane. He's the perfect man for her and you end up falling for him almost as much as Jane does. Jane and Rochester's romance is full of passion and there's genuine romantic and sexual tension between them, yet the book is still completely wholesome.

What I also love about Jane Eyre is that it's a very spiritual book. I wouldn't say that the book is preachy but there are still a lot of spiritual messages that believers can take from it. There are messages about perseverance, morality, repentance, forgiveness, sacrifice, the importance of always doing good, the difference between genuine faith and self-righteousness, and the depth of God's love and grace. 

Jane Eyre really is a must-read. Every time I read it I always notice something different about it and it's just a brilliant book.

Rating: 5/5

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