"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is at its core a gothic romance, but also something of an autobiography of the eponymous heroine. Jane is an orphan with a fiery, independent spirit who has been sent to live with her cruel Aunt and bullying, abusive cousins. The novel follows Jane as she leaves her Aunt’s house to become a pupil and eventually a teacher at Lowood Institution, a charity school. She decides to leave Lowood after spending eight years there, and takes up the post of governess at Thornfield Hall - abode of brooding, arrogant and mysterious Edward Rochester. Just when Jane comes to think that Rochester might love her in spite of her plain looks, she discovers that he has a dangerous and bewildering secret which will shake the foundations of her new life at Thornfield...

Jane Eyre, a novel I have read several times since my first reading of it when I was 15, is a very important novel to me, and one that is close to my heart; it is my favourite book. Jane is an excellent role model, and as we watch her difficult life unfold, we cannot help but admire her strength, dignity and wisdom. The book is adept at teaching moral values and how to accept and love yourself as a person and to remain strong in the face of adversity. With regards to feminism and classicism, Jane Eyre was way ahead of its time when it was published in 1847. Jane is strong, wilful, and independent; she refuses to cow to bullying men who believe they have the right to exert power over her. She is consistently described as plain, small, poor and too passionate, but she accepts these faults and snubs others’ attempts to judge her by these ‘flaws’. 

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you - and full as much heart!”

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 

In this way, the book is both powerful and insightful. There is a raw beauty and entrancing captivation in the novel’s romance plot, too. The love which blossoms between Jane and Rochester is not boring, flowery, or sickly sweet. The couple are faced with obstacles which are borne from Rochester’s shady and shocking past, and Jane’s fiery independence and pride which will not allow her to stay with Rochester despite that being what her heart desires. Instead, she faces homelessness and becomes a beggar, choosing this difficult life over remaining in the false comfort of Thornfield. 

The novel is written in a first person narrative by Jane, and reads like a memoir - in fact, the original title was Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Charlotte Brontë’s writing is so beautiful and absorbing; it is not at all stuffy like some classics can be, but rather carries a sincere grace. The gothic ambiance pervades each page, and the descriptions of the English country and old grand houses are exquisite and haunting. This atmosphere is exemplified perfectly in a chapter near the beginning when Jane has been locked in ‘The Red Room’, a space supposedly haunted by her dead uncle:

“Returning, I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed. All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality: and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit: I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travellers.”

Jane Eyre is a beautiful, powerful, and brave novel which dares to present ideas which at the time were highly subversive, and boasts timeless themes of religion, class, love, rejection and self discovery. It furthermore possesses a gorgeous, poetical writing style and strong realistic and varied characters. The story is multi-layered and full of depth and tidbits of wisdom. Much can be learned from Jane - she is the most compelling character I have ever read, and I would encourage everybody to read this astounding piece of classic literature.  

Rating: 10/10

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