My first experience with classic literature was brought to me via High School exams. My English Literature class required me to examine Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. Our fabulous English teacher decided that instead of reading the book, which she knew would be tiresome to most in my class (and up to this point even me) decided that watching Pride and Prejudice in class would be much more productive. The BBC’s 1990’s version is excellent and a young Colin Firth is a very desirable Mr. Darcy. All told, this was an excellent way to bring a 19th century novel into the minds of 15 year olds. Due to this, I ended up reading the whole of Pride and Prejudice through my own volition and loved it. It is this that has brought Jane Eyre to my attention and allowed me to be open enough to give the very convoluted writing a go.
We enter into the life of Jane Eyre. An orphan who has been left with her irksome Aunt and horrible cousins. Her life is simply awful and the promise of boarding school is welcomed with open arms, even after the disgrace she is put through via the pastor who financially runs the school. Her life takes a turn for the better and after school she is kept on as a teacher. After two years of employment and a total of 8 years at the school, Jane seeks employment elsewhere and is given the opportunity to be a governess for a young girl in Thornfield Hall. No geographical names are given within this story but we assume this place to be around Yorkshire.
Here Jane enters into the servitude of Mr. Edward Rochester and tutors his ward, Adèle. Luckily, Jane learnt French from a Frenchwoman so is able to keep up with the excitable little French girl. Through the coming months, we see nothing of the master of the house and Jane begins to see how gloomy the old mansion is. Add to this the odd sounds and strange happenings that occur whenever a mysterious maid is around (Grace Poole) and we have the beginnings of a ghostly past.
The following weeks bring Mr. Rochester back to his estate and we see the start of a friendship between master and governess. He stays longer than normal in Thornfield Hall and eventually entertains some guests. Through some deception on Mr. Rochester’s behalf, he surmises Jane’s growing affection for him and later proposes to her which she says yes.
During their wedding we learn that Rochester is already married, to a crazy lady who keeps escaping her nurse/maid, Grace Poole and attempting to either kill or maim the residents of Thornfield Hall. Jane leaves, heartbroken and eventually falls on her feet as the headmistresses of a new school. After coming into some money, finding some cousins and a new proposal, Jane returns to Thornfield Hall to find it burnt to the ground… But what of the residents?
I always find the classics hard to get into a first. The language is always convoluted and obviously old. To add to this, Jane Eyre also has 19th century French to contend with too. Luckily for me, I have spent the past 2 years in France so have a little understanding of the language but it still made me take longer than usual to read this. Women in the 1800’s who could read must also read French and perhaps German (due to the odd lines found within these pages).
Jane Eyre is quite a modern take on life for women of the time. Clearly this is a theme of classic women heroines as Jane Austen creates quite feminist women too. They only marry men they love, status is not really a question for them if they love them and they wont take anything less in life than what they feel they deserve. All very modern ideas. However, whilst our heroine’s don’t seem to follow the 19th century archetype, the supporting cast do. Mr. St. John doesn’t love Jane but asks her to marry him so that he may have an intellectual woman with him in India and it would not be right to take his cousin as his cousin or even as his sister. The supposed union between Miss. Ingram and Mr. Rochester is shown to be the ‘proper’ union until we see she is just a gold digging, status hungry wench. These little things all add to the ‘traditional’ of Charlotte Brontë’s era.
The writing is excellent. Brontë paints some excellent scenes and her transition from child Jane through adolescence and womanhood are beautifully portrayed. Her growing love for Rochester is not forced and her acknowledgement of both his and her flaws is true for all 19 year olds. The questioning of her age is still viable today. Anyone would regard a 20 year age gap with some distaste in either era.
My verdict for this book is 7/10. I think if it wasn’t for the random bouts of French and if I was reviewing this when it came out it would have been higher but still, for a book 167 years old, this is an excellent score and well worth a read.