Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.
But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My Husband is back with a new review from Charlotte Brontë! As this was his first time reading Brontë and I was excited to hear what his thoughts were on the book as well as Brontë as a writer since I have not read this book or anything else by her!
Jane Eyre is written by Charlotte Brontë. This is, enviably, her first novel. It is a story about a young woman who battles with her environment, her relations, as well as herself. A classic by almost every sense of the word, this book is easily the best story I have ever read in my life. It brought me to tears, it brought forth gasps, and most of all, it left me completely and utterly satisfied in the end. Charlotte immediately drew me in with who Jane was. From the very first word, it took a couple of sentences to ground me into her mind; a chapter to live alongside her, and an entire book to fall in love. Charlotte’s mastery of emotional landscapes and chasm deep psychological drops is like nothing I’ve ever read. At times it does seem a bit out of place, and verbose, though this is primarily because I occasionally forgot that Jane was narrating this as an older woman recalling her past.
Charlotte’s use of Jane’s chronological recollection is a unique viewpoint that both adds a realm of mystery and at once a stroke of revelatory summation. She can lead you through Jane’s mists of her own forgetfulness, reticent meanderings, or outright negation of recollection. Or she will choose to use Jane’s overly observant nature to dwell on a person’s single flaw, provoke another’s strengths through praise, or drive a corruptive fissure through her own mindset. Yet through all this concise maneuvering, not once did Charlotte let go of the fulcrum that was Jane Eyre’s will power. Never throughout the entire book did I feel her falter in that regard. Jane always seemed to find herself, even if it took her time, even if it took her going about it in a more round-about way.
During the first half of the book, I was very upset at the supporting characters. I use the term “supporting” loosely. Her aunt was utterly resentment embodied, while her cousins were entirely either vapidly irate or unsurprisingly abject. There were absolutely times that while reading at work (I work overnight, luckily) I literally shouted, “Oh My God!” The sludge of familial relations she had made Harry Potter’s Dursleys seem reserved! Psychological abuse is one thing, but to add physical violence to the mix is simply the unfortunate cards handed to young Jane. While a very special event took place that honestly scarred her forevermore, I’m happy to say that the level of ‘supernatural’ occurrences that Charlotte allowed was simply implied and not explicit. Even that tiny part at the end of the book.
Charlotte even managed to get across so much of the characters through the articles of clothing they donned so often in such a similar trend that it was hard not to miss when Jane wore her personality far more on the outside than she was letting on through her words. Even her supporting characters each had distinctive (albeit, at times, indecipherable to myself) clothing choices that seemed to stick with them even as days and weeks passed. I’m certainly not one to say ‘the author wrote that they had a red door because it’s the color of the transient nature from the living world into the land of the dead through blood’, but such magnitude of description went not only into clothing choices for everyone Jane met, but it also extended to the environment around her.
The split tree, the bushes that die in the winter, all the way to superb control of the descriptions of the rooms Jane entered; Charlotte had a laundry list of descriptive nuances she kept sneaking into the paragraphs that I would have otherwise overlooked. It didn’t take long for me to want to overlook them in any case. Soon the drama that was unfolding broke my will to analyze, and it dragged me across each sentence no matter how painful it got, forcing me to succumb to the pitiful and the shameful and even the heart-wrenching matters that befell our heroine. And heroine she was!
For I cannot pass up my chance to state just how much ‘girl-power’ was put into Jane’s telling, for all the reasons that most Hollywood movies can’t really convey that Girl Power doesn’t necessarily come from fists or guns. Not to be afraid to say that strength can come from emotion as well as muscle. Jane Eyre isn’t the perfect feminist, nor is she the best example of one. But for myself, she’s certainly a shining example of where men can start if they want to write women better!
The middle part of the book, having landed herself in Thornfield Hall, is such a wild ride, that I don’t believe I can do it justice. For even if I told you what happened, you either wouldn’t believe me or it just wouldn’t have the same gut-punching as if you’d simply read it yourself. So I’ll leave out plot points and spoilers. What I will dwell on is, honestly, just how problematic Jane (and by extension Charlotte herself?) was in a few parts of the book. Not just the obvious sexism that was inherent for Jane’s time, but for Charlotte’s as well (arguably Charlotte wasn’t adhering to them, I’m unsure). There were anti-Semitic remarks through a couple of sentences in there. The racist utterings and insinuations. For myself, it’s difficult to enjoy a book or a character for that matter if things like this are written. I’m a man of conviction, and I do not choose to revel (for better or worse) in manners and characteristics such as these in my books. I hate people like this in real life and it certainly extends to my fictional realm. The only reprieve and allowance to overlook these transgressions came in the form of a sort of glee that came from knowing that I am aware of these faults and hate them and thus I not only love the book, but I hate it too.
Such is also the conflict that comes from the very solid understanding of power dynamics that didn’t just show themselves to Jane, but overwhelmed her many times. Though I honestly believe they never really ‘broke’ her. Too many recent novels ask so much of a heroine simply to break them. Why do they need to break? Like Jane, they should simply be reduced down to a fundamental level without the audacity of the author to simply say ‘i did this so she can rise!’. Like, no. You did it for the shock value and your main characters should be in shambles, but you already have them happily skipping along or lifting that boulder as if the act of being broken was inseparable from the rise that followed it. Jane didn’t have to lose herself, but she certainly had to lose. And lose, and lose, and lose she did.
But back to the topic of power dynamics, as a practitioner of Power Dynamic Play, I would have to say this representation of a Submissive with her head on right, was top-notch. Showing again what a well-written story can do with a heroine who’s magnanimous while being dominating of herself and skirting her own dominance unto others. This isn’t about sex, this is far more about how Jane can drive a conversation, or ride the tumultuous stream of consciousness that often times came from the people she met with. Especially the men. What satisfied me most was when Jane kept verbalizing her need to serve. That speaks and reverberates in me in so many ways.
Mr. Rochester will be the only character that I name outright and use in this review. For, while I did see some of myself in him, I’m far more like Jane or Diana. Mr. Rochester was like many a ‘good guy’ that exist today. Where he’s seen as fit for a woman for merely providing basic decency. Ill-manners allowed, presumptions allowed, nay, insults allowed as well! But forbid a lady to do the same, and it’s instant shame and banishment she receives. Which is also what took me out of the book at times. Just how often Charlotte gave Jane plot armor where I certainly felt she should have died. In many ways, I’m glad she didn’t take down a sordid path. For in order to grab an audience, modern male writers tend to gravitate toward the sexually illicit to manufacture conflict, a barrier, or an obstacle. Jane was spared such contrivances, but that’s not to say she didn’t have her own Deus Ex Machina.
That’s how we come to the final part of the book. The biggest and most aggravating Deus Ex Machina, since the Harry Potter and the Resurrection Stone. A perfect book, this is not. The best book I’ve read thus far in my life, absolutely. For all her flaws, Charlotte Brontë managed to create a window into another person’s life. By the end of the book, I was happy to reach an end. The first time in my life where I wanted the story to end, not to ease my torment, but to satisfy an underlying need for closure. My gluttonous want for more material be damned. Which is usually the case of me craving more. This time, though, I wanted Jane to live happily ever after. Did she get it at the cost of who she was? It’s debatable. If she had ended up with someone or ended up alone, I honestly believe Jane Eyre would have found the harmony that can befall someone in love, for the sake of needing to be accepted. And isn’t that what we all want?
I gave this book a solid recommendation to anyone looking to live another’s life. I also want to deter people from reading this because of the amount of gravity and verbosity in words that could have been shallow and easy. But I do at least recommend that you ask someone to tell you all about it. I promise you, even a retelling of this book will leave you hooked. Will leave you saying ‘Wow!’. I, personally, can’t wait to read Charlotte Brontë’s second novel: Wuthering Heights.