Please note that this review may contain spoilers!
Synopsis from Goodreads: Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel describes the passionate love between the courageous orphan Jane Eyre and the brilliant, brooding, and domineering Rochester. The loneliness and cruelty of Jane’s childhood strengthens her natural independence and spirit, which prove invaluable when she takes a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall. But after she falls in love with her sardonic employer, her discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a heart-wrenching choice.
I chose Jane Eyre to be my eighth classic (I know, I’m a little behind!) for two reasons: 1) I watched the adaptation last Christmas and, unexpectedly, really enjoyed it. Reading Rebecca earlier in the year also gave me confidence to finally pick it up. 2) I wanted to read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, but thought I may miss certain references, and so not appreciate it fully, if I haven’t read the book.
I hadn’t really planned on picking up Jane Eyre when I began the challenge, but I’m so incredibly glad I did. I’m constantly surprised at how readable and accessible the classics I’ve been reading are; it has certainly changed my perception of them. If you’ve been following me on Goodreads, you’ll know that I’ve been raving about this book and exclaiming how surprised I was to be enjoying it.
I separated the novel into three parts: Jane’s childhood, her time at Thornfield Hall, and ‘after’. I really loved the first two parts of the novel: finding out who Jane is, how her unhappy childhood and neglect shaped her, key incidents in her life that she’ll never forget, and then those people who showed rare kindness.
Jane Eyre is a fantastic character – independent, honest, blunt and dignified. Even though the book was written over 160 years ago, and I’d expect women to be complacent and submissive (and for men to treat them that way), Jane is anything but. (‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.’). I was rooting for her all the way, yet devastating things kept happening to her, and I wondered if she’d ever get to be happy. Mr Rochester is also one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a novel. I’m not sure if I ever really liked him — he is complicated, moody and sometimes patronising and belittling — but I found him utterly fascinating. I enjoyed his witty, quick banter with Jane! The unconventional romance between them was also enjoyable, even though I knew what was coming. In one way, Jane Eyre is a simple, straightforward story but in other ways it’s completely mad and dramatic. I think this contrast was why I was so absorbed and fixated with the story.
The beautiful, magnificent writing was also one of my favourite things about Jane Eyre. It’s just perfect; so eloquent yet not overdone (‘Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education’). I admired the characters and their superior vocabulary, and the way that Jane addresses the reader. It’s so different — more complex — from the writing style I usually come across, but so easy to read, something I’m constantly surprised to encounter.
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the ‘after’ as much as I had expected to. I’m not sure whether it was because I had been reading the book for longer than I usually would and it started to make me fidgety, or whether I just didn’t find the situation as interesting, but it drew me back towards the end. It’s the reason why I couldn’t give the book the full five star ‘I loved it’ rating, although I desperately wanted to. I’m hoping that I’ll appreciate it more when I re-read it someday, and it has still made it to my ‘favourites’.
Jane Eyre was a surprising novel to me in every way and I adored it. I have now added the latest adaptation to my Christmas list, as I’d love to watch it again, and look forward to reading Villette!