Fiction – Kindle edition; Optimized for Kindle; 624 pages; 2009.
I might have read hundreds of modern and contemporary novels in my time, but when it comes to pre-20th century classics I am woefully un-educated.
Which is why I was slightly wary about reading Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre. Surely anything published in 1847 was going to be too over-written for my modern eyes and at more than 600 pages a real test of my endurance? Oh, how wrong one can be!
I should have known it would be a super read. So many people have recommended it to me in the past, and Simon Savidge’s review last year made me pop it on the wishlist straight away. But I didn’t get around to reading it until Christmas, when looking for something substantial to read I downloaded a 77-pence version for my Kindle.
I devoured the entire book in just two days! Turns out Miss Brontë does a mean line in cliff-hangers at the end of chapters, which meant I kept turning the pages (or clicking the turn button on my e-reader) to see what happened next. Before I knew it I had read 20 per cent of the novel and I’d only meant to read a few pages to see if I liked the style!
For those who haven’t read Jane Eyre (are there any of you out there?), it’s billed as a kind of romance, but it is really much, much more than that.
Essentially it’s the story of one woman’s life, from the age of 10 to the time of her marriage nine years later. The narrative is told through Jane’s eyes, which means you get to experience a first-hand account of her many privations and heartaches. And this also means you want to cheer her on, help her through the rough patches and give her the strength to carry on against the odds.
When the story opens, Jane is an orphan living in the care of her cruel aunt. She is being constantly bullied by her older cousin, John, and life is miserable.
Eventually she is sent away to commence her education at Lowood School, a boarding school for poor girls. Here she is forgotten — or should I say abandoned — by her family, but in the long run it doesn’t matter: Jane learns to stand on her own two feet.
She then takes a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she instructs a French-born orphan in the care of the landlord Edward Rochester, an ugly man with a mysterious past and a penchant for travel. When Jane finds herself becoming increasingly attracted to Rochester, you wonder where all this is going to lead… (Please, don’t let me down with a traditional romance, I kept thinking!)
But, to cut an awfully long story short, Jane’s life takes an unexpected twist and by the last page you feel as if she’s continuing to live her life on her own terms without compromising her values or beliefs.
In its depiction of a Cinderella-like rags to riches rise, Jane Eyre has the feel and flavour of a much-loved fairytale. Ditto for the morality at its heart, in which good always overcomes evil.
But as a “morality tale” Jane Eyre is slightly more sophisticated than that. Indeed, it seems to be a story before its time, because it is a remarkable account of one woman’s fight (and right) to be seen on equal terms with men, to live the kind of life she wishes to lead and not what society deems is “correct”. How I wished I’d read this book as a teenager; it might have made me feel less self-conscious about forging my own path and daring to be different.
And while there were times when the prose felt too verbose and I wanted to tighten up some of the chapters, I got so lost in the story I turned off my editor’s brain and just went with the flow. I can’t remember the last time I got so caught up in a good old-fashioned epic like this one!
Jane Eyre is a story about recognising and appreciating value in the individual, regardless of gender or circumstance. No wonder it has attained classic status and remains such a much-loved novel more than 150 years since it was first published.