‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë

Jane-Eyre

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.

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18 thoughts on “‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë

  1. It’s really interesting to me that you chose to read and review this book and I found your review! A friend of mine just sent me a link to this site yesterday. You see, I was already planning on rereading Jane Eyre sometime later this year. I first read it back in 2001, in high school, and I *hated* it! It has since then been my least-favorite book. But it is one of my friends’ favorites, and I have heard a lot of chatter lately praising it, so I figured it was worth a second chance. I have a feeling that reading this as an angsty, stubborn teenager kept me from being able to actually read it. And I really enjoyed your review, and just thought I’d let you know that you have helped prod me in the rereading direction! 😉 Keep up the good work.
    http://www.ddubsreads.com

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  2. That’s the advantage of the Kindle – you can download an old classic for a song, and although there’s a good chance you’ll really enjoy it (they’re not called Classics for nothing LOL) you can cheerfully ditch it without a qualm if you don’t like it!

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  3. I’ve read Jane Eyre when I was in College and I’m rereading it now since I feel that I didn’t get to give the novel the appreciation it deserves then. Now that I get to enthusiastically read Jane Eyre, I’m very much enjoying it and there’s just too many thoughts running in my mind while reading it. I just hope I could give Jane Eyre the justice it very much deserves when I start blogging about it as much as you gave it justice. 🙂

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  4. Hooray! This has for a long time been my very favourite book, and I’m delighted to see people talking about it. I think Jane is a sort of proto-feminist heroine, with her determination to do things her own way. Tremendous book.

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  5. I am ever so glad you liked this one so much! I recently reread it and while as a teenager I especially fell for the lovestory, this time I saw so much more and I’m glad you saw those things as well and mentioned them in your post.

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  6. I’m a big classics fan, but…
    …this is not one of my faves 😉
    I reread this last year and outlined my issues there in my post. Emily’s still the talented one for me !

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  7. I’m so glad you enjoyed this – it’s one of my favourites. As you said, it’s not a classic romance but there’s a mostly happy ending, there’s some good morality tale, early feminism…

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  8. I am so, so, so thrilled that you liked this so much Kim because I know your thoughts on books of that era and so had everything crossed when I knew you were reading it. I think its in danger of pushing Rebecca of the number one book of mine of all time. Its just so captivating and so entertaining you are just swept up in it. I have been pondering reading Wide Sargasso Sea over the last week or so.

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  9. I’m very happy to hear that you liked this so much. It’s in my top-five favorites for sure (sometimes I’d even say it’s my favorite). I’ve read it over and over, and it grows with each reread. And Jane herself is one of my heroes; I was young enough when I first read it in high school that I really do think it shaped me into the woman I am today. And now when I’m starting to forget who I am, I go back and reread Jane.

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  10. So glad to hear that you have discovered Jane – and loved her! I have been meaning to re-read this one for the longest time but your review has definitely pushed me closer now!

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  11. JANE EYRE has been one of my favorites since my teens–people who dismiss it as a romance (mostly ‘cuz of the film versions, none of which are right) irritate me. It is, as you note, a great first-person “coming of age” novel by a woman. Not too many before this one! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  12. Kim –
    I’m so glad that you enjoyed Jane Eyre. It’s a favorite of mine as well, but I first read it when I was very young. It wasn’t until I read Adrienne Rich’s wonderful essay on Jane Eyre in “On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966–1978” that I realized how revolutionary a character she was!

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  13. Jane Eyre is my favourite book! I was like you and too daunted to pick up a victorian classic but when I eventually read this it set in motion my passion for victorian literature and I even run the victorians book group on goodreads now with 1000+ members!
    So glad you enjoyed it, Kim 🙂

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  14. This title sits on my Book shelf, it has for a lot of years, I’ve never read it…. your review may just have made me open the front cover to see what I find there!

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  15. This is one of my favourite books and I never tire of it. It was also the first classic I ever read and it really opened up my eyes to gender equality and to have the courage to pursue one’s dreams.

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  16. I enjoyed your review. I ‘read’ (it was an audio version) Jane Eyre last year and I was also impressed by how modern it sounds. Whatever the pressure, Jane remains faithful to what she thinks.
    I was also really interested in the conversation between Jane and Helen about Jane’s aunt. She didn’t want to surrender, she wanted to fight against injustice. It was powerful. (I posted something about this)
    As a teenager, I wasn’t aware that Jane was so rebellious, especially for a woman.
    I also read The Tenant of Whitefell Hall last year and I wish I had read this one as a teenager. It would have been useful. (there’s also a review on my blog)

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