Friday 2 March 2012

Revisiting Books... Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Note: This is going to be vaguely spoilerific if you don't know the basic plot of Jane Eyre. So you probably shouldn't read it. But you should definitely read Jane Eyre, because, hello, where have you been all your life?!

I've probably read Jane Eyre about 4 or 5 times now, and every time I read it, I think that it can't possibly be as good as I remember it being, and then promptly realising that, actually, it's a LOT better than that. Reading it, I'm constantly surprised at how clever and brilliant and utterly modern it seems- Jane is massively ahead of her time in terms of feminism, and generally being her own woman, always true to what she believes in and what she thinks is moral and right. I love Jane so much that I don't even mind all the religious stuff that, in this particular re-reading of Jane Eyre seemed to stand out so much more to me.

Because, yeah, it's totally centred around religion, which isn't that surprising considering that the Brontes were the daughters of a curate and all, but it surprised me how little I'd noticed it before. Because, thinking about it now, Jane starts off as being relatively non-religious in her thinking, in that she thinks that you should harm others if they harm you; then she meets Helen (I LOVE Helen so much, even if her part in the book is minimal- I think that her effect on Jane's character reaches far further than that) who teaches her to forget the wrongs done to her on earth because all wrongs will be put right in heaven. And so Jane takes this with her, and constantly pledges not to do wrong, going as far as to leave the man she loves because she can't live in sin and be happy for a limited amount of time, and be damned forever; and it is only after a time of penance for both of them that she's able to go back and they're both rewarded for her having done the right thing.

I think it's kind of difficult for modern audiences to grasp the whole Jane-leaving-Mr-Rochester thing (and by this I mean it was difficult for me, anyway) because she loves him so much and so enduringly, that all we want is for them to be together in whatever circumstances they need to be. Since we live in a time where divorces are easy to obtain and love rather than previous obligations (and definitely religion) is what seems to matter, it's kind of difficult to see how Jane could possibly leave Edward, considering the strength of her love for him. Taken in the context of religion, though, it's clear that Jane, because of what she believes, and who she is, can't possibly do anything that she considers immoral, even if it means having all the things she's dreamed of. It kind of looks like a cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face situation to us, but in a deeply religious society, and more importantly, a deeply religious character, it is the only possible thing she can do. It's not necessarily something that I agree with (I'd be his mistress quicker than you can say 'madwoman in the attic') but I think you've got to admire a girl with beliefs, and an author who gives you a nice big twist in the middle of a wedding!

But oh, I do love the love between Jane and Mr Rochester while it lasts. Because it's not just all like 'oh wow, you're so pretty and I'm handsome so this is perfect!' because Jane calls Mr Rochester ugly at least twenty times throughout the book, and he calls her plain, but their SOULS are perfectly matched and they respect each other and it is PERFECT only not in a horrible cliched way, but just in a wonderful and realistic, and then also beautifully written way. I love how Jane refuses to sink into sentiment with him, and doesn't let him call her an angel, or sweetheart or anything of the sort; ostensibly because she doesn't want to get too attached to him before they're married (which, considering the circumstances, is totally a good thing) but it's something that just massively appeals to me, in that they don't have to be all disgusting and sickly with each other because they both understand exactly what they're feeling, which is something that's much deeper than all the surface things. And then, there's also this:
"My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than my whole world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature, of whom I had made an idol."
Even I, in my infinite ignorance about Christianity, know that making false idols=very very bad news, from a God-ish point of view. So, even apart from not wanting to live as Mr Rochester's mistress, I think Jane has to leave him because she has forsaken God by worshipping a man, and so she has to get over this whole thing and get back to God (which I guess being near St John Rivers [who, by the way, I completely thought was like Saint John, rather than Singeon because I am sane and the English language isn't] did for her because of his boring and irritating religiousness) before she's allowed to have him. It's all very punishy and deprivationy, but at the same time it's following a theme through to the bitter end, and considering the end of the story isn't so bitter, who am I to complain?

So. There are kind of three sections to Jane Eyre, and the middle one is clearly my favourite because the love! and the mystery! and Mr Rochester dressing up as an old gypsy woman and nobody figuring out it was him! Literally, there are no better things. And the last section I always find kind of boring because I'm like 'for fucks sake, just get back to Mr R and marry him already' even though it's really nice and awww, look at these people who love Jane, I just can't be doing with it. But the first part, the bit where she's a sad lonely child, and then she goes to school where she's slightly less sad but much more hungry, that bit I find interesting- because we get to see the making of Jane, and also because I honestly love Helen so much! I mean, putting her religious outlook aside for a minute, her basic ethos is one that's so simple, and yet so perfect- put all the bad things that have been done to you behind you, because all that matters is that you are and do what is right according to what you believe. It's simple, and it's something that Jane takes with her and lives by in the rest of the novel, and it's the main reason why she's so admirable, and, yes, why I love her so much!

I've probably gone on about Jane Eyre for long enough now, only I haven't said nearly a fraction of the things I actually felt about it while I was reading it. Suffice to say, this won't be the last time I read it, and I suspect that next time, my focus will be on something other than the religious aspects of it (I'm just justifying that second Jane Eyre blog post next year here...) It's definitely one of my favourite ever books, and it's really just so perfect that it's the perfectest perfect thing that ever was perfect. Or something. Let's just say that, after this re-reading, I might have to admit that it's an even better novel than Wuthering Heights...


  1. First thing, it's *not* Saint John? Dammit English language.

    Second, I do not love Jane Eyre. I do however love Helen Burns and those were my favorite parts and there should have been more of them. Rochester I'm still not a fan of, no matter how often he tries to convince me that him not killing his first wife makes him a saint. I should probably get over that OR I could keep harping on it. I'll probably do the second.

    1. I know, English. It's crazy! There's also 'Cockburn' which you actually say like 'Coburn' but, you know, I prefer to say it like it sounds!

      Ok. Right. I get the Rochester thing, BUT I feel like, because we see him almost entirely apart from the whole crazy wife/ethics situation, it's like we can appreciate him aside from that because we don't know about it, you know? And then, like Jane, we are taken in by his gloriousness, and finding out about his kiiind of cruelty can't really kill that love. At least that's how it was for me. But I do respect that the whole Bertha Mason situation was baaaaaad...

      I LOVE HELEN! She's amazing. Jane should have just married her instead :)

    2. Not right away, but I probably should read this again. Maybe on a second read through I'll be less focused on Rochester and Bertha. Maybe.

  2. Grinning from ear to ear all through this review!!!!! I ADORE Rochester and Jane and I get so sad when I see people say how mean and manipulative and disrespectful he is because he's the only person in the damn book that treats Jane as an EQUAL. I love that gypsy scene too! He's so unusual as a character and that made him just fantastic, and Jane is so strong and sticks to herself the whole time which is also just fantastic. I've only read this book twice now but both times were just amazing. I can't believe it took me until 2008 to actually read it!!

    1. YAY! YAAAAY! I do love Rochester, I can't help it. But only because Jane loves him, and I love her the MOST! I really do just love how they continually call each other ugly and plain and stuff, and yet they still love each other fiercely. It's just the BEST THING EVER (for the moment... hehe)

  3. I love the book, Jane Eyre, and like you, I've read it several times. Ironically, I haven't even posted a review on it yet. Reading it several times, the characters somehow never bore me. Helen sure is lovable, even when her part is found in very few pages. Rochester and Jane, for me, as a couple, is also lovable. And so is your review, which is also great! :-)

    1. Thank you! And yes, it is fab! You should review it too, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

  4. What? St. John is not Saint John? I really thought that's how it was read, and now I'm Googling trying to figure out what you are talking about with "Singeon" and can find nothing.

    This was the book that got me reading the classics. I think I'm going to make next year my year to re-read it for the first time. :)

    1. It's true! I mean, I always read it as Saint John, but according to my parents you say it like Singeon (Sinjun? Whatever) because English pronunciation is stupid and weird (sometimes). Like how English people (only not me...) say leftenant rather than Lieutenant and stuff like that. It's a mad mad world...

      Also, aw, you should definitely re-read it! Although it is also more special if only read rarely, or at least that's what I think- otherwise I could probably just read it continually!

    2. Oh, it's a pronunciation thing -- got it. Thanks!! So big a part of me wants to reread this right now! :D

  5. Thank you for your thoughts, I have only read it the once (a few months ago) so I didnt pick up on the religious stuff but rather I was swept away by the whole story which I guess most first time reader are. I will certainly be rereading it though as I loved it and cant stop thinking about it

    1. YAY! I'm so glad you liked it. I want everyone to love it! Also, believe me, I definitely didn't pick up on the religious things until this reading anyway, and I've read it a fair few times!

  6. Jane Eyre was one of the few books I enjoyed reading in school and have read it on more than one occasion. I also plan to re-read it for the Back to the Classics Challenge Re-Read category. Thanks for sharing your love of the story!

  7. Ok, I know I'm going to have to reread this again at some point. But the first time, I wasn't blown away and didn't get the fascination with Rochester at all. I loved Helen though... and I think you blew my mind with the "its not Saint John" bit. But I will reread this someday, and you know how things change when you reread them!

  8. I'll never forget the first time I read Jane Eyre, I was 11 years old and I think it was in Autumn 2000. We were going away and I got very bored in the car, (still do!) without a book so my mum gave me the paperback copy of Jane Eyre she owned at the time and placed it on my lap. From the first page I loved it! I remember not being keen on Rochester because of the way he deceives Jane but as I got older I understood Rochester more and more and fell head over heels in love with him. In September 2000 I started high school and I was bullied which made me very unhappy so Jane became my best friend and as I thought myself plain I could easily understand what Jane meant when she wishes she were pretty.

    Jane Eyre has also distracted me from my disability and has made me believe that a man will love me for who I am, despite my disability like Jane loves Rochester even though he is blind. It also taught me to resist temptation and I was amazed at how strong Jane was in leaving Rochester even though she loved him so much, I remember thinking how hard that must have been.

    One of the reasons I love Jane Eyre so much is because Jane stands up for herself and overcomes ever obstacle that people put in her path; I also love her morals too and I also like the fact that she is plain but is such a strong heroine. I love the language in this novel and think it is beautifully written.

    Another reason why I love it is because there is a brooding, dark, blunt, rude but a very passionate and gorgeous hero in the novel (what woman doesn't like one of those?!) which is Mr. Rochester who loves Jane for who she is, is very kind to her and treats her like an equal, I know that he has his faults but I can't help but fall for him! I also find him a very sympathetic character because he has a lot of very unfair things to deal with in his life.

    My favourite parts of the novel are:
    When Jane and Edward first meet
    The first conversation they have sat by the fire
    After Jane saves Edward from the fire
    The conversation they have when Jane leaves the drawing-room
    When Jane finds out Edward is the gypsy
    When Jane asks Edward's permission to leave Thornfield Hall
    When Jane returns to Thornfield Hall
    The proposal! (This part is so passionate and romantic!)
    When Edward is explaining everything to Jane after their interrupted marriage and is trying to convince her to stay with him (I nearly cry when I read that part!)
    The reunion of Jane and Edward

    Every time I read Jane Eyre nowadays I still feel like Jane is my friend telling me everything about herself, I love to read it in bed where I can get cosy and fall in love with the novel and Mr. Rochester all over again! I also have Jane Eyre on audio disc as well it's lovely to listen to when I am unwell or the weather is bad. My mum often passes me one of my copies when I'm upset or ill. I often forget my worries when I read it. When I can't sleep I read it, I once read parts of it at 5:00am! I read it many times a year. Edward Fairfax Rochester is my favourite hero in English Literature

    Jane Eyre is my favourite novel. I will love it forever and it will always be a very special novel to me.

  9. I also love the BBC 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre. This adaptation of Jane Eyre is brilliant! Ruth Wilson is wonderful as Jane Eyre, Ruth brings Jane to life through her facial expressions, one minute she can be sad and lonely, the next look beautiful and happy. Ruth played Jane as I imagined her in the book and brought a freshness to Jane which no other actress has done before.

    Toby Stephens is fantastic as Edward Fairfax Rochester. Toby played Rochester with the right amount of darkness, humour and tenderness as was just right for the character. Toby also looked right to play Rochester as well. I also love the chemistry between Jane & Rochester!

    I've read and watched Jane Eyre so many times I know it off by heart, I watch it when I am in pain, feeling sad or when I need a Rochester fix! It is my comfort DVD. Enjoy this version of my favourite novel!