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Book review: <i>Jane Eyre</i> by Charlotte Bronte



If this was a sofa, it would be a pleasant-looking but dated design with ebony framework hand-carved with a slightly intimidating attention to detail. You wouldn’t put it in your lounge room in front of the TV, but perhaps keep it in your bedroom because, despite appearances, it would in fact be almost shockingly ergonomically satisfying.

Cover

A tasteful blush pink, inset with a small old-mastery painting of EXACTLY the right demure governess. Oh, and a traditional black “classic” hardcover spine (I think this was part of a set sold cheaply in installments with a newspaper, or something.)

Plot

Jane is an orphaned child, raised by an auntie-in-law who despises her, mainly on account of a fundamental personality clash which also extends to Jane’s cousins. Plus they’re a bunch of tools, which doesn’t help. She is sent to an austere Victorian boarding school, somehow manages not to die of TB, and grows to be skilled in all the areas suitable for a governess, i.e. a live-in tutor for them rich folks.

At nineteen (which is middle-aged in the 1840s if you live in a draughty house, let’s not forget) she leaves her school and gains employment in the house of the aloof and unusual Mr. Rochester, teaching his half-French love child (yep) Adele how to speak English and behave her damn self.

Then, with a certain degree of inevitability, and despite her piercingly honest and introverted nature, she falls for the master of the house, and he for her. But can Jane allow herself the luxury of love? And what is the great secret that darkens his past and sets fire to his bed in the middle of the night?

The Good

Look, I don’t read a lot of classics, and you don’t need me to tell you why Charlotte Bronte is still taught in schools, so if you don’t mind I might just stick to what I, personally, liked about this book. In point form!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • It has a lot more going on plot-wise than I suspected it would (compared to, for instance, Jane Austen’s work)—there’s death, love, religion, art, insanity, poverty, wealth, big houses, small houses, sexual references, some violence, and even a humorous talking tortoise! Not really. But all the other parts are there.
  • Those zany Victorians, as we all know, were surprisingly honest about some things while chronically repressed about others. Eyre knows how to tread the lines, though, and stick a cheeky leg over when nobody’s looking—Mr. Rochester, for instance, has a genuinely sordid history, which is not hidden from view (except when, you know, demanded by the plot), and his conversations with Jane, though chaste enough on the surface, have a tangible underlying tension and a real sense of play...
  • Which is just one of the ways in which the period of this book surprised me. Published in 1847, it may betray my ignorance of history (or the precociousness of Bronte’s writing) but I was frequently and pleasantly startled by the proximity of modernity and anachronism here. First all is bleak and bare, with people dying of tuberculosis because nobody has figured out that living in a wet stone box in a swamp is a shit idea, but then, before you know it, Jane is showing Mr. Rochester her paintings, which are quite surreal and not at all old-masterish. Then he’s patronising her because she’s just a young girly with little to offer beyond her mastery of several languages, artistic ability, teaching skills, exemplary manners, highly developed moral compass and a pin-sharp self-awareness—but wait! Now they’re flirting shamelessly and, more than that, taking the piss out of each other! Oh, but hang on, now he’s holding a stupid dinner party for thirty guests full of classical allusions and ridiculous parlour games for the simpering work-shy aristocratic coits from the neighbouring counties, and then, suddenly, there’s juicy and relatively explicit stuff about Mr. Rochester’s delinquent youth spent gambling, drinking, and sleeping with every dress-wearing thing in Europe! And then Jane’s telling us how the English peasant class, while still obviously incapable of self-development or emancipation, are nonetheless some of the least repulsive sub-humans out. I thought this was fascinating—if you like the period and place you’ll love it.
  • The characters of Jane and Mr. Rochester are superbly drawn. Jane, in particular, is a living, breathing entity from page five onwards, and we don’t even need to identify with her to know her intimately. She is both sensitive and feminine, yet tough as nails and utterly sure of herself, plus about fifty other adjectives I wont bludgeon you with. I can’t say I fell in love with her, but I truly did respect her and the way she approaches life, which is a great achievement for any writer’s character. It was enough to make me wonder whether perhaps the Victorians were onto something with this redemptive power and momentum of internal morality business, or at least until Jane starts talking about peasants. And they did build rad houses.
  • Oh, I’m not sure if this counts as being ahead of its time, but Bronte switches with a cunning ease between standard third person past tense and having Jane address us, dear reader, directly, in the present. It’s so effectively done that you can barely see the joins, and it draws us in and adds an immediacy when warranted by the pacing and/or story. Nice one.

The Bad

Slumps a bit in the middle, although this is a minor complaint as, for a classic, once again, its pacing is surprisingly modern—even the beginning draws you in quite quickly. Bronte rarely even digresses with opinion, and when she does they’re minor and briefly postulated.

It’s undeniable that there’s a touch of the misty-eyed Mills & Boon wistfulness in places. I have no problem with the romantic per se but, though rare, there are moments when you can’t avoid the fact that Bronte has, for instance, invented her ideal male personality (including an oh-so-sexy bad-boy past that he now wishes her to change) and then made him fall for her—I mean, fall for Jane.

If you don’t find Victoriana appealing, or perhaps women being subservient (not that Jane ever is—her personality defies the very notion), or books with pink covers, then this isn’t for you. Obviously. Man, I feel out of my depth with the classics!

What I learnt

That people still talked about peasants half way through the nineteenth century. What happened to the Renaissance? Was that only for rich Italians?

In short

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classic Series
ISBN: 1593080077
Year published: 2003
Pages: 558
Genre(s): Classic literature

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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Comments

I do not know if I am the first to say this, or even the last, but the authoress of Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte, not Emily Bronte, who wrote Wuthering Heights.

Hi,

Thanks very much for that correction. It was an error... we'll fix it.

Hi. I was wondering if I could get the copyright info for this article. Thanks.

Hi,

We're more than happy to provide you with copyright info. But we need your email address!

Please email Bridget (bridget+@+illiterarty.com - remove the + signs!) so she can pass on your query to Tom. Then we can let you know.

Thanks.

i just want the summarization of it in every chapter..

tnx..