Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
JANE IS MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE NOVEL! Yep, that needed capitals for emphasis. Even after dissecting it inside out as part of my dissertation I still love it. Last Christmas I asked my parents if they could get me this rather beautiful bound copy so it could have pride of place on my bookshelf.
The story begins with the orphan Jane Eyre living with her Aunt Reed and cousins. Deeply unhappy in her Aunt’s care she is ostracized and picked upon. She attends a boarding school throughout her teenage years which she enjoys however struggles with the strict rules and rather grim food. She flourishes so well that she becomes a teacher at the school albeit rarely gong outside of the school grounds. But after several years in post she decides it’s time to broaden her horizons. She puts a notice up in her local area asking if anyone is seeking a governess. She soon receives a response from Mrs Fairfax at Thornfield Hall for a young girl called Adele.
Adele it turns out is also an orphan and has limited English after she was brought over to England by the dark and brooding Mr Rochester. During the first few weeks at Thornfield Hall Mr Rochester is an enigma, he’s always spoken about but never seen. When he does come back from his travels the staff go into over drive making sure all his correct for his presence.
To begin with Mr Rochester and Jane have a cool relationship. He asks blunt questions with no intrigue or care. But as Mr Rochester asks to spend more time with Jane each evening the pair begin to form a close bond. However when he invites a party to the Hall including the rather beautiful Miss Ingram. As Jane begins to let the reader know of her feelings for Mr Rochester word soon spreads that the master of the house will marry Miss Ingram.
Halfway through the book we get the action we’ve been waiting for! Mr Rochester reveals his feelings for Jane. His supposed relationship with Miss Ingram was a ploy to make Jane jealous and he dismisses her by lying about how much money he has. The pair embark on a romantic whirlwind, declaring love for each other every five minutes and needing to be around one another at every opportunity.
But this is a novel and not everything goes according to plan. At the altar it’s announced that Mr Rochester is in fact married to a lady called Bertha who is a ‘madwoman’ he keeps in the attic. Distraught at what has happened and despite his pleas Jane runs away.
Desolate, she spends three days and nights at the mercy of the moors begging for food and shelter. The only kindness she receives is from a military man and his three sisters – St John, Diana and Mary Rivers. Once her health is back Jane is offered to run a school by St John but that’s not all he wants. Once he learns that she has inherited money due to her uncle’s death St John asks for Jane’s hand in marriage. Still longing for Mr Rochester she refuses.
One night she hears her name being called and knows it’s that of Mr Rochester. She returns to Thornfield only to find that is has been burnt down. She learns that Bertha caused the fire which left Mr Rochester blind and without a hand. Bertha commits suicide by jumping off the burning building. The moment Jane and her master meet again has to be one of the most romantic parts of any novels and it all ends happily when they marry.
The sub plot surrounding Bertha I wish could have been explored more as her presence is felt throughout the novel. And as mental health has moved on considerably since that time, the way she is treated is alien to us now.
Why I love this novel is because the love and affection shown between the two protagonists is believable. Yes it’s full of over the top declarations of love but at its heart is a love story, a feeling we can all relate to. Jane is a strong woman and has modern tendencies; she marries for money not love. Brontë described both Jane and Mr Rochester as not particularly attractive which is refreshing in modern day when everyone must be beautiful. In Mr Rochester she has unintentionally created a pin up.
This will always be a classic.