Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a classic that has been sitting on my “to read” stack for a long time, and I’m happy to say I have now sampled all three Bronte sisters. Of the three, I think Jane Eyre has the strongest story. Unfortunately it’s a story I know so well from numerous film adaptations that I could not enjoy the full effect of the novel. The twists and mysteries were a little too familiar.
I did enjoy a fuller fleshing out of Jane’s younger years than one sees in most film adaptations. There are some delightful characters early on who fail to appear later in the book, which is realistic if a little unfortunate. Jane Eyre is a thick novel and my busy schedule caused the reading to spread out over several weeks. As I read before bed and kept falling asleep in the middle of a particular conversation, there were times reading seemed a little more tedious than I can honestly blame on the novel itself.
Jane is a character easily admired, an average woman in many respects, but one who shines in her simplicity. She is moral, kind, determined, practical, but true to herself. My favorite parts are where she stood up to various types of bullies and manipulators.
The character I have a much harder time liking is Mr. Rochester. I tried; I did. I’m sure some modern aversion to older men targeting barely legal teenage girls colored my feelings. In Jane’s society, she’s considered a woman, and I did try to frame her in my mind as such. The bigger problem may be that I had trouble fixing Mr. Rochester’s voice in my head. He had a sardonic brand of humor that I might have found more endearing if I had been able to interpret the tones. But instead I found his speeches too long and his character too self-absorbed and prone to petty tricks and manipulations, like feigning interest in one woman to gain the affections of another. I have no patience for those sorts of games.
To be fair he does demonstrate the better part of his nature before the end and does not emerge unscathed from his crimes. Character growth is always nice to see.
The prose is fairly clean and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but as I much prefer first person narrators to be talking to someone, I found this natural and clever. I do feel secondary characters were often cast off too carelessly. Well developed in their introduction but exiting off screen with hardly a peep. Which may have been a deliberate attempt to highlight the romance, but not to my tastes. There is a sense of English pride that at time borders on racism or mild xenophobia, but it is perhaps an intentional fault of Jane’s, consistent with the prejudice of the time period, and no narrator should be a perfect saint.
All things considered, I give Jane Eyre a very solid 4 out of 5. There were a few places where I do feel it dragged a bit, even factoring in my familiarity with the story, and other places where Jane’s internal arguments got a little redundant. However it is a classic of English Literature, and I feel it deserves that status.