It’s time for some book chat. I’ve wanted to write about Jane Eyre for such a long time now. I love this novel so much, so I do hope that you will all indulge me as I first discuss the novel, and then in a future post as I write about my favourite screen adaptation of this classic.
For anyone out there who doesn’t know the story, here is a brief plot description. Jane Eyre is an orphan who is raised by her cruel aunt. Jane is sent to a boarding school that is so bad it is more like a prison. Jane overcomes her childhood horrors and becomes a governess. She is appointed governess to Adele, the young ward of Mr. Edward Rochester, the mysterious master of Thornfield Hall. Rochester falls in love with Jane and does all in his power to make her fall for him in return. Secrets and heartbreak await within the next pages.
Jane Eyre (hereafter written as JE) was written by Charlotte Bronte, and was published in 1847. Charlotte and her sisters Anne and Emily wrote novels which continue to enthrall readers over a century after they were published. JE in particular remains a beloved and much discussed classic novel. Why though does this story continue to delight readers today? Why is there still such an interest in this novel?
I think it remains so popular because it is all about finding your soulmate. Jane and Rochester each find that special someone and they become so close it’s like they are one being. Even today we are still desperate to have a person like that in our lives, all desperate to be loved and to be accepted for who we are.
I’m sure it is also so frequently discussed because there is so much within it that is still worthy of discussion and debate. It deals with child abuse, with treatment of the mentally ill, with loneliness and despair; and the novel also has good detail within it about what life at the time the novel was written was like.
The relationship between Rochester and Jane is very interesting too. Rochester plays with her emotions, he goes after what he wants (her as his love and salvation)and awakens her heart, desires, and passions. Their connection is genuine, and even though it’s partly brought about through his control of the situation, their connection isn’t there just because of his control over their situation.
JE also shows us that true love is not about looks and sex, but about two souls and minds connecting. It lets us see that people should marry for love, not for money, or so that they can bring two estates together. I think that so many of the themes and issues in this novel are still relevant in our world today.
I first read JE in my early teens and instantly fell in love with it. It has become a firm favourite, and it is a novel I can read again, and again and never get bored with. I connect with the lonely, damaged and passionate Jane. I pity and adore the brooding and desperate Rochester. I pity the extremely ill Bertha. I love the time taken to develop the relationship between Jane and Rochester. I smile at the antics of the adorable Adele, and of the loyal Mrs. Fairfax. I hate the selfish Blanche. I want to slap the evil and hypocritical Mr. Brocklehurst(what a loathsome creature he is!)I really feel the growing affection, friendship and romantic attachment between Jane and Rochester.
I also love this book for the old language. There are many words, objects and phrases etc that I was unfamiliar with before reading the novel. Their inclusion in the novel lead me to go and research what they meant. There are some great words in it that you never hear used anymore, words such as physiognomy for example.
In so many screen adaptations of JE, these old words and way of speaking are not present, I think that’s a real shame as it’s not being true to the novel, or to the time period it is set in. My favourite screen adaptation retains the novels historical language though, something for which I will always be grateful.
If you have never read or watched Jane Eyre, please don’t read any further. Massive spoilers ahead!
Through her novel, Bronte gives us a window into her time, and also gives us a heroine who stays true to her principles, who is a strong, passionate and independent woman. Jane suffered unspeakable cruelty and injustice in her childhood, she did not let that break or define her though.
Jane is admirable for being able to move above and past the horrors of her childhood. She is a shy, gentle and passionate woman who wants to be accepted for her mind and soul, not for money or appearance. Society (even today)places too much importance on looks and status, it is the person inside and our actions that should count most in this world. This novel tackles these issues at a time when they were of paramount importance to all who lived.
The character best remembered from this story by most people, is the brooding master of Thornfield Hall, one Mr. Edward Rochester. Like Jane, Rochester had a deeply unhappy childhood, he wants true love and contentment more than anything else in this world. Despite his marriage to Bertha, Rochester wants Jane, he needs her and wants (and deserves)his own happiness too. Rochester loves Jane and also sees her as his salvation from the awful situation he has found himself trapped within. Some will judge him harshly for wanting to marry a woman despite already being married.
I on the other hand don’t hate Rochester for that, on the contrary, I pity him and respect him. We see he was not cruel to Bertha, he looked after her very well. He could have just shipped her off to the nearest asylum and dumped her there, but he didn’t. Between him and Grace caring for her she was well looked after, and was treated with compassion and as much dignity as was possible in the time period. She was not mistreated or ridiculed.
At the asylum Bertha no doubt would have been badly treated and been scared. So he gets all my respect for keeping her at home. Secondly, Bertha was raving mad and Rochester was told nothing of this when his marriage to her was arranged. How would you react and feel if you were him? He lives a pretty depressing life for years, until the kind, pure and fresh Jane comes into his life. Here is the wife he should have had long ago.
I see no problem with him taking Jane as his wife because why should he remain married to someone who wasn’t even aware of his existence? At least he didn’t try and take Jane as his mistress, he was all set to marry her until Mason showed up. I’m pretty shocked that you couldn’t divorce due to mental illness in those days. I understand the “in sickness and in health”vow, but I think that should only apply if something develops during the marriage, Bertha had a pre-existing condition that was kept from Rochester who quickly discovered the truth shortly after the marriage. Why should he have to stay married in that instance? Plus Bertha’s condition was never going to improve and she was totally mad.
I’m in two minds about Jane’s reaction when she learns the truth about Bertha. I get that her religious and moral convictions made her think that she had no choice but to leave and not stay and marry Rochester. On the other hand why couldn’t she see what I said earlier? It’s not like he was cheating on his wife, she was his wife in name only anyway, they were not intimate either emotionally or physically. So where is the harm in staying with him?
I’ve read this again recently and picked up on something I never noticed before. It seems like Jane only gives herself one hundred percent to Rochester when he is no longer in control of their situation. At the end he is a blind cripple, he no longer has any dominance in their relationship. He had experience in physical love and matters of the heart, and he played with her early in the story due to her inexperience in these things.
Now he cannot see her reactions to say a kiss they share, or how she reacts on their wedding night the first time they make love. To me it’s like she didn’t like to be seen (at times) and now he can’t see her she comes to him. He can no longer be in control of their intimate moments the way he is at the end ( I know later he regains eyesight.) This doesn’t take anything away from this romantic story, but it does add an aspect to think about. Has anyone else noticed this?
In short, JE is a novel that I never get bored of returning to. It’s well written, descriptive, vivid and moves me so much. Bronte’s characters are as interesting and alive today as they were when they first appeared in 1847.
In my next post I will share my favourite screen adaptation of the novel.
What are your thoughts on the novel? I welcome you comments and thoughts on my observations and views of Bronte’s story. Please leave your comments below.