Today is Charlotte Bronte’s 198th birthday, and so I thought I’d post my review of Jane Eyre, which has become one of my favourite books.
(There are spoilers in this review, but I refuse to hide it, because, come on dude, this book has been out 150 years)
Although an absolute classic, I will admit that I first attempted this book a few years ago and gave up with the claims that it was dull. Now, doing it for AS level, I was forced through what was admittedly a slow start – although it is rendered much better when analysed and looked at from hindsight. Although commonly referred to as a “love story”, I agree with the view that this is instead a bildungsroman about Jane’s search for identity and love from an isolated and unfortunate background. Due to this, it frustrates me that all adaptations paint it as otherwise – although only half of the book is spent at Thornfield, and the rest at Lowood and Moors House, all adaptations focus merely on Thornfield, a choice which decreases the reader’s ability to see Jane’s journey. It is also frustrating that this book is seen so commonly as a “love story” as it puts men off reading it and labels it as a “girls book”, something which profoundly irritates me, as this book deserves to be read by almost everyone, in the same way that everyone is encouraged to classics by male authors.
I am not saying that this book is without flaws; due to its age, it is sometimes a struggle to get through, and I think perhaps I will have to read it again to fully appreciate it – I admit my love for it was helped along by watching the BBC 2006 adaptation (a fabulous version which I will touch upon later.)
The relationship between Jane and Rochester is, at least to begin with, incredibly dysfunctional. At one bit Rochester even threatens violence; “If you do not listen to reason Jane, I will try violence” and manipulates Jane time and time again. However, whilst some aspects are certainly not ones you would want in your own love life, it is impossible not to root for such a couple. When reading Charlotte Bronte’s beautiful prose, you understand that it is almost as if they are two halves who have found each other, and they fit together perfectly, their passionate and all consuming love making this one of the best interpretations of a love ever – despite the numerous barriers for their relationship (WHY DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A WIFE ROCHESTER) and their reconciliation at the end of the novel was breathtaking.
I will admit that I did not fall entirely for Jane, the main character. I know what you’re thinking; “What blasphemy! You call yourself a feminist, yet you do not like one of the most independent and inspirational female characters in literature?!” and yes, I am afraid that she did not entirely captivate me. I thought for a character who I had believed to be feisty and passionate, she didn’t really say a lot (although I understand this was because of repression of women at the time) and she was incredibly judgmental. Every single person was remarked upon; no matter how nice to her they were, their frivolities or stupidity would be pointed out.
The character of Rochester, whilst eccentric, was entirely enjoyable. I could not help but laugh at his behaviours, my class, whilst reading this, joked at what it would be like if Mr Rochester were to write a dating book, which would be filled with advice such as “when proposing to the love of your life, make sure to start with convincing her that she must go to Ireland.” Wow, does Rochester have Game. He is also the biggest diva ever to grace the page, literally he is the Mariah Carey of the 1800s.
One thing I really did not understand about Jane was her choice in friends; why oh why would anyone ever be as desperate as she was to maintain friendship with as insufferable a character as St John?! I will admit that when we were first introduced to him, I felt sympathy for him, and rooted for him and Rosamund to get together, although I already knew the ending of that story, I thought it tragic, and due to his inability to admit his feelings he already irritated me slightly, but I felt no particularly dislike for him. But then he started forcing Jane to act a certain way, and pressured her into marrying him, and by this point all slither of like for him evaporated. I am not joking when I say that he was one of my least favourite characters in the entirety of literature.
Oh and speaking of friends I didn’t see the appeal of, Helen Burns seemed very preachy for an 11 year old, and once again I didn’t really see the attraction. Of course it was touching that Helen died in Jane’s arms and Jane never forgot her, but as a stand alone character she wasn’t the best.
Bertha, of course, is a fascinating character, especially when you look at the feminist and racist interpretations of her character, one of my favourites being that she represents Jane’s darker self.
I especially love looking at feminist intepretations of this book – I’m one of those weird people who love to analyse things and look at other people’s understanding of the most minor phrases, and when you do this all sorts of interesting commentary comes out which I find fascinating.
I said earlier that I would talk about the 2006 Adaptation and I will; it is the best that has been so far (that I have watched). Ruth Wilson plays a passionate Jane, and Toby Stephen is an incredible Rochester, to the point that I liked Rochester way more in this version than in the actual book. They have incredible sexual tension, and the romance is one of the best aspects of this version, the proposal scene in particular is just fantastic – Ruth Wilson really gets across Jane’s outburst of emotion, and this scene brought me to tears.
This is a truly fascinating book, that whilst it takes a while to get into, and potentially can be appreciated better in hindsight than whilst in the midst of reading it, deserves to be read by everyone. (seriously, go read it.)