by Charlotte Bronte
There are books that resonate with you no matter what stage of life you are in. I first read Jane Eyre in 2007 when I was fresh out of college and in my first real job. Now, seven years later, I’ve had multiple “real” jobs, I’m married and I just celebrated my 30th birthday. I’m at a very different point in life, but the book is more relevant than ever. Rereading it gave me the chance to notice new aspects of the story and to deepen my love for the book in so many ways.
Jane Eyre is famous for its scenes with the stormy Mr. Rochester and his terrible secret, but really the book is not just a romance. At its heart it's about a woman who has been through so much. She’s lost everyone she loved and she’s been persecuted by the people who are supposed to care for her. Instead of being cowed into submission and settling into a lonely life of servitude, she stands up for herself. She never allows people to treat her badly. When there’s an easy way out and all she would have to do is compromise her beliefs she refuses to do it. She is strong and brave, but she doesn’t have to shout to get her point across. She has a quiet steely strength and determination that is incredibly rare.
When she unexpectedly falls in love, she never questions her feelings or tells herself she’s not worthy of loving someone in a higher station than she is. She also refuses to let him talk her into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do. No matter how much she loves him she won’t to do something that would make her lose her self-respect.
There are so many things I love about her as a character. She's grounded and doesn't let herself be swept away by emotion. She doesn't rely too heavily on what other people think of her. She won't settle for less than what she truly deserves. She works hard to get an education and then put it to use. She wants to be with someone who challenges her, instead of with someone who is comfortable and easy. She doesn’t fall for Rochester’s looks; it’s his personality and fire that win her.
I love that Jane knows what she wants but she rarely shows anyone else her true feelings. She is just incredibly brave. She leaves her teaching job, a reliable position, to venture out into something completely unknown in order to experience more of the world. Quitting your job in the 21st century is scary and we have networking and online job search sites. Imagine doing it in the 19th century when you don’t know a soul who can help you find a job.
I love that Jane has a chance to return to her first home when her aunt is dying, because it gives her a chance to see how she’s changed since her time away. She has fallen in love not only with Mr. Rochester but also with Thornfield and with the freedom she has there.
The scene where Bertha tries on the veil gives me serious chills every time I read it. I know that her whole role in the story is controversial. Does that relationship make Rochester a villain? Was she truly mad or just a victim of circumstance? All great questions and they add an extra layer of depth to the story for me.
I also think that the nauseating proposal from St. John is crucial to the story. It shows us that Jane is not willing to settle for a loveless marriage, no matter how convenient. It’s much harder to turn something like that down when you have limited options, but she knows how unhappy it would make both of them.
BOTTOM LINE: One of my absolute favorite books, this classic will teach you something new about yourself each time you read it.
“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel–I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Funny Side Notes:
- There are multiple times when Mr. Rochester calls her Janet. I checked different editions to see if it was just a typo but it's Janet and every edition that I have. I never noticed that before.
- There’s a line that says “It was the 5th of November, and a holiday.” This made me double check the dates online, but she was referring to Guy Fawkes Day! I had no idea that Guy Fawkes had been tried and executed all the way back in 1605. For some reason I thought it must have been later.
- Also, there’s a character named John Green who pops up in chapter 26. How funny is that? Another minor character that I had forgotten is Mr. Oliver, obviously my subconscious remembered that when we named our dog Oliver.
Check out the Crash Course episode about this book if you haven’t already seen it!