The Bronte Project: Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre (May):

After 32 years on this earth, I can now say that I have read Jane Eyre- and about time, too! For years, this book has eluded me. I tried paperback, e-book and audiobook, all to no effect. But then, thanks to my friend Carolina (who sent me the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classics edition) and my determination to mark the 200th birthday of Charlotte Bronte, I sat down to have another go. Reader, I managed it.

Why did it click now? I have no idea. Maybe because Bronte was 31 when she wrote it and I’m 32, so I ‘got’ where she was at? Maybe it was because I’d read the mammoth Juliet Barker biography, so I had a better understanding of Charlotte as a writer and a person. I don’t know.

As a book, it hasn’t really gelled with me, the way that Wuthering Heights or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall did with me when I was younger (I’ll be revisiting those novels soon, although Agnes Grey is next on my list), but I think that’s because I’ve always found Charlotte the hardest of the sisters to read. I just don’t enjoy her writing in the same way.

I also struggled with the characters.I liked Jane and a few other (mostly female characters), but I don’t get the Rochester love. Bronte men are often quite difficult to love (maybe echoes of their difficult relationship with their brother?), but I can understand a Heathcliff type (tragic life, infatuation leading to a revenge complex etc etc). But Rochester is just a bit of a slutty git before he meets Jane and is quite happy to commit bigamy in order to get his own way, and then is redeemed when his poor, mad wife burns down the house and he has a fit of conscience and ends up blind for his troubles. And St John Rivers is quite frankly bordering on the emotionally abusive at times.

I did like the story though. Probably because I’m a sucker for an underdog-does-good storyline.

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6 Comments

  1. I loved it up until she runs away, then I just got so bored of the piety. St John is as much of an arse hat as Rochester. It’s interesting how Charlotte and Emily write religion in comparison to Anne, sometimes I wonder if Charlotte was sincere in Jane’s religion or not.

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  2. Great review 🙂 I agree that Rochester is a bit of a pain, especially before his place burns down. The story is more about the brilliant Jane, her strong morals and her independence.
    The timing of the book helps to shed a bit of light on him, I think – given this was the middle of the Romantic period of literature, Rochester is basically exactly what a romantic hero is meant to be – devoted to pleasure, questioning of societal limits and demands, and connected to the spiritual powers of the universe quite apart from Christianity. So, you know, the opposite of Jane. His redemption, and paying for his sins, comes after Jane completely rejects this Romantic view of the world and stands firmly for her hard-won moral sense and independence. Rochester is then literally consumed by the flames fanned by his misguided actions, and blinded to the world around him. If you agree with my interpretation here, then Rochester’s from debaucherous libertine into a man struggling desperately to be good, moral and upstanding is quite incredible, and takes place only when he’s apart from Jane, which is why we see so little of it in the book. It makes it easy to dismiss – as if he didn’t really change at all, only because he’s blind. But I think (hope?) that he was genuinely attracted to the calm strength of Jane and does his best to find it in himself.
    Love to know if you agree? Or am I just desperately trying to redeem a terrible man?

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    1. I think your view of Rochester depends when you first come across him; I think had I ‘met’ him as a teenager, I would have found him to be a wonderfully romantic hero. Because I came across him at 32, I’d had a bit more experience and met men like him, so I was a bit more suspicious of him! I think it’s genuinely fascinating that he creates so much debate.

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