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.