Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

For my first ‘Spending Sunday With A Classic’ I thought I would go for what is seen as one of the classics in literature ‘Jane Eyre’. I can’t lie to you and say I wasn’t slightly daunted at the prospect of a classic over 500 pages long, because I was. I don’t always tend to fair too well with the classics on the whole. However I can report back that I owe everyone who has told me to read this book a huge thank you (my mother is staying at the moment and keeps saying ‘I told you so’ every so often as we have been talking about it a lot) as I think in Jane Eyre I may have not only found the perfect narrator but also what I could say is a near perfect book and read. The only problem now is how to do it justice with my thoughts but dear reader I shall try.

I admit that I didnt start ‘Jane Eyre’ with the highest of hopes – I will be honest. First of all there was my ‘history’ with Charlotte’s sister Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights’, which I thought was tosh, but we shouldn’t judge an author on their siblings efforts (Byatt and Drabble or vice versa for instance) should we? There was also the length, 500+ pages, to contend with, the fact it is labelled a ‘classic’ and also the fact it started of with an orphan. Books with orphans as the lead character have, to my mind, become the great cliché of writing however this is one of the earliest and therefore if anything people will have stolen/paid homage to this.

When we first meet Jane Eyre it is under the begrudging guardian ship of her venomous (and therefore I liked her a bit) Aunt Mrs Reed in Gateshead with her vile cousins who contanstly bully and blame her. We are of course instantly on Jane’s side; we always want the underdog to come through after all. Soon enough things come to ahead and the aunt who can never love her  sends her to Lockwood a charity institution for young girls where the uncaring Mr Brocklehurst believes the devil can be taken from the child. I could add in so much here it’s untrue, such as the wonderful Miss Temple and the delightful and tragic Helen Burns, but if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read it I wouldn’t want to spoil a second of the wonderful read you have ahead of you before the main story really starts, yes this wonderful first few chapters is just a warm up for Bronte.

Well, when I say main, I mean more the story we all think we know if we haven’t read the book which is starts as Jane leaves Lowood as a teacher and becomes a governess for the mysterious Mr Rochester’s rather irritating ward Adele. From the moment she ‘bewitches’ his horse something starts between the two characters and takes the story into a darker and more eerie setting in the grand house of Thornfield Hall.

Despite being much older and a bit of a grumpy arse so and so there is something about Rochester that attracts Jane despite herself, and it appears Rochester can see something in Jane despite her plainness (is this where we get the term ‘plain Jane’?) and situation. Only Charlotte Bronte doesn’t let things run smoothly or the way you would assume and instead provides twist after twist taking her reader on a rather heartbreaking, occasionally shocking, slightly enraging, but immensely readable and gripping journey. She also takes you on it with an utterly wonderful narrating heroine who Bronte really puts through the mill and therefore also the reader on an emotional rollercoaster (not that they had rollercoaster’s in Charlotte’s day). Can you tell I loved it?

I still don’t think I have anywhere near done this book justice but then I don’t think I ever could. I could happily rattle on for a good thousand words or more though… However rather than give anything more away to those who haven’t read it and possibly ruin their enjoyment of it (as we can discuss it in more detail in the comments) I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold. 10/10 There we go, a simply MUST read book, its even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.

Now can we all have a good old natter about it as I am simply bursting to!?!

(And yes I will be catching up with almost three weeks of comments today too when I can – as Mum is staying so to be on the computer too much might be deemed rude, apologies for my comment rubbishness of late!)

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70 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Charlotte Bronte, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

70 responses to “Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

  1. JoV

    Glad you love Jane Erye. Me too! I think your Spending Sunday with a classic is great.

    Mom is more important. Don’t mind me. 😉

  2. Justine

    Jane Eyre is one of those books that you feel should be given to every girl when she’s about 10 or 11 years old (along with I Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm!) It’s a brilliant read, a book I turn to time and time again. While I enjoyed Wuthering Heights, I feel like I’ve outgrown it, but Jane Eyre is a book that I could happily reread.

    I know from your blog that you’re a great Du Maurier fan – how do you feel about Rebecca now that you’re read Jane Eyre? Has JE changed your view of Rebecca?

    • Oooh good question about Jane Eyre and my relationship with Rebecca, I dont think it has changed it too much to be honest. I just love them both.

      I do think everyone should be made to read Jane Eyre… but then would people love it as much?

  3. Justine

    And just to add – did you see an article in the Guardian this week about people who like Jane Eyre as opposed to those who like Wuthering Heights? I’m not totally in agreement though it’s quite a fun read:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/sep/23/brontes-divide-humanity

  4. How great that you loved it so much. I’ve recently re-read Villette and am planning to blog about it soon — there were very mixed feelings about it at my reading group last week.

    • I would have loved to have read Jane Eyre in a book group and be able to discuss it non stop with people. I think I might have gone for anyone who would have said they didnt like this though.

      I will try Villette eventually, definitely.

  5. PS — just read Justine’s link — yes it is a fun read but I really like both the books. I do love Heathcliff, though, and there are bits of WH that still bring goose-pimples to my skin and even tears to my eyes.

  6. classic sunday love it simon great idea ,I really need to buckle down and get some classics read ,all the best stu

  7. I am currently curled up on the sofa with a hellish cold (whilst the boy is playing tour-guide for our understanding guests) and I plan on consoling myself with a classic and some Lemsip.

    So pleased that you enjoyed this, Simon. I have something of a love-hate relationship with Jane Eyre. I adored the novel when I first read it at 10yo but studying it ad nauseam during my first year of university tainted it for me (if I had to read or hear one more thing about the menstrual symbolism of the Red Room I would have thrown up). However, I love the story of Jane Eyre and the intertextuality of Rebecca, Wide Sargasso Sea, The Eyre Affair etc. I do plan on rereading it every decade for the remainder of my life in the hope that I fully love it once more.

    • Oh Claire I hope you are better now, in fact this was so long ago I have probably seen you since, I seem to have lost all concept of time the last couple of weeks.

      I can imagine dissecting this in detail again and again could have a rather negative effect. But then it would any book, thats why despite wanting too I would never have studied English Lit further than my A-Levels. Mind you never say never.

  8. That link Justine posted is worth following. In a nutshell, it posits that most readers who love Jane Eyre loathe Wuthering Heights, and vice versa. Jane Eyre devotees are described as “librarians” whereas those who prefer Heathcliff and Cathy are dubbed “rock stars”. I definitely prefer Jane Eyre and, whilst I have worked in a library, I have never even been to a rock gig. Perhaps there is something in the theory?

  9. I loved Jane Eyre and I know I need to reread it, since it has been years since I’ve read it. I remember how impressed I was back then though and like you I would have given it 11 out of 10. I’m glad the Bröntes did not disappoint you again. I myself had issues with Wuthering Heights as well, I have yet to find a book by one of the sisters that captivates me as much as Jane Eyre. Then again, I haven’t really tried..

  10. I am planning to re-read it for December! I am determined to re-think my opinion of this novel. It sounds like I’m in for a treat.

  11. I’m so glad that your classics reading project led me to read Jane Eyre again. I admired it just as much this time around as I did then. I will now have to re-read Wuthering Heights, which I remember loving as well. Will I be a librarian or rock star? Librarian, I’m sure. However, I think that one person can love both books.

    I recently happened upon a book called Becoming Jane Eyre, by Sheila Kohler, which I read a few days after I read Jane Eyre. Although it is a novel, it touches on quite a lot of Jane’s real life. It was interesting to read how Jane’s and Emily’s books were received by the public, and how Mr. Rochester was no doubt modeled upon Charlotte’s French teacher in Brussels. I want to read “Villette” now, and also read one of Anne’s books, which I never have. Apparently, some people consider her work better than that of her sisters’!

  12. I have read Anne’s books. They are very good but she is not in the same league with her sisters. Who knows what might had happened had Anne and Emily lived to develop their writing, though.

    I also like both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I won’t follow the link to the Gaurdian. I read a few bookish articles in the Gaurdian back when that first became possible to do via the internet and soon learned that nothing in the Gaurdian should ever be taken seriously.

    Charlotte and Emily are both rock stars. Charlotte is classic rock while Emily is more of a punk. 😉 They are both far too loud to ever work in a library.

  13. Bet

    So glad you loved Jane Eyre, Simon! It’s always been one of my favorites. I read it for the fourth time about a year ago and loved it again. Jane is an admirable and interesting heroine, gutsy and principled and tender-hearted. It’s hard to get tired of her.

    I also read Villette several years ago, and I remember thinking that I might have liked it even better than JE. I will have to read it again soon to see if I still feel that way.

    It’s been way too long since I read Wuthering Heights to say what I think of it, but the fact that I’ve only read it once (and that in high school, over 30 years ago) probably says something.

    Can’t wait to see what classic you feature next!

    • I would agree with you whole heartedly on the fact you could never tire of Jane as a character.

      I sadly gave up Spending Sundays With A Classic because it meant I was reading to deadline a little bit too much. I am so pleased it made me read this one though as I am not sure how soon I would have read it if not.

  14. I can’t read the review in it’s entirety because Jane Eyre is my current read (same edition as you!) but I’m glad to read that you liked it because right now I’m floored, absolutely loving it, so hearing you liked it is good.

  15. I am glad that you liked Jane Eyre. Charlotte is my favorite author ever. I feel though that I should warn you that in case you read Villette, do not expect it to be at all like Jane Eyre. I don’t mean to discourage you, but you should have in mind that Villette is a much soberer, deep and complex book than Jane Eyre. It is not that it lacks poetry or anything but the plot is quite slow and the emphasis is given in the character development of its heroine, who is not always as self-aware, open or sensible as Jane. I remember being half way through the book and while loving the language, wondering why am I reading it since nothing really important happens to its protagonist. And then I knew the reason this book had been written this way: if I who was a simple reader could not tolerate Lucy Snowe’s life how was she to bear it? But the lives of most people resemble Lucy’s life much more than Jane’s. So I kept reading. Thus Jane Eyre is a book that thrills you and helps you dream, while Villette is a book that I think Charlotte wrote partly to express a deeper level of reality, of facing your fears and surviving them. So while I will always love Jane Eyre, I bow to the intelligence of Villette.

  16. I cannot tell you how immensely happy the first paragraph of your post made me. Jane Eyre is my all-time favorite book, and I’m not one to make those sorts of statements. I, too, disliked Wuthering Heights – a lot.

    And to hear you refer to Jane as a near-perfect narrator and the novel as near-perfect as well? Love it.

    I constantly use “dear reader” in posts and in my own journals because I love the intimacy of it, the connection between thought and audience. I’ve read the book over a dozen times and still go back to certain passages.

    Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea? I read it last summer and was a bit dazed by it but would like to give it another go. Let me know if you do and maybe we could do companion posts?

    • I do think that Jane and the book are so near perfect its marvellous, it could be the perfect book, but then is there such a thing as a perfect book?

      I havent read Wide Sargasso Sea but I do have it so maybe thats a plan?????

  17. I have this on my TBR shelf and have been looking forward to it…but now I don’t know if I can wait.

  18. Dot

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed Jane Eyre, it is one of my favourite books, I think it has so much packed into it. Mr Rochester is such a brilliant character, he is someone who you should really dislike yet he has this incredible vulnerability. Oooh I might have to have a re-read of this one soon!

  19. This was a grand opening of your classics season, congratulations! I have read all of Charlotte with delight, but “Villette” is the greatest one for sure. I also agree with you about Emily.

  20. novelinsights

    Great review Simon. Jane Eyre is the next classic I plan to read. I’m going to look like such a copy cat, but it does sound fabulous. I’m tempted to save it up for Christmas though.

  21. m

    Villette is even better though I was rather older when I came to appreciate it. Loved Wuthering Heights in my teens – all that torrid passion and high emotion – but doubt I could get quite so engrossed in it today.

    • I do wonder if thats why I didnt love Wuthering Heights maybe I needed to have been younger when I read it. I think you could read Jane at any age though, well after about 12 maybe.

      Getting very excited about Villette now!

  22. Oh joy upon joy, Simon! How anyone can’t love Jane Eyre, I don’t know. I hate Wuthering Heights with a passion, but Charlotte and Anne’s novels I adore. I have read and re-read Jane Eyre so many times I’ve lost count, and it’s one of my all time favourites. A perfect narrator, a perfect story…though if I’m honest, the St John section could have been improved upon, but that’s open to discussion.

    You must read Villette next. Villette is much more poignant and emotionally intense than Jane Eyre, and a much underread classic. PLUS I must put a word in for poor neglected Anne – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an immensely good novel that far eclipses the nonsensical, far too histrionic Wuthering Heights.

    I’m so glad you loved this!!

  23. I love Jane Eyre too (but I also love Wuthering Heights!) I don’t think I’ve read anything else by Charlotte Brontë except maybe The Professor, but you’ve reminded me that I must soon:)

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  25. Love Jane – if only Rochester were a bit more worthy, but we all want them to end up together because he’s a dreamboat even if he is in logical thinking a bit of an odd fish (to play down his oddness massively – wife locked in attic, gypsy drag costume). Just such a wonderful book and a joy to study and pick away at as well (we only spent five minutes on the menstrual symbolism bit when I did it). It holds up so well.

    Oh dear I wonder if I’ll hate Wuthering Heights because I love Jane Eyre.

  26. EllenB

    I first read it in High School, then college, then graduate school. Since then I have read it 4 or 5 times for the sheer joy of it. It is my favorite book of all time and each time I read it I find more and more to love-Jane developing as a woman, Jane developing as an artist, Jane and religion, Jane and sex, Jane as a writer. The Eyre Affair is another fave, especially its explanation of how Jane comes to hear that voice calling her back to Rochester – an implausibiity to many who are not I Love Jane No Matter What people. I am so happy that you have discovered her.

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  28. So glad you loved this, Simon. I read it for the first time about 18 months ago and I fell in love. It is quite possibly my favourite book of all time. And yes, WH is tosh! I have tried 3 times and can’t get past about 60 pages.

  29. I’m glad you enjoyed it! This was one of the defining books from my adolescence, and I still think it is absolutely fantastic. Funny you mentioned not liking Wuthering Heights, as around the same time you posted this, there was this article on The Guardian about how nobody can like both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights!

    I mean, I actually do enjoy Wuthering Heights for all its flaws, but it is funny the number of people who get on with one but can’t stand the other.

    • I do wonder why people fall into the Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre camos what is it about those two books. Obviously there are people that love both they do seem few and far between though.

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  31. Glad to see you loved it. I came to Jane “late” (22, rather than 10) which meant I was of a better age to understand the romance and the crazy things that motivate all the characters.

    Re other Brontes – I love Anne’s “Tenant of Wildfell Hall”, not that bothered about “Wuthering Heights” and was disgusted by “Shirley” (soooooo boring, such a waste of my valuable reading time!) – so I’m not sure that sweeping generalisations can be made about Bronte readers!

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  39. SammyMannatee

    I am the only person I know who doesn’t like Jane Eyre… I really don’t like it! It sounds like I may have a similar relationship with Jane Eyre as you do with Wuthering Heights! I reviewed it recently on my blog, and had to really reign myself in so that I didn’t spend 2000 words complaining :p

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