#904: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

When I first got the idea in my head to read everything on The List last summer, I spent a lot of time looking for used bookstores in Boston where I could begin my journey. Unfortunately, I didn’t find many—and none that lived up to my expectations of The Strand in NYC, which I had visited for my first and only time during spring break sophomore year. At any rate, I ended up at Barnes and Noble with a few friends on the Fourth of July, and though I had been somewhat determined to buy List books only at used book stores (in case I didn’t like them, you see, then I wouldn’t have spent a fortune on them), I discovered that Barnes and Noble was running a 3-for-the-price-of-2 deal on classics. So I caved and bought Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, and Crime and Punishment.

I was hesitant to read Jane Eyre because I had heard wildly varying accounts of it from people who I would have thought would have similar taste in books. As those of you who have read it know, it’s not a short book, and I didn’t want to commit myself to something I was going to hate. So it sat on my shelf and then sat in my bedroom at home until this past December, when I needed a book and thought, what the hell, and decided to pick up Jane Eyre. This turned out to be a very good decision.

Jane Eyre is the story of, naturally, a young woman named Jane Eyre. Growing up with a neglectful aunt and abusive cousins before being sent to a rather harsh boarding school, Jane learns quickly to be self-reliant. As governess at Thornfield Manor, she soon falls in love with the brooding Mr. Rochester, master of Thornfield. When unfortunate events prevent her marriage to Mr. Rochester, she leaves Thornfield, desperate to get away. But finally, after a life of pain and turmoil, Jane finally gets the happy ending she so deserves.

I’m going to be honest here and say that if the ending wasn’t happy, I would have liked the book a lot less. Having been used to all of Jane Austen’s satisfying, everyone-ends-up-where-they-should endings, I would have been really upset if one of my favorite heroines ever didn’t get her happy ending. But she did, and I won’t say any more about that so as to prevent spoilers. 🙂

What I loved the most about this book was Jane’s drive to survive. And she didn’t struggle merely to survive; she strove to survive with all her morals and ideals intact, and this she did admirably. Her humble beginnings gave her the spunk she needed to get through some very traumatic events, and her morals supported her through leaving Thornfield and nearly dying of starvation before finding refuge. She could have easily given in to what she wanted more than anything, but regardless of how happy she might have been, her morals would prevent her true happiness—and I admire her ability to follow what she believed was right rather than what she desperately wanted to do.

For me, Jane was immediately a sympathetic character. I felt for her as though she was a close friend or even a sister. It was so frustrating to watch helplessly as one difficulty after another was heaped on poor Jane, and I was glued to the book almost the entire time I was reading it. I also liked that it was more openly romantic than any of Jane Austen’s novels, with the sort of desperate declarations of love that Austen never deigned to write. (What can I say, I’m a romantic at heart.)

Jane Eyre is the kind of book that, though I may not read it over and over again, I will always truly appreciate as a work of literature. It’s almost counterintuitive, but I would say it’s too good to cheapen with frequent readings. It’s worth savoring every time you read it, and if you read a book too often, it becomes harder and harder to savor (in my experience). It’s worth lingering over the language, the constructions, the imagery, the dialogue—and it is absolutely worth reading if you haven’t yet had the privilege. In fact, you should go out and get it right now.


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10 thoughts on “#904: Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

  1. I managed to avoid this book until I was 36 years old! Once I decided to brave it and read it, it instantly became my favourite book of all time. I live quite close to where the Bronte’s grew up so I am familiar with the moors and where the book would have taken place and I’m sure that helped. Fantastic book – glad you enjoyed 🙂

  2. I visited the Strand when I lived in New York City. It’s amazing!

    I’ve never read Jane Eyre, but I’ve seen different movie versions. They usually present Jane as a child (especially the part where she tells the headmaster that she’ll avoid hell by never getting sick), and then they shift to her time with Rochester, and the significant part of that is when we learn that Rochester’s wife is in the attic. I didn’t know there was a lot more to the story after that. Does she have a lot of adventures after leaving Rochester?

    • I did like Wuthering Heights the second time I read it (hated it the first time, as you’ll see if you look back far enough in my posts). But I liked Jane Eyre better…it was much less dark, I thought. But I can’t vote on my favorite Bronte yet because I haven’t read anything by Anne Bronte! She’s on my list, though. Have you ever read anything by her?

  3. I read this book this summer and loved it. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at the start since it is depressing, but I loved her determination. And the writing was beautiful.

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