Throwback Thursday: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Do you have some old favorites you keep going back to? Some comfort books? Or just books from a long time ago (or maybe not even that long ago) that stick out to you? With so much focus on new releases (by me and everyone else), I thought I’d grab an older book every week and remind myself why I love it so much. So here it goes with one of my all-time favorites, Jane Eyre, published in 1847. This post CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, though hopefully not too many. 

Jane Eyre tells the story of Jane, the book’s namesake, as she grows up with a mean-spirited aunt and wretched cousins who make her life miserable, then is sent to a strict and severe charity boarding school at age 10. After a while, she prospers there and becomes a respected teacher, but yearns to experience more of the world.

She lands a governess job for the ward of Edward Rochester, a wealthy gentleman with a large estate and more than a few secrets and demons. Their story is filled with strange conversations and events that leave Jane frazzled and confused, but she’s determined not to let Rochester get the best of her. Have they found true love and happiness? Jane thinks so, but then is horrified when she learns his darkest secret and flees into the night basically penniless. Will they find their way back together?   

I love Jane Eyre for many reasons. One of them is that there’s the gothic horror element along with a love story—it’s not just a typical master-falls-for-the-governess romance Rather, it’s really messy and the characters have some really serious flaws mixed in with powerful virtues.

I am always conflicted about Rochester: Is he a deeply feeling man who was robbed of his chance for happiness and love, then finds it in Jane and holds on however he can? Or is he a manipulative bastard who takes advantage of a young, naïve governess half his age and gets revenge on his insane wife by locking her in the attic? Can he be both? And the dude is just weird too—what was with the gypsy fortune teller scene? That was the oddest of all and the story could have done without it, but it did add that extra layer of weirdness and darkness that separates this story from some of the other romantic classics.

What about Jane? We see a lot of her strength—surviving the boarding school, setting off on her own to a stranger’s home for a new job, going out into the world with nothing when she discovers Rochester’s secret (although, I would argue that it was weakness for her not to grab some money and her jewelry on the way out). It’s hard to like her sometimes; her the holier-than-thou and judgey attitude is a bit much. At the same time, her yearning for women’s equality, her independence, and her ability to stick to her principles has my respect.

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

She won’t let herself become Rochester’s mistress and is willing to take her chances in a harsh world than have some measure of security and comfort living abroad with Rochester, even though she’s not beautiful, particularly bright, physically strong, or financially independent.

The passion between Jane and Rochester, and within each of them, really makes the book. When they speak to each other, interact, banter; Rochester’s anger and passion describing his life; Jane’s desire for independence and freedom—everything about them screams passion in every sense of their lives.  

“Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!”

Jane Eyre definitely pushed the boundaries for the time and brought far different types of lives, passions, love, and relationships. An all-time classic and a book you’ve hopefully read already!

Rating: 5
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Independence, Gender Inequality, Social Classes and Rules, Love
Pair With: Classic Reds

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