First, just a quick though important note about the choice of which edition to buy. Obviously there are far cheaper editions that still retain a quali...moreFirst, just a quick though important note about the choice of which edition to buy. Obviously there are far cheaper editions that still retain a quality compared to the one I've listed here (Penguin Classics, 2006 edition), such as the one from the always wonderful Wordsworth Classics publisher - Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics). However, the reason I've selected this edition is because of the absolutely brilliant, unmatched introduction by the novelist and academic, Stevie Davies: not only is it beautifully written (as you'd expect from a novelist herself), it also provides much insight, wisdom and appreciation about the novel, its themes, author, and literary context; in addition to which, as you'd expect from an authoritative edition, Davies provides other excellent notes, further reading, appendices and more besides.
It's incredible to think or imagine that, of the two most intense, passionate heroines of 19th century literature, both would be written by sisters of the same family. But this is, indeed, the case. With Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. You are drawn into a first person narrative that. from the start., is compelling and becomes more disturbing and troubling. Many things have been written about Jane Eyre as a character, but to me there is no doubt that her intense character compels you to understand very specific and certain imperatives (nowadays described as feminist - then, Bronte was alone in imaginging it). In other words, her views are akin to: Be yourself, cope with circumstances, but don't give in to compromise that will drag your own personality down to nothingness; speak up in situations involving the most appalling difficulties, when it matters; assert your independence of heart and mind; maintain your integrity and self-respect against the odds.
The 19th century was a deeply moralistic society, at least on the surface, but one within and beneath which women as such had no identity or power beyond certain circumscribed roles (governess, wife, spinster, etc.). With Jane, you have a particular set of codes of behaviour that are radically established and are uncompromising about the male-dominated status quo: to cope with all circumstances without significant protest; not to give in to compromise that will drag your own personality down to nothingness; to speak up in situations involving the most appalling difficulties, when it matters; don't give in to compromise that will drag your own personality down to nothingness; ultimately, remain true to yourself. Such codas being applicable to women, especially in literature, are always radical in a patriarchal world. In addition to which, Jane Eyre's own intensity, integrity, independence of mind and action - and, especially her passionate, deeply intelligent articulation of her perspective in conversation - makes the novel an unprecedented, radical departure from novels published prior to 1847. I believe this is the case even when taking into account the marvellous Jane Austen in the early 1800s - most especially, of course, the heroine Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice (1813); besides such other wonderful novelists who bridged the 18th and 19th centuries in their lives, including Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe and Charlotte Lennox, all of whom challenged male preconceptions of women's roles and their social/intellectual identities.
Jane Eyre as a novel signposted a revolution in terms of fiction writing and, in particular, challenged and questioned traditional attitudes and thinking about women and gave women an independency of voice and thought, and passionate determinism, not previously displayed. The only other novel that is as passionate, and as determined in thinking of the singular female self as Jane Eyre, is Emily Bronte's novel, Wuthering Heights, and her character, Catherine Earnshaw; yet Jane Eyre remains, through her novel, uncompromised of her own integrity and character, despite her circumstances et al. Catherine, according to Emily's narrative, is never given such a choice, or options of such freedom, i.e. independent female thinking.
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is an astonishing novel: besides Wuthering Heights, by her sister Emily, it is one of the most passionate, intense, uncompromising, painful, and beautifully and intensely emotionally sustained novels of all literature. An astonishing achievement, irrespective of genre, author or century. (less)