4.5 stars Some time ago, I picked up an enormous urge to read this book. I put it off for several days, knowing I had other books to read, college to p...more4.5 stars Some time ago, I picked up an enormous urge to read this book. I put it off for several days, knowing I had other books to read, college to prepare for, and simply no time to wander through a 500 page Victorian novel. At last I gave in, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
In some ways, a part of this book reminded me of Twilight, but only in that Edward Cullen and Bella Swan’s romance is so weak, pallid and insulting a shadow of the one that transpires here. As I have often discovered, Roger Ebert says it best (in his review of the recent film adaptation): “Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is among the greatest of gothic novels, a page turner of such startling power, it leaves its pale latter-day imitators like Twilight flopping for air like a stranded fish.” Oh, Ebert. What would the world do without you?
And it is true. I thought Jane Eyre would be like many other classics of the time period that I have attempted reading, where I would start, gain the halfway mark, and gradually set it aside in favor of something else. It’s not that they weren’t interesting, it’s just that I have a lot of books to get through before I die, and some come easier than others. This wasn’t like that at all. For one, there’s the fact that Charlotte Bronte is an excellent writer. She takes vivid descriptions, allusion and suspense to soaring heights, and it is wonderful to behold. Then there are her characters, rich and multifaceted; there’s the mystery at the heart of Thornfield Hall, and her understanding of strength in such a repressive era. Simply put, I could not put it down. It might have taken me five days at most.
Jane herself is a very rewarding character to read about. Her life has been hard, and yet she retains her ideals, principles, and compassion throughout it all. Nor is she perfect, as evidenced by her relationship with Helen Burns at Lowood. Helen is pure, patient, and a martyr; she takes her lot in stride and advocates acceptance and changing the world through a good example. Jane, on the other hand, is not quite so angelic. She is willing to be practical in her battles but also to stand up for herself, she is a little too inquisitive and forward at Thornfield, a little too in love, but values her self-respect and personal morals above all. Honestly, she’s one of the best female characters I’ve read in a long, long time.
And likewise, Mr. Rochester is just as rewarding a man to read about. He has made mistakes and done some abhorrent things, perhaps, but is overall a good person. He loves Jane for who she is, he respects her and is kind to many. He himself is not attractive, and that is nice to read about. It’s not that handsome men are not nice to read about, but they’re a dime a dozen. Mr. Rochester is more interesting, and more unusual in our appearance-obsessed culture. The same can be said of Jane.
The central mystery itself is brilliantly executed, and its continuing consequences make for a good conflict and broadening of scope for the novel. If you don’t know what it is, please don’t spoil it for yourself; the book reads so much better when you’re in suspense. It can be hard to avoid since it is as famous as the true natures of Soylent Green and Rosebud, but it can be done.
Jane Eyre is well worth reading, no matter what you think you know. To some, it may be more rewarding than others (knowing the Bible is a huge advantage, for example), but that is the case with every book. It does slow a bit in the last quarter, and there is a plot event that’s a little too contrived, but I overlook these things because they don’t detract from the novel terribly. It was good enough I had a lot of trouble deciding what to read at work today, and ended up spending most of my time thinking about it anyway.
If you’d like a good idea of what it will be like, the trailer for the new film does a really excellent job of setting up the story. I haven't seen it yet, so I can't speak for the faithfulness of the adaptation, but it is a well-done trailer. (less)