Erin's Reviews > Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
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's review
Feb 09, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: multiple-reads, 2010
Read from February 06 to 09, 2010

I love Jane Eyre because I love Jane Eyre. It's not the only reason, obviously, but it is one of the biggest ones. Jane is amazing. She follows her own moral compass -- and I know what "moral compass" sounds like, especially in a book from this time period. But she isn't Helen Burns (and, god, don't even get me started on Helen Burns), or Fanny Price from Mansfield Park. She's not just doing things because she is supposed to -- if that were the case, there would be no story. She would never even let herself fall in love with her employer, let alone forgive someone for lying about a previous marriage. But she doesn't leave Rochester because of what he does wrong. She can forgive him for that, she forgives him because she loves him, but she leaves him because she cannot possibly live with herself if she stays.

She is unfailingly, unflinchingly honest -- what lies does she tell? She uses an alias, which she almost immediately admits is not her true name. She says she has no family, which is something she believes to be true. She is smart and works hard, and always wants more. There is amazing growth between these pages, between Jane the ten-year-old, who faints in fear and hysteria, and Jane the eighteen-year-old, who mops up a bleeding wound for hours. There are heroines in other books who are funnier (though Jane doesn't get credit for how funny she can be -- as a child, when asked what she must do to avoid going to Hell, she replies, "I must keep in good health, and not die."), and more vivacious, but there aren't many I admire like Jane.

And you know, more of it is funny than you'd expect. I know -- how can the Gothic romance par excellence be funny? But it is. I dare you to keep a straight face at the image of gruff, unlovely Mr. Rochester dressed up as a gypsy woman, fooling fools into believing the fortunes he's telling. Try not to smile when Rochester is flirting with Jane before she leaves to visit a dying Mrs. Reed. In a book so heavy, so frequently upsetting, these little lighthearted moments are everything.

Is it perfect? Hell no. I still wish Rochester had had a better reason for dangling Blanche Ingram in front of Jane's face. Maybe this is my own problem, but I can forgive him more easily for lying about the crazy wife he locks up than for doing something so cruel just to make Jane jealous. He isn't even trying to divine her feelings -- he admits it, perfectly easily and without guilt. Not on, Rochester. Not on.

But I'm going to say that he makes up for it. People act as if Rochester is relentlessly harsh, constantly striding about in a giant black cloak, snapping at Jane. How would she fall in love with this? He's not that. I've thought more than once that Branwell Bronte must have been kind of a horrible person. I mean, let's look at some of the Bronte sisters' important male characters: Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, who kicks puppies, Arthur Huntingdon of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, who is a wife-beating alcoholic, and Rochester, who locks his crazy wife away. They're not nice men, and Branwell was an alcoholic and probably a laudanum addict. I can't help but think that he must have had an effect on their writing. Except, I don't really think that Rochester falls into this category. I understand the outrage, I know why things like The Madwoman in the Attic and Wide Sargasso Sea were written, but I also don't think that Rochester is, in his day-to-day behavior and his treatment of Jane and even Adele (is he nice? no - but take a look at what Heathcliff does to his ward and then call Rochester a bad guardian) a bad guy. Maybe Rochester is Branwell's redemption!

And what's up with the existence of St. John? I hate that guy.

But, hey, I love it. It makes me sad, which I like in a book, and it makes me happy, which I also like in a book, and it is a source of comfort. It's one of those books I can come back to again and again, never minding that I know exactly how it's going to end, never giving up hope that somehow Jane can be spared the pain she goes through.

And, quickly, a recommendation: it's been adapted for the screen roughly a thousand times, and none of the ones I've seen were perfect. Jane is often too timid, or Rochester is too harsh (and occasionally terrifying). The recent BBC adaptation starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson isn't perfect either, but it captures the lighter side of the story really well (especially the flirting/money scene). It maybe takes it to too light a place, and Stephens is probably a little too handsome to truly be Rochester (though, who's really going to complain about that?). My friend is obsessed with Jane Eyre adaptations, and has organized them in order of preference -- I'm not that hardcore, but if you're looking for a decent one, I liked this a lot.

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