Lia's Reviews > Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights

Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Brontë
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Dec 05, 08

Recommended for: everyone
Read in October, 2008

This will always be one of my favorite books. I read it every few years and never tire of it. It's a masterpiece of storytelling, characterization, and beautiful writing. The narrator, Jane, is such a believable character, and I always relate to her.

The highlights for me:

Bronte's portrayal of Jane as a child while she is downtrodden at Gateshead Hall. ("How much I wished to reply fully to this question! How difficult it was to frame any answer! Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words.")

Delightful British sentences like: "I considered [the book] a narrative of facts, and discovered in it a vein of interest deeper than what I found in fairy tails: for as to the elves, having sought them in vain among foxglove leaves and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground-ivy mantling old wall-nooks, I had at length made up my mind to the sad truth, that they were all gone out of England to some savage country where the woods were wilder and thicker, and the population more scant."

The inspiring example of Helen Burns and the impact she has on Jane's character. ("If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends...besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us; and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence...and God waits only the separation of spirits from flesh to crown us with a full reward. Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness - to glory?")

Jane's character when she is grown, which we understand better because we know of the people and events that had the most impact on her when she was young. Although she is "plain and little," she is intelligent, sensible, conscientious, feeling, honest, circumspect, defiant, in some cases, and as Mr. Rochester says, "indomitable." She is a person of her own making, and the contrast between her and her dissipated and silly cousins when she visits them as an adult is striking. Bronte conveys Jane's character principally through her words, her interactions with others, and Mr. Rochester's perception of her. She has a good balance of self-awareness and self-respect. ("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 grace, and we stood at God's feet, equal, - as we are!")

The character of Mr. Rochester, who is so real that you could almost swear you've met him somewhere before. I love the pride, the perceptiveness, the slightly sarcastic humor, the to-the-point bluntness and even brusqueness, the ardent love, the wistfulness, and the mystery of the melancholy, which we later understand in full. ("I have plenty of faults of my own: I know it, and I don't wish to palliate them, I assure you....I started, or rather...was thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one-and-twenty, and have never recovered the right course since: but I might have been very different; I might have been as good as you.")

Jane and Mr. Rochester's love for each other. They understand each other; they are like each other, and they esteem each other. ("My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?") ("I grieve to leave Thornfield; I love Thornfield: - I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life, - momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic, and high. I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence; with what I delight in, - with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever.")

Jane's courageous decision to refuse to live with Mr. Rochester, even though it broke her heart. ("I had already gained the door: but, reader, I walked back - walked back as determinedly as I had retreated. I knelt down by him; I turned his face from the cushion to me; I kissed his cheek; I smoothed his hair with my hand. 'God bless you, my dear master!' I said. 'God keep you from harm and wrong - direct you, solace you - reward you well for your past kindness to me.'...He held his arms out; but I evaded the embrace, and at once quitted the room.")

The character of St. John. Bronte gives us plenty of interesting information about him, but leaves it up to the reader to decide if his ultimate decision to be a missionary is foolish or noble.

Occasionally I talk to people who don't like the ending of Jane Eyre, which is strange to me. I can only think that they have no appreciation for truly happy endings, or that they weren't paying enough attention to the narrative to understand that what happened was absolutely necessary for the ending to be happy. "Why couldn't Mr. Rochester's first wife have died," they wonder, "withOUT Mr. Rochester's getting blinded and maimed?"

Although Jane was a governess and Mr. Rochester her master - two people in entirely different social strata - Mr. Rochester recognized in Jane an equal. In contrast, Jane (who loved Mr. Rochester dearly and believed herself to be his equal in spirit)was keenly aware of their social and monetary differences. How could she not be? Mr. Rochester's well-bred guests treated her like a piece of furniture. Her contrasting sketches of her own "Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain" and the imagined "Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank," led her to say, "Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady's love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?" And when her friend Mrs. Fairfax learned of Jane's and Mr. Rochester's engagement, Mrs. Fairfax's reaction was: "How it will answer, I cannot tell: I really don't know. Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases." (This disturbed Jane because she felt it was true.) Mr. Rochester tried to lavish Jane with jewels and fine dresses, but she refused, seeing that she would feel too awkward and out of character: "Don't send for the jewels, and don't crown me with roses: you might as well put a border or gold lace round that plain pocket handkerchief you have there." She was happy to remember, while they are shopping for finery, that she has an uncle who may leave her an inheritance. "It would, indeed, be a relief if I had ever so small an independency; I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester." In short, although Jane knew her character and person to be Mr. Rochester's equal, she was continually conscious that they were not on equal footing as regards her station in life. She felt it most keenly when she loved him and did not yet know if he loved her - when he made her jealous and envious of Blanche Ingram, when he left for weeks and seemed to ignore her. She was at his mercy. He could honor her by choosing her instead of any other of the many women available; but her favor was worth little by her own estimation, as he was virtually her only option.

After Jane left and Mr. Rochester was blinded and lost his right hand, he was a changed person. ("His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was raven-black; nor were his features altered or sunk: not in one year's space, by any sorrow, could his athletic strength be quelled, or his vigorous prime blighted. But in his countenance, I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding...He descended the one step, and advanced slowly and gropingly towards the grass-plat. Where was his daring stride now?")

Jane proclaimed early on in their first conversation after remeeting that she had inherited five thousand pounds and was "an independent woman" who was quite free to build a house next to his and love and help him. This was important to her. She also made a point of teasing Mr. Rochester about handsome St. John's proposal to her (echoing Mr. Rochester's onetime use of Blanche Ingram as an object to provoke jealousy). Jane did not truly come in to her own until she felt to be on equal footing with Mr. Rochester. Her initial contemplation of marriage to Mr. Rochester was happy but uneasy. By the end of the book, she knew her place, had found her niche, and was completely assured of the essentialness of her presence in Mr. Rochester's life and affections. In the beginning of the book she was trampled on and treated poorly; at the end of the book she knew "what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth." She held herself "supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express;" because, in her words, "I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms...we are precisely suited in character - perfect concord is the result." Perfect concord wasn't possible until the end. What a satisfying ending!
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