Monday, February 04, 2008

Repent! And Read This Romantic Classic.

Eva's meme forced me to admit the shameful truth - although I have been a book lover all my life and hold a college degree in English, I had never read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. You'll be glad to know that I have repented. Finally, I know why this novel is beloved by so many people, because it was book-love-at-first-sentence for me.

As the title suggests, the book follows the life of one Jane Eyre. When we first see her, she is curled up on a window seat trying to lose herself in a book. Escape into her imagination is her only retaliation against the cruel blows life has dealt her. After her parents' deaths, Jane was sent to live with The Reeds - her aunt, uncle and three cousins. Now widowed, Mrs. Reed has become an indulgent bore who treats Jane as little better than a servant. Her son, the sadistic John, tortures Jane with physical blows, while his sisters tolerate her with haughty indifference. Even the servants believe she is a "mad cat" (11).

Some respite comes in the form of bemused Mr. Lloyd, who encourages Mrs. Reed to send Jane to a school for poor girls. When the school's director poisons the other girls against Jane, she fears she will not survive the experience. She does, however, and soon finds herself qualified to work as a governess in one of England's grand old homes. Soon, she is the employee of Mr. Edward Rochester, the absentee owner of Gateshead. Her charge is Sophie Varens, a precocious child of 7 or 8, who has become Mr. Rochester's ward in the wake of her mother's death. Jane enjoys her student and her associations with the kindly servants of Gateshead. Only one thing mars her experience - she keeps hearing strange noises at night. The other members of the household dismiss it as the odd habits of servant Grace Poole, but Jane's suspicions are aroused. The strange occurrences aside, Jane feels content at Gateshead.

When Jane meets Mr. Rochester by chance, her world changes once again. Despite his oddities, she falls in love with him. Jane knows she is not attractive, but Mr. Rochester seems to appreciate her intelligence and wit. Still, his flirting with a beautiful, if shallow, society woman convinces her that he has better prospects. Finally, the unlikely romance blossoms into marriage, but a shocking revelation halts the happy proceedings. The mystery of Gateshead is finally solved, but Jane's heart is shattered.

Shamed, Jane flees to a distant town, where she begins life anew. This journey will bring her joy and despair - as well as another marriage proposal - but she can't seem to forget Mr. Rochester. The conclusion of the book begins with a Jane in turmoil, caught between two men and two very different futures. Will she abandon her desire for Mr. Rochester to pursue a life of missionary service? Or will she risk it all for the man she loves?

Call Jane Eyre what you will - sentimental, predictable, sappy - but it's a thoroughly charming novel. The voice of our heroine is brave, honest and determined. Even though the novel is essentially a love story, it's not all bubbles and roses. Its themes travel various paths, hitting on passion, moral choices, marital responsibility, duty to God, women's rights in the stifling Victorian period, etc. Hailed as revolutionary for its time, Jane Eyre endures because it's still relevant today. Besides all those noble things, it's simply a good story. It's readable, romantic and utterly enchanting. If you - like me - have committed the sin of not reading this book, repent now. You won't regret it.

Grade: A+

(Book image is from Modern Library)

7 comments:

  1. I'll have to admit that I have also sinned. This is one of those that definitely falls into the category of I know I must of read this. Haven't I? But, alas, I don't think I actually have. I know so much about it, but don't think I've read it. Thanks for the review. Maybe I'll follow your example and repent.

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  2. I finally got around to listening to the audiobook and loved it! I found myself not wanting to get out of the car when I got home. I've been following your blog for a month or two now and really enjoy all your reviews! =)

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  3. Lisa - At least I'm not the only one, LOL. I thought I had read it, too, and I seemed to always know what was going to happen before it did, so either I've heard all about it or I've read it. Who knows? I loved it, though. You should definitely read it.

    Emmegail - Thanks for commenting! I'm so glad you've been visiting. I just visited your blog, too - it's great. I'm going to add it to my blogroll, if you don't mind :)

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  4. This is one that I think I first read when I was about 11 or 12. I should really reread it now because I think my perspective at 50 would be different. LOL

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  5. That's neat that you enjoyed it so much! When I was younger, I much prefered Wuthering Heights (so much gothic drama) and now I'm more into Anne Bronte. But I'm sure I'll give Jane Eyre another chance, probably after I read The Wide Sargasso Sea (have you heard of that one? it's more a recent novel looking at what happened w/ his first wife in the Caribbean), and I'll probably like it even more!

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  6. I am so glad you took the plunge! Jane Eyre is one of my favorites.

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  7. Kay - I think I may have read this when I was younger, but I can't remember. Surely, it has whole new meanings from an adult perspective :)

    Eva - I've heard of The Wide Sargasso Sea, but I didn't realize the subject was Rochester's first wife. I'll have to check it out.

    Literary Feline - I'm glad I finally read it. I really, really loved it.

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