I don’t remember how old I was when I got Jane Eyre as a birthday present. I think maybe 12. I remember it was a birthday party at a park, and my aunt had put it in a bag that said “Have a phat birthday” or something like that. And I remember thinking it was weird, but cool.
Fast forward several years and I’m somewhere in my teens reading it for the first time, probably 15 or 16, when I got on my classic literature kick. And I still think the illustrations are weird and cool.
Fast forward another 10 years, and it’s mid-October (yes, these blog posts are written in advance. Sometimes even more than a month in advance), and I’m scrounging through my books looking for anything remotely creepy to read in an effort to be festive. I know Jane Eyre isn’t really creepy (though, secreted lunatics always make stories a little bit creepy), but the illustrations have always stuck with me, and so, Jane Eyre made the cut. Plus, I had very limited options.
I remembered most of the general plot of Charlotte Brontë’s work, but I had events out of order in my mind, so I was glad to read it again.
Jane is an orphan, and we meet her living with an aunt and cousins who dislike her, simply because she is poor, orphaned, and not one of them. It’s not long before Jane is sent off to boarding school, where she is much better off. Upon completion of her schooling, Jane advertises for and accepts a position as a governess, and flourishes in the position, teaching a young French orphan in a large mansion.
But Jane finds herself falling for her usually-absent employer, who, upon meeting Jane, seems to take up residence in Thornfield Hall. But not everything is as it seems, and just when Jane is in the cusp of achieving happiness, everything falls to pieces, and she steals away in the wee hours of the morning, looking to put herself back together. Alone, penniless, and without friends or family, all seems hopeless for Jane, until the kindness of a stranger sets in motion a second rise to happiness Jane never dreamed would be hers.
The first thing to note about this book is that it is a classic, which means, it can be a slog to get through. Modern novels don’t contain nearly as much soliloquizing as the classics. And yet, this very thing is often what gives classic novels their unique voice.
With everything that happens to poor Jane, it seems like Brontë took to heart the suggestion to constantly make things worse for the character. And yet, it moves the story along, and shows the character of Jane in a way that is more believable than a character description.
What makes this such a good story, I think, is that Jane suffers abuse upon abuse, and yet still holds herself to such standards that she will not take happiness where it isn’t moral to do so, perhaps because she is so used to having little to no happiness at all. Jane’s character is an interesting case study of how seeking approval can become an obsession when approval is rarely given.