Classics Challenge: Jane Eyre
Image from Penguin
It's big sister Charlotte's turn as we take on the second Brontë book in our Classics Challenge - Jane Eyre. (Soz Anne, we'll get to you next time. Maybe.)
You might be familiar with one of the most famous lines from this book: "Reader, I married him." But don't be too quick to discredit this as just another romance. As we follow Jane through her life, from an orphan growing up through a harsh and cruel childhood, to taking a position as a governess in a house concealing a dark secret, we find the story of a young woman trying to forge a path for herself in the midst of difficult choices.
“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. ”
I’m quite impressed that at the beginning of this year I had read no Brontë sisters books and now, by the end of it, I have read two Brontë sisters books. This is a significant increase in Brontë. Thanks Classics Challenge.
With the angsty drama of Wuthering Heights still fresh in my memory, I think I had it in mind that Jane Eyre would be much the same. It’s not; well, not really. There are similar themes - both follow characters through from childhood to adulthood and are tinged with gothic flourishes and moody Byronic heroes - but where Wuthering Heights’s focus is on the central relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy, Jane Eyre is very much about Jane’s relationship with herself too. We’re inside her head, experiencing the constant to-and-fro of her thoughts as she battles between doing what’s right and giving in to the easy option.
Going into this book, I’ll admit I underestimated Jane as a character. I expected swooning; I found someone that young girls could still look up to today. Yes, she’s overly moral at times but she’s also a bit of a badass. And yes, she's passionate and falls in love but it's on her terms. The simple fact that she walks away from that love rather than giving up her integrity already makes her stronger than about 90% of modern-day female characters.
Jane goes through shit, she works hard, she sticks to her principles and doesn’t let people pull her down into roles she thinks are beneath her. And in the end, she gets what she wanted - she has family, friends and an equal relationship with the man she loves. Where do we get our #TeamJane badges from?(4 / 5)
Another book in our challenge written by a Brontë sister, this time Charlotte. I have to say that although I still love Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters’ stories are more enjoyable because of their tendency to look at the darker side of people and their love of a hidden secret or a mystery. Austen's books are romantic but very polite, the Brontes' are far more passionate.
Jane Eyre was the first book in our classics challenge where I had actually already watched a film adaptation (Jane Eyre, 2011). However, for some reason I had absolutely no memory of the story, so it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book at all.
I connected to Jane, not only because we get to witness her analysis of every social situation but because, unlike most heroines, her looks are not her greatest asset. She is often described as plain, not hideous but definitely not beautiful, and at no point in the book does she transform and become beautiful enough to be loved. She instead realises that looks will get you so far in life but there are other equally important attributes and, most importantly, that lasting love grows between two people that see beauty in who the other person truly is.
I feel like this book must have been ahead of its time, Jane is quite the feminist. She seeks to be an equal, she will not compromise who she is or what she believes in to please others or to make her own life easier. I think that's why I enjoyed this story so much. Jane doesn't have an easy time of it and she loses or walks away from almost everything that gives her any happiness, but she doesn't become a victim. She learns, grows and makes her own path free of other people’s expectations and her own past. It could have been a simple love story, but it didn't hand us everything we wanted so easily, and I loved it for that.(4 / 5)
Missed our previous reviews? Catch up on our classics challenge so far.