“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”
Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte ( who used a masculine nickname to hide her identity and gender ) in 1847, tells the story of the life of a governess and the hardships she faces throughout her life. When it was first released, the book was received with great acclaim by some, though others found the book “unsettling and inappropriate to read because of the lack of femininity that the main character supports.” Today, it is recognized as one of the best 19th century novel for it’s social messages sprinkled around the plot. Themes such as social inequality, marriage inequality, educational issues and moral ethics are just few of the themes discussed throughout the book.
WHY THIS BOOK IS IMPORTANT:
Considering that this book was written during the 19th century, it was hard to imagine an “un-ladylike” woman at that time. Women had very strict roles given to them by the public and it was considered bizzarre for a women to not follow these rules. Despite all this patriarchy, we realize from the very first pages that Jane Eyre is not your ordinary lovesick woman character that you encounter frequently in the 19th century novels. She’s very intelligent, can speak fluent French and isn’t afraid of showing her intellect. But she’s also rebellious, sometimes blunt and not in a position of power for her “flaws” to be disregarded. Not only that, she isn’t pretty. In fact, the characters in the novel repeat this with much stubbornness throughout the novel that even Jane seems to accept it as truth, we hear that Jane is the most plain girl you could ever encounter from multiple characters, even from the man who falls in love with her and other characters who are affectionate towards her. Written by a woman, the book creates a realistic and flawed woman character, instead of “the perfect love interest” that we see in many other classics.
Despite all her misfortunes, Jane wants to be treated equally and declares that she deserves respect from others. Jane Eyre isn’t a novel where the main female character merely follows orders and worries about trivial things, it’s a novel about a woman who stands tall against all the hardships which is still a relevant message in the 21st century.
The story starts with a young Jane, who lives with her aunt and her spoiled kids. It is easy to quickly understand that her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her kids are not fond of her and we learn that she’s only allowed to live with the wealthy family because her uncle had made Mrs. Reed promise to look after Jane at his own deathbed. Jane is occasionally locked inside what is called The Red Room, the room where her uncle had passed away. Jane fears the room very much, claiming that she’s sure that her uncle’s ghost is still lurking around the shadows. Because of her “rebellious streaks” she is sent to Lowood Institute, a Christian boarding school, and she never sees Mrs. Reed again. Although she is constantly humiliated by the owner of the school, Jane becomes a successful student and stays at the Institute until she turns 18. After this, she decides to become a governess and finds a job at a wealthy house, where she is to teach a french girl named Adele Varens. The owner of the house, Mr Rochester, takes an interest in Jane because of her bluntness and honesty and the novel continues like that.
At the end, Jane refuses to marry Rochester after learning that he was married to a “madwoman” whom he hid in the attic. She runs away impulsively, is rescued by a young man who wants to be a Saint and his two sisters. Saint John is fascinated by Jane’s saintly ethics and proposes that they marry “so they can travel to Africa as missionaries and introduce Christianity to non believers”. Although Jane wants to help John, she declares that she is not a automaton and can’t marry someone simply because “it is necessary.” She goes back to Mr. Rochester’s house, learns that the mansion was burned down by his mad wife and Mr Rochester is currently blind. Jane forgives him and Mr Rochester regains the sight of one of his eyes and the book ends happily ever after.
Although the plot sounds quite simple ( boy-meets-girl and they fall in love. ) Bronte still adds elements from other genres to keep it interesting. For example, like most other Victorian Era novels, Jane Eyre also has quite a few gothic elements to it and the writer adds mystery to her simple plot by giving secret motives and hidden truths to all her characters.
Jane Eyre is a very good example of why we needed more women authors throughout history. Although it can be seen as a “radical” book at first, it would be wrong to call it radical. Through it’s main character, Bronte shows the portrait of a realistic woman but never does this forcibly, she merely shows it. Thanks to this, the book doesn’t feel didactic at all and instead makes it interesting to read. The language, in my opinion, was also a lot easier to understand than other novels written in that time period, it was written with the “I” form so perhaps it was a conscious decision from the author to not use very ornate descriptions. Despite the simple language, the characters are all fleshed out well with short but powerful descriptions and even Mr. Rochester, a cliched brooding, mysterious guy, becomes an interesting character under Bronte’s pencil.
When I first got the novel, I was expecting to read a romance novel but that wasn’t the case at all. Although marriages and romances play a great role in the general plot, supernatural elements added to the book ( like the “crazy ghost of Mr. Rochester’s old wife who wreaks havoc” or the “fortuneteller” that predicts Jane’s future. ) lures in those who like gothic literature. Overall, Jane Eyre is a must read, not only for it’s powerful female protagonist but also for it’s ability to transport you to the Victorian Era with it’s perfect depiction of daily life and the social prejudices between different social classes.
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