"Jane Eyre" deserves its standing as a classic of English literature
Jan 20, 2010
"Jane Eyre" is one of the world's best-loved classic novels for so many reasons.
It's an exciting piece of feminist literature written at a time when feminist literature was little known and even more poorly accepted. That it is a semi-autobiographical novel written by a staunchly, independent female author who herself was struggling to survive by her own wits and means and stand on her own two feet makes the story all the more poignant and compelling. While it is a prime example of Gothic romance peppered with the typical fixtures of a Gothic novel - the spectral Thornfield manor that seems to attain a life of its own; the allusions to mythological characters such as ghosts and vampires; the uncanny timing of such weather phenomenon as lightning or a chilling, drenching downpour to accompany major events in the novel - it also breaks new ground in that it avoids some of the typical conventions of Victorian literature. And, finally, it is a piece of masterful story-telling built around larger than life characters that for over 150 years has enchanted readers of all ages and thrilled watchers of numerous television and movie adaptations.
For those few of you that have yet to read this wonderful novel, the story can be summarized quickly enough. A dying father extracts a death bed promise from his sister to raise his infant daughter, Jane Eyre. The sister, a spiteful and mean spirited woman grows to hate the obligation that Jane represents and soon sends her away to a boarding school. (Did anyone else have flashbacks to Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby when they were reading this portion of the novel?) In spite of the harsh mental and physical cruelty she endures at the hands of the school's administrator and its teachers, Jane survives to become a teacher at the school. Ultimately she leaves to seek her own way in the world and secures a position as governess in the household of Edward Fairfax Rochester.
At this point, most readers will correctly guess that Jane and Mr Rochester fall in love with each other but to tell more of the story would be to spoil the effect of this magnificent novel for first time readers.
Suffice it to say that Charlotte Brontë has woven an enthralling story into the exploration of a multiplicity of themes that will occupy students of the English language novel for decades to come - the interplay of self-respect, morality, conventional mores and religion; the effects of social standing and class discrimination; gender relations in a patriarchal staunchly male-dominated society; legal issues of the day that related to marriage, inheritance and ownership; contrasting extremes of religious zealotry as displayed by Brocklehurst's hypocritical Puritanism reflected against St John Rivers' obsessive but well-intentioned determination to spread Calvinist dogma as a missionary abroad.
While many of these issues have clearly been relegated to the history of the 19th century, it's also a fact that much of the controversy that Brontë has so eloquently built into her characters' lives persist as issues into our own 21st century. Little wonder that "Jane Eyre" has such enduring power in the world of English literature!
Spoiler Alert: Plot elements were used Victorian England, setting of many popular works of fictional literature, was a complex world with many issues, traditions, assumptions, and moral values. Portraying a fictional character that does not live in accord with this rigid setting intrinsically highlights the culture of this society. In Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, the protagonist of the same name is such character – one who sharply contrasts with … more
This was a very enjoyable book. I'm not sure it quite lived up to all the hype about it, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. It was very touching and moving, something I still like to read it again every once in a while.