A guide to the classics: Jane Eyre
|September 27, 2011||Posted by Jess Kadow under guide to the classics|
After enjoying Wuthering Heights so much, I had assumed that the talents of Emily Brontë would triumph in my heart over those of Charlotte, the older and more widely acclaimed sister, but one whose tales do not inhabit the same gothic genre as the wild and passionate abode of Heathcliff and Catherine. How wrong I was. Jane Eyre is packed full of misery and pain in their most raw forms, but they are also mingled with the scents of hope and love, making it beautifully sad when Jane’s fortunes stumble into the gutter but providing a feeling of elation when she picks herself back up again. The life of the plain orphan girl, who begins her struggle for happiness in the arms of a well-natured gentleman but is thrust into the care of a cold-hearted lady and her trio of vindictive children, immediately engaged me. As a reader of this novel, you are not greeted with a calm detailing of a landscape, nor a bland description of a character’s background to set the scene. You are flung straight into the heart of the fire, forcing a connection between you and the poor girl standing in the corner: laughed at and bullied by her peers; despised and regarded with disgust by the adults of the house, respected gentry and servants alike. You cannot back out and pop this book back on the shelf after a couple of chapters, such as with some slower moving novels, because the trials and tribulations of this girl call out to you, forcing you to care and protect her with your hopes.
There is never a dull moment in this novel, as there is never any drifting along on the crest of society, enjoying the money, parties and acquaintances of the upper classes in a stupor of boredom and wealth. Instead Jane is destined to be poor, with no family to aspire to, as both her parents died shortly after she was born. She relies constantly on the goodwill of others, most of whom seem to have hideous ways of forcing her to slave away at their wills. You cannot but admire the strength of the young girl as she is struck for disobedience, demanded to wash and dust as if she were a paid servant, or locked into the despicable “Red Room” which houses the ghost of the dead housemaster. She bears it all with a silent grudge but as of yet no rebellion, condemning herself to fall into the routine of being hurt and hated. That is until the promise that she will be shipped off to a strict boarding school by her guardian, the haughty Mrs Reed, and publicly denounced as a liar in front of the school’s master. The sharp words full of anguish and pain that are uttered by this child’s mouth would pierce the soul of any good-natured person and they mark a turning point in Jane’s life, where she begins to tolerate misplaced criticism and injustice no more. As much as I feared for the consequences of her angry outburst, the moment filled me with triumph; it was a victory of youth and innocence against the evils of upper class superiority and it paves the way for Jane’s new direction in life.
The novel charts Jane’s journey from her familiar, but hated, home in the huge house at Gateshead, to the gates of Lowood Girl’s School, a new environment and a new beginning. We struggle through the hardships with her and enjoy the few friendships and happy memories, coming to appreciate them more fully with her because of their scarcity. Then, as Jane enters adulthood with a wealth of new experiences behind her, some scarring and hideous along with the more joyous memories, she finds a new post as a governess at Thornfield Hall under the command of the master, Mr Rochester. This mysterious character provides great intrigue, along with the notion that the house has a secret, and this is what haunts Jane, making her stay at the Hall an odd mixture of emotions from both ends of the scale. It is from this point that the tale really begins to unfold.
Jane Eyre is a brilliant novel, not just because of how well the reader forms a strong, initial connection with the main character, but also because of how the writing conjures up the different attitudes, feelings and observations of the characters with such clarity and emotion. The writing is beautiful, in a different way to Emily Brontë’s, although just as enjoyable. The descriptions of feelings and how they were linked, perhaps childishly, to legends and myths Jane had heard when she was little, but also nature, religion and her own social class and status, were enthralling and interesting. The language flows in a satisfying way that warms you, saddens you or angers every molecule inside you at the whim of the author, and this talent is definitely not one I find in all great authors of the classics.
Another great merit of the novel is that Jane, as its namesake, is a loving and likeable character, unlike some others in literature that I could mention. She is humble, hard-working, caring, forgiving and sympathetic to the troubles of others, to note just a few of her better qualities. She also has an immense capacity for love, but not in a way that is wild or destructive; in fact all her decisions are taken purely in accordance with her principles and better judgement, not allowing herself to be swayed by personal feelings. This is an incredibly admirable trait, even if frustrating and upsetting for a reader who wishes only for her protection and happiness.
There are few novels I have enjoyed reading because of love for the characters, writing style, themes, plot line and ability to engage than this one. It is a work of art and a book expressing the clear talent that ran through the veins of the Brontë family. This is not a novel where rich men and women swan about in over-elaborate dresses, indulge in society and glide through life in an unfeeling haze, marrying only for convenience and good connections, as some would think of all writings of the period. This is a realistic portrayal of a girl subjected to horrible treatment, the effects of which are charted in her personality, struggling to find a sustainable income, love or most of all a family to care for her. I couldn’t put this little bundle of paper down, forcing myself to read further into the dead of night when my eyes were sore and struggling to stay open, because I wanted desperately for Jane to realise her dreams and ambitions so that I could be happy for her. She becomes a real person who enchants you and leads you into her world, and until you turn over that last page, you cannot get out again.