Sunday, October 06, 2013

Lifelong Favorite

Jane EyreJane Eyre 
by Charlotte Brontë

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”  ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

This novel is one of my lifetime favorites. I have read and reread it starting when I was in junior high and again in college and since.  I am not sure why I have not written about it here before but this seems like a propitious moment since it was on this day in 1847 that Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was published.  The reviews were mixed.  William Thackeray, who wrote Vanity Fair, called it "the masterwork of a great genius." One reviewer said: "This is not merely a work of great promise; it is one of absolute performance. It is one of the most powerful domestic romances which have been published for many years."  However, many reviews were negative and some were focused on trying to figure out who had written Jane Eyre, and especially whether the author was a man or a woman. Charlotte Brontë had published the book under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell, the same one she had used a year earlier when she published poems by her and her sisters, Emily and Anne. She changed Charlotte to Currer Bell, Emily to Ellis Bell, and Anne to Acton Bell.
Charlotte decided to publish the poems after she accidentally found some poems that Emily had written, and the three sisters realized that they had all been writing poems secretly for years. When she published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846, only two copies sold. But she submitted Jane Eyre for publication the next year. It was rejected five times, and then she sent it to Smith, Elder, and Co., her eventual publishers. She sent it with a note that said: It is better in future to address Mr. Currer Bell, under cover to Miss Brontë, Haworth, Bradford, Yorkshire, as there is a risk of letters otherwise directed not reaching me at present.
They agreed to publish it, and it became a huge success, and, a little more than a century later it became one of my earliest favorites, a novel that I would read and reread my whole life.  I am not sure what my original fascination was although the mystery and sinister nature of the boarding school Jane attended was riveting - a different world.  
 The story is of Jane's suffering, first under Mrs. Reed who treats her poorly and then at Lowood the boarding school she is sent to. Jane develops a strong character and excels in her studies. This novel as all the aspects of the traditional bildungsroman and that is one of the reasons I enjoyed reading it. Jane eventually takes position as governess and it is at this point that the novel develops into a romance for she finds a job working for Mr. Rochester teaching a young French girl named Adele at Thornfield. As she teaches there a while, she falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and he falls in love with her. Needless to say there are several more changes in her life before the novel ends, but it never grows old as Bronte's tale seems to inhabit my being more closely than most others.  Perhaps it is the complexity of what seems to be a simple romance; the way Bronte is able to combine the story of the growth of a young girl with a love story that has Gothic overtones.  This was my introduction to classic British literature.

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Brian Joseph said...

I have yet to read this. I really, really must get to it.

Of course it is famous and popular in so many circles. It seems that many folks who are not otherwise into classic literature are fans of this one. In additional it seems to be particular favorite among book bloggers.

In think that for many like yourself it served as a kind of introduction to the classics. In that respect I missed out on this one.

James said...

While I am not unbiased I believe you will not be disappointed by this novel. You may want to consider Jean Rhys novel about the background story of Mr. Rochester and his first wife, Wide Sargasso Sea.