Monday, November 24, 2014

The 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along: Week 10, Book Review

The following review represents the final commentary for the Jane Eyre read – along hosted by Maria at A Night's Dream of Books and Brian at Babbling Books.  I would like to thank Maria and Brian   for their questions and contributions.  The insights provided in the weekly discussion questions enriched my experience in rereading this great novel.

Jane 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 continues to be one of my lifetime favorites. I have read it several times before, but this is the first time in the new century.  Many people have commented on reading this novel;  almost one hundred years ago Virginia Woolf wrote about an exhilaration she felt (a feeling which I share) of reading the opening scenes of the novel:
"There is nothing there more perishable than the moor itself, or more subject to the sway of fashion than the "long and lamentable blast."  Nor is this exhilaration short-lived.  It rushes us through the entire volume, without giving us time to think, without letting us lift our eyes from the page.  So intense is our absorption that if some one moves in the room the movement seems to take place not there but up in Yorkshire.  The writer has us by the hand, forces us along her road, makes us see what she sees, never leaves us for a moment or allows us to forget her.  At the end we are steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Bronte." (Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, p 160)

Charlotte  submitted Jane Eyre for publication in 1846. 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, and later Thornfield Hall depicted a different world.
 The story told by Jane begins as one of her suffering, first under Mrs. Reed who treats her poorly and then at Lowood the boarding school she is sent to.  Yet,  from the beginning Jane develops a strong character and excels in her studies.  She develops friendships with her classmate Helen Burns and her teacher Miss Temple.  Throughout the opening chapters I was impressed with Jane's strength of will, her love of reading, and her attention to her readers.  For as she narrates the story she frequently pauses to share a thought with her dear readers.

This novel has 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, Adele Varens,  at Thornfield Hall. As Jane 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 as she learns of secrets from Mr. Rochester's past and encounters aspects of her own past that impact her in unexpected ways.  The story seems to be one where Jane's fate is unfolding before her and her reader's eyes, but it never grows old as Charlotte Bronte's tale seems to inhabit my being more closely than most others.  This reading impressed upon me the important use of symbols such as colors and the weather that underlined the emotional life of Jane.  From the early example of the "red room" or the continuing motif of rain, these symbols enhance the vividness of the story.  Perhaps it is the complexity of a story that starts out to be a simple romance and expands into a Gothic mystery;  it is surely magical as Charlotte Bronte is able to combine this story of the growth of a young girl with a love story that has Gothic overtones.  Ultimately it is a triumph for the individual will of our young governess-heroine, Jane Eyre.


Maria Behar said...

Excellent overview of the novel, James! I'm not surprised this is one of your lifetime favorites, as I'm sure many people who have read it -- especially more than once -- would say the same thing. In my case, it is THE ONE -- my very favorite classic novel! I do have several favorites, but I can honestly say that "Jane Eyre" is at the very top of the list!!

You're quite right in stating that this novel is a "bildungsroman" -- a coming-of-age novel. I enjoy reading such novels, too, but this one is DEFINITELY THE VERY BEST!!

Like you, I found myself noticing things I had not picked up in my first reading, such as the symbolism of the curtains, colors, and the weather, as well as other things that you and Brian mentioned. This is such a richly-textured, layered novel, one could easily spend years, if not an entire lifetime, analyzing it! That's precisely what marks a novel as a masterpiece, as well as a classic!

I'd like to thank you for participating in this read-along with Brian @ Babbling Books, and myself. It's not only been fun, but also a very rewarding experience, as together we explored this wonderful novel, reaching a better understanding of it thereby!

Looking forward to participating in future classic read-alongs with you!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much for participating James. Your comments and insights have been superb and I learned a lot from you.

As you know this is the first time that I have read this work. I now share your enthusiasm for it.

I think that you got it completely right when you describe the novel as a triumph of an individual.

James said...


Thanks again for your insights and for hosting this read-along. As a result the richness of the novel came through as never before.

James said...


Thanks for your insights and appreciation of the Weltanschauung demonstrated in Jane Eyre. Your comments enriched my reading experience.
I am glad you enjoyed the novel with such enthusiasm.