A literary classic with a universally modern appeal; Jane Eyre never fails to charm.
Sometimes we all need a little prompt in life to do something we’ve always sworn we’d get round to do yet somehow never did. For me that was reading Jane Eyre, a book that I have always somehow failed to read despite professing on more than one occasion that I would.
So when I decided to take part in the Day Zero challenge were I had to create for myself 100 challenges to be completed within 1001 days I knew that I had to put the reading of Jane Eyre on there. Just to make things a little tougher I extended the challenge to reading 10 classics, but off course I had to kick things of with Jane.
I knew that this book wouldn’t be like anything I’d read in a very long time, the style and execution alone are in many ways utterly dissimilar from the novels I read nowadays. And yet most people would agree there’s something about Jane Eyre that has a timeless charm. Our dating rituals might be wholly different to those of Jane’s and Mr Rochester’s and we might live our lives completely differently yet there is something universal in Jane’s plight, in the troubles, hardships and indeed in the jubilation’s that even our twenty-first century minds can relate to. In short Jane speaks to a part of us unaffected by modern life and our conditioned minds; it speaks to our souls.
Indeed what is most spell binding about the novel is that whilst it manages to appeal and still touch a modern audience the novel is just as charming for the window it opens to another time and world. While the reader might like me marvel one moment at how utterly relatable to and compelling the story is, a moment later they may find themselves blown away by the long forgotten traditions and beautifully poetic language that the novel gives us the chance to experience.
The story beings when Jane is just a young girl of ten. Orphaned with no parents she is at the sole care of her tyrannical aunt Mrs Reed who makes no disguise in her disdain and resentment in taking care of Jane. Even Mrs. Reed’s own children treat her with spiteful and mean-spirited cruelty and yet Jane shows spirit and determination that she will not be labelled the devilish child that her aunt seems to think she is. After a heated argument with her older and most cruel cousin Jane is locked alone in The Red Room where she is frightened out of her wits and left so shaken up that a doctor’s care is needed. And still she refuses to be known as an evil child or trouble maker, she speaks up for her justice when no one else will and delivers a speech that whilst terrifying her Aunt inspires admiration and empathy in her readers.
Soon after the incident in The Red Room Mrs Reed decides that she can no longer carry the burden of taking care of Jane, the decision is thus made that Jane will be sent to a charitable school designed for dependant girls and it is with much hope and trepidationthat she sets of for Lowood school for girls. Off course Jane’s journey in life is never made easy and from the offset the schools benefactor takes an instant dislike and distrust in her. The ensuing years are a mix of emotions, tragedies and jubilation’s for Jane that I wont spoil here but it is safe to say that she experiences enough highs, lows, and testing times to truly shape and evolve her into a lady that whilst still independent in mind and set in her resolve is more refined and in control of her once passionate childhood nature.
It is possibly her encounter with the fervently religious and wonderful Helen Burns who shapes her most profoundly and it is easy to see traces of her impact upon our heroine as the novel progresses. It is after her time at Lowood that Jane makes her move to what was for me the most thrilling and compelling sections of the book; her move to Thornfield Hall and her subsequent encounter with the epic Mr Rochester. Even for those who haven’t read the novel the story of Mr Rochester will I imagine be already vaguely known. It is one of the most compelling and enduring romance stories in literature and even I knew the foundations of the story before reading the book.
But the last thing I want to do is give away any of the magic for a first time reader. Needless to say from the first time we meet Mr Rochester he holds us in his mysterious grip, just as Jane captivates his attention in her own way. From the offset Mr Rochester is unpredictable in his moods, at once happy and intrigued to be in Jane’s company, the next irritated by the mysterious hold that her unfathomable nature seems to have upon him. He see’s her as a confidant and also someone to be weary of for the powerful feelings she can inspire in him. Though Jane may be perplexed by her strange and unpredictable master who always alludes to a dark and ominous past, her senses are also at last alighted by him. Whilst her life might have been thus far controlled and ordered her senses and passion are at once ignited by the introduction Mr Rochester.
But nothing is simple in this book and the time passes teasingly by when it seems that these two people so attracted to each other will never cross the void which keeps them apart. And what is this dark past that Mr Rochester pertains too? Is it related to the strange noises that Jane keeps hearing from the attic?
Perhaps what is most enthralling is the witty and playful dialogue that passes back and forth between the two which is both intelligent and engaging. Their courtship is compelling from the beginning and perhaps made all the more charming because of the stark contrast it portrays to our own modern rituals. I wont say anything more about how the novel works out because that would really spoil things but it’s easy to see why this book has captivated such a large audience.
The only aspects of the book that I did struggle with were the more religious ones. For myself, a not very particularly religious person, I did sometimes find Jane’s motivations and decisions based on her religious values hard to comprehend. That said the book still has a strong universal appeal which cannot be diluted as it passes down the generations. I felt genuinely connected to Jane as she passed through the book and longed to see her continually hard-working nature be rewarded.
Yet above all what I perhaps loved most about this book was the simple insight into the mind of a young girl in this time period. So different are the rules and values of Jane’s world that I couldn’t help but be moved by the marked difference between her life and my own.
So how do you feel about Jane Eyre? Are you a die-hard fan like so many seem to be? Or perhaps the book’s magic failed you? Whatever your reaction do share it and let me know why you feel the way you do about this book.