The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics. Each Wednesday, I post about the classic I’m reading at the moment.
So. I made it through 28 years of my life knowing only the briefest generalities about Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. How I avoided the details for so long is a mystery to me; even the back of my edition, which I read after finishing the book, gives the basic plot for more than half the novel. (Seriously, why??) I am so very pleased I managed to read Jane Eyre with so little prior knowledge. It would not have been the same if I’d known more than I did.
It took me three weeks to read Jane Eyre. It’s one of those books I could have torn through, but I made myself go slowly. More times than I can count, I’ve heard people cite Jane Eyre as the book they’d most like to read again for the first time. So, each night before bed, I’d curl up and read a few chapters. It was perfect.
If you have yet to read Jane Eyre but plan to, I recommend that you stop reading now. In other words: spoilers ahead! Rather than reading my post, go and get yourself a copy of the book and dig in.
I loved Jane Eyre the book, but more than that, I loved Jane Eyre the character. I wanted her to be my friend. I admired her strength and her self respect. She inspired me. By the end of the novel, I wasn’t worried any more on her behalf; I trusted her to make the choices that would best suit her. I felt like I really knew her, to an extent I’ve rarely experienced. It was a little difficult for me to keep in mind that she is a character, not a flesh-and-blood human being.
Mr. Rochester, on the other hand, did not win me over until the final pages. He had to prove himself, and it wasn’t until his reunion with Jane in his humbled state that he did so. I was angry at him for having hidden the existence of his first wife; it made his affection for Jane seem less authentic somehow. I was wary of his reunion with Jane, unsure of how Bronte could reconcile the two without Jane giving up some essential part of her. But Mr. Rochester absolutely redeemed himself in the end, and the whole of part 2, chapter 37 made me extraordinarily happy. By the last page, I felt he was at last worthy of Jane.
At several moments I felt briefly like there were a few too many coincidences: Jane happened to flee directly to her cousins’ home? Mr. Rochester’s first wife conveniently flung herself from the roof during Jane’s absence? But I found myself caught up in the story, swept away by Jane’s narration, and my objections never lasted long. I have no solid complaint to lodge against the book, and even these potential quibbles are, overall, hardly worth mentioning.
I’m content to end my probing there. I cannot do justice to Jane Eyre nor put into words all my reasons for loving it. I have no desire to pick it apart or analyze it further. I’m just happy to bask in the glow that comes with having recently finished a long, leisurely reading of a wonderful novel.