I first read this book while I was at school studying for my GCSEs and I recall that I came to be hugely envious of my peers who were actually studying this text. It is every bit as vivid and dramatic as one might expect from one of the Bronte family.
Jane is an orphan, brought up by her aunt (her late uncle’s wife) living with her cousins, but is not treated well. At the age of eight her aunt sends her away to a boarding school. Jane stays at the school until the age of eighteen, first as a student and then as a teacher. She then decides to find a position as a governess in a private home. She finds employment at Thornfield Hall teaching a young French girl named Adele, where she soon meets the master, Mr Rochester.
The two, Jane and he, spend quite a lot of time together. He seems to enjoy talking to Jane and confiding in her. They end up falling in love and decide to get married. On their wedding day it is brought to Jane’s attention mid-ceremony that Mr Rochester already has a “lunatic” wife living at Thornfield. Jane flees in secret as soon as she can and starts a new
life elsewhere. She makes new friends who she later discovers to be her cousins. She also inherits a large sum of money following the death of her uncle that she did not know of and shares her wealth with her relatives. A year passes and one night she experiences a strange supernatural event which leads her to return to Thornfield Hall to see what became of Mr Rochester.
She finds the place has been badly burned in a fire in which Mr Rochester’s wife died. He himself is living in another place as a recluse with two of his servants, scarred and having lost his sight from the fire. Jane goes to find him as soon as she can and the two are reunited. The final chapter begins “Reader, I married him” and describes their contented life together after several years have passed.
What I love about Jane Eyre
Firstly this book has characters that are not conventional heroes. Mr Rochester is described as “an ugly man” and Jane calls herself “plain”. The author, however, makes us as readers
feel sympathy for both characters. From the start we see how things have been unfair on Jane, who is loyal, warm-hearted and passionate. She is also desperate to find people who care about her. To her, people and family are of greater importance than money. We see everything that Jane sees, and we feel with her when she experiences jealousy, admiration, love, anger and distress.
Mr Rochester takes an interest in Jane at once. He is different from other people of his social standing and does not seem to care about convention. He is not always nice to people, including his ward Adele, and at first is rather haughty and changeable with Jane too.
Somehow over time with Jane this ceases to be the case. As a reader, I was unsure of the reasons for this and was intrigued as to what would be the outcome between them. He is to me a curious and fascinating character. He is described as having “strange equivocal demonstrations.” He is frequently bad-tempered, yet is kind enough to be raising Adele even though he does not think she is his child. The reader also learns that he was wronged by his father and brother but is not told how until much later.
The dialogue between the two main characters is electrifying. For example, he somehow manages to mildly insult her by frequently calling her a witch and calls her “unearthly.” This is followed by “I love you as my own flesh.” Through the witty banter also one really gets a sense that they become great friends.
The turns of the plot are clever. Jane ends up living with her cousins Diana, St John and Mary, who she comes across completely by chance. She finds not only contentment but kindred spirits in them.
The vivid use of symbolism adds to the atmosphere. There are many examples in the book. The tree that gets broken in half by lightning after a storm following their engagement represents the two main characters who will in time be split apart, but will still hold onto each other at the roots. There is also the fire, which leaves Mr Rochester scarred and with a disability. It is perhaps a symbol of a punishment to him for his intended wrongdoing.
Why for me Jane Eyre is so memorable
The most memorable and inspiring thing for me about this book is the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester. The best parts of their relationship include how he is like her best friend (and vice versa), and how they understand each other so well that they can almost read each other’s minds. To me, this is a book that undoubtedly deserves its place as one of the great classics.
For further articles on great authors from the past – please see a short introduction to Edgar Allen Poe or A death veiled in mystery – The unexplained disappearance of Ambrose Bierce.