Friday, September 16, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Jane Eyre is an intensely emotional masterpiece. The novel begins in Jane Eyre's childhood as an orphan living with her Aunt Reed and her cousins at Gateshead. She suffers from mistreatment and physical abuse by her aunt and her cousin George. After she begins to rebel against her aunt she is sent to an all-girl boarding school named Lowood.

At Lowood Jane gains an education and makes a close friend, but the school environment is rigid and oppressive. Jane stays at Lowood until she is a fully educated adult who speaks fluent French and is qualified to teach younger students. She is then sent to be the governess of a young pupil at a gentleman's estate.

When she reaches the place of her employment, Thornfield, readers begin to see different sides of Jane. Thus far the excitability of her character is limited to her rebuke of Aunt Reed and other minor scenes, but when she meets her employer Mr. Rochester, an in-depth state of her consciousness is displayed.

Mr. Rochester is the caretaker and probable father of the young French girl named Adele, whom Jane will tutor, though he denies paternity. He takes acute interest in Jane almost immediately and frequently invites her to have conversations with him after dinner. Jane notices that he broods often and his emotions change rapidly. She also notes that while he tells her his life story he tends not to take accountability for his actions and blames others for his misfortune.

Over time Jane begins to fall in love with Mr. Rochester though she is unsure of how to interpret it. Mr. Rochester is madly in love with Jane, but doesn't know if Jane feels the same and devises a scheme to learn how she feels about him. He uses the beautiful Blanche Ingram of a local aristocratic family to make Jane jealous. His plan is effective despite its sadism as Jane gets depressed and compares herself unfavorably to Blanche.

During an evening walk Jane is manipulated into admitting that she has feelings for Mr. Rochester after he pretends she is going to be sent far away after his "wedding" to Blanche. Mr. Rochester then reveals that he is in love with Jane and they agree to marry. A lightning strike splits a chestnut tree in their path in half foreshadowing the impending doom of their union.

On their wedding day the horrible fact is publicized that Mr. Rochester has a living wife in the attic at Thornfield and cancels Jane and Mr. Rochester's nuptials. A heartbroken Mr. Rochester begs Jane to stay with him and move abroad. Jane refuses on moral grounds and flees in the middle of the night to avoid temptation.

Jane travels aimlessly for days and nearly starves to death when she ends up at the front door of the Rivers family--consisting of two sisters, Diana and Mary, and their brother St. John. They take her in and care for her. She spends her time in town working while recovering from her heartbreak. One day St. John proposes that she accompany him on his missionary trips as his wife. Jane is reluctant to accept, noting that he is in love with a town member whom he deems unfit for his wife. As St. John continues to weaken her defenses, Jane mysteriously hears Mr. Rochester call her in the evening and chooses to return to Thornfield.

Before she leaves St. John discloses that Jane is the sole inheritor of her Uncle John Eyre's fortune. She also learns that Diana, Mary and St. John are her cousins because John Eyre is their uncle as well.

When Jane returns to Thornfield she finds that it is burned to the ground. She fears Mr. Rochester has perished, but finds out he is living at another property with an elderly couple, albeit maimed and blind from the fire. Jane and Mr. Rochester have a long conversation where Jane learns that Mr. Rochester's wife died the night of the fire. Jane tells Mr. Rochester that she is an heiress and that she will never leave him again. They marry and have children--and Jane remembers to look after her former pupil when Adele attends boarding school.

The novel features a spiritual aspect that is difficult to explicate, but worth noting. There are strong themes of feminism, classism, and morality. Many critics note that Jane Eyre is ahead of its time. Jane Eyre truly transcends time that makes the novel beloved over two hundred years later.