I enjoy novels that have strong female protagonists, which is one of the many reasons I’m in love with “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. That, and the fact it is written from Jane’s perspective, so it is like one, very long letter. This book has been in circulation for *quite* a few years, so hopefully I won’t be spoiling anything.
Jane is an orphan who is left to the care of her aunt and uncle, then the uncle dies. Jane grows up with her spoiled, selfish cousins, and is denied love and parenting from her aunt, Mrs. Reed, simply because Jane is not her child.
Mrs. Reed sends Jane to Lowood School, where Jane is put through a strict education but also where she meets her only friend, Helen Burns. Helen dies during an epidemic of illness that spreads through the school, and Jane is once again left alone.
Jane’s position in life does little to recommend her, but she is clever and self-reliant and she applies herself to her tasks. She eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood and begins to “advertise” herself out as a governess so she can hopefully leave the school.
She is hired by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall to teach Adele, the ward of a Mr. Rochester. Jane accepts the position and moves to Thornfield, where she and Mrs. Fairfax and Adele live in peace…until Mr. Rochester arrives.
Mr. Rochester is brash, bitter, and is a kind of bully. He’s clever and educated and intelligent, but the life choices he has made have left him empty, so he’s always travelling to find…something. I believe he’s trying to find himself, ultimately. And he hasn’t had any luck up until this point.
Jane is a mental match for Rochester. He teases her, but she is able to keep up with most of the mind games he plays with her, and he comes to respect her because of her honesty and her strong moral code. They eventually become friends, but their relationship is more than just a basic friendship.
They’re equals, in a time when women were definitely not seen as equal to men, and they also have a deep connection that enables them to understand each other’s views. Their friendship evolves into a romantic relationship, and Jane begins to believe that she has arrived at a place in her life where she will be content and secure.
However chaos ensues on their wedding day, and a distraught Jane leaves Thornfield with no intention of ever returning. She is haunted by her feelings for Rochester and sometimes even imagines him calling out to her, begging her to return to him. She knows that it would be impossible to do so, and after a short stay with a family that takes her in, she is able to get back on her feet and go back to teaching, this time at a parish school.
A Glimmer of Hope
Fortunately, our heroine learns that the only other relative she has ever known about (aside from her horrible aunt and cousins) has left her his estate in his will. She is now an heiress and no longer has to depend on being a governess or teacher to bring in an income. She also learns that the family she has been staying with are also her cousins, and she contributes some of her inheritance to them, to thank them for their kindness to her and also because that is just the kind of person she is.
One day when Rochester’s voice in her head becomes too much for Jane to bear, she returns to Thornfield, only to find that it has burned. She learns of Rochester’s whereabouts and goes to see him. He has been disfigured and blinded because of the fire, and he is overcome and humbled that Jane has come back to him, even after everything they experienced together and his multiple missteps in their relationship.
Happily Ever After
To sum everything up the author writes, “Reader, I married him,” which is the opening statement of the concluding chapter. Jane explains that she and Rochester are made for each other, and that they are true equals in their marriage. They are husband and wife but they are also best friends and companions.
Jane knows who she is and she is unapologetic about it. She isn’t beautiful and she isn’t rich (until her eventual receipt of inheritance), but she is strong and intelligent and determined.
And that is why I stayed up an entire night to read this book. I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Jane and also because I really wanted her and Rochester to end up together. I was fifteen when I read it for the first time, and Jane became one of my female role models instantly. I wanted to have her confidence and courage and character, and I wanted to get to a point in my life where I really knew who I was and was not afraid to be myself.
I don’t see “Jane Eyre” as a romantic novel. I see it as a novel about a woman who overcomes a less-than-pleasant childhood, then various obstacles in her adulthood, and just happens to fall in love with someone in the process. An unconventional concept at the time it was written, I think “Jane Eyre” has become even more relevant and relatable as society has progressed to where it is today.
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