Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" has been one of my favorite novels since I first read it in high school. It is one of those special books which can be read and savored over and over, and seems to improve with each reading. The tale is narrated by Miss Eyre, herself, inviting a special and intimate relationship with the reader. It is through Jane that we meet and grow to care about, or hate, so many of the memorable characters one becomes acquainted with on these pages. And it is through her narrative, first as a little girl, then as a young woman, that Jane's complex persona is revealed. From an early age her morality, wit, determination, sheer grit and romanticism are evident.
Published in 1847, the novel, at first glance, appears to be another well written gothic romance, of the kind so popular in the Victorian Age, with its mystery, horror, brooding hero, touch of the melodramatic, and dark castle-like setting. The rise of poor orphaned Jane, who against all odds, redeems her tormented hero through her steadfast love, is really not unique at all. Charlotte Bronte did not, however, write a mere romance, no matter how riveting the read. Throughout, the author makes some serious statements about women's equality, the treatment of children, and of women forced into a dependent state during the Victorian epoch, religious hypocrisy, romantic relationships between men and women, the nature of true love, and the development of self. This is a beautifully written work of fiction which combines a riveting storyline, compelling characters, vivid descriptions along with a powerful testimony about the period in which the book was written.
Young Jane, orphaned at an early age, is grudgingly taken-in by her Aunt, Mrs. Reed, who seems to despise the child. The Reed children are spoiled rotten, and the eldest son is somewhat of a sadist who abuses his young cousin terribly. Aunt Reed always finds a reason to blame Jane for the household's ills. When the boy takes his torture too far and Jane attempts to defend herself, her aunt has her locked in the room where her uncle died, terrifying the poor girl into hysteria. Unwilling to care for the girl any longer, Mrs. Reed packs her off to the harsh Lowood School, a miserable charitable institution which is more like a prison than a place of education. Lowood's despicable headmaster, Rev. Brockelhurst, does everything in his power to break Jane's spirit. At one point, when he asks Jane how to avoid going to hell, she defiantly responds, "I must stay well and not die."
A particularly compassionate teacher recognizes Jane's intelligence and sensitivity and befriends the girl. When Jane graduates she stays to teach at Lowood until her mentor leaves to marry. Jane then decides it is time for a change, and applies for a position as a governess. She is offered a job at the distant Thornfield Manor. Mrs. Fairfax, Thornfield's housekeeper, welcomes her warmly and introduces her to the staff and to little girl who will be her pupil, the precocious Adele. She is not, however, introduced to all the household's inhabitants - especially not to one who inhabits the uppermost floor. Thornfield's owner, Mr. Rochester, (one of my favorite literary heroes), is away when our protagonist arrives, yet it is he who will have a most profound effect on her life - and she on his.
If you have not read "Jane Eyre" yet, why wait any longer? If you have not reread it for a few years, now's the time! My highest recommendations!