Before “The Notebook,” “Twilight” and “Ghost,” there was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Brontë published the book under her pen name Currer Bell in London in 1847, the same year her sister Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights. Infrequently read in contemporary high school classrooms, it’s a favorite in college classes. More importantly, it’s my very favorite book and definitely deserves another (or a first read).
What better time to pick up a new romance than Valentine’s Day? It may not be a steamy as those grocery store paperbacks, but in the 1800’s it probably was.
Yes, the plot is excellent. It’s filled with everything you could possibly want in a pleasure read: passion, romance, brutal fights, boken homes. However, it’s also intruiging from a cultural perspective: a major novel both written by and starring a female? You bet. This 19th century staple of women’s lit works to challenge the norm (especially in gender roles). It also presents a scathing analysis of colonialism and capitalism if you read closely. Enough about the value, let’s get to the storyline.
Written in first person by the character Jane Eyre, the novel takes us through the story of Jane’s adolescence through her adulthood in 38 chapters (yes, this is a long book, but no, it’s not boring). When we meet 10-year-old orphan Jane she’s living with her uncle’s family. Her aunt despises her (wicked aunts can be just as terrible as wicked step-mothers) and when her uncle dies, her aunt and cousins incessantly bully her.
From there she goes off to the Lowood School, where of course, people are awful to her yet again except for her friend Helen Burns and her lovely teacher Miss Temple (I can’t help but be reminded of Maltilda’s Miss Honey).
Finally we get to the romance. Jane becomes a governess at the Thornfield Manor for a young girl named Adéle, the ward of the Master of Thornfield Manor, Edward Rochester. Alright, Adéle is the kid of a French “opera dancer” he had a fling with and Rochester took her in after her mom bailed. Sure, he’s 20 years older than Jane, moody and kind of a jerk, but he seems into her and she likes both the company and attention.
That’s where the chaos starts. People at the Manor start hearing a mysterious laugh in the halls, a strange fire almost kills Mr. Rochester and Mr. Rochester and Jane fall head over heels in love with each other. Unfortunately for Jane, things are not as they seem. Drama ensues with fights, more fire and Jane running away, but like the best love stories, it finally ends happily ever after (in a fairly warped and tragic way, but still).