Alright, I’m going to attempt to write about this book without making it sound too much like some grade 10 English assignment deconstructing a classic novel. Please be warned that this post does contain spoilers. Please also be warned that you quite possibly won’t enjoy reading this post if you haven’t read Jane Eyre.
Also, these are mostly just my random thoughts on the book. I’m not going to make a recommendation to read or not read it because I feel like Jane Eyre is one of those books that you kind of instinctively know you’re going to like/dislike, even without knowing a lot about the story, etc. But, then again, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t presented to me, so who knows…
Anyway, like I mentioned in my last post, I hadn’t read anything written by the Brontë sisters before, but I’ve read plenty of other classic novels, and figured that JE would be fine. When it comes to novels written in the 1800s and that sort of era, I’m more used to the writing of Dickens and Austen. I reckon Dickens and Austen write vastly different stories, but their writing styles aren’t wholly dissimilar. Theirs is the sort of writing I admire and absolutely delight in reading.
In contrast, Charlotte Brontë writes well, no doubt, but her style is different to Dickens and Austen, and it took me a while to get used to it (particularly her frequent use of semi-colons and colons). Perhaps it’s also because I haven’t read this genre of books in quite a long time. Once I got into the right mindset, however, there was little trouble getting through the book.
…until I got to all the French. I mean, there’s a fair amount of French in the novel, but it’s not extensive, and it’s not cumbersome or whatever (most of it’s confined to a few chapters in the middle somewhere). If you don’t know French, you could probably skip over it without the story being much affected. But, of course, I couldn’t just skip over parts of the novel, however small, so I used the Google Translate app (as simple as taking a photo of the sentences/paragraph), and carried on reading. (Too bad I don’t remember any of the French I “learnt” from JE. Maybe just “cadeaux” which means “gifts”.)
I remarked to my friend, as I read through the first few chapters, that JE reminded me a bit of Harry Potter: Jane’s parents died when she was a baby, she had to go live with her aunt and cousins with whom she shared a mutual antipathy, and, when she was about 10 (?), she was presented with the prospect of being “rescued” from her current situation by being sent away to a boarding school. Then, at the school, there are pleasant and not-so-pleasant teachers; she has a bit of a hard time at the start, but eventually makes friends, and gains the esteem of teachers and peers alike. There’s even a scene where she’s wandering the school buildings after curfew.
Anyway, this isn’t about comparing JE to HP. I just thought it was an interesting parallel.
These days, when I read, I’ve been noticing that my mind is constantly trying to determine whether or not something is an important detail: Is this character going to be important later? Do I need to remember all these names? Is the layout of this building and this garden described in detail for some important purpose other than setting the scene? Do I need to remember that it looks just so?
I am generally pleased when some apparently superfluous detail shows up later in a novel, and it then becomes clear to me why that detail was included earlier. This happened with a few things in JE, like Jane’s traumatic experience in the “red room”, her friendship with Helen Burns, and the first description of the room of tapestries at Thornfield.
But all these things – the writing style, the structure, the details – although they affected my reading experience, the one overarching thing that I think affected it the most was the knowledge that this is my friend’s favourite novel. Not only was I reading JE for myself, but I was wondering how she had read it, and wondering about what had earned it its spot on the podium. It certainly didn’t negatively affect my reading experience, but I was kind of constantly aware of it.
Mostly, I think I just wondered if she empathised with certain characters the same way I did. Of course, I empathised with Jane Eyre, but I empathised with Rochester too, and even with St John.
I feel like JE was actually a very emotionally-charged novel, full of angst and deep feeling. After reading the part where Jane discovers the truth about Bertha Mason, and consequently flees Thornfield, I actually felt quite depressed. Maybe I had stress and other things going on in my life at the time, but all of that – the slow development of the relationship, and then its abrupt dissolution – kind of hit me harder than I was expecting.
And then there’s St John, who takes her in from the cold – St John who is very religious and wants to become a missionary in India or somewhere, and is almost tyrannically adamant that Jane should go with him – I somehow didn’t cringe at his character. I mean, sometimes I just didn’t like him, or didn’t agree with his manner, but I could empathise with him. Maybe it was something to do with his struggle with his feelings for Rosamund Oliver. Maybe there was something about the way his ambitions were explained. Maybe it was because it was kind of obvious that he would be instrumental in prompting Jane to return to Rochester…
Ok, just realised that this is quickly approaching 1000 words, which probably means I’ve written too much (and somehow not said a great deal?) Let me finish by saying that I wouldn’t mind reading more books like this – books centred around a strong female protagonist; emotionally-charged, insightful books; and books that hold significance with people I know.