Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jane Eyre

Despite my expectations, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre bears stark contrast with the Jane Austen novels I've come to love.  Her Victorian style is somehow darker, with hints of the supernatural or of magical realism.  Bronte also seems not to prize physical beauty, or more, to associate it with serious character flaws.  This is romance that has entertained for  over 150 years, and it's a novel that is certain to do so for another 150.

The titular Jane Eyre is an orphan, living as a near-servant in the home of her maternal uncle's widow and her three spoiled children.  At the age of 10 she is sent to Lowood, a strict, often cruel boarding school many miles away, never to return.  At Lowood, however, her independence and aptitude for learning allow her to carve out a niche with staff and students who help her to survive.  Upon graduation, she is given a teaching post.  Still, she longs to try life on her own, and advertises for and accepts a governess position at an estate she's never seen.

The residents of Thornfield Hall, including her French charge Adele and Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper, are a somewhat odd but tight bunch.  The master of the house is rarely there, and a well-kept secret creeps around the edges.  While Jane is already finding a comfortable place there, it is with the initial arrival of Mr. Rochester that her world is rocked.

The romance of Jane and Mr. Rochester will come as a surprise to no one, even one such as I who didn't actually know the plot in advance.  What was a surprise, however, is the earnest nature of this romance, the genuine love and pleasure it generates, the passion... and the great lengths that Rochester goes to in order to ensure his love is honestly and deeply returned.

Enter the mystery of Thornfield Hall.  As the reader begins to fear, all cannot go this easily for our long-enduring Jane.  She's forced to make a decision that tears out her own heart, and the next chapter in her journey begins dreadfully.  Her character and strength again pull her up by her tiny little bootstraps, setting the stage for the goofy coincidences chapter.  But trust me, you'll forgive that contrivance in the end.

In addition to the modernity of the plot and certain of the devices, I also truly enjoyed the character of Jane Eyre.  She is strong, intelligent, witty, brave, not just a little tough, and very plain-looking.  In short, she's not a typical Victorian heroine, but one with interesting and compelling layers.  The supporting characters are similarly atypical, whether physically unattractive, or emotionally shallow and weak.  There is a reason this book has endured.

Next up: After the most recent episode of HBO's series Game of Thrones, I cannot but embark on the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin... here I come!

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