When I was in grade ten, we were given the choice of reading either Far from the Madding crowd, Great Expectations, or Jane Eyre as an English novel. At the time, I went with Hardy, with the intention of reading the others at a later date. Well, recently, over twenty-five years later, I finally realized that objective, completing the last page of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with a much contented sigh. Having survived lately on a diet of much lighter, easy-read-for-adult type books, by such authors as Janet Evanovich and Sophie Kinsella, (which are great!), I devoured Brontë with the same passion I did in my early twenties when novels of the Hardy and Austen ilk made up the bulk of my reading. Jane Eyre was like a trip down memory lane, a return to the days when reading actually fed the brain and ‘big’ words were absorbed into the vocabulary. Where else could a secret food stash be referred to as a privately purloined dainty, or physiognomy be an every day, run-of-the-mill expression? I love reading period fiction: it sweeps you off your feet and ensconces you temporarily in a world gone by; a world where societal norms and values seem far removed from those of today.
One thing, however, that the centuries have failed to alter is the rudimentary pursuit of love between a man and a woman. Another steadfast theme would be that true happiness can be found in the most unlikely of situations, crossing class boundaries and defying peer conventions and expectations. Jane Eyre is such a novel. With its heroine, a young, inexperienced girl of eighteen and its hero, significantly older and far more experienced, two seemingly incompatible characters from two different milieus, are drawn together through the chance encounter of employee and employer. Class structure aside, the two run into numerous obstacles along the way, rendering a unity difficult and frustratingly implausible. This is a common and engaging theme of romantic novels, but the protagonists of Jane Eyre further endear themselves to the reader through their very plainness. Unlike Mills and Boon, and Harlequin romances where the girl is drop-dead gorgeous, and the guy is of the Adonis bloodline, Jane and Edward are portrayed as very drab indeed. Small of stature, with no remarkable features, Jane is actually strides ahead of Edward, who is often referred to even as ugly.
The reader, then, can appreciate Jane and Edward as very real people whose circumstances have placed them in ostensibly insurmountable predicaments. Jane is charmingly stoic. She resolves to overcome a difficult childhood at the hands of a witless aunt and bullying cousins, not through revenge, but through independence, self-sufficiency and education. Edward’s situation is far less easy to remedy, but to reveal it here would be to spoil the story. Jane Eyre, then, is a novel to immerse yourself in: once you start reading it, it is difficult to put down. Brontë’s writing style is refreshing, beautifully descriptive and powerfully removing. Her characters are authentic and personable. I enjoyed it immensely. Next stop, Great Expectations!