Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

As luck would have it, I found this lovely 1933 edition of Jane Eyre in a charity shop about a year ago, and over the Christmas holiday I got a chance to read it.

Jane Eyre, Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1933 edition

Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1933 edition (hardback), 512 pages - own purchase.

Jane Eyre, Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1933 edition

The lovely frontispiece - a portrait of Charlotte Bronte.

I read (and enjoyed) Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights during a trip with friends to the sister’s home of Haworth a couple of years ago. Although from reading reviews and articles about the books I expected them to be different, I was surprised at quite how dissimilar the writing style was. Wuthering Heights is bleak, cold and intense, whereas Jane Eyre is dramatic yet our heroine is practical, kind, courageous and moral. She sounds a little boring, no? Not at all, as I found out.

I didn’t know the plot at all before reading Jane Eyre and it was a delight for me to discover it so I won’t go into too much detail but try to give the gist instead. Jane is an orphan who has a pretty tough time of things in her early years, first living with mean old Aunt Reed at Gateshead House where the eldest child John torments her, and then moving to Lowood School, a charitable institution where the students live a modest lifestyle in quite harsh conditions. Jane eventually becomes a tutor at the school herself before leaving to become a governess at Thornfield hall which is where she meets a certain Mr Rochester, but that is merely the beginning of the story!

How could I not love Jane? She is kind-hearted, high-spirited, and a book-lover! Written in the first person, Jane has a wonderfully warm and eloquent voice. She takes the reader into her confidence, revealing her private thoughts, hopes and fears. I felt that I really came to understand her as I followed her growth from a little girl to a young woman. She makes much of the fact that she is plain-looking, but her mind is anything but plain. She is passionate and really quite modern in her thinking – quite the early feminist:

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from to rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

With these personal sentiments, Charlotte Bronte must have found it frustrating that she had to adopt a male pseudonym to publish Jane Eyre and I like to think that she gained great satisfaction in its success.

One of the key themes in Jane Eyre is of personal morality. Jane is a very moral person, however while she is influenced to some extent by religion she is also strongly guided by her own conscience. A keen observer, she also learns from and is influenced by those around her. Helen Burns, a fellow student at Lowood, makes a lasting impact on her by teaching her the value of patience and forgiveness, not just from a Christian perspective but also from that of a sense of being able to liberate oneself from the burden of anger:

“What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.”

It is this sense of independent conscience which helps Jane on her journey to make many difficult decisions.

I should mention that although I found Jane Eyre a gripping read for the most part, I did lose momentum a little towards the middle section. I think that perhaps because Mr Rochester appears relatively early in the novel I was bemused about how it would progress from there. The structure of the story is a little unusual, however Charlotte Bronte continues spin her story and reveal surprises that kept me compelled in the second half of the novel.

Jane Eyre is full of drama, but Jane herself is down-to-earth. Her frank tone helps to temper how preposterously unlikely some of the plot twists are. I did have some small reservations about how unlikely some of the situations were and also felt quite sorry for one particular character who I won’t name for fear of spoiling the story. However I loved the character of Jane and the story itself that I can happily overlook those issues!

In Jane Eyre, I was expecting a brilliant story and that’s exactly what I got. Love, learning and dark secrets – it had everything I wanted and I felt that I had almost come away with a new friend in Jane, so sincere was her voice.

A Guardian article that I read suggested that you could only be either a Jane Eyre person or a Wuthering Heights person. I’m not sure that is exactly the case, but having read them both now I think that I can say that I’m 80% Jane with a little bit of Wuthering thrown in for good measure!

My rating: 9 out of 10

Have you read any Bronte novels that you enjoyed?

This was this post on Mad Bibliophile’s blog that bumped Jane Eyre up my reading pile and Savidge Reads’ glowing review confirmed that it was a must-read for Christmas. Kimbofo also just read it, and you can read her thoughts here.

30 responses to “Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

  1. I love Jane Eyre and the brooding Mr Rochester! I know what you mean about the middle bit and the coincidences at the end where she randomly meets lost family members always makes me smile!

  2. Jane Eyre is my favourite book! I love it! I have also read Villette by Charlotte Bronte and that is in my top 20 of all time too!

  3. I’m definitely more of a Jane fan than a Wuthering Heights fan. We saw a preview Sunday for a new movie version of Jane Eyre, but I have to admit that it made me very skeptical — I fear that they’ve made it too dark. So glad you found a new favorite.

    • The funny thing is that makes me even more interested as I love stories with a dark edge, but I can see how you could ruin things if you’re not careful… Hmmm…

  4. Glad you loved Jane Eyre. She’s quite a character. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Jane and Rochester are in the garden in the evening after their engagement, clasped in each other’s arms, and Jane letting down her guard for the first time while a storm brews in the background! Perfect atmosphere and foreboding.

    I think what the article was really pointing out is that you’re either a Rochester or Heathcliff fan! I’m team Rochester. Love your edition of the book. 1933!

    • You’re right that was, one of the most wonderful bits, and I was quite surprised at how open she is with her emotions. I think you might be right… I’m definitely team Rochester although I do have a bit of a crush on 90210’s Chuck who is planned to be Heathcliff in the film version of WH!!

  5. So pleased that you enjoyed this one Polly, its a mammoth book with so much in it and yet you fly through it, well I certainly did at any rate. Every review I have seen since has made me want to go back and read it again which I think is a sign of what a wonderful book it is in itself.

    • It was one of those books that you are glad is nice and long as reading it is a joy. I think I will definitely re-read in the future.

  6. Oh Polly! You only just read Jane Eyre?!! Shocking!

    I LOVE this book with a passion. It’s one of my absolute favourites. I can’t deny it has its faults – the whole St John section, for starters – but it’s such a passionate, beautiful, powerful novel about independence and love and courage and I adore it. Frankly, Wuthering Heights reads like trashy Young Adult fiction in comparison, as far as I’m concerned!

  7. I’m so glad you loved Jane Eyre. It’s been my favourite book since I was 12. I will say that I don’t like Wuthering Heights at all, but I enjoyed all the other works by the Bronte sisters. I would suggest you check out Villette and Shirley. Villette is very dark and explores loneliness, while Shirley is an historical novel and much less gothic. I also recently re-read Anne’s Agnes Grey and enjoyed it but not as much as Jane Eyre and the two I just mentioned. I haven’t read The Professor and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall since I was in my early teens; I remember enjoying the latter one and being lukewarm on the former. I just got The Tenant for Christmas and will have to dip into it again.

  8. So glad that you enjoyed this, one of my favourites, and what a beautiful edition!

  9. It is going to be newly released in film in the states in a few weeks; I’m dying to see it. Such a wonderful story, and I covet your 1933 edition!

    • Oh wow, I can’t wait – and now I’ve read it I can just enjoy and critique while comfortably sat behind a bag of popcorn. Hope it comes to the UK soon.

  10. I love Jane Eyre the most – the BBC miniseries inspired me to read it a while ago. Wuthering Heights I didn’t like so much, Agnes Grey I found rather boring but will definitely be reading more of all three Brontes.

    • Yes, I really wanted to watch that BBC version but restrained myself because I wanted to read the book first. I might wait for the short movie first and then go for the BBC for full indulgence!

  11. I have to say that I loved both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights:) I read Wuthering Heights first and was swept away by the passionate love story but didn’t really like the characters much. But with Jane Eyre, I loved Jane and was struck by how much depth and thought she had and how passionate her feelings. I’m SO glad you liked it!

    • Yes, I loved the passion in WH too but totally agree that the characters are pretty irritating at times! It is definitely something about the way that Jane conveys her feeling which endears her to the reader.

  12. I enjoyed Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights but probably found the latter a little funnier. I love the hapless narrator in WH who just doesn’t understand what is going on around him, it contrasts well, for me, with all the emotions and savageness of the book. Jane Eyre is just so readable though that I enjoyed it so much.

    • I never thought of WH as funny but I suppose it is comedic in how extravagant it is! I think that is one that I’ll need to revisit sometime as I remember that I was left with an ‘impression’ rather than detailed memories of the story.

  13. Jane Eyre is currently my favourite book, so full of a variety of genres and ideas, it was like the ultimate package.

    I found the story of Wuthering Heights detestable, but the book overall I couldn’t help but rate highly, I think Emily’s writing is fantastic. So no divide there, even if I do prefer Jane Eyre.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    • I like the idea of it being the ‘ultimate package’. It really is quite a satisfying novel. Yes, I know exactly what you mean about WH. Awful people, great writing…

  14. I hadn’t seen that Guardian article but I sort-of agree. Wuthering Heights is atmospheric, well written and everything but it didn’t speak to me the way Jane Eyre does.

    • There seems to be quite a theme going on here. I wonder if its something about the bookishness of Jane, that speaks to us book-bloggers?!

  15. Oh how I love the tale of Jane Eyre. My sister read it to me when we were young (my parents got rid of our TV).

    I’m in the middle of Tenant of Wildfell Hall as we speak and all I can only sing it’s praises. I was up ’til the wee hours last night reading it!

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