Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Warning: here be spoilers

When Jane fights back against her abusive aunt and cousins, she is sent away to a boarding school for charity cases. There, she is starved, punished severely, and witnesses deaths of students due to school negligence. After living this life for 18 years, she is thrilled to find a place as a governess for the ward of the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. They find love, but only at a great cost. 

I first read Jane Eyre as a teenager and wasn’t thrilled with the book. I thought Rochester was a jerk. And Jane. Well. She started out feisty enough, but as an adult she allowed Mr. Rochester to be a total jerk to her. When she discovers his deep, dark secret, she throws herself about dramatically upon the steppe until she is rescued. Then she meets this nice cousin (St. John Rivers) who proposes to her and offers to whisk her off to India and she says no! 

I just listened the brilliant Juliet Stevenson narration of Jane Eyre with a more mature ear. I noticed several things – Jane’s fiestiness in the first chapters of the book were not necessarily looked on as a good character trait by Charlotte Bronte. In current times we have this view that everyone is equal and we should defend ourselves against abuse instead of just taking it with a bowed head. But look at it from the perspective of a Christian in the 19th Century who may have been taught to accept what she can not change. 

This acceptance is demonstrated to perfection in young Helen Burns – Jane’s friend at school. Helen patiently explains her philosophy to the angry Jane, and Jane heartily disagrees. They seem to be opposite ends of a spectrum. Jane wants to change everything because it’s unacceptable, and Helen wants to accept everything because it’s unchangeable. When Helen’s character dies with acceptance, Jane seems to adopt her philosophy – thus taming the fire within.

It is with this acceptance that she deals quite calmly (most of the time) with the rudeness and games of Mr. Rochester. Jane recognizes that this is how he is, she’s unable to change it, but she is still able to see the kindred spirit within. In other words, it is her acceptance that gives her a trait that I can admire – forgiveness. And it is this acceptance which brings her love in the long run. 

But Jane does not accept to the point of having a weak character. When Rochester gives her an unacceptable choice – living with him as an unmarried couple – she chooses to leave. This is not weakness. This is strength. Yes, she flopped about dramatically on the steppe for a couple of chapters, and it was her own fault for losing her money, but this was a choice she made when she left Mr. Rochester. She couldn’t stay, so she took an option that was very brave: the total unknown. Many a weaker character would have sacrificed her own values and self-worth by staying with Mr. Rochester because she had nowhere else to go. But Jane found a way to change when the “unchangeable” finally became “unacceptable.”

Jane is strong to accept what she can not change and she is strong to change what she can not accept. 

12 thoughts on “Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

  1. Great review Rachel.

    I read this for the first time myself a few years ago. I think that it is one of the greatest novels ever written.

    The contrast between Jane and Helen is interesting and I remember thinking about it a lot. I never really thought that jane's behavior was meant to be seen in a negative light but now that I am thinking about it, I believe that you might be on to something.


  2. I haven't read this in a number of years. I found your viewpoint of Jane's fiestiness not being necessarily a good character trait interesting. She is such a mix of acceptance and a determination to fight. I think sometimes we are quick to think strength of character only means fighting and never means accepting. I will need to reread this.


  3. Yeah, I'm not really sure whether Jane's behavior at the beginning of the book was supposed to be seen in a negative light or not, but I figure since she changed away from that attitude that perhaps it was meant to be a positive development.


  4. You have very interesting insights into this book, Rachel! “Jane Eyre” is probably my favorite classic of all time, and I think it's a rich treasure trove of themes that can be explored almost endlessly.

    Your take on this novel is one of many possible approaches to it. Each reviewer gleans various truths from this narrative.

    The first time I read the book, I fell in love with Rochester, just as much as Jane did. When I re-read it, not that long ago, I REALLY saw the darkness in his personality. He is indeed a very flawed character! He even tries coercion and deception to win Jane's love. It's actually surprising that she forgave him, and kept on loving him, anyway.

    I do think I need to read this novel again. There are yet more depths to be plumbed….

    Thanks for your thoughts!! : )


  5. I agree that it is surprising that she forgave him. I'd be really pissed off if I were put in that situation – and I wouldn't be potentially stigmatized for life or have to go flailing about on the steppe because of it.


  6. I think I may like to listen to an audio version of Jane Eyre. I can see how it would make a difference in understanding the emotion of the characters.


  7. I have read this book as a young teen, a 20-something and in my 30's. I only have 2 more yrs to fit in a 40's reread – your review may have just tipped me over the edge 🙂

    You've certainly got me thinking about which character traits would have been considered acceptable ones at this time. Thinking about Helen in Tenant of Wildfell Hall, all of Austen's heroines and many of Wilkie Collin's heroines, I think you're on to something.

    PS I love your blog. We seem to read a lot of the same books. I'll be back!


  8. Yeah, I'm not sure what was acceptable at this time, but I know that when I was younger I admired that spunk as a child, and didn't see the stark contrast with the more mature philosophy of her friend nor Jane's own maturation. This book leaves a lot to think about when rereading.


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