I have to say, if a reader is either an “Austen” or a “Brontë” I am most certainly a “Brontë”. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s novel of love, spirituality and principle, is a truly great book. Not only is the plot engaging with its many twists, turns and coincidences, the first-person style of narration is so wholly absorbing that I hated the moments I had to put the book down. While Austen’s novels of manners are certainly a joy to read, Charlotte Brontë introduces her readers to an admirable woman with an unforgettable story.
Surely Jane Eyre is as beloved a novel as it is due to the presence of the title character herself. Jane Eyre is someone I would love to know and harbors traits I would love to possess. She is perceptive, principled, intelligent, and brave, yet at the same time likeable in her awareness of her own flaws. What I find most admirable in Jane, however, is her firm understanding of right from wrong. From the time we first meet the orphan Jane residing at Gateshead at the age of ten, she maturely understands the mistreatment administered to her by the icy Mrs. Reed. This sense of morality stays with her as she comes of age at Lowood School under the frugal administration of Mr. Brocklehurst and graduates to her fated position as governess at Thornfield Hall, the residence of the famously imperfect Mr. Rochester.
While I was unabashedly enthralled with the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester, surprisingly, I found one of the more interesting themes in the novel to be its exploration of spirituality. Usually I find myself turned off to the puritanical presence of religion in 19th century literature; however, the discussion of spirituality in Jane Eyre is unexpectedly modern. Though undoubtedly a Christian, Jane’s sense of morality is not strictly bound to the doctrine of the church. Further, Jane is similarly uninhibited by the social obligations prescribed to her as a marriageable young woman in 19th century England. Instead, Jane forges her own path to happiness, guided by a firm understanding of what is right for her.
Finally, I cannot finish a review of Jane Eyre without commenting on the beautiful writing of Charlotte Brontë. Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray praised the novel for its brilliant composition and on this point I wholeheartedly agree. Brontë’s prose is almost musical in its flow as she never ceases to find the right word or turn of phrase. I will even dispute the criticism of Brontë’s dialogue as I found each exchange perfectly in tune with the character behind it.
Though it is always difficult for me to “review” a classic I find it very easy to praise Jane Eyre. Fraught with rich characters and plot-twists galore Jane Eyre is a classic that I will surely revisit.