I have decided, quite unexpectedly, to tackle my thoughts on this classic in two parts as it is first of all much heftier (length-wise) than I expected and secondly, although I am certainly entertained, I am finding it more difficult to formulate my opinions than I ordinarily do. Like Sense and Sensibility, I was already vaguely familiar with this story before I started to read, no doubt due to the mini-series I seem to remember being played on the BBC when I was younger and I’ve started to notice the book appearing on more and more blogs, no doubt inspired by the pending release of the new feature film (which looks superb) later this year. I thought I should finally pluck it out of the depths of the TBR pile, filed under the section entitled Classics I am too ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet.
I have to be honest, I have found the first half of this book to be a little slow in starting up. Although the lengthy account of her difficult childhood does, no doubt, set Jane up as the rather plain, overly-composed character she grows into, it is only yesterday that I felt I had read a chapter where something finally happened, and we are now hopefully on our way to unveiling the secrets lurking in the dark corners of Edward Rochester’s Thornfield Hall, where Jane is employed as a governess to her new master’s ward.
**Warning – contains spoilers**
Orphaned very early on in her life and, fulfilling her Uncle’s dying wish, left to live with his wife and two children, Jane is mistreated from the beginning of the book, a scapegoat for her cousin’s wrongdoings and receiving next to no support from any members of the household. The climax of this entire episode is reached when Jane, after being falsely accused of yet another misdemeanor, is locked in the bedroom where her Uncle died as punishment. After believing she has seen a phantom in the room and her pleas to be released ignored by her aunt, Jane collapses in a fit, an event that, whilst disturbing, ironically sets the wheel in motion for her to escape from her hellish home. Glad to be rid of her, the family send her to Lowood Institution, a charity school for orphans. Jane quickly adapts to the stark lifestyle at the school, building valuable relationships with her fellow pupils and teachers, eventually turning her hand to teaching herself. This whole portion of the book, as I’ve said, I have no doubt will become more relevant as I read on, but I have felt rather indifferent about it and nothing yet has inspired much emotion (although I have the inkling that is about to change.)
That said, Charlotte Bronte writes very well and, although I feel this section has gone on a little too long, it hasn’t felt like running a marathon. Advertising for a post in the local newspaper, Jane is sent to live at Thornfield Hall where she takes charge of the coquettish Adèle Varens, the daughter of Mr Rochester’s former lover (although he insists she is not his own child). Mr Rochester, unlike the heroes of so many novels written around this time (think Mr Darcy, Willoughby etc) is neither handsome nor charming at first, until Jane begins to see something in him beyond his harsh exterior and provoking turn of phrase. The meeting of this unlikely pair is suitably dramatic (with Rochester falling from his great black horse and Jane coming to his aid) and I feel is an indication of events to come. Just as we cheered when the young Jane Eyre said her parting words of hatred and disgust directed at her Aunt Reed, we long her to repeat this act in adulthood as glamorous haughty women flit around the hall and around her as if she didn’t exist, particularly Mr Rochester’s supposed love interest, the beautiful but callous Blanche Ingram.
I wonder if the expression plain Jane inspired Charlotte Bronte, or whether indeed, Jane Eyre inspired the expression? In her plain and unremarkable appearance we learn that you don’t have to be a beauty to be a heroine, that your character alone can get you through life and perhaps (and I am assuming here as I have not read that far on yet) inspire love in an admirer. I am intrigued now. I am intrigued to see how Jane will fair in her new world and anxious to unearth some of the dark mysteries that seem to be lurking in the shadows of the old hall………..more to come very soon….
NB: I am also reading an old hardback copy of this book with no sleeve or images on the front which, coupled with its length, I feel makes me look rather scholarly on my way to work in the morning. 🙂