I’m almost reluctant to review this book as it seems to fill my head with so many conflicting and contrasting thoughts and feelings, and I feel I can’t possibly do it justice. I both like the book and dislike it too, as it can charm me and horrify me at the same time. I personally find it more rewarding than enjoyable – at the end of it I feel as if I have gone on a long journey with the character of Jane and feel quite exhausted and that I haven’t particularly enjoyed every single aspect of the journey. But maybe this is what makes it such a great and memorable book as it isn’t just happiness and romance and good things.
This is the story of Jane’s life, from her beginnings as an orphan living with rich uncaring relatives (the Reeds), to her time at Lowood School and the neglect and cruelty she suffered there, to becoming a governess for the ward of Mr Rochester. She meets a huge range of characters along the way, some which give her strength such as Helen Burns and Mrs Temple, some which provoke her determined spirit such as Mrs Reed, and then there is the largest influence on her life; Mr Rochester. Jane endures some very hard times, and is very often lonely, but she is a fascinating and strong character who is unwilling to compromise, even when she wants something very much (such as Mr Rochester’s love).
There is so much in this book; such a range of characters – I think you could take just one single page and there would be enough material on it for a whole review. Every individual page is so descriptive and important, it is beautifully written. I can’t believe how much there is in this book, there is never a dull moment and every bit is such quality. I think all the descriptions and characters in this book are perfect and really in-depth.
I like Jane Eyre’s character as she is feisty and determined. She experiences so much in this book, and yet comes through it all and seems able to handle everything. I love the way she speaks to Mr Rochester when they are engaged – she obviously adores him, but will not be totally subservient to him. She stands up to him and asserts herself, which must be difficult to do as she is overwhelmed with love for him and obviously feels grateful that he loves her too. I also admire the way she deals with people and situations that are against her, like Mrs Reed. And she is keen to gain advice and learn from others, and is always questioning and seeking to understand, like with Helen Burns.
Helen Burns is a character I always remember; she is so patient and enduring and unresentful. She knows she is dying and is prepared for it and doesn’t resent the fact. I struggle to understand how she can face such a fate and yet not be scared or angry, and also find it difficult to understand how a person can be so unquestioningly faithful and believing. It is so sad when Helen dies, with Jane in her arms. It reminds me of Beth’s death in ‘Good Wives’ (‘Little Women’). It isn’t a dramatic death; just gentle and patient and quiet, like Helen.
I love perfect Miss Temple, she is so kind and caring. It is difficult to understand how she came to work at such an awful place as Lowood School and how Mr Brocklehurst allows her stay when she is so opposite to him; she is kind and he is cruel.
Mr Rochester is one of those characters that will always be in your head. He seems to dominant every page he is on, he is so involved and complicated and complex. I do really dislike him though; he is so rude and commanding. Mrs Fairfax says this is just his way, but I don’t think this ought to excuse him. I can hardly believe the way Jane falls head over heels in love with him, I almost feel disappointed in her! This is the first man she has really had contact with, so is it actually Mr Rochester himself that she likes or is it just because he is the first to show her any attention? Jane also disappoints me with how quickly she stops seeing all his faults – at the start she criticised him in her mind and all too soon she says that his faults just add to his character like “condiments in a dish”. I feel he is horrible, and feel frustrated that she can’t see this! I also wonder why exactly he takes notice of her, I am suspicious of his motives. He obviously knows that he can’t legally marry Blanche Ingram, so is he only choosing Jane because she is friendless with no family or connections and therefore it is easier for him to imagine he can get away with bigamy? I wonder if he is just wanting her to have a love experience to spice up her quiet life and send her into confusion, (as well as boosting his huge ego), but isn’t really intending it to go any further, and isn’t concerned with how this flirtation may hurt her. I also don’t like the way he encourages Jane’s feelings for him, when he knows he can’t have her; even if there was no wife in the attic they would still find it difficult to be together due to their social differences. Mr Rochester is cruel in the way he leads Jane into confessing her feelings for him, without committing himself in a similar way, for example with the gypsy palm-reading. I can’t decide if he feels unsure of Jane’s feelings and wants to be more confident before revealing his own feelings, or if he just wants his ego boosting by knowing that she loves him and that he is her first love. He acts very underhandedly and ungentlemanly though. How can he expect her to make the first move when she is his employee and not in the same social class as him? He is also cruel when he leads her to believe he is confessing feelings of love for her, and then makes out he was really talking about Blanche. He is giving her hope and watching her feelings, and then snatching her happiness away and disappointing her. He seems to constantly lead her on and then hurt her. I do find myself feeling sorry for him though with his descriptions of how he was conned into his first marriage, and how he suffered. I do admire the fact that he tried to care for his mad wife and ensure that she is looked after rather than abandoning her. It does seem unfair that he can’t divorce her and escape.
I find all the Reed characters really interesting, particularly how they all alter in later life. The first section of the book, which deals with Jane as a child living with the Reeds, always disturbs me as she is treated so cruelly and I find the time at Lowood School similarly upsetting to read. However I find it fascinating how the Reeds have all turned out, with John being a disappointment and then committing suicide; Georgiana being lazy and lethargic; Eliza being very self-disciplined and wanting to become a nun; and Mrs Reed seeking forgiveness from Jane. All of them receive their punishment in the end.
I find St John really quite sinister, scary and fanatical. He is obviously very handsome, and it is interesting that Charlotte Bronte makes him so handsome as then it seems more difficult to dislike him, and I feel that Jane herself listens to him and obeys him more than she otherwise would do because he is the first really handsome man to pay her attention.
I love Jane’s own description of Blanche, she is so cutting and sarcastic. She obviously doesn’t feel as if Blanche is worthy of Mr Rochester. I think Blanche and Mr Rochester would actually make a perfect couple, and she would be good for him as she’d be too haughty to put up with his rudeness and she would stand up to him, which would do his character far more good than someone being subservient and submissive to him and allowing him to get away with his bad behaviour.
Although I do struggle to agree with Jane’s choice of Mr Rochester I am able to accept them being together at the end of the book however, as they seem more evenly matched and Jane seems more confident in the fact that she is worthy of him, and the need for him to be worthy of her. She now has money and has gained experiences away from him so has grown accordingly, and he is now disabled which makes him less powerful and less independent and he has been made to realise his mistakes and appreciate what he has.
As well as the interesting main characters, and the ongoing story of Jane’s and Mr Rochester’s relationship, there are also several other thought-provoking themes in the book. Religion is one that is dealt with in a very interesting manner – many of the characters have the same basic religion, but display this in varying ways. Helen Burn’s is a gentle and trusting religion that helps her lead a good and kind life and to help others by trying to guide and comfort them. Eliza Reed’s is strict and self-denying religion that seems to offer only punishment and restrictiveness. St John’s is a more fanatical religion that encourages him to believe he has the right to control others and demand things from them, in the name of his beliefs. And, fascinatingly, as Mr Rochester gains more faith and religion, he gradually regains his sight – it is almost like he is being rewarded.
I also love the thriller aspect of the book, with the mystery of Grace Poole and the noises in the attic and all the subsequent discovery and shocking truth finally revealed in dramatic fashion at the altar. This is a gripping storyline with plenty of shocks and surprises.
This is such a satisfying book to read, it is full of description and plot. Each individual sentence seems to have such weight behind it, and to be so carefully thought out. It is an amazing book, and everytime I read it I gain more from it, and have more questions and opinions.