Jane Eyre is one of a handful of free classics that I downloaded when I first got my Kindle. I had the very best of intentions to actually read these worthy tomes now that I could have access to them without even having to buy a copy (or even visit a library). Optimism brought on by a love of technology was somewhat misplaced – I got my first Kindle in 2011 and I only just got around to Jane Eyre.
I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from Jane Eyre. I’d never seen a TV or movie adaptation and haven’t read anything else by Charlotte Bronte. So, on the off chance that you too have managed to avoid ever hearing the general premise, here it is: Jane Eyre is an unfortunate little orphan raised by her aunt who apparently hates her (but has children of her own upon whom she dotes). As soon as an opportunity presents itself she sends Jane away to boarding school, which turns out to be even worse than living with the hated aunt.
In spite of this, Jane survives, grows up, learns a great deal and decides that she wants to be a governess. She advertises and ends up with a position at Thornfield Hall, teaching a little French girl and eventually meeting Mr Rochester. And, on the off chance that anyone would be annoyed with me for spoiling a novel that’s 170 years old, that’s where my synopsis ends.
Obviously it’s a very romantic novel and I think it could well have laid the foundations for many romantic novels that followed it. Trends such as having the female protagonist described as “very plain” and not much to look at, but determined and hard working and Good, whilst the male love interest’s appearance is described in much finer detail, and he’s rich and complicated and Troubled. Then, in spite of the fact that she has very little going for her, he takes an interest anyway, because he sees something special in her, something that he is suspiciously incapable of articulating. It’s a classic fantasy that anyone would enjoy buying into: The amazing perfect person could fall in love with you no matter how little you may think of yourself.
That’s all very well and good, but unfortunately Jane isn’t just plain, she’s also boring and, as much education as she might have managed to obtain, she’s kind of stupid. She believes obvious lies and promises and forgives awful behaviour. Sure, in many cases you couldn’t expect her to have many options but even when she does have options she makes terrible decisions. At the supposedly Happily Ever After point I wanted to shake her for behaving like an idiot.
Now, in fairness, the book is very picturesque and some events are believable, compelling and emotional, especially those that occur at the boarding school, Lowood. There were parts that I quite enjoyed and times when I was really rooting for Jane as a headstrong young girl who formed strong ties with her friends. Actually, the few real friendships that Jane forms during the novel are probably the parts I enjoyed the most.
Then there’s the pacing – Jane Eyre is a novel very much of it’s time. The writing is very descriptive, very floral and very detailed. I’d go so far as to say it’s descriptive, floral and detailed to a fault. It’s just so long! …Ok, I just looked it up and it’s ~500 pages which could, in some circumstance be absolutely fine, but this felt much longer than it actually was and that, to me, suggests that it didn’t actually have a great deal to say. It was fine, but maybe I should have just watched the movie.