Brontë, Charlotte. (1847, 2009). Jane Eyre. Wilder Publications.
Like many other readers, I was young when I first read through Jane Eyre. I recall being, quite possibly, in tenth grade, and was utterly fascinated by the gothic appeal of the novel. A young, brave, and intelligent overcomes an unloving childhood and grows into her own person through the intrigue of her adventures – what better role model, and what more beautiful language for a young child to absorb?
Further, in a gothic novel of this sort, there are incredibly high standards for personal conduct, spirituality, and morality. Life seems purer and more absolute when read through the lens of the early 1800’s – there is the injustice of Mrs. Reed’s treatment of young Jane, followed by the immoral self-destruction of her son, John Reed; the brilliant but self-denying Helen Burns and her devoted tutor, Maria Temple; all of these characters swirl together in a melee, a veritable swarm of colorful intrusions or ‘lessons’ for Jane’s coming of age.
Lacking the influence of these characters, Jane might have turned out more like her cousin, Eliza Reed, who devotes herself rigidly and self-righteously to the church. Eliza takes pleasure in turning her back on people and society – her experiences are defined by her avoidance of new opportunities. Jane, on the contrary, ventures out into the real world and finds great pleasure in the learning.
I was overjoyed to return to this book in my mid-20’s and find my passion for the plot little changed. My first reading took a single weekend. Although I chafed at the inevitable delays of daily life, my second reading took only a week.
I would highly recommend this book for younger people with an interest in the gothic, the romantic, and the brave. Far from providing a distorted view of life and relationships, I think it opens up a critical discussion of justice, righteousness, and personal growth.