ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

An appreciation of Jane Eyre

Updated on July 26, 2013
Source

A meditation on Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was published in 1847, over 160 years ago. It's inspired a host of movies, including the most recent 2011 adaption by Cary Joji Fukunaga, as well as literary spin offs. It remains highly popular today, so what is it that captivates about Jane Eyre?

Story background: be aware that story spoilers follow if you have not yet read the book!

Essentially, Jane Eyre is the story of the novel's eponymous heroine. It's really a fairly predictable storyline. Basically, the poor, plain girl endures a cruel childhood but ends up marrying the rich man whom she loves. However, Charlotte Bronte's characterisations and her writing skills make this an intensely readable novel.

It's interesting first of all to consider Charlotte Bronte's background. One of five siblings, Charlotte grew up in a relatively isolated village. Their father was a clergyman and after the death of their mother, the children were looked after by an aunt. All the siblings were intelligent and derived intense enjoyment from writing and literature. Two of Charlotte's sisters died when she was relatively young. Her other sisters, Emily and Anne both had their own literary works published. Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is the most famous of her two siblings' novels. Given the sisters relatively limited and conservative life experience, it is amazing that these young women were able to produce two of English literature's most popular and enduring novels.

In Jane Eyre, Jane's early childhood is spent growing up in the household of her aunt. Her wealthy aunt reluctantly takes Jane into her home after Jane is orphaned as a baby. Her aunt feels obliged to do this due to a promise she made to her dying husband. However, Jane's relatives treat her cruelly, making it clear that she is perceived as an inconvenience and a troublemaker who is dependent on their charity. She is bullied by her older male cousin and victimised by her aunt. The only saving grace is the occasional acts of kindness bestowed on her by one of the household servants.

At the age of ten Jane is essentially disowned by her aunt, when she is sent away to a boarding school for girls.The school is a charity run for impoverished girls. Lowood Institution, or school, is operated by Mr Brocklehurst, a clergyman. Bronte portrays Mr Brocklehurst as a hypocrite who pretends he is providing christian charity for the young women in his care. Instead the Lowood girls are kept in Dickensian conditions. They are mistreated and kept in near starvation conditions.

During her initial time at the school, Jane makes friends with a fellow student, Helen Burns. Jane admires Helen for her intelligence, stamina and interest in books. Jane believes Helen is unfairly victimised by certain teachers at the school and greatly admires Helen's ability to cope with this situation and her simple faith in God. During a hard winter, where the students are provided with little food or warmth, Helen dies of consumption. The character of Helen is widely believed to be based on the character of Maria Bronte, Charlotte Bronte's sister, who also died of consumption. Helen's simple christian faith and goodness are a contrast to Mr Brocklhurst's overt and hypocritical christian protestations.

Jane is a very likeable character in the novel. She knows that she can't rely on her looks or wealth to help her get by. She repeatedly describes herself as plain, dark and small. Instead she has to rely on her hard work, commonsense and commitment. She doesn't let a cruel world let her down. Unlike Helen Burns, she won't resign herself to simply accepting her fate or place in life. Although she has a christian faith, she doesn't rely on religion to help her find her place in the world. Instead, she decides to better herself. So Jane works hard at the school, eventually becoming a teacher. This position eventually enables her to obtain employment as a governess.

On the surface Jane finds fulfillment in the role of governess. Her employment conditions are favourable and her accommodation is comfortable. Her wealthy employer seems moody but kind. She is also genuinely fond of the young girl in her charge.

However, things get interesting when Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr Rochester, her employer. Mr Rochester reciprocates the attraction and proposes marriage.

However, it turns out that Mr Rochester has a tortured past and is already married to a 'mad woman", Bertha, whom he keeps locked up in an attic. To modern eyes, keeping your wife prisoner in an attic seems highly suspect and unjust. In fact, the sad life of Bertha inspired a spin off book, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which was first published in the 1960s. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is portrayed as an almost inhuman, monstrous, violent woman who is beyond redemption. Perhaps this reflects the attitude of Bronte's time to insanity. Bronte's writing implies that Rochester's actions redeem him because he is in fact doing Bertha a kindness by locking her up.

So although Jane is very likeable in the book, Mr Rochester her love interest, is more of an ambiguous character. Rochester enjoys wealth, but has gone through a long period of depression, self pity and self reproach. These are qualities that are the opposite to Jane's struggle to survive and improve her situation in life. She wouldn't have the luxury to engage in the same levels of self indulgence that Rochester does in the book. Unlike Jane, who increases her independence throughout the development of the novel, Mr Rochester becomes increasingly dependent on Jane to offer him emotional redemption and physical support.

The thing I like about Jane is that she is so honest with a hardcore commonsense. She doesn't need to rely on a man to solve her problems. In fact although she feels a strong passion for Mr Rochester she is also fiercely independent. She initially leaves Mr Rochester because she wants to preserve her integrity. Several times she is the one that saves Mr Rochester, rather than him riding to the rescue of her.

However, Jane also has an awareness of other worldliness and love. She isn't afraid to listen to her instincts. She has a practical nature, but can accept the possibility that there may be ghosts or other spirits in the world. Jane's love is also an honest one. Unlike Rochester's other love interest, Blanche Ingram, Jane's love is not coloured by perceptions of his wealth or physical attractiveness. In fact at the close of the novel, she goes to Rochester even though he has become physically handicapped. Their passion seems to be based on their ability to instinctively understand each other and enjoy honest conversation.

One of the other memorable characters in the book is St John Rivers. He is a contrasting character to Mr Rochester. He is hard working clergyman, who is handsome and austere. He wants to be a missionary in India and encourages Jane to accompany him there as his wife. Although Jane sees the advantages of the match, in the end she turns his offer down, as she realises she can't be true to herself by entering into a passion-less marriage.

Some of the cultural references made by Charlotte Bronte in the book are a little dated for modern readers. However, overall Bronte's writing flows beautifully and the story captivates until the end. I can well understand why this novel continues to be enjoyed 160 years after its publication.

Jane Eyre adaptions and books

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • connieread profile image

      connieread 

      6 years ago from England

      I share your passion for Jane Eyre, my favourite novel! I like how you see her as a passionate, independent woman; so many others say she's boring, timid and totally misinterpret her character. Great writing style too!

    • Emma Beth profile imageAUTHOR

      Emma Beth 

      6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I only just recently read it for the first time when I picked a copy up at a market, and I just couldn't put it down. I suppose that there is so much detail in the novel that it would be very hard for any filmmaker to do it justice.

    • profile image

      marellen 

      6 years ago

      Jane Eyre is my favorite novels and movie. There is something about the romance that captures me. Great hub.

    • AllSuretyBonds profile image

      AllSuretyBonds 

      6 years ago

      I am a fan of Jane Eyre. I love how dramatic the feelings are. I recently bought the new movie that came out and I enjoyed it but as always the book was better than the movie.

    • gulnazahmad profile image

      gulnazahmad 

      6 years ago from Pakistan

      Hi,

      Jane Eyre to me is one of the finest classic and a novel I read more than three times. It is really captivating, though, its movie adaptations could not do the justice they should have done but I saw one.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)