"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte
A Reading Experience (Pt.23)
It has been a number of over ten years since I first read “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I was going to be thirteen and it was fairly cold outside (my birthday is in the winter). I was reading “Jane Eyre” for the first time because it was on a reading list I had found listed next to “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen - another classic. The way in which I discovered my copy of the book was simply by going to my local bookstore and reserving myself a copy (it was fairly popular and the book had sold out at that time). When I first read the book, it absolutely took me away. It made me cry, it gave me hope, it made me sad, it made me cry again and then finally, when it was all over - I could sob to myself happily in peace. It changed my whole life that book did. It was like reading something that was specially written to hit you right in the heart and make you feel every inch of the character’s emotions with them. Every bit of her anger and resentment, all of her rage and then, all of her calm and sorrow. Eventually, you can feel her happiness as well.
My favourite character in the whole book was possibly Helen Burns because she teaches Jane her most important lesson that will stay with her for the rest of her life. What makes Helen Burns great is her tranquility. Her ability to endure, her calm and her enlightening mind. She is the character that tames Jane’s rage which she has so much of whilst living in the Reed House at Gateshead. Helen teaches Jane to be more internal and contemplative than external and vengeful towards people. It will make her so much happier and give her a chance to think before she acts. Helen’s greatest fault though is her quiet nature. She is actually so quiet at one point that Jane doesn’t even realise at first that Helen has died. Helen’s nature towards speaking out would seem outdated for a woman today - but I think Helen’s reasons to stay quiet are more to piss off the other person hoping for a reaction than staying quiet to be a people pleaser. Her downfall is her quiet nature because of the fact she also does not talk much in the book. Most of what we get of her are descriptions from Jane’s point of view and so, we don’t even know if these are true or Jane’s just biased because that was her first real friend. Helen represents the first turning point in Jane’s life as she meets someone who actually cares about her enough to tell her what is wrong and help her grow on her way to becoming who she is at the end of the book. Helen’s quiet nature has a massive impact on Jane who will imitate this later on when she arrives at Thornfield Hall.
A big theme in the book is appearances. First we have the appearance of John Reed as this monstrous child and the other Reeds as villains. This, from Jane’s point of view is true. But if you really look at it - Mrs. Reed is a woman who has only recently lost her husband to his death and now she’s stuck all alone with her three children and nobody to really open up to. She must have been traumatised. The fact that Jane plays up and calls her some nasty names probably didn’t help that psychological situation. The appearance of Bertha Mason is rather monstrous. Bertha - one of the most famous characters in classic literature - is the ‘madwoman in the attic’ character who is actually the one married to Edward Rochester. Her appearance is said to be completely foreign to Jane and therefore monstrous. Thus, can we really trust Jane with appearances? I don’t think so. There are many appearance comments in the novel - another famous one being the painting Jane does of Blanche Ingram. Jane plays out this theme by stating what she thinks of the appearance of others and then judging their personality based upon this image she has made of them. Whether that is actually true is completely out of the question - Jane is the one telling the story so she is the only informative piece of writing we have about certain people in the novel at that particular time. The theme of appearance is used not only to draw up images of characters alongside their personalities, but it is also used for Jane to reflect on herself. Initially, she is called an ugly child by the two maids at Gateshead, but when she goes to school she finds out that she looks pretty normal and then when she attends Thornfield Hall, she finds out that she is, in fact, very plain in comparison to the other ladies. This is a big jump for her but, it is not her appearance that concerns her - it is her appearance in comparison to other people that always concerns her. It impacts the way in which you read the book because initially you think you’re just reading comments about some character’s appearance until Jane starts to talk about her own and then you realise that it’s not an analysis, it’s a comparison. The fact is, the one she does with the painting of Blanche Ingram makes you really feel sorry for Jane, but the way in which she presents Bertha Mason upon sight makes you feel almost angry towards her because at first, it can be interpreted as being fairly mean to a woman who has basically been locked in an attic for years after she got married to a strange and bewildering man.
This book means so much to me, I’ve even studied it a couple of times over the years. It means a lot to me because of the way in which it made me feel as a pre-teen. It was pretty much the one book that I could say that I connected with something inside it. Not all of it, but there were definitely some parts I connected with. It impacted my later reading experiences because it was after that when I hit the Bronte collection. I read “Wuthering Heights”, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” and even “Villette” (even though I found that last one difficult when I was at that age). But, through my numerous re-readings of “Jane Eyre” I have realised exactly how much I love that book and why it holds such an incredibly special place in my heart. It is because it’s full of vast and deep emotional contemplations, deep like the ocean. The best thing about this book is seeing what Jane learns as she grows up in a world where she believes people are pitted against her.
I think more pre-teens should read this book and understand that even in the Victorian Era, there were problems with growing up. There were temper tantrums and rages against people who wouldn’t let you have your way. There were problems at school and problems in love. I’m sure they could relate to something in there. People still read this book today though because it’s one of the greatest books ever written and an absolute classic of 19th century literature. Upon my own next re-read though, I would like to explore the colours in the book. There’s the red room, the paleness of the moon and many more. I want to find out what they all mean.