The story of Jane Eyre begins like a fairy tale.
A girl orphaned since birth is cast away by surviving kin and is sent to a school that is more like a prison for the obscure and unwanted. In there, she is nearly starved, always freezing, and bored to death with religious rituals, but Jane finds some comfort in the company of fellow student, the believer of endurance, the stoic, Helen. But death by consumption interrupts their friendship and soon Jane finds herself alone again, though living in better conditions than when she first arrived. She grows up and becomes educated enough to teach at sixteen. When her beloved teacher leaves the school to marry, she sets out to find a new situation as a governess. She leaves Lowood at eighteen.
At Thornfield where she finds employment, she meets Mr. Rochester, a gentleman and master of the estate.
He is the typical Byronic hero—sophisticated, playful, but brooding and dark at times. They fall in love, are almost married, and get separated by Jane’s own decision, by her need for self-respect. With few possessions, she runs away and suffers the consequences of anonymity in a new place until she reaches the home of the Rivers family, who helps in her pursuit of independence.
Jane Eyre is unlike any other heroine I’ve read.
With no wealth or connections, she is forced to apply herself to achieve a certain level of freedom. She knows her place in society. She embraces it. And that in itself is admirable, making this classic novel one of my favorites.
I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.
Love for love’s sake is nothing to Jane, especially if it places her at a disadvantage. Her faith in her talents and in the future allows her to escape from a potentially disastrous union. She exerts her own power and influence from sheer knowledge of self.
Charlotte Bronte’s writing is beautiful in that usual Victorian way where you read more words than you know their meaning and where the description of a place is compelling enough to take you there. And for that, aside from the strength of Jane’s character, this book definitely deserves to be read again.