Main image
4th October
2009
written by Steph
As you can see, this wasn't actually called "Part the First", but it's more fun to call it that!

As you can see, this wasn't actually called "Part the First", but it's more fun to call it that!

Normally I don’t review or record my feelings about a book until I’ve done gone and finished the whole thing, although of course there are exceptions, such as with the 2666 read-along!  As Jane Eyre is likewise a rather epic novel, and also conveniently broken into parts (or volumes, as I believe they are actually called), I figured it might be nice to switch things up and post my interim reflections as I finish each part.  Also, this will mean you won’t have to wait three weeks (or however long it will take me to finish this sucker!) in radio silence.  Really, it’s win-win, I think!

So, Jane Eyre is a book that I was pretty sure I had read when I was maybe 11 or 12 in Grade 7 or 8.  It’s certainly one of those books about which I know the general plot, so it’s very hard for me to say whether in fact I have really read this book.  On the one hand, I kind of know what happens in it in terms of the big moments and the various twists, but on the other hand, as I embarked upon Part 1, nothing about it seemed very familiar at all!  I was surprised to find that the novel started with young Jane, as in my mind I thought the book only involved her trials and tribulations as a governess (when in fact it appears to be a fictional autobiography of sorts).  Moreover, I was even more startled to find that young Jane was so feisty and spirited!  For whatever reason, I had always thought Jane was puritanical and reserved, not the resilient young tornado who makes up the first half of this first volume.  I found myself actually quite enamored by the young Jane, and while I don’t always see that same fierce spark in the older Jane, I do think she is quite a wonderful leading lady.  I certainly am enjoying the feminist undertones that are emerging, though they do still feel quite nascent at this point in the novel. One thing I am currently uncertain about is how I feel about Mr. Rochester.  He seems so brutish and well, douchey, especially as Jane emphasizes early on how he is haughty and condescending to her (and then largely skips over how respect and mutual understanding eventually develops between them and she comes to find him a real companion).  Why is it that similar behavior in Austen’s Mr. Darcy is so alluring, but here I want to throttle Rochester (and not in a sexy way)?  Maybe because Darcy comes across as aloof and perhaps a tad snobbish, whereas Rochester can actually seem overtly gruff and mean?  Well, whatever the case may be, Rochester may have won over Jane thus far, but so far I have yet to be swayed to his side! So far I am really enjoying my time with Jane Eyre.  The language feels much older and arcane than an Austen novel, yet it is still very accessible, and I readily find myself swept up in the story.  I think another unexpected surprise regarding the book is how immersive the story really is, and how fun it is to read and see how things develop. I love how Bronte is gradually ratcheting up the tension, setting the atmosphere of this large looming house out in the middle of nowhere where things do go bump in the night (or worse, catch on fire!)… I know how it all turns out, yet I think she’s doing a great job with the misdirection and imbuing the reader with a sense of unease and discomfort.  The novel has orphans, romance, feminism, religion, and is also spooky… what more could a reader, regardless of decade, want? So often I think we spend times parsing and dissecting novels (especially those of the “Classic” variety) that we forget that there is no shame in a story being a rip-roaring good read.  Or at the very least, that a truly great book can have a seemingly alchemical combination of engaging plot, sublime writing, and provocative ideas.  I am not convinced at this point that I think the writing is transcendental, though it is certainly not poor!  I am finding that (perhaps due to the writing being somewhat foreign due to its prose style and structure) this is a book that genuinely requires time and care to read.  But rather than being frustrated by this, I am luxuriating in the process of giving myself up to the book and reading slowly and carefully.  I am not simply reading for the sake of finishing the book, but really feel like something quite wonderful is gradually unfolding and revealing itself to me.  So far I definitely feel like Jane Eyre is one of those exemplar classics that prove that reading these older books need not be agony or punishment, but can in fact be fun!  I certainly am eagerly looking forward to part two!

26 Comments

  1. 10/04/2009

    Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorites, and you’re spot-on about Jane being a spit-fire, especially in the early chapters. I’d argue that she never quite loses that fire; she just faces a few crises of confidence along the way that keep her from speaking out as quickly as she might. In a lot of ways, I can relate to Jane, which makes me love this book with a depth that goes beyond enjoying the thrills and mystery. For me, it absolutely has that alchemical mix of plot, writing, and ideas. It touches the heart and the mind.

  2. 10/04/2009

    I think he is haughty and condescending only as a defense mechanism, to deny not only to Jane but to himself that he is drawn to her.

  3. Laura
    10/05/2009

    I loooooove this book!

  4. 10/05/2009

    @ Teresa: I think given how spirited young Jane was, I was expecting her to continue to be similarly forthright and blunt when she ages. Of course, such an expectation might be unrealistic because it was the 19th century and there were limits on how outspoken a woman could be, and I do see that Jane skirts those boundaries now and again. She may not talk back as much as Lizzie Bennett, but we do get a lot more introspection, which perhaps counters that anyway.

    And when I said the writing was not necessarily transcendental, I mean that so far in my reading, I haven’t really felt moved to re-read certain passages or to clutch my heart at their beauty (which seems a horrible affectation, but is something I have done in the past!). That being said, I have read some rather lovely passages, and I am enjoying Charlotte’s writing, so it’s certainly nothing to scoff at!
     
    @ rhapsody: You’re right that Rochester has his reasons for not openly charming and courting Jane… I guess I am just waiting to see if he does eventually melt and give one of those “In vain I have suffered, it will not do!” speeches! 😉
     
    @ Laura: I didn’t know you were such a fan! I am really enjoying it… so much so that I may go ahead and lug it out of town with me, even though it is bulky and not travel-friendly.

  5. 10/06/2009

    “I think another unexpected surprise regarding the book is how immersive the story really is, and how fun it is to read and see how things develop.”

    This surprised me too when I read it for the first time last year. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect it to be so riveting, but I didn’t. Also, I have a few friends who feel the same way as you about Mr. Rochester. The reason why I didn’t mind him was because in the end I didn’t feel that there was a power imbalance between him and Jane – she was quite capable of being as sarcastic and unpleasant as he was! Ah, I love her.

    That illustration you included is fantastic, by the way! Is the art by Dame Darcy? I’ve been eyeing that edition for a while.

  6. 10/06/2009

    I’ve read Jane Eyre a few times, although it’s been maybe three years since my last read. You make me curious to read it again one of these days and see what I think of Rochester. Have you read Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea? There’s a book that will have you hating Rochester.

  7. 10/06/2009

    @ Nymeth: I may very well change my opinion on Rochester, since I’d imagine that if I didn’t have P&P practically memorized and had only read a few chapters past the first meeting of Lizzie & Darcy I would not be such a fan either! I’m now on chapter 4 in volume 2, and it’s still so much fun! The fortune telling gypsy has just arrived!
    And yes, this is the Dame Darcy illustrated edition. Some of the illustrations I quite like, but other ones I find a tad ugly… but overall I am enjoying the images peppered throughout!
     
    @ verbivore: I haven’t read Wide Sargasso Sea as I was aware that it was a riff on Jane Eyre (following Bertha Rochester, no?) and well, the more I read the more inclined I am to say that I’ve never actually read this! But perhaps when I’ve finished I will try WSS!

  8. 10/06/2009

    It’s about time I re-read this one. I’m very curious about what I would think ten years after my first read (OMG, has it really been that long…??). I also am super intrigued by that illustration. Kudos to Dame Darcy – I’ll have to look for that edition.

  9. 10/06/2009

    I loved Jane Eyre on my reread. Unlike you, I only really remembered the part when she was young, in the hospital with her friend. But I loved Rochester so much on my reread. He’s just a flawed man, and I guess I can forgive him for that this time around!

    Pride and Prejudice was written about 30 years before Jane Eyre, so it’s interesting you feel it’s older.

  10. 10/06/2009

    This is another classic that I haven’t yet read. I haven’t really been a serious reader for a long time, and for a lot of my reading life I wasted time on some pretty crappy stuff. I do have a copy on my shelf, and I think that I am going to make it my next classic read, after I get through The Red and the Black. Your review did pique my interest, because although I haven’t read the book, I have read a lot about the plot of the book and it’s characters (especially in the Jasper FForde series)and didn’t really know there was a substantial section given over to Jane’s childhood. I also never considered that Darcy and Rochester (what I know of him) are similar types of characters, though thinking about it now, it does seem that way. Great review, I will be looking forward to part 2.

  11. 10/06/2009

    @ Sarah: I’ll feature more illustrations in my next post! As I said, some I like a good deal, but others are not really my taste… but they do certainly add to the reading experience!
     
    @ Rebecca: I suspect I only remember the stuff that happens later because I am now fairly certain I never actually read this book. I think much of what I know I’ve absorbed through things like Jasper Fforde, and perhaps my Grade 12 English class when I know some girls presented this book to the rest of the class. Things that tend to stand out in these synopses are the latter parts of the book, I think.
    And I’m really surprised this came after P&P! For some reason I thought the Brontes were largely before Austen, and I do find the writing here far more antiquated than any of Austen’s works.
     
    @ zibilee: I’m not sure why I suddenly decided now was the time to read this book (or re-read it, as I initially thought I was doing), but I’m so glad I did. I probably could have skated by on the weak working knowledge I’ve gleaned from authors like Fforde, but the book is so fun that I think it really deserves to be read in its own right. I hope you enjoy it! (And I won’t be surprised if upon finishing, I find myself gripped with the urge to re-read The Eyre Affair! 😉 ).

  12. 10/07/2009

    Love the illustration on your book. I do agree with Nymeth about the power balance between Mr Rochester and Jane. They’re perfectly fitted for each other.

    Like you, I also get the feeling that this is an older book than P&P. Regardless of the fact that they’re written later, the atmosphere of the Bronte books give them a much raw, less uncivilized, therefore more primitive sense about them, as compared to Austen’s societal ones.

  13. I felt same way when I read this book a couple years ago — I felt like I knew the story, but was then totally surprised by the opening. I love Jane as a narrator very much, but have never been a major fan of Rochester. Even though I agree with Nymeth, Rochester and Jane can handle each other, it’s still odd for me. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your impressions of the book as you go along.

  14. 10/08/2009

    @ claire: I think you make an interesting point about how maybe the Bronte novels feel older because they seem less restrained and more wild and primitive. I am certainly finding JE to be deliciously gothic! But the verdict is still out on whether I will like Rochester. Sometimes he is a bit swoonworthy, I must admit, but then almost immediately after said moment, he seems to say or do something creepy!

     

    @ Kim: I feel like even though Jane can handle Rochester, I feel like she is too good for him! And his behavior is frequently really shady (like already being married yet wooing Jane), and not what I would call romantic.

  15. 10/09/2009

    I only read the book last year. Being a religious novel, it concerns with the meaning of religion to man and its relevance to his behavior. During adolescence she discovers that she can comprehend religion only when religion has some relation to man, but everywhere she observes the opposite error, of man attempting to make religion to his own convenience. I enjoyed it because it’s a big slap of the face to religion, or at least the self-righteous religious people.

  16. 10/09/2009

    Do you know Kate Beaton?

    http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=202

    Dude watching with the Brontes!

    But seriously — I don’t agree with Matt that it’s a slap in the face to religion. Jane is very religious. It’s an indictment of hypocrites, for sure, but that’s different. Oh, how I love this book! So powerful! So gripping! I can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts!

  17. Kay
    10/09/2009

    I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was about… 12? 13? It was in French translation and I spent a whole day reading it! It left very vivid and passionate images in my mind, and reading your views on it make me want to read it again – this time in English though!
    Sadly, the memories are too vague for me to discuss whether or not I liked the characters. Well, I did at the time, but I feel that reading it today, now that I’m, eh, twice older, my view would surely be different!

  18. 10/10/2009

    @ Matt: I’ve read a few things suggesting the book is an indictment of the overly zealous, but so far in my reading, I certainly haven’t picked up on any anti-religious tones. This isn’t to say that they’re not there, just that on this reading that hasn’t been popping out at me. Much of Jane’s behavior is directed by a strict adherence to moral and religious principles, though Rochester is less inclined that way (though I wouldn’t say I feel he tries to bend religion to his whim either).
     
    @ Jenny: Ha! That comic was AMAZING, and I had never seen it before, so thank you! It certainly makes me think that Anne might very well wind up being my favorite of the Brontes (I’ve not read anything by her, but clearly I need to rectify this!).

    And I’m with you that I haven’t perceived the book as being anti-religious thus far. But it is incredibly gripping!
     

    @ Kay: Some of the language is a bit archaic at times, which might make this book a bit challenging for a non-native English speaker, BUT given that you’ve read it before in French AND your grasp of English is clearly very good, I think you could handle it. I think it is a book that could probably be read every decade or so, but with different elements popping out and being appreciated each time.

  19. 10/11/2009

    Like many others this is one of my favourite books. I have read it a couple of times but not for a while now – your thoughts make me want to pick it up straight away!

  20. 10/11/2009

    Steph! Darcy v. Rochester?? Pfft. Darcy is a prat in tights, whereas Rochester is real man! Hahahah; he was my childhood hero! As for Wide Sargasso Sea, I’ve not attempted it myself, but I’ve always found books based on other writers’ fictional characters a bit iffy. Like all those dreadful ‘Pride and Prejudice’ sequels. *Shudder shudder*

    It’s really unfortunate that JE itself has lost all its magic (for me, anyway). I can still know the opening lines by heart, because I read it so many times when I was younger:

    “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering in the leafless shrubbery for an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) …..”

    Then again, these days I even find Harry Potter difficult to read, because I know exactly what comes next.

  21. 10/11/2009

    I love Jane Eyre and reading this review really makes me want to pick it up again! I love what a spit-fire she is as a young girl. I’m quite a fan of Rochester, too, but I’m not sure if it’s because I know what happens later in the novel. Happy reading!

  22. 10/11/2009

    @ Karen: It’s been so nice to hear from others that this book is enjoyed by so many, and that my reading of it might be inspiring many re-reads as well! It’s a great book!
     
    @ Tuesday: Oh, I don’t think Darcy is a prat at all! I hate to do this to you, but I *may* see some parallels between Rochester and Edward Cullen from Twilight. Shudder! I know!

    Why has JE lost all of it’s magic for you? Just because you know what will happen next? While I certainly like my reads to be as “unspoiled” as possible (there’s nothing quite like the first time you “discover” a book is there?) I find that with the really good stories, I get swept away every time, Harry Potter included!

     
    @ Chavonne: I hope something really great happens later in the novel, because so far I am not so in love with Rochester… but I hold out hope he will redeem himself!

  23. 10/11/2009

    Whaaaaat?!?! No freaking way. Don’t do this to me, Steph! There are no parallels, not even appearance because Rochester’s actually an ugly kind of guy!

    Hmm, it’s just that the first time I read JE was so, so magical, but when I tried to re-read it last year – for the first time in ages – I found myself setting it aside for other books. Which is a bad sign. I think my memories of reading JE are more magical than the book itself, because I can’t seem to recapture the .. well, magic ..(for lack of a better word) that was there the first time round.
    I’m not really making any sense, am I? Oh well 🙁

  24. 10/11/2009

    p.s. if you weren’t impressed by earlier-scenes Rochester, you will probably not find that he redeems himself. He gets worse, if anything.

  25. 10/12/2009

    @ Tuesday: I understand about the reading a book during the exact perfect time and then never being able to recapture that magic. I kind of worry that that will happen to me with Catcher in the Rye, which is why I keep putting off re-reading it (it’s been about 10 years since my last read-through!).

    I do hope Rochester will improve in my eyes… I’ve just mean St John, and he is also fairly loathsome so there is still hope!

    And yes, you’re right, no parallels between Rochester & Edward at all… after all, Rochester isn’t a vampire! 😉

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