After the tome of Tolkein, Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte) was practically light reading. It does always take a few pages to get into the Victorian style of writing. Then I start to feel quite civilized as I read.
Jane Eyre is a poor orphan who is raised by her aunt (who would rather have her fingernails pulled out than be kind to Jane). Her cousins are little better. The best thing to happen to her is getting sent off to boarding school. The boarding school is not much of an improvement that first year until a typhus epidemic shakes up the school’s directorship, and then the next eight years go quite swimmingly.
At 18 Jane is ready to go out into the world and puts out an ad to be a governess. The kid is cute and the place is nice. But when she meets the master of the house, Mr. Rochester (not actually related to the kid: long story), it’s love. Not love at first sight. She’s plain and he’s kind of ugly (I still couldn’t help picturing Colin Firth in the role). They get engaged, are at the altar, and it comes out that Mr. Rochester is in fact already married to a mad woman in his attic. Drama ensues. Mr. Rochester wants to basically elope, Jane can’t because “It isn’t right! No matter the circumstances” (I paraphrase), and Jane ends up leaving in the night.
Near starvation ensues because she took no money with her. She finds some nice friends who give her a job and then turn out to be her other cousins. She also inherits a bunch of money from an uncle she’d never met. She should be set, except she pines for Mr. Rochester. One of her cousins (this is a first cousin, mind you), St. John (no, I don’t know why his name is St. John and not just John), is a clergyman bent on being a missionary in India. He is all about denying Earthly pleasures to obtain a seat at the foot of God in the afterlife. He decides Jane is just the sort of person who would make a good missionary’s wife. Jane disagrees. Just as it looks like St. John might talk her into it, Jane has a vision and decides she has to find out what happened to Mr. Rochester in the year they’ve been separated.
The house is burned. All inhabitants have fled. Turns out crazy wife burned the place down and then jumped to her death from the roof. Mr. Rochester lost a hand and an eye getting everyone out, and then the other eye went bad. He’s sad, blind, and maimed in a little cabin in the woods. Jane goes to him immediately, and they all live happily ever after.
Phew! Sorry for all the asides; I just couldn’t help myself. That’s rather a longer synopsis than all three books of The Lord of the Rings, but relationship drama needs more details.
- First of all, check out this cover! I know that Jane is meant to be plain, and Mr. Rochester is supposed to be almost ugly, but this cover makes them look terrible! I’m mean, woof! It just seems mean.
- I often like to imagine movie adaptations of Victorian novels. How could it be brought into present day? Most of them work quite well. This storyline would not work. Mr. Rochester would have divorced the crazy lady and even if he didn’t, Jane probably wouldn’t have minded living with him.
- While the main action of the novel takes place over probably two years, it’s still the shortest romance I’ve read in a Victorian novel. It usually takes at least three years for the couple to get together. My own romance notwithstanding (we were together seven years before he proposed), it must have been so boring to wait so long to basically get to go on a date.
- I never realized how dark it must have been back then. In movies the drawing rooms are always well lit, but this novel really gave you a sense of how much fire and candle was required to do what one flick of a switch does now. Thank you, Thomas Edison.
Overall, a very enjoyable read. Anybody who is a Jane Austen fan will like this one. I came into it a bit nervous, remember Wuthering Heights with not a lot of fondness. Unlike Emily, Charlotte kept it light, and I do like a happy ending.
Up next: To Kill a Mockingbird