I’ve read this book so many times, it’s like an old friend. It’s difficult to know what to say about one of the most famous books ever written. A staple text of literature courses, the novel is often examined from a feminist or postcolonial perspective. It’s undoubtedly a classic and is part of the literary canon. Screen adaptations are popular, as are novels inspired by the story. It’s not easy to separate the original book from its cultural influence and look at it on its own, but I’ll try – without too many spoilers, if you’re yet to read the book.
The novel is a fictional autobiography of Jane Eyre, who is clever and strong-willed but neither angelic nor conventionally beautiful – certainly a disadvantage for women in the 19th century. A poor orphan, her childhood is an unhappy one, abused in her relatives’ household and then sent to a dreadful school where she is isolated from society and discouraged from being an individual. Fast-forward a few years, she becomes a governess in a gothic mansion, where she falls in love with her employer, the moody Mr Rochester. But he has a terrible secret and Jane has to choose between what her heart desires and what she knows is right.
What I enjoy most about the novel is the narrative style. Dramatic, confident and easily switching between past and present tense, it’s absolutely gripping – and there are very few novels of that era I can say that about. Jane Eyre herself is a fantastic character, likeable, witty and resourceful. Of course it’s impossible to avoid identifying her as Charlotte Brontë, with whom she shares many characteristics and experiences. It’s interesting to consider that the book was first published in 1847 under the ambiguous pseudonym Currer Bell and no one could be sure if the author was male or female. What I find amazing is that she was thirty-one when the book was published, a comparatively young age to have produced such a mature masterpiece. It’s terribly sad to realise she only lived for eight more years after this. Her last novel, Villette, is my favourite classic. Just think what more she could have achieved had she survived.
This edition is a Penguin Classic, published in 2006, edited with an introduction and excellent notes by Dr Stevie Davies.