My Thoughts on the Novel
I've collected my thoughts on the novel onto this page. This was originally posted in parts on my blog for a readalong of Jane Eyre in 2013.
Chapter I - XI
Re-reading these first chapters I am struck by the fact that Charlotte Bronte started our introduction to Jane when Jane finally rebels against her bullying cousin John and the irrational hatred of Mrs. Reed. It's a powerful representation of Jane's character because although she becomes outwardly subdued and her passionate nature is restrained for much of the book later, it's important to know that this is who Jane is, no matter the cultural conventions. As a child she's not cute and cuddly and as an adult the "rugged points" in her character must be accepted by the people she allows to get close to her.
The other aspect I find so interesting is how quick Jane is to point out hypocrisy. I think I read somewhere that children excel at recognizing hypocrisy and what is and isn't fair and while it's pretty serious how unfair it is that Mrs. Reed shows such disdain for Jane and gives preferential treatment to her children, and how Mr. Brocklehurst is so intent on making the Lowood girls humble and plain yet his family lives in ostentatious luxury, Jane can put her statements about these circumstances in such a way that shows a very ironic and sly wit that I really enjoy. For instance:
"Abbot, I think, gave me credit for being a sort of infantine Guy Fawkes."
"Breakfast was over, and none had breakfasted. Thanks being returned for what we had not got..."
"Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs."
It was great to read Jane grow into an adult - with her childhood memories sometimes tempered by the adult Jane who is telling the story so we can get that bit of humor and a little bit of perspective - like why she felt she was an outcast at Gateshead. Of course now that we are at Thornfield, there's so much stuff to look forward to reading about!
Oh Jane. I find your restlessness so endearing! When I was a teen, I would re-read those passages where Jane wishes to see more of life and "more vivid kinds of goodness" and really empathize with how she was feeling. I think this is one of Jane's great monologues in this book, and I always find it funny how such deeply heartfelt thoughts are suddenly followed by Grace Poole and the strange laugh. It's like those momentous thoughts of hers should be it's own chapter!
Now Mr. Rochester! I just love him so. He acts so unconventionally with Jane from the beginning - and his sense of humor is so skewed! Cause it's kinda mean how he didn't introduce himself to Jane in Hay Lane. But Jane wasn't even upset, so you know it's true love! :D I love how Jane can barely follow and almost certainly doesn't understand some of the things he talks about in their second conversation and yet she holds her own and comes up with great answers! The back and forth banter in those scenes between Jane and Rochester just remind me how much I love Charlotte's writing because it's intelligent with that touch of humor. And re-reading it I am again reminded how much I associate Michael Jayston's voice and acting with Rochester now because I just hear and see him in this role completely! (I'm referring to the 1973 miniseries adaptation - my favorite!) Mr. Rochester is so talkative too, Charlotte makes it clear through Mr. Rochester's words that he is falling in love with Jane, even if Jane is not so sure.
There's really all kinds of moments in this section where I'm just gleeful every time there is an indication of Mr. Rochester's interest in Jane. My favorite is the tantalizing "Good-night my--" Ahh, what was he going to say?? And then the whole scene after the fire in his bedroom is full of indications as well as the Gypsy scene, the scene in the garden after Mason's attack and Jane asking for leave. These are all some of my absolute favorite parts of the book because this is the kind of romance I adore - the subtly indicated and gradual evolution of love. It's just so beautifully done!
The too short amount of time we get to see of Jane and Rochester's courtship is one of the highlights of this book for me. So sweet and romantic on Mr. Rochester's part and so sassy and teasing on Jane's; I feel like this is a heightened idea of how Mr. Rochester and Jane's conversations went towards the end of the three months they were getting to know each other in the beginning of the story. Where Jane was just beginning to realize her power of "vexing and soothing him by turns." Their banter in these couple chapters just makes me smile!
But my favorite chapter in this book is chapter 27 - the one where Mr. Rochester talks to Jane after the interrupted wedding. The scene where Mr. Rochester's secret is revealed is incredibly devastating, but in this chapter the emotional damage to this reader just gets worse. It starts with the fact that Jane believes Mr. Rochester didn't really love her, to her realizing that he did and still does, but that doesn't change the fact that she must leave him. And Mr. Rochester is deluding himself with a hope that he can keep Jane with him by promising to treat her as his only wife. It's so tempting and Jane does love him, but she just can't compromise her integrity and her moral beliefs and it's an exquisitely painful dilemma. And even though Mr. Rochester has committed such a betrayal, I love that Jane forgives him almost instantly when she sees how remorseful he is and how much he still loves her. It's such a big thing to forgive him for, but I completely understand it because Mr. Rochester is a flawed character and he tried this because he was desperate to secure Jane. This is the time that Mr. Rochester is totally truthful as well (it is his only recourse now) and when he has no more secrets and no more games to play but is earnestly pleading, it's so darn moving! And romantic! So much of both Jane and Rochester is revealed in this chapter and I think that's why I find it so powerful.
Jane's three days wandering is a part of the book that I didn't used to appreciate as much - it really is distressing to read how Jane suffered and was almost ready to give up. But she clung to her dignity and to her moral convictions. As if it wasn't enough that she had to turn her back on the love of her life, she also had to suffer starvation and mortification! But again everything just reinforces Jane's strength of character and makes her a fabulous heroine to look up to.
This section has all the extreme ups and downs of the entire book! Though I don't really think of it, it is pretty odd that Charlotte Bronte plotted this story to have such a climax in the middle, but I feel the last section of the book is a genius addition that really completes Jane's journey.
St. John Rivers - the anti-Rochester. Re-reading this part of the book again, I focused on all the things that made St. John the complete opposite of Rochester. And there's a lot. St. John is blonde and fair to Rochester's black hair and dark features, tall and statuesque to middle height and square-ish, a minister and philanthropic and you know Mr. Rochester isn't that concerned with religion and early on Jane points out that Rochester's brow is deficient where it should indicate benevolence. St. John likes to read at mealtimes and study, while Mr. Rochester can't stop talking to Jane, St. John is completely honest with Jane and Rochester is considerably less so. Both however are intelligent, and both study Jane's character well and find something in her to attract them but Mr. Rochester sees Jane as his equal and really better than him, and St. John sees Jane as the diligent workhorse he's always wanted.
That's where I really have a problem with St. John. Sure he's striving for good things, and wants to use his skills and intellect to make a difference and fulfill a duty to God, but with his dismissal of the individual needs of a person and then of a woman, it's hard to feel very sympathetic with him. He continually puts reason above feeling and in doing so cannot understand the complete beauty of humanity. Of course for Jane, meeting him at this point in her life when passion has not resulted in happiness, it is great for Jane to see the other side. In this section Jane matures even more - she knows that she needs to be loved for herself and not what she can do. And she gets the family and financial independence to live free and contented on her own. So she can return to Mr. Rochester as his true equal - she doesn't have to worry about depending too much on Rochester's wealth and connections because she has some of her own.
But I think the transformation Mr. Rochester undergoes is the greater. He's so broken when Jane comes back - humbled and accepting of his fate - and what breaks my heart is that while Jane was strong enough to soldier on without him, Mr. Rochester was not. It's too romantic that Rochester needs Jane that much. And he's not just humbled by the experience, but also accepts God and his past. Passion balanced with reason. Just like Jane. Now they can have their happily ever after. I've long thought Jane Eyre a study in that balance of passion and reason - Jane was too passionate at Gateshead but tempered at Lowood by Helen's reason, then Jane is pushed towards an excess of passion at Thornfield and an excess of reason at Moor House, to finally find the middle ground with Mr. Rochester at Ferndean.
This book is just so extraordinary to me. It has so much depth and has resonated with me so strongly ever since I was a teen. I wonder what I would have thought of it if I had read it when I was older, but I'm so glad I had the chance to grow with this story because I've found so many different things to appreciate about it at different times in my life.