Obviously Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is an incredible novel. People have thought it’s an incredible novel for more than a hundred and fifty years! That’s just a given. Also it’s not like I can review Bronte’s writing style or anything because I’m writing this, again, more than a hundred and fifty years from when she wrote this.
So you might be thinking, this book is super old and super long (mine was 521 pages), I am never going to read this unless a class makes me and even then I’m not going to read it. But the plot is absolutely crazy, the characters are crazy, and the whole of its being is crazy and that is my very strong endorsement! There are a few super cool things about it though that might get lost in the shuffle of it being Very Old and Very Famous.
I am obsessed with the plot. I go into extreme detail in my video summary here, but a brief summary is that it follows Jane Eyre’s life from when she was ten years old to her early twenties. She’s a ward of a wealthy family, sent to a charity boarding school, becomes a governess and then! Falls in love with Rochester, the master of the estate she serves! Sounds like a classic period piece, a lovely romance in regency England. Not so fast! There is fire and madness and paranormal and romance and horror ahead! (Again, I really go in depth in my video)
More on the romance: it’s a romance between two people who are not particularly good looking. The novel is very clear on that. Jane is always described as small and plain and Rochester is described as athletic, rich, and ugly. At the end, when Rochester’s face is all burnt up and he’s missing limbs and eyes, he says to Jane: “Am I hideous, Jane?” and she replies, “Very, sir; you always were, you know.”
Jane’s being funny here, but the truth is, they’re not even shockingly ugly which would be its own thing worth writing about. Rochester and Jane are probably both solid 6s on a good day.
Furthermore, Rochester and Jane are a match made in heaven because they are some of the most unhinged people of all time. At one point, Jane is basically like, if I am not loved in this world, I want to stand behind a horse and just let it kick kick kick me. Rochester aggressively flirts with Blanche Ingram in front of Jane, invents a fake marriage proposal, and threatens to send Jane to Ireland, all so that he can make Jane so jealous that she has to admit her feelings for him. In the midst of this scheme, he dresses up like a gypsy fortune teller and tries to get Jane to admit that she’s in love with him by telling her fortune. Meanwhile, Jane is drawing pictures of her face and Blanche’s face and just staring at the two pictures side by side and sobbing. Not to mention, she is so afraid to ask for the help of strangers that she basically lets herself starve to death in doorways in the countryside.
And speaking of doorways and, thus, liminal spaces, there is A LOT of queer energy in this novel. Mostly because Jane is attached to anyone who shows her any sort of kindness, but also because she inhabits some decidedly female spaces. The first is clearly the all girls boarding school, where she is definitely into Helen, who is definitely into with Ms. Temple. Can we prove that Helen and Jane had any sort of physical relationship? No. But it would take an equal amount of unnecessary time to prove that they didn’t. It doesn’t matter if their relationship was sexual, there is definitely homoerotic attachment between the women in the beginning, and a decent amount to Mary and Diana at the end. In the class I read this for, my professor talked about how romance in the novel is metaphysical; Jane is reduces Rochester’s physical qualities to non-physical qualities, the same way Helen’s physical descriptions are reduced to that of a ghost. A cool thing to look for when Jane describes people.
Also a fun time in this novel, if you’re not super into it right away and waiting for the crazy fire murder parts, is taking a wild stab in the dark at what the French might mean, because obviously you’re not going to it up in the endnotes.
Here’s a great (and hilarious) ranking of all the depressing food served in Jane Eyre: https://the-toast.net/2016/03/23/every-meal-in-jane-eyre-ranked-in-order-of-severity/