This is also on Bookbed! See it here: https://bookbed.org/2022/07/26/bookbed-recommends-jane-eyre-by-charlotte-bronte/
I’ve always dreamed of reading Jane Eyre. It sounds exactly like the sort of story I would enjoy — a coming-of-age tale of a girl with a tragic origin story who manages to find her way in life. It’s one of those classics that we always hear about but never actually read. And since I have Big Book Fear, Jane Eyre has been living peacefully on my bookshelf for close to ten years, just waiting for me to open it.
I promised myself that this would be the year that I would read Jane Eyre, and I finally did it! I finished the book a while back, but I allowed my thoughts to settle before writing them down.
I’m sure there are book summaries and interpretations everywhere (this is my favorite one from Crash Course! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8tqY8fX0Ec). For this review, I’ll share my thoughts by listing down the quotes that stayed with me. Jane Eyre is a beautifully written book, with paragraphs that seem almost lyrical and melodic. Not only do the words entrance the reader to keep reading, but it also leaves the reader much to think about. The story is thought-provoking in both plot and prose. At times it reads like a telenovela, with tragedies and surprise relatives and family fortunes to boot. It’s hard to place Jane Eyre into a specific genre. It can be read as a coming-of-age story (or a Bildungsroman), a romance novel, or a Gothic mystery. It’s a mix of many complex ideas, and Charlotte Brönte weaves them together remarkably.
The quotes I listed below aren’t necessarily the most quotable of the book (but some of them are!), but these are the ones that provoked my thoughts the most. They are both music to the ear and fuel to the mind. This is by no means a comprehensive review and it will not attempt to be one, but I hope it highlights the value and magic of literature—how stories like this resonate across time, and how written words continue to spark conversation and engage its readers.
If you’ve never read the book and are planning to read without spoilers, this is where you exit.
“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.” – Jane Eyre
I love how we follow Jane from her childhood to womanhood, allowing us to reside in her thoughts and experience life with her. It’s evident that Jane’s thoughts were unlike those of her contemporaries. She believed there was a world beyond her station in life. She dreamed big dreams for herself and knew she was worth more than circumstances allowed her to be. Her story, when you think about it, is her literal journey from one house to another — from Gateshead to Lowood to Thornfield Hall to the Moor House to finding her way back to Mr. Rochester (more on that later). She is persistently in search of a home and in search of herself. Throughout the novel, despite the limitations of society and money, Jane forged her own path. I love this quote because it’s a testament to how courageous she was to dream, courageous enough to set her dreams to motion. I always thought Jane felt imprisoned by circumstance, always limited by her family, her sex, her poverty, and her masters. She was desperate to break free; to choose what to do, where to live, and whom to love on her own terms.
“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” – Jane Eyre to Mr. Rochester
This has got to be one of the most badass sentences in all of literature. What I love about Jane Eyre is how freely she speaks her mind. Even as a child, she was always so feisty and outspoken, which oftentimes got her into trouble. She spoke against authority at a time when it was preposterous for a woman to do so. She called out the wrong even when others saw no wrong at all. Jane, despite her humble beginnings, refuses to allow the world to step all over her.
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” – Jane Eyre
I love how Jane makes a case for women in these thoughts, at a time when norms hindered what a woman could think or do. She believed that women deserved the right to command their own destiny, and allowed the same opportunities that men were offered. Jane was the type who believed in her own agency and wouldn’t let her sex get in the way of that. There are a number of pertinent female figures in the novel, and we get to see how individually strong their characters are. From Bessie, to Miss Temple, to Helen Burns, to Alice Fairfax, to the Rivers sisters, Jane has had a lot of female figures to draw support and wisdom from. Not all were as feisty and outspoken as Jane, but they were strong female characters nonetheless. It also shows how prominent female figures continue to be, always keeping the world turning, influencing one person at a time, whatever their station in life.
This would not be a Jane Eyre review if we didn’t talk about another prominent female: Bertha. As much as the book does an excellent job at narrating Jane’s journey to her own personal freedom, it also features Bertha, a woman literally imprisoned away in an attic. Firstly, we’re not even exactly certain of what happened to her, as we hear it all from Mr. Rochester’s account. But for whatever faults she may have done, she did not deserve to be shut up in an attic, hidden and treated like an animal. Apparently, isolating the mentally ill was a norm in those times, which only furthered their downward spiral. Both women felt imprisoned, but they were treated so differently. An interesting analysis is how Bertha is imagined as Jane’s double, and that perhaps Jane sees more of herself in Bertha than is apparent.
“Am I hideous, Jane?”
“Very, sir: you always were, you know.”
—Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre
This quote is simultaneously wise and funny to me. While it’s an attempt at humor, it’s also a testament that Jane has always seen Rochester for what he was. Edward Rochester is by no means a prince charming. More than not being remarkably handsome, Mr. Rochester was an unbelievably toxic love interest. He lied to Jane, manipulated her feelings, and made excuses for all the wrongs he had done — a classic gaslighter. He declares love and loyalty in the same breath that he claims to be a victim of circumstance. He is a Byronic hero through and through. As a love prospect, he has all the red flags a girl should run away from. I wanted to scream at Jane so many times, urging her to leave him as quickly as possible. I mean, he played tricks on Jane? He lied about being married? He locked up his wife? Let me say that again—he locked up his wife?! Uhm, Jane?!
But it’s interesting, how falling for a man like Rochester is something many of us can relate to. We or someone we know have fallen for these very same traps. As a friend of mine once said, red flags are harder to see when you wear rose-colored glasses. As much as the Byronic hero is toxic, heroines like Jane fall for them. We become drawn to his sordid past and the possibility of ‘fixing’ him. It’s an unhealthy way to fall in love, both for Jane and Rochester. What’s remarkable is that Jane could have stayed with Rochester when he proposed (and she really, really wanted to), but she decided against it. This is probably Jane’s most critical moment,, when she refused to accept Rochester’s terms and chose to leave. That was when, despite all the love she felt for him and all the best interests the relationship would bring her, she decided she could not settle for a love like this.
“Reader, I married him.” – Jane Eyre
I had to include this because it’s probably the most famous quote from the novel. At the same time, some would argue that this is Jane’s defeat, because she returned to the toxic relationship she ran away from. She had grown so much and literally had gotten so far, so much so that she didn’t need a man like Rochester anymore, especially not in the state he was in. This is also not to somehow give hope to those who fall in love with the toxic hero, that somehow all will be well in the end and we can have a plot twist like Jane. That’s not exactly how the world works.
But whether or not we agree with her choice of a relationship, what’s important to highlight here is that marrying him was Jane’s choice. There is nothing wrong with choosing a life of domesticity, as long as it’s something we choose on our own terms. She chose Rochester at a time when she was not pressured by poverty, obligated by duty, or blinded by charm. Rochester had lost so much, and Jane really had no need of him anymore. Choosing Rochester was a choice she could finally make on her own.
Jane Eyre is by no means a perfect book, just as much as Jane is by no means an ideal protagonist. She was a badass heroine for sure, the kind that you root for to succeed to the end. She is not without her flaws, not without decisions we don’t agree with. But the best protagonists are never the perfect ones. The ones we love are the ones that we follow for years and years and pages and pages, watching them grow, fall in love, despair, and triumph in the end. Jane is a character we can relate to, despite and maybe even because of her tragedies and inadequacies. Charlotte Brönte has given us a heroine that survives centuries and timelines, and more importantly, one that encourages us to dream big dreams, find our own place, and stand up for ourselves, wherever this dreary life may take us.