I recently had the pleasure of reading Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, one of the great novels of Victorian literature. Her prose is concise by 19th century standards, especially compared to Charles Dickens, a writer I greatly enjoy. By the way, I’m a fan of long Dickensian sentences and the shorter Hemingway style. Both are enjoyable and I don’t prefer one over the other. I was already a fan of the 19th century English and American novel so I knew I was going to enjoy this one. Victorian England (1837-1901) is often portrayed as a cold, heartless place in literature. Images of workhouses, debtors prisons, gruel, and stiff collars spring to mind when I think of the era. These images are so commonplace in works like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Jane Eyre, an orphan, is in a similar predicament to the orphan Oliver Twist. What is it like to live in a world alone with few people who care about you? This is the situation young Jane is in for much of her early life as she lives with her cruel aunt and her spoiled children at Gateshead Hall. She is later sent to Lowood School, a place not much better than her aunt’s home but a decided improvement nonetheless. Her she comes in contact with a couple of kind women who leave a lasting impression on her, particularly one Helen Burns, a kind saintly girl who looks not to the things of this world but instead stores treasure in heaven. This character reminded me a lot of the character Dinah Morris in George Eliot’s Adam Bede.
Eventually, Jane ends up at Thornfield Hall as a governess under the employ of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. The bulk of the plot happens here where Jane discovers the secrets of the house and the strange happenings. Many elements of the gothic novel come into play here such as ghostly appearances, strange noises in the night, secret passages and rooms, and of course the mad woman locked away in the attic. What of the St. John character? Sheesh, how long must poor Jane endure this sanctimonious person? She sure exhibited tremendous patience in her interactions with him and thankfully was ultimately not yoked to him.
I won’t give away how the novel ends even though the plot is well known and you can find out through a search in about two seconds. I like 19th century novels. If you do too than you will probably enjoy Jane Eyre.