When a manuscript of a novel called Jane Eyre reached the publishing house of Smith, Elder & Co, it was handed to the literary reader and joint owner, William Smith Williams. He was unable to put it down and George Smith, the other publisher, stayed up all night to finish this novel by an unknown writer.
How much of this great classic is autobiographical? Which line most shocked Victorian readers?
Why has Jane Eyre continued to so delight generations of readers?
Generations of us have thrilled over Rochester’s voice calling to Jane across the miles, have shivered over the terrible laugh that seems to emanate from the third floor, have shared Jane’s horror over her aborted wedding, and rejoiced in the happy ending.
How I first encountered this book
My experience of Jane Eyre began in a school library, I picked up a very slim volume that promised an exciting story about romance and madness. I borrowed the book and took it home. “You are not reading THAT!” my mother insisted. She hated abridged books and could see from a glance that the copy I’d just borrowed was abridged almost to nothing. That evening she sat down on her bed, I lay along the end of it, and she began to read from her own copy which had not been damaged by any abridgement. I was hooked from the first minutes and have adored the novel ever since. The next day, the unread and seriously abridged version was returned to the school library.
I adore the love story, I rejoice in Jane’s strength through all adversity, I love the characters and the superb evocations of nature. Jane Eyre is a truly great classic, a novel that demands to be read at different times of one’s life – as teenager, as mature reader, in old age. It is only through many re-readings that one can come to fully appreciate this great novel.
Join me in getting to know it better, and in learning more about its author, how it came to be written and its vast influence on the world of literature.
“She especially disliked the lowering of the standard by which to judge a work of fiction, if it proceeded from a feminine pen; and praise mingled with pseudo–gallant allusions to her sex, mortified her far more than actual blame.”
― Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë
More than a love story
Jane Eyre is more than just a love story. It’s a feminist plea for equality and for understanding that all women, even those who lack beauty and money, can feel and have a right to be loved. It asks for reform in the treatment of governesses, that terribly undervalued class of women in Victorian society. It shows female vulnerability and also female strength.
All this, in memorable language, a superb evocation of atmosphere and revolutionary psychological realism. The book broke new ground by being the first novel to focus on one character’s moral and psychological development through a first-person narration. Charlotte Brontë has been described as “the first historian of the private consciousness”.
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