Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

Review of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I read a lot of books growing up. Classics like To Kill A Mocking Bird, David Copperfield, and Ethan Frome. I read poetry and Shakespeare and angsty YA stuff like Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. But my reading journey of days gone by did not include Charlotte Brontë or Jane Austen. Not sure why. I guess my strict private school deemed them unnecessary for my literary education. Never realizing that I would grow up to become a romance writer and reviewer, and that Jane Eyre was probably one of the most important books I could ever read.

Well, my dear friends, I have rectified this horrible literary oversight.

Big thanks to Sherri Erwin--author of Jane Slayre, a literary mash-up of Jane Eyre and zombies and other fun stuff. After attending her workshop at the NEC conference, I decided I wanted to read her book. And before I tackled it, I needed to read the original text.

The Big Kahuna Of Romantic Fiction.

The Precursor To Romance Novels Everywhere.

With The Greatest Strong-Willed, Determined, Impassioned Heroine Ever Created...

And The Most Long-Winded, Brooding, Melodramatic Hero Ever To Grace The Pages Of A Novel.

As I read Jane Eyre for the first time, it finally dawned on me where the "formula" for romance novels originated. With Charlotte Brontë. All of my super favorite themes in romance can be found in this luscious tale.....a horribly disfigured hero healed by the power of love. A downtrodden heroine forced to forge her own destiny by her wits and inner faith. Crazy, melodramatic twists and turns in the plot. Overwrought dialogue, evil villains, pages and pages of lush description.

This is the precursor to modern soap operas, modern romance. And the truly astounding and amazing thing is that it was published in 1847. The timelessness of this tale, the universal message....about the conquering power of love and romance....sent chills up and down my spine as I finished this wonderful book.

While the message may be timeless, the "voice" is certainly not modern. There are endless pages of introspection, descriptive narrative, melodramatic dialogue, etc. This is not a fast-paced, modern story. This is old-fashioned romance at its best.

Jane is a fabulous character. She is filled with intelligence and a strong sense of morality and justice. She realizes from a young age her lot in life is unjust. At first she quietly accepts it, but as her outrage about her unfair circumstances begins to grow, she finally lets loose all of her true inner feelings.

How we cheer for her when she finally vents her emotions! We suffer through her indignities, her beatings, her humiliation with the Reeds, with Brocklehurst, and then lap up the tiniest bits of kindness from Miss Temple, Mr. Lloyd, her friend Helen. Brontë has created an incredibly strong, willful female protagonist, which is a fascinating accomplishment considering this book was published in 1847. Jane is the heroine we all aspire to be...thoughtful, determined, intelligent, loyal. She is the quintessential heroine, the basis for all romantic heroines in modern times.

This book does not disappoint with the over-the-top melodrama either. It puts General Hospital to shame. The over-zealous religious villains! The brooding hero, who waxes on (and on and on) about himself. The ridiculous plot, which includes hidden lunatics, a wedding from hell, evil relatives, kind relatives, religious missionaries, fiery death and destruction, etc. etc. This plotline is especially ridiculous: Jane flees Rochester after getting the shock of her life, gets on a random coach, ends up hours and hours away from Thornfield, stumbles into a home begging for food, and they just happen to be her long-lost cousins. And then she just happens to find out that her long-lost uncle kicked the bucket and left her tons of cashola. Haaa haaaa! Okay, so there wasn't an evil identical twin hiding a secret baby in the attic, but that's pretty damned good, anyway!

The most successful romance novels take us to the depths of despair (hell, poverty, torture) and then reward us with love. Brontë has that part down pat! Rocky McRochester (my nickname for Edward Rochester, the hero of this tale) reminded me of Sydnam from Mary Balogh's Simply Love. At the end of this book, he is totally broken....physically maimed and filled with hopelessness. His salvation is love; pure, sweet and joyful, Jane Eyre's love sets him free. So wonderful!!!!!!

Brontë makes us hate Rochester for a while, too. I was pretty pissed off at him during the house party, while the Ingrams shunned Jane and treated her like dirt. She hid behind the curtain like a wallflower, watching the man she loved "court" his intended bride. I kept waiting for him to jump to Jane's defense, but he never does. Later he admits he did this on purpose, to test her love for him...the big-ass schmo! He is filled with remorse at the end of the book, and I love how Jane forgives him. She is astonishing.

I also love that she refuses St. John when he offers her marriage without love. He says he is offering her purpose for her life, but without love or romance. She refuses. She knows she deserves more, and she's right. Rock on, Charlotte Brontë! Somehow Jane knows she can combine her practical side and her emotional, romantic side. And she refuses to settle for less.

I love Jane!

This is a gem. I can't wait to read it again.

I am really looking forward to Jane Slayre. Taking something this old-fashioned, melodramatic and romantic, and adding a dose of the ridiculous....zombies! Oh be still, my beating heart!

I can't wait to dive into all the film versions of this book. Any suggestions?

Grade: A

The Newest Member of the Rocky McRochester Fan Club,