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,


A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I read this in my 20s, before reading Pride/Prejudice and it's still my favorite romance of all time. Excellent review of it.

Penny Watson said...

I wonder how my life would have been different if I read this in my 20's.....I am serious about that. I didn't discover romantic fiction until later in life, and I was instantly hooked. Maybe my 20's would have been better if I started earlier! :^) Now I'm ready for Pride and Prejudice!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

I first read this when I was about 12 and then again recently. My favorite film version is with Toby (forget his last name) as Rochester. He's Maggie Smith's son. I have the DVD it was on A&E. Best yet!

I loved the book 2nd time around. It really is great and worthy of several re-reads!

KT Grant said...

Where did you find the cover? Rochester looks like his nose is going to take over his face!

I first read JE when I was 16 and it's in my top 5 favorite romances of all time. That and Wuthering Heights.

Now you must watch all the movie and TV versions of Jane Eyre!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Julie! I was reading Judy Blume when I was 12. (Although I did read Gone With The Wind when I was 12, too. So that's good!). I will look for that film version. I can't wait to see how they handle the dialogue and melodrama on film! :^)

Penny Watson said...

Hi Kate! I googled Jane Eyre book covers and found that "pulp" version...isn't it hilarious? If the newest Jane Eyre is still out at the movie theaters, I will go see that one, too. It looks good.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Oh wow. You make me want to read my copy asap. Amazing review.

Happy Mother's Day!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Juju....I am so happy I finally discovered this awesome classic!

Sherri Browning Erwin said...

I love your reaction. Yes! That's Jane! Rocky McRochester, hahaha. Now I regret not changing his name. I had some fun with him.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Yay yay yay yay! At last a woman who sees this book as I do - the prototype for today's romance hero and heroine. I love Jane...hubby calls me his Jane Eyre - she's backed into a corner again and again and then she fights back, but still...
Jane has to travel her own difficult path. She's courageous and passionate. I. Love. Her. Don't give me any of this Austen pish-posh. Give me drama and passion, triumph and tragedy. And I hate St. John Rivers. I wanted to smack him something awful.
Rochester is the prototype for the wounded, tortured, brooding hero - Blanche wants him for his fortune, Jane wants him because she recognizes that they are true companions, soul mates - both filled with intellect and passion.
Ah...I'm so glad you liked it! Now do what I do, read it once a year to remind yourself what a real romance novel is. Mmwaaaaa!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Oh, Happy Mother's Day, babygirl!

Smokinhotbooks said...

I'm probably going to get stoned but Jane Eyre is better than PRide and Prejudice! One of my favorite books of all time.

Penny Watson said...

Sherri...thanks for inspiring me to get this book. I downloaded Jane Slayre today for my mother's day gift to myself....Happy Mother's Day To Me! :^) Can't wait to read it!

Penny Watson said...

Julia--Happy Mama's Day to you, too. Wow, I agree. I just love Jane to bits! I also love the romance of this story, especially the ending. I really did get chills reading the end of the story....and I couldn't stop smiling!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Smokin! I know Julia likes Jane Eyre much better than P& are not alone. I am looking forward to continuing my sorely lacking education in Jane Austen books. And then Barbara Pym sister loves those!

Heidenkind said...

That book cover is awfully hilarious. Truth.

I read Jane Eyre when I was a sophomore in high school, so I was... 15? 16? It's still my favorite book of all time. Bronte literally had me hooked at the first sentence.

Jennifer said...

Not quite the first romance book I ever read (that was a Georgette Heyer) but I did read it when I was about 12, and I agree that it is a great book. I read all of Charlotte Bronte's books as a teenager, and I didn't read Jane Austen until much later. Austen's books are enjoyable, but Bronte's books have more depth.

Penny Watson said...

Heidenkind....I love that cover, too!

Jennifer....I can't wait to read P&P....some folks prefer Austen and some prefer Bronte....I am interested to see how they compare.

Linda Banche said...

I read JANE EYRE when I was in high school. I loved it then and still love it. I'm surprised they let us read it. They told us girls all the time to be meek, demure doormats, and although Jane started out that way, she certainly didn't end that way. I liked her because she fought back. She often had to put up with a lot, but she never backed down when she thought she was right. A role model for every girl and an antidote to all that Goody Two Shoes propaganda out there.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Linda! I agree that Jane is a fabulous role model for girls. And so very modern! Crazy that JE was written in the 19th century.

Lindsay said...

Jane Austin's Persuasion is still my favorite from that time mostly because I love her humor and I prefer my romances to not have too much god thrown into them. That said who wouldn't love a hero that you are made to hate? So far my favorite film adaptation of it is the one with Ciaran Hinds but mostly because I love him! Oddly enough he was also the hero in my favorite version of Persuasion. Let us know how you like Pride and Prejudice then I highly recommend trying out Persuasion!