The Classics Club: Jane Eyre

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This post contains minor spoilers for Jane Eyre.

I don’t know what took me so long to read Jane Eyre.  It was never required reading when I was in high school, though it always appeared on recommended reading lists.  Once I started making an effort to research classic literature more, I found its name thrown around in several circles, and I decided that it was a book I needed to read.

When I first started Jane Eyre, I had finished Wuthering Heights just a few days earlier, and I expected that it would not quite shock or move me as much as that one did.  The opening chapter, featuring Jane as the victim of child abuse, shattered said expectations immediately.  From then on, I knew that this was going to be quite a book.  And it was.

My biggest takeaway from Jane Eyre is the character of Jane.  One of the most independent and self-respecting heroines I’ve encountered in literature, Jane Eyre undoubtedly deserves a spot on my list of Fascinating Female Characters, though whom she’d boot off remains uncertain.  My admiration of Jane Eyre can be boiled down into three basic concepts:

  1. She knows herself.
  2. She trusts her own judgment.
  3. She doesn’t back down for anyone, not even the man she loves.

Jane Eyre is truly a character a lot of people admire.  What I found especially intriguing about her is that she’s a strong female character who nevertheless upholds traditional moral values and women’s roles.  Though this may seem paradoxical, it is the essence of what makes Jane unique.  In fact, Jane is strong because she upholds these values.

HERE BEGIN THE SPOILERS. 

Take the scene in which Jane refuses to be Rochester’s mistress, for example.  He wants her to break tradition and live with him without being wed since he cannot legally marry.  But Jane knows herself too well – knows that if she acquiesces to his request, she’d no longer be her own person: she’d be under his mercy, and she wouldn’t be upholding the values in which she believes.  No matter how much she wants to, she simply cannot sacrifice her morality for Rochester.  In rejecting Rochester’s request, Jane chooses her moral values over her own happiness.  As she explains:

“‘Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.  If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?’”

With those words, Jane asserts that her principles mean more than her passions, and you have to admire her for that.

HERE END THE SPOILERS.

Having now gotten my feet wet in the Brontës’ work with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, I will most certainly be reading more the rest of their work.  I’ll be making some changes to my Classics Club list soon, so you can safely assume that those other titles will be included.

If you’ve read Jane Eyre, what was your biggest takeaway?

This was the Book #6 off my Classics Club list.  To see the rest of it, click here.

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15 thoughts on “The Classics Club: Jane Eyre

  1. My biggest takeaway from Jane Eyre was how much I absolutely hated the book. Granted, I was a 14 year old freshman in high school when I read it. I’m sure that if I were to re-read the book now I would be able to take a lot more away from it, but back then I couldn’t stand the book.

    • I’m glad I didn’t read Jane Eyre in high school, as it’s possible I would have had the same reaction. I always chose to read sci-fi classics, like Brave New World, when I could.

    • I have found that over and over again books that I HATED in high school, I love now as I have been re-reading them. A good example of that is The Great Gatsby- I remember being so bored with it in high school, I didn’t really have much of desire to read it again, but when I was encouraged to do so I found it wasn’t so bad!

      • Good to know about Gatsby, one of the few books I didn’t enjoy in high school. I’m going to give it another try for The Classics Club, so I hope I have the same reaction as you. Thanks for stopping by!

      • I think you’d find that with most books, and as I said if I re-read the book today I would definitely be able to take more away from it (how much I’d enjoy it would be debatable), but reading it again would be heavily clouded by my experience reading it the first time.

        I’ve said many times before that this is one of the problems with education in America and the reason that so few people read. We’re forced to read books that aren’t relevant to our lives at the time and simply aren’t interesting to younger people, and it can scare people away from reading. In some cases, while it might not scare them away from reading altogether, it will definitely scare them away from certain authors. Because of my experience with this book I’ll probably never read another book by Bronte.

        Another book that we read in that class (freshman English in high school) was Great Expectations. To this day I would argue that Great Expectations is the single worst book I’ve ever read in my life and I’ll probably never read another book by Dickens.

        • I agree with a lot of what you’ve said – it’s one thing to encourage students to read good literature but at what expense? I actually have similar feelings about not wanting to read more Fitzgerald, Lawrence, and Kafka because I didn’t enjoy what of theirs I had to read in high school. If I enjoy my Gatsby reread, I’ll give Fitzgerald another shot. I honestly don’t know about the others, though.

          • I think that if you teach kids to love reading then they’ll eventually get curious and check out the classics on their own, but if you make them read the classics there’s a good chance you can scare them away from reading entirely. Given those two options, I’d give them any book that I thought would encourage them to read.

  2. I loved this post. The character of Jane was a revelation for me. Reading the first part of the book, I thought “great, here comes another tale about a Victorian orphan.” Reading the Rochester part, I thought it would go the traditional romance way. And then Jane stood up for herself in a way that resonated with me. In passages like the one you quoted, I felt like she said, “I am more than an orphan, a governess, a woman etc., more than the sum of my roles. I am me, Jane, and I get to decide how I live my life.” It was as if Charlotte Bronte had taken a bunch of motifs/typical plots and just turned them on their head.

    • Very well-said! You’re spot-on about how Brontë flipped around readers’ expectations. Truly a groundbreaking work with an equally groundbreaking heroine. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I adore Jane Eyre. It was the first book I read for my own classics project (Jan 2010), and my biggest takeaway? It inspired me to read more classics. 🙂 (Villette is incredible, by the way.)

    • That’s a great takeaway if ever I knew one! I’m in the middle of Agnes Grey now, and when I finish it, I’ll take a break from the Brontës. But when I get back to their work, I’m not sure whether to read Villette or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall first! Maybe it’ll be Villette 🙂

  4. Pingback: Why I’m Reading the Classics (The Classics Club October Meme) « Many Media Musings

  5. Pingback: The Classics Club August Meme: On Forewards and Introductions | Many Media Musings

  6. Pingback: Musings on Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley | Many Media Musings

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