Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Wordsworth Classics, 1999
A confession: I have read Jane Eyre before. A great many times before. It is one of those books so beloved to my literary landscape that I’m always taken by surprise when I realise maybe not everyone else in the world has read it too. Jane Eyre was first published in 1847, the controversial creation of an unlikely rebel; one hundred and sixty six years later, it’s an indisputable classic. I can think of no better book to mark the occasion of my hundredth review.
In 19th century England the cracks between rigid social hierachies are wide enough to swallow you whole. Jane Eyre exists in such a space – orphaned, unloved, unprotected – and bridling against the injustices of her neglectful aunt. When, as punishment for her rebellion, she is exiled to a puritanical boarding school, Jane refuses to be crushed. Her spirit of defiance will take her far from familiar ground, to a house shrouded in lies, a man drowning in the past, and a love that may cost her everything.
My copy of Jane Eyre has very thorough notation, including translations for all the dialogue that’s in French. It also has an introduction by Dr Sally Minogue about psychological symbolism that I disagree with violently. (Minor spoiler: Jane is her own person. Bertha is her own person. One is not a reflection of the other’s mental state, they are individuals.) You see, this is a book that demands passionate opinions; like its heroine, it is fierce and defiant and full of life, with a Gothic power that is intensified by its deep humanity. It has remained a classic all these years because it’s too good to be anything else.