The 20th book I have completed from my 1001 list of novels is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Furthermore this is the second novel I have completed for the Victorian Reading Challenge. In 1847 this novel was published in England and the following year it was released in the United States. This first-person narrative focused on Jane Eyre, a woman who had to fight to survive in a world that did not give her many breaks in life. During her childhood she lived with her cousins and aunt who were physically and emotionally abusive. Then she moved to Lowood School, where she made friends, but the school was for unfortunate children and while there she endured hardship and tyranny. After many years she left the school to work as a governess in Edward Rochester’s home. Things started to look up for Jane. However, once again fate intervened and she had to leave Mr. Rochester and her home. I don’t want to go into too much detail after this point in the novel since I don’t want to ruin it for those who have not read it. The remaining two sections after leaving Mr. Rochester are quite fascinating. Watching Jane evolve from a timid child into a self-assured woman made me want to stand up and cheer for her.
When this novel first made its appearance the critics really didn’t know how to respond. In today’s world, the heroine is brave but nothing out of the ordinary. However, during Bronte’s time period, Jane Eyre was different. She was independent, obstinate, conceited, and not very lady-like. She sought to find herself and she was a determined and passionate woman in a time when women were not allowed to think about these aspects of life or to desire more out of life. Critics were also surprised by some of the elements of the novel, including attempted murder, fires, bigamy, and an insane wife who is hidden from all. Victorians had a difficult time reconciling these events and ideas with what they deemed as proper reading.
This novel is a great read. One of my favorite parts was when St. John proposed marriage to Jane. During his proposal he stated, “God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must–shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you–not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”
I had to chuckle when I read this part. Why St. John thought that this would win any woman’s heart is beyond me. But this marriage proposal demonstrates the Victorian attitude. St. John did not see Jane as a woman. He did not see her independence and her sense of self. He saw her as an instrument to serve God. I’m not saying that Jane was not a moral woman. She was. She was seeking morality. But she was also seeking for a way for a woman to live a moral life that had meaning. And she wanted to be able to determine her future. She wanted a life that was worth living and she wanted to be happy. Was that too much for Jane to ask for? Hopefully you will read the novel to find out.