Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë 

I had always lumped Jane Eyre in with the books of Jane Austen. These are important works in the canon of English-language literature, but I didn’t figure that I would find too much appealing about them. I would get to them at some point. With a free version of this book for my Kindle, I finally decided it was time.

I chose Jane Eyre primarily because of the previews I’d seen for the movie version released this year. It looked much more dramatic than I would’ve imagined. And I was impressed with the book right away. It felt very comfortable, as if I’d read these pages before. The tale of an orphan left to live with a family that treats her horribly then sends her away to a boarding school where she is also treated horribly before becoming a governess.  I could see Henry James and Anna Kavan in the set up. When, in the first section, Jane is locked up in the red room and believes she is visited by the home’s deceased master, the story takes on a bit of added depth and mystery. It also tells us that Jane is something different. She is susceptible to certain flourishes. And when she finally rails at her mistress before being sent away, we get a glimpse of the will--often irrational--that will guide her later in the novel.

The language of the novel is both difficult and beautiful. While I enjoy the opportunity to ingest syntax that is twisted, words in odd order, atypical word choice, it is difficult to know if this is the work of the age of the novel or the work of the author. I can also imagine that the language could also be a hindrance for someone attempting the novel who is without an appreciation of the particular texture of the text.
When the romance finally arrives in the novel, we are well prepared for the importance Jane places on everything. She is not one to feel an emotion only slightly. But at the novel’s most dramatic moments, she confounds. She does not act as expected. And while this provides purposeful twists, it can frustrate the reader. I found myself speaking out loud to Jane at these moments, shouting the direction she obviously needs.

The novel also suffers from--like many novels--an Act IV lag. She must go through some experiences that should prepare her for the novel’s conclusion. It is, though, a divergence from the central plot line. New characters appear, a new existence established. And all I wanted was to return to the course we were on previously.

I will not offer here any social critique. I don’t think I could properly determine what Bronte is saying about the convention of marriage, or the role of women, or even the distinction of the social classes. She is certainly examining these issues, revealing them, but I can’t say that she was looking to shatter convention or even make a real statement about these issues.

Jane Eyre is compelling in unexpected ways, and worth recommending to those whom think they wouldn’t have an interest.

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