Desert Isle Keeper
Jane Eyre is not a pure romance novel. It’s a complex work combing elements of the coming-of-age story, the roman à clef, the gothic novel, and more. Despite its complexity, though, the heart and soul of Jane Eyre is the passionate love between Jane and her employer, Edward Rochester, and it’s their love story that is the most memorable element of the novel. Along with Jane Austen’s novels, Jane Eyre is one of the classic works of literature that romance lovers claim as their own.
Jane Eyre is an orphan of no beauty, wealth, or social standing. When she loses her parents, she is taken in by her relatives, the Reeds, who treat her with contempt and even cruelty. When she is old enough to go to school, Jane goes to Lowood, where the living conditions are horrible. The food is foul, several of the teachers are cruel, the headmaster especially, and sanitation is so bad that an epidemic causes several deaths among the pupils. Jane survives, but loses her best friend Helen Burns. This episode was based on Charlotte Bronte’s experiences at The Clergy Daughters School, and Helen is based on her sister Maria, who died there. When conditions at Lowood improve, Jane stays on as a teacher until she is eighteen, and then accepts a position as the governess to Adele Varens, the ward of the master of Thornfield Hall, Edward Rochester.
Rochester is a dark, brooding Byronic man living in a dark, gloomy and seemingly haunted house where Jane often hears murmers and laughter in the night. She is told that the noises are from a servant, Grace Poole, who is prone to drink. Jane and Rochester slowly get to know each other, and she falls deeply in love with him. Jane is certain that Rochester will marry the wealthy and beautiful Blanche Ingraham, but to her surprise Rochester asks her to marry him. Despite their differences in status, Jane accepts and happily looks forward to marriage.
The wedding ceremony is interrupted by a man who tells everyone that Rochester has a living wife – Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic at Thornfield Hall, and the source of the noise and laughter Jane heard. Rochester was not told of Bertha’s madness before they married, and at the time a divorce was very hard to obtain. He asks Jane to live with him as his mistress, but despite her love for him, Jane will not break the laws of God. She leaves Thornfield, and is taken in by her relatives, the Rivers. Eventually Jane is courted by St. John Rivers, a devout clergyman who asks her to marry him. But Jane knows she does not love St. John. Then one day she hears the voice of Rochester calling her, and she returns to Thornfield Hall.
There’s not much I can add to the wonderful analysis of Jane Eyre in the ATBF linked to at the bottom of this page. I fell in love with the novel when I read it in high school and it remains one of my favorite books. There are few novels that have hit me with such force as this one, and few that I love to re-read as much.
Both Jane and Rochester are such passionate characters, but Jane’s passion is tempered with sense, while Rochester is all sensibility. Despite her social powerlessness Jane is one of the strongest women characters in fiction and by sticking to her principles she is rewarded with true love.
Jane Eyre has been in print since its publication in 1847 and has been filmed many times. Ciran Hinds, Timothy Dalton, George C. Scott, Orson Welles, and William Hurt are some of the actors who have played Rochester. Jean Rhys wrote a prequel about Mrs. Rochester titled The Wide Sargasso Sea, and Bronte’s classic features in Jasper Fforde’s alternate reality novel The Eyre Affair. The horror movie I Walked With A Zombie is based on Jane Eyre and I have no doubts that it will be filmed yet again in the future. If you haven’t read this book, I envy you that first experience.