Jane Eyre (1847)

by Charlotte Brontë

Most readers are at least loosely acquainted with the story of Jane Eyre, and indeed many probably studied the Victorian novel in a high school English class. Why revisit the novel? The characterization of Jane Eyre is a reason; she could be a role model for women of our own day. Mistreated at the home of her guardian, then abandoned at an inhumane school for impoverished girls, then supporting herself in the lowly status of a governess, Jane maintains her self-respect and integrity. Yes, she gets her man at the end, but she had no hope or expectation of doing so and amply proves herself up to the challenge of self-support. Moreover, when they finally marry, Mr. Rochester is more dependent on Jane than the other way around.

Some of the plot of Jane Eyre is fantastical, from the madwoman in the attic to Jane's rescuers turning out to be her cousins to the fire that lays low the hero. Gothic details attracted readers in Brontë's time. Not everything stands up to modern scrutiny (the treatment of mental illness, for instance). But this is a book to be read for its psychological penetration into its main character's soul. Jane Eyre is a plain, unprivileged woman who struggles against an oppressive society for self-determination and independence — a theme that is as relevant today as 160 years ago.


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