Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (with illustrations by Edmund Dulac).

My own copy of Jane Eyre.
Last night I finished Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, the first title on my new (and not quite finalised) Classic Club list. It was first published on the 16th October 1847 under the pseudonym of Currer Bell and was Charlotte Brontë's first published novel (her first novel was The Professor, not published until 1857 after her death). 

Charlotte Brontë by
Evert A. Duyckinck, 1873.
Jane Eyre isn't just one of my favourite books: it seems everyone has a great deal of affection for it. Without a doubt it is one of the best books ever written, and one of the most read classics, so in a sense I feel this review is a little unnecessary. It's a special book, to me and to many: it was one of the first, if not the first, classics I've read and it's one of the few classics I love that I don't wish to study in some way (or any way). What I mean is when it comes to writing reviews for this blog I always have in mind what it is I want to write about, and then I do some reading around that area (what I read is linked at the end of the post under the 'Further Reading' heading). But with Jane Eyre I don't want to. I don't want to discover critiques, evaluate its strengthens, weaknesses, and techniques, nor do I wish to consider Brontë's intentions and her success in those terms. This is a very personal book for so many readers, and I'm no exception. The feeling I get from it is incredible warmth, joy and happiness, and sharing with Jane Eyre her pain, admiring her, and sharing her hopes and her sadness. 

Jane Eyre manuscript: Chapter One.
It's a bildungsroman which begins when Jane is ten, where we learn of her childhood living with her cruel Aunt Reed and her cousins John, Eliza, and Georgiana. She leaves them to attend Lowood, a charity institution for orphans, and, when she is eighteen she finds a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall where she meets Mr. Rochester. Jane's character and strength is tried and tested continuously from the very first page where she sits in the window reading ("There was no possibility of taking a walk that day"). Such is the power of Charlotte Brontë's writing it is easy to forget about her: this novel truly becomes an autobiography, and very quickly too, and because of that I felt such an attachment to Jane, such love and compassion as though she was real, which is why, as I said, I don't want to read about the "novel". Analysing it shatters this illusion. I want to forget about Charlotte Brontë, this is by Jane Eyre, her life in her own words. It's a beautiful novel, and so intense, so very highly charged. There are scenes so electric it's unfathomable to even try to explain why or how. Jane is strong, she is moral and has a great sense of dignity, and she is passionate and wild also. She is flesh and blood, and so loving and affectionate: for too long she was denied the pleasures of loving and being loved. At the beginning of the novel she is already wise beyond her years, but she ensures her suffering will be a tool to learn to sustain herself:
Still indomitable was the reply: "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."  
For this and the many other parts like it, Jane Eyre is an essential read for anyone has suffered or felt ill-used in anyway, however petty others may judge it. Jane gives voice and so gives strength and hope. It's exciting to read too because of the electric in it I mentioned, and, quite simply, the plot is enough to make anyone want to read and never stop. Her passion is exciting and invigorating: she writes, for example, about women:
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.  
And the famous,
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.
There are a hundred quotes at least I would share, but they should be read and re-read in context. I envy people who haven't read Jane Eyre because they have this pleasure to come, but I will return to Jane Eyre again and again and love it more each time because it is one of the finest, most timeless novels ever written. What more can I say?

I'll end by sharing some illustrations by Edmund Dulac, one of my favourite illustrators (I was so excited to find these!). They come from the 1905 edition published by J. M. Dent & co.



Comments

  1. I like these illustrations. I have a book set of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights that was printed in 1943 almost a hundred years before the original publication and with the original wood cuts. I've also reviewed this book: http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com/2013/06/jane-eyre-by-charlotte-bronte.html I've read this book more times than any other, with the exception of Wuthering Heights.

    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed it! This is a great blog. I love all these books.

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    1. Thank you, and thanks for sharing your post: I shall read this this evening :)

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  2. Lovely illustrations. This was one of my first classics too. x

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    1. As I said, I was so excited when I found the illustrations! I love them :)

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  3. Beautiful, atmospheric illustrations. Jane Eyre is my favorite classic novel I'm pretty sure, and these images make me want to pick it up again... maybe after the summer heat wave is over though.

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    1. I was thinking of a Bronte-themed autumn - I loved reading Jane Eyre, but it wasn't the right time of year at all!

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  4. Lovely post, it reminded me of how much I love this novel too. I've only read it once and am looking forward to revisiting it soon. I prefer Villette though, I really related to Lucy Snowe when I read it.

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    1. I never got into Villette, but I'm planning a re-read, hopefully second time lucky :) Not sure what I had against it...

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  5. Lovely review. No one can deny that Jane Eyre is a very special novel, even though it does have its weaknesses. All women have many things to be thankful to this timeless heroine :-).

    Those illustrations are gorgeous.

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  6. "I envy people who haven't read Jane Eyre because they have this pleasure to come..."

    I agree. Once you read it, that initial expectation and experience will never be the same.

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    1. But on the plus side, there's always new and exciting things to discover during a second read.

      All the same, I wish I could have the first read again!

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  7. I am one of only two people I've ever met who absolutely detests this novel, hates Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester and genuinely believe that the best thing that has ever come from it is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

    I offer this comment, not as a means of starting a discussion about its merits, but merely because I just can't see or understand what people like about the two characters (also, I don't like Brontë's writing, but that's a whole other issue). It amazing how differently people perceive them.

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    1. Well, as it happens I found, as a consequence of this post, someone who hasn't even read it (and the guy in question is VERY well read) so I've been proved wrong twice!

      I could never hate Jane Eyre the character but I can see why someone would hate Mr. Rochester. I found him particularly cruel at times.

      I was thinking of reading Wide Sargasso Sea again - I have it next to me, as it happens. Not that this is at all relevant, but I read the introduction to it a few days ago and laughed at her comment re. all the early "posthumous" comments: "I feel rather tactless being still alive!"

      I'll re-read it soon, still on my Jane Eyre high, though! :)

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  8. I haven't read Jane Eyre since I first read it ages ago, even though I loved it so much. This is largely, I think, because it was, as you say, such a lovely pleasure that I am afraid I won't be able to match again. That you love it more with each read, encourages me though. Perhaps someday...

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    1. I was worried about revisiting it for that reason (there's a few books I'm reluctant to read because of that, actually) but I'm glad I did. It truly did get even better!

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  9. I've always loved Jane Eyre. So refreshing to have a heroine who isn't beautiful.

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    1. Yes, heroines are usually stunners :)

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  10. Oh my goodness those illustrations!!!! I'm so glad you shared them! I just re-read this book and fell in love with it all over again. I have a bad habit of collecting gorgeous editions of this one and so I'll be on the lookout for the 1905 one.

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    1. Aren't they epic? I love Dulac. I've only got the one copy of Jane Eyre (Penguin, published, I don't know... some unromantic date... 1995 or near enough!). I'd love this one :)

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  11. This is a wonderful love letter. It just conveys how much you love the book.
    And I have to agree, those illustrations are beautiful.

    I'm one of those "lucky ones" who still haven'ts read the book, but I intend to do so very, very soon. Partly also because of your post :)

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    1. I hope you love it! I hope you adore it! :D

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