When I was sixteen, I had to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for school, and at that point it didn’t make much of an impact on me. It wasn’t that I disliked the book, but it was always difficult to feel particularly passionate about anything we read in English class – we read books out loud together, and the teacher inevitably ended up picking the slowest reader to read to the rest of the class, which frustrated me. As well as this, many other people in my class just had no interest in books at all, and would muck around for the entire lesson, ruining it for others.
So seven years went by where I had read Jane Eyre, but had no particular strong feelings about it. That is, until I watched the 2011 film adaptation, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
The atmosphere of the film instantly gripped me. It was dark and Gothic, but also full of hope. Jane was not loved or well cared for as a child, and her teenage years were not particularly pleasant either, but she found joy in the small things like drawing and painting. Like many fellow readers as well as myself, she used fantasies to escape difficult times, painting whatever imagined worlds or creatures came into her head.
The gorgeous score, the wonderful, rugged landscapes, the palettes used, the perfectly cast characters (*COUGH*MICHAELFASSBENDER*COUGH*), the beautiful locations, the camerawork – everything just melded together to make this wonderful, heart-breaking film. And as many an avid reader knows, you’ve always got to read the book the film is based on!
So with that in mind, I dove back into Jane Eyre – and found myself falling utterly in love with it. I read the entire thing in a day, a lazy Sunday where literally all I did was read the book whilst listening to the soundtrack on repeat again and again. That was a good day.
So why do I love it so much? I feel like it transcends its time. At a time where women were meant to be meek, shy little things, Jane stands up for herself. From her aunt mistreating her when she was a little girl, to her time at Lowood School, and finally her time at Thornfield Hall as a governess, she is not afraid to speak her mind and act accordingly. Although Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester, despite his apparent indifference, bluntness and more than occasional rudeness, she respects herself too much to let anything happen. And this beautiful, beautiful quote from Jane herself:
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
This is a book where our main character recognises that she is plain, but she doesn’t dwell on it – because she knows what matters is how you treat others, how kind, honest and loyal a person is. She recognises those qualities in Mr. Rochester, and proclaims them equals (he is described as not being traditionally handsome), despite his wealth. But what I most admire about Jane is how much respect she has for herself. She may be very much in love with Mr. Rochester, but as soon as she finds out about the ol’ wife in the attic situation she is out of there. She knows that living as his mistress will not be good for her and will always play on her conscience, so she leaves, even though it breaks her heart. She is brave, she is good, and she is ultimately one of the best female role models in fiction for the very reason that she doesn’t make a man one of her sole purposes of being. He has to respect her before he can have her.
She may go back to him in the end, after the situation is er, ‘sorted’, but by this point he has also made his sacrifices. I’m not usually bothered about romance in stories, in fact half the time I feel it gets in the way, but my gosh do I love Jane and Mr. Rochester together. The ending of Jane Eyre makes me bawl and I’m not ashamed to admit it. These two lost souls have finally found each other, and it makes me so happy.