Young orphan, Jane, is raised in a strict and dark school where her very existence seems punishable. But following this education, she seeks employment as a governess in a strange household belonging to one Mr. Rochester. Rochester alternates between avoiding and apparently disliking Jane and going out of his way to spend more time with her, praising her for features she simply doesn’t see in herself. Yet Jane finds herself drawn to Rochester, falling in love with him piece by piece as he also comes to love her. A mystery consumes the household, from a silent maid who seems to cackle maniacally to the night of a mysteriously lit fire…
What is Jane Eyre about?
Jane Eyre is about, well, Jane. Orphaned at a young age and raised by a cruel and spiteful relative, Jane was eventually shunted off to a religious school with ultra strict rules. The trauma of her childhood ends up subsiding for her when she reaches adulthood and applies for the position of a governess in a wealthy if eccentric household. As the governess to a precocious little French girl–who’s not even the daughter of the master of the house–Jane experiences the oddity of living in a home where strange noises are not unusual. And then there’s Mr. Rochester, mercurial at best and tortured at worst. Jane finds herself oddly attracted to him, and he seems to be attracted to her as well against all odds.
Genre: Gothic Romance
Jane Eyre is pretty iconic for being a gothic romance. A lot of the gothic elements come from descriptions of Rochester’s house and household, particularly the terrifying laughter and a specter that is occasionally seen. All of this sets up for the eventual reveal (which I will not say on the off chance that someone reading this hasn’t read Jane Eyre and would like to be unspoiled). Since that reveal has a direct impact on Rochester and Jane’s relationship, it again ties up the plot into a romance.
Tropes: Invented calling from the window
Does anybody else remember the book Beastly by Alex Flinn? Not the bad movie adaptation, but the book. In Beastly the main character, then called Adrian, gets really into classic literature including Jane Eyre. He ends up hearing his “beauty” call for help through his magic mirror, a move inspired by Rochester calling for Jane and Jane appearing to hear it. I feel as though this trope happens a lot with so little awareness of where it came from.
Plot: Jane Makes As Many Questionable Decisions As Possible
Jane is full of trauma and youthful misguided decisions. Taking the governess job is a logical choice, but essentially every decision she makes from that point out (sans one rejected marriage proposal) is questionable at best. She regularly chooses with a mix of bad logic and confusing emotions, and much of the plot is driven by her ability to ignore everything that’s wrong.
This is one of my favorite classics for a couple of reasons. One: I like Jane as a character. She’s not perfect, she is traumatized, and she has this weird dry anger about everything that comes out humorously at times. I also appreciate that she does leave Rochester when things become too much for her. I also liked the way she relates to the family she stays with after leaving Rochester’s home. The descriptions can be horrifying and there’s a real undercurrent of terror in this that adds to the gothic atmosphere nicely.
Rochester is kind of the embodiment of “pull her pigtails to show you like her.” He’s not kind, he doesn’t really acknowledge he did anything wrong, and he doesn’t have moments of self realization the way certain big romantic heroes of classic literature do. Rochester is just messy; he’s crude and he’s rude to Jane on more than one occasion, and she has every reason to dislike him or leave him. He does seem to genuinely love her, and he does eschew society so as to not care what it costs him to have her and make her happy. But he is fundamentally not a great person so it can be difficult to root for him and root for Jane at the same time.
I’ve always said that Jane Eyre would be better without its ending. If the book had just ended with Jane leaving Rochester and going off into the world to find herself, then I would be okay. But that she returns to Rochester after what he did is too much for me. The justifications given in the book just don’t cut it for me, sorry. I don’t root for them as a couple.
Look, aside from how it ends Jane Eyre remains one of my favorite classics. I like Jane as a character, and I feel deep sympathy for her childhood traumas as they are so distinctly relayed to the reader. I’m at least entertained by Rochester pre-secret reveal and I do like the way he treats Jane as he courts her and prepares her for marriage, even if all that is shattered later. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel, the distinct gothic nature to it, and I also enjoy seeing the effects the novel has on today’s literature and even movies and television. Jane Eyre is a classic for a reason, and I do find it beneficial to have read.