On “Jane Eyre”


A conversation with a friend the other day set me thinking about Jane Eyre. I loved the book when I first read it as a teenager, and still love many things about it. Apart from the evocative prose, there is:

  1. A female protagonist who does not merely go through life hoping to be rescued by a man.
  2. A heroine who is not good-looking! She does not care for pretty clothes and is uneasy when her fiancé makes romantic speeches to her. This is rare enough now – at the time when the novel was written it must have been unprecedented.
  3. A heroine who, despite having been in unfortunate circumstances since childhood, is by no means a doormat. She is bold and has a sense of self-worth, in spite of being a poor, young, not beautiful woman. She knows her own mind and refuses to give in to the persuasions of any of the men in the novel.

Two things, however, leave me cold.

The first is the coincidences in the story, and the ‘metaphysical’ angle. She arrives by chance at the door of her relatives when she is lost and penniless. She hears her lover talking to her when he is far away. I club these two things together because they seem related: if you believe in a fate or a guiding hand that leads you to your destiny, both of these might seem possible. For the more skeptical of us though, these unnecessary contrivances detract from the power of the story.

But the most important thing that has me feeling ambivalent about the book is the end. The book ends on a conventional ‘happy’ note: the heroine marries the hero and has a family.

But this ‘hero’ is the same person who was about to marry her without telling her that he had a wife already. Granted, the wife was insane, and he had supposedly been tricked into marriage. (Boohoo. He was an adult and he made his own decision – the book doesn’t even give him the excuse of his parents having pushed him into the marriage.) He not only keeps his wife hidden away in a room so that eligible single women might not come to know that he’s married, but he hides his fact from Jane, who is apparently the love of his life. He then pressurises her into being his mistress, and she runs away to escape him.

Yet this is the man she returns to, when his wife is dead and he is blind. How can I believe that this fate is unambiguously happy for bold, brave Jane?

It makes me wonder whether Bronte had Rochester blinded in order to have him dependent on Jane. A Rochester fully in possession of his faculties might have been too headstrong or wild for Jane to manage. A Rochester blind and dependent on her leaves Jane the mistress of their house and of their lives. In those times, maybe this was the best ending Bronte could come up with for her heroine.

9 Replies to “On “Jane Eyre””

  1. I haven’t read Jane Eyre yet, but now I think I will. The first three things you mentioned that you liked would definitely be enough to make me read it… I love it when the women think for themselves, aren’t pretty, and aren’t the “damsels in distress” all the time. That’s one reason why I like Georgette Heyer’s books… the women around the main heroine are the pretty ones, always fainting and falling in love for no reason at all, but the main heroine is not necessarily beautiful, and she always has brains.

    The happily-ever-after with the guy who lied to her is disappointing though. I shall read the book and get back to you. 🙂

  2. Sonal: Thank you!

    Sumedha: Do read. It’s a great book, though I do wish it had gone further than it did.

    I love Georgette Heyer too, but then those weren’t written in the times in which they are set, and that make a difference.

  3. Reminds me of another conversation I had. Why don’t they make hindi serials about ppl like me? Because all they’d see is me going to work in the morning and coming back and crashing at night! Didn’t Jane pretty much do what you didn’t expect her to do given her strong character. And of course you must consider Bronte wrote this before seeing the 100,000 odd hindi movies made on this basic theme.

    I think it might have been a thoroughly boring story if Jane just kept away from her lover!

    Just my tuppence!

  4. Thank you Unmana; for this interesting review.

    I don’t think I will be reading Bronte sisters any time soon; will probably read Jane Austen before the Sisters.

    Right now though I am stuck to Dickens; I guess it will take me this life to finish his books.

  5. Sujeet: I’m not sorry she unites with the lover: I just wish he had been worthier.

    Ravilobo: You haven’t read Austen?!

  6. >> Ravilobo: You haven’t read Austen?!

    Ha Ha. Yes I have not read Austen. However I have read – Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Narayan, and Ishiguro.

    I think i I will take some time for Austen.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful review of the great novel, Unmana. I rather believe that this ‘metaphysical’ angle adds to the charm of the story rather than lessen the power of the story. And as regards Jane’s marrying Rochester – it is not necessary that Jane is going to have a perfect married life (who does anyway?), this just goes to show that LOVE IS REALLY BLIND …. forgive the metaphor. Both of them are deeply in love with each other and they do unite and that is what counts in the end.

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