In the latest installment of our “Recommended Reads” series, junior Nakkia Patrick, a Secondary English Education Major, recommends Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
I was required to read Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë for my British Literature course last semester. As a secondary English Education major, I have been required to read a great deal of classic fiction. Being an English major, I have truly appreciated what I have read as an undergrad. But Jane Eyre especially spurred my love for British literature and for pieces from the Victorian Era. Brontë’s novel depicts a woman who transcends time, and she entices her readers with Jane’s quest for freedom. Whether you enjoy a love story, a strong female character, or a novel full of adventure, Jane Eyre is a book worth reading.
What appealed to me the most about Jane Eyre was the way in which Brontë illustrates a strong, independent woman in a completely patriarchal society. The novel spends a great deal of time describing Jane’s position within this society and her ability to object to the limitations placed upon her as a woman during this time. Throughout the novel, Jane maintains her own identity and works against any sign of male dominance. For example, in Chapter 24, Jane narrates her feelings about the pressure one of the male characters, Mr. Rochester, is putting on her: “I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” By having a strong-willed, resistant main character, Brontë is able to illustrate some of her own feminist beliefs and to work against the very strict Victorian stereotypes about women.
Although Jane is the ideal feminine character, she deals with romance and the quest for love throughout the novel, just on her own terms. Throughout the novel, Jane has an ongoing battle between the mind and the heart. By trying to be morally virtuous and to follow her heart at the same time, Jane undergoes a large amount of confusion throughout the novel. As a reader, we constantly feel Jane’s emotional turns and decisions. Like Jane, the reader feels puzzled. For example, when Jane uneasily interacts with Rochester at a later part of the story, she narrates, “Well, he is not a ghost; yet every nerve I have is unstrung: for a moment I am beyond my own mastery. What does that mean? I did not think I should tremble in this way when I saw him–or lose my voice or the power of motion in his presence. I will go back as soon as I can stir: I need not make an absolute fool of myself. I know another way to the house. It does not signify if I knew twenty ways; for he has seen me” (214). At this point in the story, Jane struggles with the idea of love and whether or not a relationship with Rochestor is appropriate. Because she’s overcome with emotion when around him, she has lost her own “mastery” and struggles with the idea of meeting up with him again. By showcasing the way in which women made decisions about love interests and marrying men, Brontë shows how women struggle and gives them their own identity by allowing them to make their own decisions.
This coming of age story was far ahead of its time and is still greatly appreciated by many today. This classic is riddled with themes of love, passion, morality, religion, feminism, and adventure. Brontë explores many aspects of Victorian life and brings them to life through her characters, especially Jane. Brontë offers her readers an early example of feminism and empowers many women along the way.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Vintage, 2009. Print