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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Summary: Jane Eyre, a plain-faced orphan, is beset early on with hardships. She is sent by her unloving, oppressive relatives to a stifling charity school where the girls are bullied and abused. She not only endures these trials but retains her fierce belief in her own social equality and moral superiority. She observes the hypocrisies and weaknesses of others silently, a sharp-minded voyeur. Employed as a governess for the ward of the ugly, upper-class Mr. Rochester, Jane finds herself captivated by him. Her well-laid plans are derailed when she falls in love. But there are many things that stand in the way of their union - social decorum, tricks and games, and a dark secret from Mr. Rochester's past...

Review: Jane Eyre is a classic for a reason. Re-reading this novel for my Victorian literature class, I remembered all over again why it has endured for so long. It has mystery, romance, rebellion, and ambiguity. Critics cannot get enough of it. Is it a callously Imperialist novel, a conservative re-affirmation of British (and male) superiority? Is it a subversive, explosively feminist manifesto? Is Jane a masochist or a skilled manipulator; repressed or ambitious? The fact that no one can conclusively decide one way or another is the reason Jane Eyre is still taught in most schools.

But it would be unfair to limit this review to the academic sphere. The fact of the matter is, Jane Eyre is fun. It's a fun book with a simple, fantastic storyline. The narrative is singular and passionate. Jane's sometimes self-righteous - but always compelling - struggle for respect and happiness keeps you turning the pages. And there's Mr. Rochester. I dare anyone who reads this novel not to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, even if only for a moment. He's the perfect Byronic hero - proud, selfish, intelligent, jaded, captivating, flawed, mysterious, lonely, kind. He plucks Jane out of a life of tedium and into a whirlwind of drama, and the reader is delighted to be along for the ride.

Jane Eyre isn't without its faults, of course. The section of the novel that Jane spends with St. John is lackluster in comparison to the rest. The pacing stumbles here, lingering too long away from the heart of the story. Patience is required to wade through to the perfect, satisfying ending.

As a whole, however, Jane Eyre earns its place in the literary canon. Who wouldn't enjoy the life story of a woman with sharp wits and a defiant, passionate heart, struggling for her freedom?

Quotations: "You are good to those who are good to you. it is all I ever desire to be. If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people who have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should--so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."

"It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and 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, too 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 kitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags."

"Tell me now, fairy as you are,--can't you give me a charm, or a philtre, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?"

"It would be past the power of magic, sir;" and, in thought, I added, "A loving eye is all the charm needed: to such you are handsome enough; or rather, your sternness has a power beyond beauty."

Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen to me incomprehensible: in the present instance he took no notice of my abrupt vocal response; but he smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes: it was the real sunshine of feeling--he shed it over me now.
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