A Shocking Revelation (for an English Major)

Jane_Eyre_PosterI didn’t like Jane Eyre.

Now that’s out in the open, where everyone can see it. As a former English major, I feel like I was supposed to love this book. I finished it with a sense of duty, since it was on my Ten before Thirty list, but definitely not with a sense of delight or escapism or fun. With all the praise heaped on this book from The Establishment, as well as many of my friends, I had visions of “Why didn’t I read this sooner?!” and “I can’t believe it took me so long to fall in love with this.” Far from reality.

In my prior post I said I was “really enjoying it,” but that was hopeful me writing. I was only halfway through and full of, “I’m sure it gets better!” It didn’t. Not for me, anyway.

Maybe I had too high expectations? It certainly SEEMS like it’d be a good fit for me. I adore Victorian writers. I loved Wuthering Heights. I love brooding heroes and romance and feminism and England. I even acknowledge there were several lines that stopped me in my tracks–that I re-read several times just because I liked them. Like,

I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad–as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? (369)

Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow old there, firm as weeds among stones. (395)

I have not much pride under such circumstances; I would always rather be happy than dignified… (474)

And still, somehow, this fell short for me. Jane and Rochester’s love felt melodramatic (not in a good way) and much of the plot felt contrived. The prose was SO flowery and it became tedious. How many freaking lines do you need to say that she got along well with Diana and Mary? Bronte apparently needs a page and a half. Yes, there were feminist undertones, but they were so limited in scope that I am a bit confused as to why this is so often cited as a feminist work. I know that we aren’t supposed to want Jane to marry St. John, but I didn’t want her to marry Rochester, either. The feminist part of me didn’t want her to marry at all. Rochester is completely condescending, even in the end when Jane is arguably his better.

Maybe I missed everything that everyone loves about this book. I am open to reconsidering my initial opinion–do any of you have a good reason for me to love Jane Eyre? I really do want to love it.

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5 comments

  1. Jennifer Pickrell says:

    I haven’t read Jane Eyre since high school, but I remember liking it, although can’t remember why…might have been because it was more interesting than the last book I’d been assigned to read 🙂

    I always feel frustrated when I don’t like a classic. Obviously I’m not going to like every book I read, but it seems like I should LOVE books that have stood the test of time. I should read them and say a-ha!

    • Crystal says:

      I wonder if I would’ve liked it better in high school… who knows. And I was totally looking for that a-ha moment with this book and it just never came. Disappointing!

    • Crystal says:

      Her writing is really pretty, it just gets to be so long-winded after a while… definitely made me appreciate the appeal of concise writing 🙂

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