Review: Jane Eyre

There’s really no way to describe the book other than saying it’s about the life of one Victorian-era working-class girl called Jane Eyre, so I’m just going to dive into the spoiler-y bit of the review.

While reading this book I regularly talked about it to a friend of mine who had read it previously. She kept telling me that it was apparently a big feminist novel, but truth be told, I couldn’t really see that until I had finished it and could look back on the story as a whole. Mid-story, Jane simply seemed like a very smart girl who knew where she wanted to be in life, but now I see that she asserts herself in some very dramatic ways, from how she handles her relationship with Rochester to her refusal of St. John. She’s definitely a strong female character, and I admire that about the book.

Actually, I really like Jane as a character overall. I would say she knows her place, but that sounds awful and also it’s not quite what I want to get at. What’s wonderful about Jane is that she’s honest. In her first days at Lowood, Brocklehurst accuses her of being a liar, and Jane spends the rest of the book refuting that. Having grown up neglected, she doesn’t have any reason to think very much of herself. So, while she knows what her redeeming qualities are, she doesn’t build herself up and doesn’t lie to herself about who she is and what she can expect out of life. Her experiences have made her more honest and down-to-earth than most of the people around her.

Although the principal woman in the novel is fully fledged and likable, I found the men almost exactly the opposite. Rochester is erratic and harsh, weaving back and forth between blind devotion and overbearing scorn towards Jane. St. John is not much better, being forceful and unrelenting in his insistence that Jane must marry him. It seems that in this novel’s attempt to put women in the best possible light, it has ignored the men and forgotten that they need to be consistent characters as well.

At the same time, I found the relationships between the characters fascinating. I reveled in Jane’s mindless attachment to the master of Thornfield, in St. Rochester and his religious parallels with the sickly Helen Burns, in the mysteries of Grace Poole and her insane charge. As Jane moves from one bewildering location to the next, the sets of residents she meets shapes all of her interactions thereafter, and seeing that progression was great fun.

As for the plot of the book, I enjoyed the first four hundred pages or so. Once Jane left Thornfield, however, things got a little dull. I found myself wondering where the plot had gone, and when Rochester was going to turn up and sweep Jane off her feet to some magical honeymoon (as he inevitably and somewhat predictably would). Still, by the end the plot was resolved nicely, with good follow-up on all of the characters. I found the return to Gateshead especially interesting (although that’s quite a bit before she leaves Thornfield), as it showed the contrast between who Jane used to be and how the family dynamics stand years later. It was a return to the familiar, but everything had changed (much like Harry’s return to the Dursleys’ home at the end of Philosopher’s Stone*).

In general, my reaction to Jane Eyre was a paradox of emotions. I nitpicked what was wrong with it (or funny about it, or both) while proclaiming that I loved it. I berated Jane while holding her aloft as the epitome of characterization. At the end of it all, I couldn’t possibly know why exactly I liked the book or its characters- only that I did, and that was that. Perhaps I’ll never know. That’s just fine by me.

Happy reading.

*Recently I’ve been calling it Philosopher’s Stone, even though I’m American and here it’s called the Sorcerer’s Stone. I suppose it’s out of my respect for what Rowling intended. In other news, The Casual Vacancy is out. I’m only, like, ten pages in, but it seems great.

Review: Pride and Prejudice

I’ve literally just finished reading this book, and as I missed posting during the weekend, I figured now would be as good a time as any to take up the Eclectic Reader Challenge once more, this time with a romantic fiction. As always, more information on this challenge can be found in the tab above labeled “The Challenge”.

Now, on to the book.

Pride and Prejudice is, of course, one of the most famous of Jane Austen’s novels. Set in Victorian England, it follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her family. More specifically, it follows Elizabeth’s relationship with a certain Mr. Darcy, who upon first glance is an arrogant, prideful sort of man.

Most people know this premise (and its conclusion) without ever having read the book. However, once I started reading I realized that P&P is so much more than that. It’s about the Bennets’ new neighbor, Mr. Bingley, and his flirtations with Elizabeth’s sister Jane. It concerns the youngest Bennet, Lydia, who’s constantly getting herself into trouble. It touches on the Bennet sisters’ cousin, Mr. Collins, and his mission to make things right with their family.

In terms of themes, P&P is mainly about first impressions and the prejudices they can bring about. It’s about finding the true person underneath the layers you’ve attached to them. Throughout the book, Elizabeth’s opinions and perspectives are constantly being changed and changed again, and it’s up to her to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.

That’s not to say this book is all about preaching morals, however, which brings me to another of my main points: this book is funny. It’s much funnier than I thought it would be. In all honesty, I expected a stuffy, predictable, old-time romance. But some parts of the book made me actually laugh.

For example, basically any time Mr. Collins showed up was a riot. This man is the most pompous fool you could ever hope to encounter, and the best part is he has absolutely no clue about it.

Moving on from the funny, I did think the book was a bit slow at parts. Near the end, however, things really started to pick up, and I got a lot more interested. So if you’re reading this and it seems boring, my advice is to stick with it.

Overall, this book was very well done, but I do have one point to raise. At some parts, it seemed to me that Elizabeth acted a bit silly. Especially where her opinions of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham are involved, she changed her mind incredibly quickly, and it seemed a bit out of character for her. Besides that, however, I found no faults with the book.

This certainly isn’t a book that has some big deeper meaning. I mean, it’s not like The Catcher in the Rye (which I read before this and will be reviewing within the next couple of days). But for someone who doesn’t generally read a lot of romance, it was a great introduction into the classics of the genre. It surprised me by being much more entertaining than I ever thought it would be. I see now why Jane Austen is such a celebrated literary figure.

I suppose the reason I picked this book deserves a mention. I’ve mentioned YouTube quite a lot in the past few months on here, and it turns out that YouTube is responsible for my finally reading P&P. Of course, I always meant to read it, and I had a copy that I would get around to eventually, but I never fully committed until I heard about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Essentially, it’s a web series adaptation of the book, set in the modern day and presented in the form of a series of video diaries made by Lizzie (Elizabeth) Bennet. It’s very funny and, so far, very true to the spirit of the original. If you’re an Austen fan (or if you’re not- it’s a great watch even for people who haven’t read it), I strongly suggest you take a look.

Lizzie and Lydia Bennet, in a screen capture from the first episode.

Well, I suppose that’s it for this review. Stay tuned for my opinion on Catcher. In the meantime, my rating for this book is 3 out of 5 stars.

Happy reading.

P.S. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Novel Journeys! So that’s exciting. I had meant to do something more grand for the occasion, but I suppose this review will have to do.