The Eyre affair...

The Eyre affair…

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

Last year, I embarked on the task of reading Jane Eyre. It was November, and since I was taking part in NaNoWriMo at the time, I figured that a (potentially) dull book would almost force me to spend time writing rather than reading. As it was, I got to a point nearly three weeks into the month and was only halfway through the book.

I gave up.

Then I had a spare week this month (I’m awaiting a book for a book club, more on that later, I’m sure) so I thought I’d read a few more chapters of this and get closer to the ending. As it was, I managed to fight my way through it a good deal quicker and have now finished it. Yes chaps, in a combined twenty-four days (the longest time it’s taken me to read a book since, I think, Stephen Baxter’s Evolution) and with a good deal of patience, I have completed another classic novel – something I don’t do very often.

I suppose I chose Jane Eyre because one of my favourite books is Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which is well worth a read and is the story of what happens when Jane is kidnapped from the novel. Because it focuses rather a lot on the climax of the original novel, I knew what was going to happen, and maybe that is what caused the book to drag from time to time. Anyway, on with the review proper.

Miss Jane Eyre is an orphan, forced to live with a family who do not care for her; a nasty aunt Mrs Reed, and cousins who are mean to her and not chastised for being so. Jane has a sharp tongue and a temper she cannot always control, thus making her something of an outsider and not at all what girls of her age should become. She is soon shipped off to Lowood, a charity school run by the nasty Brocklehurst where, while the situation is often miserable, she meets good friends and learns much. After teaching there for a couple of years once her studies are over, she accepts a governess position for a young girl called Adele at Thornfield Hall.

Arriving, she finds that the master of the house is absent, but the other servants and housekeepers make her feel at home, and she carries on with Adele, spending time with her and helping her with her lessons. Soon, the mysterious Mr Rochester does indeed make an appearance, and while he’s grumpy and ugly, she is curious about him and finds herself attracted to this strange man. He, however, seems more intend on marrying bimbo Blance Ingram. That is, until Jane saves his life from an unexplained fire that nearly kills him. He claims the fire was started by servant Grace Poole, but he doesn’t sack her. Jane becomes convinced that there is something going on at Thornfield that she doesn’t know about, but no one will tell her what it is.

However, Rochester has now fallen for Jane and proposes. She accepts but on the day they come to be married, a lawyer turns up with an objection to the wedding. As everything comes crashing down around them and secrets and skeletons pour from the closets and the attics, it seems that Jane will never be happy…

What I found most surprising about this book is simply that it’s actually very good. I’m biased towards the classics, usually scorning them, but this is definitely one that has a right to last. That was partly why I wanted to finish it, because it’s a story I wanted to hear. The difficult bit comes with the language, which is frequently dense. I like to devour books, but this was like eating a whole deer raw with a fish knife. But despite its age and the language, there’s something incredibly modern about it.

Jane is not a woman content to sit around and wait for a husband and do the bidding of whatever man crosses her path. She is unafraid to shout at Rochester or others and tell them what she really thinks, arguing that they are equals, despite their gender. Jane is determined to make her own place in the world and not defer to a man. She will marry who and when she wants, not just because someone tells her it is time. Men continually try to establish dominance over her, and fail every time.

It may well be full of Biblical allusions that I don’t get, and Brontë might well take three hundred words to say what could be said in three, but despite it all, I absolutely did not hate the book. The story is excellent, compelling and a bit strange (not least the bit where Rochester disguises himself as a gypsy woman in order to entice secrets from Jane), with hints of the supernatural about it. It was also interesting to read having read the aforementioned The Eyre Affair, which turns this novel on its head. (Think of it as how The Wizard of Oz appears different after you’ve read or seen Wicked.) The emotions are raw and real, both Jane and Rochester are fascinating and likeable characters, and while the pace is occasionally slow, there’s something here that keeps you plowing on, even if not all in one go.

While I’m still not in favour of all the classics, this one has definitely been awarded a new fan.