It took me over two weeks to finish Jane Eyre. Not because I was busy; rather, I had to frequently force my glazed eyes to once again focus on the drivel before me. I felt like a political prisoner – forced to eat dry, stale bread when I knew that I was a hero, dammit!
Charlotte Brontë‘s first (and unfortunately not last) novel was published in 1847 under the title of Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. For those playing along at home, a significantly large proportion of the book is based on Miss Brontë’s life. Oh, except for the whole rich-guy-falling-in-love-with-ugly-girl shtick. What did you say? That particular bit is quite important to the plot? Pfft. Let me prove to you how wrong you are.
The novel is like having your own personal preacher. He (let’s call him John) spends his time sitting on your shoulder and provides you with timely sermons as soon as you feel like having an ounce of fun. In a slightly nasal, monotone voice, the preacher attempts to dissuade me from (shock, horror!) spending far too long on putting together the perfect outfit (because really, Ilona, you should stop focusing on earthly delights and concentrate on worshipping God. Duh.) One day, I dared to have an independent thought – the priest popped out of nowhere, shook his little fist at me and told me I must save those heathen savages living in India. But there was this other time that I decided to keep a lunatic locked up in my house. Because, clearly, sending them off to an asylum would damage my reputation, but instead of being disapproving, little John gave me a thumbs up!
I digress. Really, the only way I can convey why the book offends my extremely refined taste is by quoting from it. It is the very last chapter, and Jane is trying to avoid talking about any sexytimes between her and Mr Rochester by droning on about what happened to all the other characters. It is here that she mentions Adèle, the child Jane used to tutor and the daughter of a French mistress:
“As she [Adèle] grew up, a sound English education corrected in a great measure her French defects; and when she left school, I found her a pleasing and obliging companion: docile, good-tempered, and well-principled.”
Pardon? I’m pretty sure I would much rather read a story about a heroine with French “defects” (outlined by Eyre/Brontë as being far too passionate about having fun, and having an aptitude for sparkly dresses) than a novel featuring a “docile” and “well-principled” governess. Side note: I’ve already read that lovely French story here.
Perhaps it is not Miss Brontë’s fault. After all, her education specifically moulded her into the above characteristics; she was the daughter of a clergyman; and very much the product of her time. But then again, the writing is absolute crap (to put it bluntly). At least my previously most hated novel of all time, Great Expectations, had interesting characters and oh, I don’t know, emotive storytelling. Instead we’re subjected to such a flat recounting of events, that we don’t even notice the apparent fear Jane feels when Brontë throws in a bit of a “gothic theme” via the Madwoman in the Attic. Also, aside from said Madwoman, the plot is completely predictable (see here for other predictable features of the esteemed romance novel).
Oh ok, you are right – it is entirely, but for one smidgen, Miss Brontë’s fault this god-fearing gibberish was published. The last smidgen of blame I assign equally between her publisher, and the scores of people who continue to read this tripe and place it in on lists like 100 Books to Read Before You Die. Repeat after me: just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s good, yeah?
Finally for my last bit of criticism: it is quite apparent that this novel suffers from the dreaded Mary Sue symptom. The character of Jane Eyre is the author’s wish-fulfillment – the ‘rich-man-falling-in-love-with-Jane-as-opposed-to-that-beautiful-but-oh-so-bitchy-competitor’ cliche, Jane’s apparent lack of faults, and the ‘oh-an-uncle-i-never-heard-of-died-and-made-me-ridiculously-rich’ trope. Added to the fact that, essentially, the novel is an autobiography and, well, it is rather embarrassing to read. For the same reason, I’m pretty sure Stephanie Myer is Charlotte Brontë reincarnated.
In conclusion: every day I spent reading this book made Pride and Prejudice look that much the better.