2. Jane Eyre. An Autobiography of the little novelist that could(n’t)

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.

Charlotte Brontë

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.

Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester illustration in second edition

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.


20 responses to “2. Jane Eyre. An Autobiography of the little novelist that could(n’t)

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  3. Finally the pain ends! Feeling your agony of reading this book was unbearable. I hope you recover soon.

  4. Whooo wheee! I am sooo glad I have not read this book. And here I was ashamed of that fact. What a great review (and/or cautionary tale!). Having been through some real literary trash lately, I know how it feels to slog through a book that saps your will to live. :) Hang in there!

  5. I just came over to visit after seeing your interview on Page Turners. I had to see what you thought of Jane Eyre … I read it for the first time last year and I didn’t fall in love with it either (blasphemy!!!) I always feel bad when I don’t love these classic novels and, instead, find them boring or overly long. After reading your review, I thought you might enjoy my take on it as well. I didn’t hate it as nearly as much as you did, but I didn’t love it either. Thanks for your honesty!

    Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.findyournextbookhere.com/2009/04/thoughts-on-jane-eyre.html

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  7. I loathe this book. Loathe it.

  8. bahahaha. I have to say, this review was extremely entertaining to read. I totally understand why you didn’t like it. I agree with you that the didactic tone and predictability got old and at times annoying. But, I don’t think that necessarily took away from the value of the work as a whole – I think I have this opinion probably because I read some really great critical essays in the back of my edition … but yeah … anyways … I don’t know how you feel about Jane Austen but I freakin hate Pride and Prejudice.

    • Jane Austen wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but, that being said, I had extremely low expectations to begin with. So, not exactly looking forward to reading her other books. It would be interesting to read some critical essays on J.E. – I’m a bit of a nerd, so I like to check out that sort of stuff even if it’s for a book I hared. I wish I read your edition, but there you have it. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the novel any more than I did, but I never say no to extra context.

  9. First of all, great idea for a blog! This is Connie from the Blue Bookcase, and I am as delighted to find your blog as you were to have found ours! I came to read your post since you said that you, too, couldn’t stand Jane Eyre, and hurrah for you! For me, it’s less that the characters (particularly Jane) are moral, but more that they are BORING and completely unrelate-able. Someone once summed this book up perfectly: “Life sucks, and then you marry an asshole.” Yup. I have yet to understand the appeal of Jane, who is too quiet and dependent, or Mr. Rochester, who is a total jerk, and their religious idolization of each other is more creepy and weird than romantic.

    • I really liked the first few chapters of the book – as a child Jane was quite interesting. Then she was sent to that horrible school, and it all went downhill from there. Funny how Jane Eyre is one of those books people either love or hate. Totally right about the characters being boring and unrelate-able, and I think that even if I DID live in those times, I wouldn’t be able to get into the book. “Life sucks, and then you marry an asshole” is perfect. Thanks so much for the comment!

  10. Wow… I don’t know what to say. This is one of my favourite classics.

    I do agree with you on Great Expectations, though. I had to read that in school, but I never actually did. It’s actually kind of fun to see how much you can get away with when you’re writing essays while never having finished the book.

    • I think Jane Eyre is a book people either love or hate.

      Ooh, I was always too scared not to finish a book at school, but always admired people who could. Actually, most of the time, I was the only person who DID finish a book. Yeah, I was that kind of a dork that hated quitting a book. Although I should have with Great Expectations, because that was a terrible ending.

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  12. This is such a visually pleasing post! Thanks for the link! Love the pictures you have here. Ah! You did have a terrible time reading this one as well. Period literature is so hard to read for our modern age. They had to compensate so much for visuals back then because they did not have the internet. We were forced to read Great Expectations in school. I enjoyed it a bit–I do admit that. I think I was in a phase for admiring the book back in high-school because I did have an aunt just like that in book :)

  13. For some reason I thought you’d already read this post?

    I enjoy some period literature – like The Portrait of Dorian Gray, or Alice in Wonderland. Things like that. Not preachy un-fun books.

    We were forced to read Great Expectations at school too. I was the only one who bothered finishing it, and whilst I didn’t like it (particularly because the ending was the biggest let-down ever, and made the book seem particularly pointless), I was quite happy to have met Miss Havisham. She was an awesome, awesome character.

  14. Wow, personally Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books. Usually I hate classics I found Wuthering Heights almost unbearable and I gave up on Hard Times when I had to read it in school. But for me Jane Eyre was actually interesting and the language was much easier to read compared to some classics.

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