When Jane Eyre was originally published, it was called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s pen-name), which in itself is a fascinating insight into this classic novel. The idea Charlotte Brontë wanted this to be viewed as an autobiography implies this is more of a social commentary more than a classic gothic novel. This is what I want to focus my review on; what did she want to say about the world when she wrote this book?
Most people know the plot of Jane Eyre, so we can skip that and go right into the analysis. Bildungsroman is the primary genre of Jane Eyre, which is basically a coming of age story that documents the psychological and moral growth of its protagonist, which is interesting because on the surface there doesn’t seem to be much growth for Jane Eyre. Apart from the class struggle; Jane Eyre was an educated orphan who always believed she was low class. She constantly discriminates against herself about her class and this ultimately allows Mr Rochester to be the dominating force he is in their relationship. However it isn’t until Jane has money and returns to find Rochester blind and cripple, that she agree to marry him; what does that say about the social balance?
Though there is a whole idea of independence that plays out within this novel as well. I never thought that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester had any chemistry and the first proposal was forced upon her. Thankfully it was revealed that Rochester was already married and Jane got out of the position she was in. She had to learn independence and the ability to make decisions for herself. This was tested when St. John (which I discovered is meant to be pronounced together like sin-jun) asked her to marry him.
There is a strong sense of religious morality at the core of Jane Eyre, just look at when St. John proposed to Jane Eyre, it allowed her to played with the idea of a moral decision. There is also an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness that comes into play in this scene. Jane sees John as a brother but he tries to pressure her by implying that it is her Christian duty to marry him and work as a missionary in India. Her refusal to marry him but still travel to India as a missionary was met with disdain. John tries to emotionally blackmail her into marriage using God’s will as ammunition, even though there is no love and would only be a marriage of convenience.
I know I may have asked a few too many questions in this review, but there are some interesting thoughts to be had about Jane Eyre. I am not going to go into how Mr Rochester is the Byronic hero, the gothic themes, or how people should view this book as a Romantic novel and not a romantic book. Personally I think there are interesting elements within this classic book but Charlotte Brontë is my least favourite of all the Brontë sisters. This is the first time reading Jane Eyre and I might read it again at some point; but I hope I offered some interesting insights into the book.