CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S JANE EYRE by William Dudley Foulke 1912
Join my Facebook Group
See also The Best Victorian Literature, Over 100 Books on DVDrom
"JANE EYRE" is a book which impresses the reader with its power,— I might say its masculine power, were it not for the fact that the author gives us at every turn the woman's point of view.
The narrative, like that of "David Copperfield," is in the form of an autobiography, and the plot, which is quite simple, has only that sort of unity which the heroine gives it. Yet the work glows with intense passion and the characters are so faithful to nature that they convince us that vivid personal experience must have come to the aid of the author's imagination in delineating them.
Jane Eyre, an orphan, is abused and mistreated in childhood, first in the family of Mrs. Reed, where she is brought up, and afterwards at the Lowood charity school, where she is first a pupil and then becomes a teacher. She seeks a situation as governess, and finds employment at Thornfield Hall, the residence of a Mr. Rochester, who, after a wild, dissipated, wandering life, has come, some time before, into possession of this splendid property. Here she has the charge of Adele, his ward.
There is a certain uncanny secret about Thornfield which the governess finds herself unable to fathom. She hears wild laughter and inarticulate sounds in a distant part of the Hall. One night Rochester's bed is mysteriously set on fire, and Jane Eyre saves his life. On another occasion, while the house is full of guests, a horrible shriek comes from the upper floor and a murder is well nigh committed by some unknown creature who is hidden there.
In the meantime Mr. Rochester has become greatly interested in his little governess, who, although quiet and plain in appearance, is warmhearted and high-spirited, with a strong sense of duty, great courage, and an indomitable will. And she on her side becomes fascinated and at last utterly devoted to her master, a man of brilliant parts, strong, brusque, proud and autocratic. He offers her his hand, and she accepts him, to learn, however, in the very presence of the altar and during the wedding ceremony, that he has another wife! It seems that in his early years he had been beguiled into a marriage in the West Indies with a woman whose dissolute courses had wrecked his life, and had terminated in her own madness, and that this was the maniac who had occasioned the strange scenes at the Hall.
Jane Eyre now flees from Thornfield, concealing all traces of her whereabouts. She wanders amid incredible hardships and destitution, and at last finds shelter at Moor House, the home of St. John Rivers and his two sisters, who are afterwards discovered to be her relatives, and with whom she divides a legacy which she receives from a deceased uncle. St. John is a country clergyman of high character, full of zeal, ambition, and fanaticism, and determined to devote his life to missionary service in India. He seeks her hand, but she realizes that it is not from love but to make her his fellow laborer in the work of the Gospel. He has sought to inspire her with his own enthusiasm, and she is on the point of yielding, when she seems to hear the voice of Rochester calling to her in pain and anguish. She returns to Thornfield, and finds that the Hall has been consumed in a conflagration kindled by the maniac, and that Rochester, who had sought in vain to save the life of the wretched creature, has been himself rescued, blind and a cripple, from the ruins. She seeks him and becomes his wife.
But the bare recital of these leading events gives very little idea of the characters in this somber and tragic tale, or the feelings which control their actions. The book must be read through to be understood. From the very beginning the author strikes a resounding chord in human nature. Brutality to children stirs us to fury, and no one, not even Dickens or Victor Hugo, has painted this form of tyranny in livelier colors than Charlotte Bronte. The conduct of Mrs. Reed and of Rev. Mr. Brocklehurst, the sanctified and inhuman director of Lowood school, arouses our hot resentment.
Of course there are blemishes in the book. Sometimes the conversation is too carefully written to be natural. Then there is an intrinsic improbability in the plot. Why should a young woman so self-sufficient as the heroine consent to marry Rochester before she had solved the secret of Thornfield? But these defects in the novel are trifling by the side of its abounding excellences. At nearly every point the heroine awakens our admiration; we feel (sometimes, perhaps, in spite of our better judgment) that she is doing right; and so masterly is the author's portraiture that, in spite of many repulsive features, she awakens a stronger sympathy for the seared and blighted Rochester than for the pure and devoted yet inexorable St. John Rivers. Jane Eyre is an eloquent novel. It is emphatically a work of genius.
For a list of all of my disks, with links, click here