Jane Eyre is the story of a girl who is orphaned at a very young age. She is half-heartedly adopted by an aunt by marriage. Jane suffers at the hands of her aunt and her cousins, and later at the hands of the hypocritical headmaster of her school. Jane goes on to find employment, and falls in love with her employer. The novel is about an intellectual and passionate young woman, who refuses to surrender her strong sense of principles and proves herself equal to all challenges.
The novel was first published in 1847, under Charlotte Bronte’s pseudonym, Currer Bell. It deals with contemporary issues and has much social commentary and criticism. It depicts how society condemns women to a life of struggle, poverty and loneliness if they do not have a male guardian. These women, though well educated, had a very limited choice of employment. They often had to live on the charity of other people, and were made to feel that society had no use for them.
Charlotte Bronte’s works are always in a very lucid and precise style. She seems to paint pictures with her words. The structure of the novel, which is fairly long, is amazingly coherent; the story is very well paced. It is written like an autobiography, in first person narrative.
Jane Eyre is a book that I have read again and again; every time it seems a little new. The novel was published as an autobiography edited by Currer Bell, though it is actually a work of fiction. But it seems as real as an autobiography, if we disregard all the coincidences and clichés so typical of its times. When I read this book I feel like I am reading, and even writing, a chapter out of my own life. It doesn’t matter if the circumstances of Jane’s life seem utterly far-fetched, very improbable, or impossibly remote. I can immerse myself in Jane, and explore myself as she shows the way. Charlotte Bronte wrote fictional accounts of her own childhood, education, and her experiences as a teacher in almost all of her novels. The ill-kept school, the long-suffering friend, the passion for the employer- all these belong in her own life. The character of Jane dominates the entire book. But the other characters are also unforgettable- who can forget the ‘madwoman in the attic’. I hope that the men who read this review don’t get the impression that Jane Eyre is a novel written by a woman, about a woman, for women, and appreciated only by female readers. It is a proto-feminist text that deals with the problems faced by unattached women compelled to earn a living in a hostile world. It is about identity, self-esteem, morality. As such, it has a universal appeal.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
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