Jane Eyre: A Romance Novel for the Modern, Intelligent Woman
Becky Brinkerhoff ’16 / Emertainment Monthly StaffBeneath the heightened language and brilliant dialogue in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte—published in 1847 by Smith, Elder and Co.—lies the guidelines of what a modern romance story should be. Well, in the eyes of a 21st century feminist. Though some may disagree, Jane Eyre is a story that provides relatability for the misfits, feelings for the romantics, and feminism for the fanatics.
Jane grows up in the typical fairytale household: evil relative Aunt Reed raising her, cruel cousins torching her, no money to her name. However, Jane is far from a fairytale princess. Jane—from the start—is sassy, intelligent, and clearly an outcast of typical 19th century society.
She is sent to Lowood School: a religious boarding school for orphans (doesn’t that sound incredibly cheery?) that runs on the principle of keeping the students as impoverished as possible. However, even in her lowly position as outcast among orphans, Jane excels in school. Wanderlust hits and Jane takes to the road, on her way to become a governess for hilariously dense French girl named Adele at Thornfield manner.
Self-proclaimed “plain” Jane meets her intellectual match in the owner of Thornfield: Mr. Rochester. They spend nights bantering by the fireplace— with Rochester calling her an elfish beauty and Jane knocking his advances away. Jane is slowly falling for the multi-faceted mind of Mr. Rochester. Things seem to be headed in the right direction…until the “it girl” of the 19th century, Blanc Ingram, shows up with the hots for Rochester. Rochester lets Blanc openly flirt with him—and forces Jane to watch. Never fear, however, it is all a ploy to grow Jane’s love. And it works. Soon after, Jane is in a gorgeous wedding gown (one that she requested not to have) and ready to marry Rochester. But, Rochester apparently had a skeleton in his closet, one that he did not dispose of.
Jane Eyre is a romance novel for the intelligent, modern women. Forget manufactured, paper-thin plot lines and ten page descriptions of abs. The relationship between Jane and Rochester is a microcosm of the book itself: intelligent, multi-faceted, complicated, stimulating and deeply moving.
This novel has the heart wrenching “feels” that women tend to look for in plots now a day. The tension between the couple is undeniable. However, this love is a love of the mind. As Jane explains, “I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected…He made me love him without looking at me.”
However, Jane is strong on her own without her man. She resisted him persistently at the beginning of the romance until she was certain of his feelings for her. During a rough patch when Mr. Rochester is begging on his knees for Jane and burying his head in her hips, Jane replies, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” (A line to make any feminist slap the table and say, “hell yeah!”) She yanks herself from his grasp and walks away. Boom.
Furthering the feminism, Jane explains to Rochester, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel… they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings… It is thoughtless to condemn them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” Case and point. Jane Eyre, defying gender roles from 1847.
Reading Jane Eyre, though time consuming, is a full body experience. The beautiful phrasing and the way that the romance breaks your heart, leaving you yearning for an answer that neither you nor Jane can figure out. Bone chilling and heart breaking, frustrating and stimulating, Jane Eyre will leave you with your hand over your heart and your mind spinning. A must read for a modern woman.