Jane Eyre Introduction
In A Nutshell
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You can't get much more romantic than Jane Eyre: poor, unloved, and unattractive orphan uses her awesome personality to win over a wealthy sort-of-aristocrat and live happily ever after.
Oh, and by "awesome personality" we mean "blunt and somewhat annoyingly obsessed with duty." And let's not forget to mention that the sort-of-aristocrat is (1) mean, (2) ugly, and (3)...well, we don't want to spoil anything.
What we're saying is, Jane Eyre isn't exactly the harlequin romance novel that a DVD cover like this might suggest. But don't worry: it's still a crowd-pleaser. Madness, disability, missionaries, and a tasty sprinkle of the gothic make Jane Eyre a pretty compelling read for a book that was published (under the pseudonym Currer Bell) in the wayback days of 1847.
Still, there's a lot more going on than the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. At the heart of Jane Eyre is a struggle that's almost certainly close to your heart: the struggle to grow up and live a life that's authentic and meaningful.
So does living an authentic life mean following your cousin across the world to convert the heathens? Does it mean living as a wealthy spinster and teaching the rural poor how to knit? Or does it mean marrying the brooding, crippled landlord who has a sordid, secret past?
It's Choose Your Own Adventure, 19th-century style—hopefully without a pile of Flesh Grubs.
Why Should I Care?
When you look at Jane Eyre, you might just see a long novel about a gal in an ugly gray dress whose life – a lot of the time – totally sucks. Whether she’s gagging on burned porridge at her horrible boarding school or discovering that her fiancé is already married to someone else or wandering around on the moor starving to death, life is often painful for Jane.
The thing is, it’s not painful to read about it. In fact, we start to get kind of obsessed with all the gory details after a while. Did Jane and Rochester's wedding really get interrupted at the altar just now? When did Rochester decide to keep his wife locked in the attic? How many mistresses did he have? Is he Adèle's dad or not? Will Jane marry her cousin or agree to bigamy? Is there a ghost at Thornfield Hall or is it a vampire? They could make a reality show out of this; it would be like Supernanny + The Bachelorette + Ghost Hunters.
Of course, apart from the whole thirst-for-voyeurism thing that we all have, Jane Eyre also about something else: The Man getting you down. Over and over, Jane’s put into situations where she’s too young, too poor, or too powerless to win, but she has to try anyway, and we all know about that. We’ve all been the kid who was completely mistreated by some random adult like Mrs. Reed or Mr. Brocklehurst just because that person has a stick up you-know-where. We’ve all had to accept that everyone would believe the adults just because they are adults, so they get away with it. Maybe some of us have also been the young employee who gets pressured to do something immoral by our boss. Or the girlfriend who finds out that her boyfriend’s taking someone else out on Friday night. That "someone else" might not be an insane vampiric arsonist, but hey, parallels only go so far.
What we’re trying to say is: half of Jane Eyre is pure get-the-popcorn omigosh-she-didn’t spectacle, and the other half is looking pretty familiar.