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21 November 2013
Jane Eyre, our protagonist
This week, I had a reader ask me what books I would recommend to her teenage daughter. Pondering that question, an idea popped into my head. Why not write a post about my favorite books and why I like them? The only problem is that if I wrote about every favorite book of mine, the post would end up much longer than what anyone would care to read. So, I believe I’ll devote a post here and there to a favorite book or two, fiction and nonfiction. I shall begin today with fiction!
Anyone who really knows me well will predict the first novel on my list–Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane endures a miserable childhood. Orphaned at birth, Jane spends her first several years with an Aunt who promised her husband she’d look after Jane, resents her obligation and isn’t afraid to show it. Aunt Reed sends Jane to a boarding school, ruled by an overbearing schoolmaster who inflicts harsh punishments for minor infractions. As a young woman, Jane makes a break with her school and advertises for a position as governess. Her first answer takes her to a solitary mansion owned by a rather eccentric man, Edward Rochester, to teach a pretty little girl named Adele. Jane soon finds herself at home with her student, her friendship with the house keeper and the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Strange sounds and sights within the house and the growing love between herself and Mr. Rochester trouble her and lead to a startling revelation.
I picked the book up for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen. Up to that point, I’d read a lot of the classics. What struck me about Jane Eyre was the completely unique writing style compared to other British authors. Whereas Charles Dickens pursued about five or six plot lines per novel and tied them all in at the end and Jane Austen made witty observations about people’s faults and foibles, Charlotte Bronte wrote from the perspective and internal thoughts of one young woman and dealt with one story line. Jane Eyre, in particular, is so real and fresh. She is not beautiful, she thinks deeply, she has many faults which she strives to overcome, and she has great strength of character. As much as I love Charles Dickens, most of his female characters were a little too good to be true. They were terribly good and stood high on pedestals. There was not much of a sin nature to be seen in them. Even Dickens’ “fallen” women started out good and lovely and only ended up in bad places because of their outward circumstances and influences. Jane, on the other hand, is an obvious sinner with many character flaws which she must learn to overcome. I was always struck by the way she changed from a bitter, angry little girl to a woman who learned to forgive those who had treated her horribly. There are theological flaws in the book, but there is much beauty and truth to take away from it. If you have not read Jane Eyre you really must.