Welcome back to my bookshelf!
Today, we’re continuing on along my short shelf, looking today at Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
My first experience with this novel was in seventh grade, when I read it as one of my required reading books. I was going through classics at the time, and I read it along with other female-authored classics of similar size (notably other Bronte sister novels and some Jane Austen). From my initial impressions, I recall preferring it vastly to all of Austen and a little bit to Wuthering Heights. It was melancholy without being (thirteen-year-old me felt) overdramatic.
My second read happened sometime in high school, although the details are fuzzy. By this point I’d ready a gross amount of Dickens, Vanity Fair, and several quite thick Russian classics, and Jane Eyre no longer cut the mustard for me, I’m afraid. It went into the stack of books like Frankenstein and The Old Man and the Sea that I never wanted to see again in my life. If someone had asked me at the time to discuss my violent assessment in intelligent terms with things like sentences and adjectives, I don’t think I could have done it. I had a very visceral reaction to my reread that leads me to believe now that it was something I was experiencing in my life that must have subconsciously mixed with the novel in a very negative way.
Because now, while I don’t think I will ever love it, I’ve kept it on my bookshelf in spite of my previously violent reactions to it. Frankenstein wasn’t so lucky. It was one of the few non-children’s books that I opted to give away when I was cleaning. Something about Jane Eyre, however, reached out and appealed to the 22-year-old me. Perhaps it’s the melancholy nature, the darkness that finds communion with my inner Mistress of Dark Emotion. Perhaps it’s my inner Victorian. I really can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s staying on my short shelf for now, and when I go to pack up and move in a couple year’s time, we’ll see if it’s still so lucky.
I’ll confess that this one is due for a reread, and when I go through rereading things it will most likely be on the list. But here’s a few thoughts from those around me on the novel, and my reactions to them.
First of all, my brother had to read it in his 9th grade English class, and the particular exercise was to annotate the book as he read. So he left sticky notes all through the copy (or maybe he wrote in the margins, I haven’t actually looked, but my other brother still has all his sticky notes in the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude I loaned him for AP English) and had to turn in his thoughts to the teacher. I will say that he didn’t especially enjoy the novel, and found it too long and vastly depressing. Not so much that he refused to watch Pride and Prejudice with me, but enough that his teacher actually said she couldn’t finish reading his comments because they were too disturbing. Whatever it was he wrote, he wasn’t referred to the counselor, but I’m sure it was witty, entertaining, and vaguely bizarre. I’d like to get my hands on those comments one day.
My excellent friend, fellow writer, and aspiring young-adult author Meg happens to be a big fan of Jane Austen, and consequently knows much of its offshoots. While she says she’s never read Jane Eyre, she happens to have learned that the novel was born out of a question Charlotte Bronte asked herself: What would happen if Jane Fairfax (from Jane Austen’s Emma) had become a governess rather than marrying? Thus was the beginning of a great classic.
So for those of you who have heard or said that fan fiction can’t be great literature, there’s that proved wrong. One of the greatest classics, taught frequently to high school students, began its life as a fan fiction. Proof that the question “what if” can do just about anything in the right hands.