By Charlotte BrontëI am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.
Eight years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my sister received a beautiful little copy of Jane Eyre as a birthday present. It was so beautiful, and it was one of my sister’s favorite books. I so desperately wanted to love it as much as she did, but after struggling through the beginning of the book, it eventually slipped to the bottom of my to-do list and then fell off the bottom into a swirling sea of forgotten tasks. Two years later I went on vacation, and that little book, sitting unread on the bookshelf, haunted me. I pictured myself sitting on the Virginian beach, reading a literary classic, and being so completely grown-up. So I tackled Jane Eyre once more, and once more, it failed to capture my imagination and was returned to the shelf only partially read.
I always finish books, so to leave the same book unfinished twice was strange for me. When I saw that it was on my list of books, I debated whether or not I wanted to try reading it in just one week. It was clearly a popular book, and there had to be a reason people liked it. But there are plenty of popular books that I’ve read and then thought, “I just don’t get it.” I decided to give it one more shot. Third time’s a charm, right?
And I am so glad I decided to give Jane Eyre another chance. I didn’t just read it; I devoured it. Many evening conversations this week revolved around our thick-skulled hero and frustratingly-cautious heroine. The first third of the book moves slowly, but Brontë is laying important groundwork whose significance is revealed in the final chapters of the book. It details Jane’s childhood as an orphan living with her abusive aunt and her years at Lowood Institution, a school for destitute children. After suffering through a childhood that would have easily left many people bitter and heartless, Jane leaves Lowood as a smart, self-assured, kind young woman.
She takes a governess position at Thornfield, and despite a master who is either harsh and abrupt or mysteriously absent, Jane feels at home for the first time in her life. She falls in love and begins to make a life for herself outside of her previous experiences, but a dark secret leaves us wondering if she will be able to find a lasting happiness.
Brontë seamlessly weaves a tale of love, mystery, and suspense. Her characters invoke your love despite all of their imperfections. Brontë understands the human character and emotions, and when she writes about Jane’s anger, elation, and heartbreak, you whole-heartedly empathize with her. The language is beautiful and the story is gripping. (Never before have I stayed up late, heart pounding, reading a book that was written before 1950.) And Jane is a protagonist worthy of a novel. She is complicated, intelligent, and strong. Everyone should read this book and fall in love with Jane. She and her author will never have too many admirers.