Derbyshire

I have a feeling that some readers will interpret the title of this post as a reference to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Although it is my favorite Austen novel, we unfortunately didn’t cover it in my British Authors course last semester. The book through which I would like you to accompany me today is Jane Eyre.

Title page of the first edition
Title page of the first edition

A brief synopsis:

Jane is orphaned as a baby and sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle Reed at Gateshead. Her years there are miserable. She is moved to Lowood School where she endures more suffering, but succeeds in making friends. Having reached the level of instructor, Jane applies for a governess position at Thornfield Hall and there meets Mr. Rochester. They fall in love after and interesting series of events. Their marriage is called off suddenly and Jane flees. Destitute, she arrives at a home where two sisters and their brother take her in and care for her. After staying there to recuperate, Jane is faced with the choice of marrying the brother, St. John (Sinjun), or Mr. Rochester.

My synopsis of this novel is a bit longer than the one I gave for Oliver Twist. Jane Eyre is a long novel. Despite writing a longer synopsis, I skipped a significant amount of detail and important action. It simply wasn’t possible to include everything without rewriting the book.

Jane Eyre was written by a woman, something not well accepted at the time. Yes, women could write books, but they were not considered to be in the same league as novels written by men. They were hobbies and books for women, not works of literature. How very wrong they were! Bronte’s work is advanced and well done.

In this novel, Bronte includes several themes, one of which is feminism. Jane is independent and capable of making decisions about her own life. She leaves Rochester before their wedding because she knows it would be immoral for them to continue their relationship. She takes initiative to start and run a village school. Perhaps most importantly, she chooses who she wants to marry. In many ways, this novel shows evidence of being a Bildungsroman, a coming of age story. Jane is forced to grow and examine herself as she encounters new and challenging situations.

Feminism is not the only theme present, however. Love versus independence, religion, social class, and gender relations are prevalent throughout the work. Jane Eyre also has a sense of the Gothic. This presents itself in the power of nature (lightning splitting the tree in half) as well as other elements.

You might be wondering why I chose Derbyshire as the location of the novel. The action of Jane Eyre occurs in five different places, but I chose the alleged location of Thornfield Hall, the home of Mr. Rochester. Of course, it is not certain that this was where he lived, but many people believe that Thornfield was based on an actual mansion in Derbyshire, Haddon Hall.

Copyright Rob Bendall
Copyright Rob Bendall

An utterly romantic setting. I prefer to believe that Charlotte Bronte used this as the backdrop of the heart-wrenching love story that the reader sees play out between Jane and Mr. Rochester. Unlike Oliver Twist and its negative view of London, Jane Eyre makes me want to travel and see the beautiful English countryside.

Would I recommend Jane Eyre? Yes, but it isn’t for everyone. I love it, but is a long read and quite descriptive. While there is plenty to analyze and the plot is well done, it is not for the faint-hearted reader. You need to be able to stick to one book for a while or set aside extra time for reading each day.

Jane Eyre has some of the best quotes in my opinion:

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

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