Books for Women #2 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Next on my list comes this old favourite which  generations of women have loved and learned from – read it? Loved it? Tell me  what  moved you most in it.

A woman attending one of The Reader Organisation’s shared reading groups asked if we could read this book  ‘because I’ve heard it is about a girl with mental health problems and she overcomes them…’

Not the usual description of this woman-making book, and yet later, I realised it was Jane’s anguish and the emotionally unsatisfying nature of her life that I had  identified with when I first read it. The brutal injustice of her child life seemed an absolute picture of reality at some level.

Technically it was  a hard read for a girl of,  I think, about  12. I got bored a lot as well as getting excited. I skipped the section when Jane – having had  what we’d these days call a nervous breakdown –  is holed up in the St John Rivers’ family home. But I started paying attention when St John nearly forced her to marry him;

“God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must–shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you–not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”

Jane’s a woman determined to go with her own feelings – I learned you could fight back even if you weren’t very beautiful, trying to get a life together with ‘not personal, but mental endowments’. And that fighting was partly gritty determination and partly a sharp wit. She keeps saying she is ugly but I thought she was overplaying  that. She was just, like me, a plain Jane.

But it all works out. At the end of the book, when Jane  finds her lost and now very broken love, he asks

“Am I hideous, Jane?”  she replies, “Very, sir: you always were, you know.”

Attagirl!

You can read it here

8 thoughts on “Books for Women #2 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

  1. Vikki Littlemore April 26, 2012 / 4:20 pm

    I love this idea so much, such a great blog. I will be following avidly. Yes, I have read Jane Eyre, and feel all the better for it. It’s a beautiful book and a good addition to the list.

    • drjanedavis April 27, 2012 / 7:02 am

      Hi Vikki, send me some suggestions for the list, won’t you?

  2. Bridget April 26, 2012 / 10:26 pm

    It’s Jane’s passionate sense of self – and her right to love and be loved, even though plain, poor and little! – that has brought me back to this book time and again. And you can’t beat the line “Reader, I married him”…

    This was a book I read at A-level – but like you, Jane – I then found parts of it frustrating. Why didn’t she just run away to France with Rochester and live as his mistress?! Coming back to it during my degree, and again later, I appreciated that it’s her fundamental sense of self-identity that drives her decisions.

    I also love Jean Rhys’ story of Bertha Mason & the young Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea. A beautiful and powerful book in its own right – but also an intriguing companion read to Jane Eyre. Perhaps another for your Books for Women list?

    • drjanedavis April 27, 2012 / 7:00 am

      You are right about the right to love – agreed! That powerful determination to have love and on her own terms… is partly what makes this a universal book – men love it too… Which brings me to the point that some readers may be silently sitting there ( as I might myself) thinking – books for men, books for women …. we’re all human, aren’t we?
      Yes yes and yes. I’ll write about this topic as the list evolves.

  3. Jackie O'Carroll April 26, 2012 / 10:35 pm

    Ok, in response to latish night tweets Jane – a book that changed my life was Zora Neale Hurston ‘Their eyes were watching God’.
    I came late to this book because I came late to Higher Education – I was twenty nine with a 9 month old baby when I enrolled for a history and literature degree in London, transferring to Liverpool Poly for my 2nd year…I discovered this book as part of the women and literature course. Just as discovering that I could have an opinion about history (it’s not facts in text books Mr Taylor – boring school history teacher, it’s different perspectives and voices..), so I discovered the many different voices in literature. Zora Neale Hurston presents characters who breath on the page, sassy Janie, beautiful Tea Cake – the language, story, images all entranced me and made me feel I too could do anything and be magnificent! And now my daughter loves this book too…what more can we ask of a book, a writer? Go read…and feel your heart sing!

    • drjanedavis April 27, 2012 / 6:57 am

      I’ve ordered this book and am looking forward to reading it – thank you Jackie. Getting into education has been such a liberating experience for so many people – that’s still partly where my energy comes from! I was late to arrive at University – 24, with a five year old daughter – and will rite about some of the texts that got me there during the compilation of this list…did you read E’s Reader Story on The Reader Organisation blog yesterday? (www.thereaderonline.co.uk) Think you would be interested.

  4. @jigsawthis April 29, 2012 / 3:51 pm

    I don’t know if this book made me a man, but it certainly made me a reader. When I was in Mr Andrews’ class at primary school there was a box of books on the window sill that we were expected to choose from when we had to read to the teacher. Knowing how I read now I expect I got through several of them, but the only one I remember is Jane Eyre. I think I must have known it was a grown up’s book because when I told people about it they had read it as well. It was only when I read it again years later and found it was much thicker than I remember that I realised it must have been an abridged version. I still feel that my younger self was cheated. Nine year old me didn’t notice a gap between Jane as a young girl and the dramatic events of the close of the book. I wonder what the bit in the middle would’ve made of me… Why could we read about children and adults, but not children growing up to be adults?
    My wife was in the year above me at school and she remembers reading exactly the same copy of the book!

  5. Sue Larner-Peet May 4, 2012 / 7:27 pm

    I am actually reading Jane Eyre again at the moment. It is a book I first read when I was about 12, and one I have returned to again and again over the years because I can be confident that it will never disappoint. Although the 21st century me can take issue with Jane on many points, her indomitable spirit and refusal to be cowed is as powerful a model for women today as it was when it was written. Her quiet determination to find the positives in whichever situation she finds herself parallels the ‘gladness’ of Pollyanna; another book which I returned to several times when I was younger.

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