Sunday, 20 April 2014

A tirade against the love of Jane Eyre

Today Charlotte Brontë is one-hundred and ninety-eight. It seems, therefore, a fitting day to have a little rant about what I think is wrong with her most famous work. Jane Eyre is almost universally upheld as a romance that is both timeless and beautiful. But this is something that I just can't understand. I read Jane Eyre for the first time only recently, and was thoroughly disappointed to find that neither the story nor the characters captivated me. I felt no emotional investment in Jane's personality or plight. She is to my mind one of the most self-indulgent and unsympathetic characters in fiction. The story of her "romance" with Mr Rochester is neither beautiful nor timeless, and here's why.
Firstly, Jane and Mr Rochester are both selfish and inconsiderate characters who do not have the decency to admit to this. To compare them to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights: yes Kathy and Heathcliff and selfish, malicious and cruel, but at least they're upfront about it. Jeez. Have some integrity. But more importantly, their love has the ability to transcend all: true, they may do a fine job of making everyone around them miserable, but it is all motivated by a love that remains passionate and engulfing for their entire lives. In Jane Eyre, however, the opposite is true. Each lover stands on their pride and false virtue to the detriment of the other. Mr Rochester tortures Jane through his attentions to Miss Ingram. Jane runs away from Mr Rochester without a backward glance, purely to save her own over-prized virtue. How is that selfless love transcending all? How is that beautiful?
Secondly, they rejoice in the death of an innocent.Yes, Bertha Rochester was completely yoyo, but is that really any reason to be quite so happy she's dead? And while it is true that she clearly didn't have an excellent quality of life, and her death was the only way that Jane and Mr Rochester could ever be together, no-one could claim that this sentiment was either beautiful OR timeless. Oh, hang on, silly me, mentally ill wives are kept in attics as an act of mercy ALL THE TIME is contemporary England.
Thirdly, the ending is at best bleak. Jane's great prize is that she gets to be the carer of a mostly-limbless man twenty years her senior who tried to marry her while he had a mad wife locked in the attic who wanted her dead. Ok, I get the idea that he loved her so much that he was willing to endure all that he did, and that she loved him so much that she didn't care about his injuries and being bound to him for life with no independence. But this is not a beautiful or a timeless ending. Jane is forever tied to a man who never treated
her with respect or considered her as an autonomous being. She is isolated in the middle of nowhere (or as much as you can be in the middle of nowhere in a country the size of a pea), caring for a man that she is
Jane Eyre
completely dependent on AGAIN. Not to be cynical or anything, but do we really realistically think that her long-term happiness lies in that direction? Sorry, Jane. That one's a bloomer. An ending like this in contemporary literature would be immediately pin-pointed as about as anti-feminist as you can get without openly declaring that women are objects to be possessed and utilised by men. Oh, my bad, this ending actually does that.
So all in all, while Jane Eyre may be a beautifully written product of its time, to me it will never be a great love story. Unlike her sister's beautiful and wonderfully Gothic Romance, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre will always seem dull, bleak and anchored in its own time. Sorry, Charlotte. I know it's your birthday.


  1. I received your comment on my blog!
    Thank you very much for your kind words! I would highly recommend reading the last Dickens! It was such a fast-paced book!

    Your blog is far superior in comparison to my own! I will be sure to follow you!

    Sammie. x

  2. I loved this post! I have yet to read Jane Eyre, but I'm finding some of what you said to be true about many "romance" books from that time period.