Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte

I have been a bit remiss. I’ve tried to put up a new review every 3 or 4 days, but the combination of working really hard on editing one of my own manuscripts, doing a blogging challenge and reading a book that’s very slow has kept me from it this week. I’m not sure if the book I’m reading will make it on the blog or not. I’ve got several great library books I’m looking forward to.

jane eyre

As I said when I began this blog, I wanted to celebrate my favorite author’s birthdays. And today is the birthday of Charlotte Bronte. She was the eldest of the literary sisters, which also included Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte, author of Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Charlotte is best known for her excellent novel, Jane Eyre. Critics argue that Anne’s Agnes Grey is much more representative of a governess’ life than Jane Eyre. Read it if you want to learn more about being a governess during the life of the Bronte’s, but I warn you – it is a trifle dull. If you want excitement, an almost modern heroine and gothic chills, pick up Eyre.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. 

She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed. 

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

The Bronte’s all stirred up the narrow-minded, somewhat elitist critics over their respective novels. Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall drew ire for its depiction of drunkenness and the audacity of a woman to live on her own when married. Emily’s Wuthering Heights was  condemned for it’s “amoral passion” and a female character who preferred to run wild on the moors rather than do needlework. And then there is Jane Eyre. The title character is an orphan left in the care of her aunt (by marriage), Mrs. Reed. Jane is willful, unconventional, with an artistic mind. Jane will not lay down under the tyranny of her Aunt and cousin, John, but curses Mrs. Reed when she accuses her of being a liar to a school administrator. After he goes away, Jane gives her aunt what-for.

“I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I.”

Every time I read that I fist-punch the air! But sadly, our heroine is sent off to this awful school, branded a liar, and made to stand on a stool with a placard proclaiming her such. Despite the cruelty, the horrible food provided and the unkind treatment, Jane stays long enough to get her education and see the school purged of its greedy administrators. She remains there as a teacher, until a desire to see more of the world inspires her to advertise for a position as a governess. And this is where our story really gets interesting.

She is hired at Thornfield Hall to teach a gentleman’s ward – allegedly a daughter from the other side of the blanket, as they said in those times. At first, she does not expect to meet the gentleman himself, as it is said he is rarely at home. She has her pupil, Adele, and Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper for company. And though she is happy and has more freedom and lives in a gorgeous mansion, she feels the house and her position closing in around her. She wishes, that like a man, she could have action in her life. And of course, what sort of book would it be if the mysterious, haunted Mr. Rochester did not make an appearance? He is intrigued by the direct, no-nonsense governess he finds attending to Adele. A woman of intelligence, who answers his impertinent questions with impertinence and who doesn’t back down, either from his surly tone or aristocratic privilege, which he doesn’t even try to keep in check – but of course he doesn’t. He’s privileged. He doesn’t have to.

Besides the strange attraction of Mr. Rochester, there is the giggling in the night. The mysterious fire set in Mr. Rochester’s rooms. Jane saves him from that one – and this part is very genteelly played. She wakes, having heard a sound in the hall. She opens her door and finds a burning candle, and Mr. Rochester’s door is open. She smells smoke, and runs inside to find his bed hangings on fire.  She wakes him and they put out the fire, but instead of rousing the house and finding out what has happened, he asks her to stay in his room and waits for him to return. He goes upstairs and is gone awhile. When he returns, she wishes to go. She’s tired, she’s had a fright, of course she wants to go. He tells her she may, and then stops her. He asks how she can leave him after saving his life. He wants to shake hands, to thank her, and she insists there is no need. His voice is strange, he doesn’t speak with his usual surety. He asks her, a couple of time, if she will go… to me it seems he is almost asking her to stay. In his room. At night. You get what I’m saying? Though Jane doesn’t acknowledge this, she has just been propositioned. But being young and chaste, Jane has no intention of being seduced. It’s the sexiest part of of the whole book. Well. One of them. They have many intellectual wrangles and heartfelt interchanges that bristle with all sorts of things unsaid.

Jane Eyre has everything I love. Romance. A strong heroine who is also an orphan. I seem to like classic tales of orphans. An old, gothic house with a mystery. A brooding Englishman. It just gets better every time I read it. The Bronte’s had their own share of tragedy and gothic horrors in their lives. They all died too young, but they left behind treasures that are well worth reading.

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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte

  1. Yes. This. The first time I read Jane Eyre, I could barely put it down. I read it while walking my dogs, while I should have been working, while I should have been sleeping, even while driving for a short, terrifying moment. It’s one of my favorites. Great review, Bettie!

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