I started reading classics a few years ago, simply because I love books SO much that I felt a little silly that I had never indulged in the classics. Aside from the forced reading in my grade school days, it's been mostly random picks. The first true American classic I picked up was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and once again, it was also thanks to my son's assigned reading. I never enjoyed the assigned reading when it was mine as a kid, but I sure do enjoy his.
This was definitely a story of a powerful woman, which speaks volumes coming from the time it was written, a time in which women were powerless unless they had the fury in them to fight for what they wanted. Jane Eyre did so without bringing the fury to the outside. During the story, I could sense her fire within, but she stayed classy and never acted anything other than ladylike, even when she conquered some great evils throughout her life and put up with an abusive so-called family.
She was left to her uncle's wife after his passing, a woman who despised the sight of her. She had three cousins who adopted their mother's bitterness toward her. It reminded me much of a Cinderella-type story just in the way she was shunned at the start but shined at the end to everyone else's demise. But by saying that, I'm jumping ahead of myself. *clears throat*
Just like any other girl, whether rich or poor, gorgeous or average, she has dreams and those unavoidable girly thoughts and feelings about men, her looks and the behavior of other people. She was incredibly humble and never strived for extravagance. After a bloody brawl with her cousin John, things only got worse. She was sent off to a school for the underprivileged, and her aunt made sure to cast the evil eye upon her by the head of the institution. Jane befriended a teacher who nurtured her through her years at the school. She had friends, something she'd never really know before. She learned French and excelled in her general studies. Years pass until she's hired as a governess, and that is where the real story begins.
She lands on the doorstep of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield, the man to whom she will devote the rest of her life. She does her job well and puts up with Rochesters snarky remarks to her and his abrasive treatment (although he developed feelings for her too). After a weird sort of courtship of mind games and mental torment, they profess their love for each other, and he wants to marry her ... BUT! This part is a killer ... he's already married to woman who is stark raving mad and lives locked up in his attic. As they are about to take their vows in the church, a protester rushes forth ... the brother of this mad woman stands up for her honor, mad but married nonetheless!
Then comes one of my favorite lines in the book, "Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent expectant woman -- almost a bride -- was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale; her prospects were desolate. A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud: lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, to-day were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway," said Jane after the truth came out to bite her just minutes before saying "I do."
She starts yet another journey, because she leaves Thornfield, wanders, finds camaraderie in another town until much time flies, and she ends up heading back to Thornfield to check on her Rochester. She finds Thornfield burn down, no one to be found and Rochester, now blind, stays with friends, wife dead.
I was a bit perturbed by how crappy Rochester treated Jane in the beginning. I softened a bit after he admitted he loved her and wanted to marry her, but lied to her about his wife. I first thought Jane should move on, but true love leads the way, I suppose. So back to him she went to take care of him, marry him and have some kids. The unfailing happy ending. For the time in which this book was written, I find it very powerful and very supportive of a strong woman, ironic considering at that time women didn't have many rights yet in the man's world.
I love classics!