It is easy to get lost in this first person account of a young orphan; one whom is being raised by an aunt that hates her, a male cousin that abuses her and two female cousins that take turns ignoring her. She is to be seen and obedient; heaven help her should her presence really be felt anywhere in the house where her aunt, Mrs. Reed, is residing. But alas, “Plain Jane” is not one of easy temperament but rather fiery and passionate in her morality, ethics and honesty so is given over to not go quietly into the realm of the falsely accused. And it is exactly these characteristics I was greeted with during the opening pages in which Jane stands up for herself against the great bully, her cousin, John. It is this instance, this event, which leads to her punishment and ultimately, the rest of her incredible journey through life.
In this one fight the author demonstrates how readily each event can change the course of a life for, after an incarceration of sorts resulting from the aforementioned brawl, Jane is informed she will be moved to a school for orphans. During a confrontation with her aunt (from which the below quote is from) we can fully grasp the courage of our, then eight year old, heroine and readily see and feel the righteousness Bronte did brilliant justice to.
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 give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I.
Shortly afterward Jane is then set upon a path to Lowood, a school for orphan girls in which she’ll reside for almost a decade. We learn of this very fact, not by a rigorous accounting for of days on behalf of the story teller but by an exposition which serves to inform the reader of two things: First- our narrator is indeed in “the present” and is simply recounting her life in highlighted portions; Second- it further lends one to believe that it is Jane telling her own story, and that Jane is indeed a real person not simply an imagined character.
But this is not to be a regular autobiography: I am only bound to invoke memory where I know her responses will possess some degree of interest; therefore I now pass a space of eight years almost in silence: a few lines only are necessary to keep up the links of connection.
It is after those words the reader is led on a journey away from Lowood and into the home of one Mr. Rochester. While in today’s books we would seldom read a piece of romantic literature in which the heroine was plain, the hero somewhat ugly, Bronte held to no such conventions. She eschews the notion of the fairy tale prince and princess, the subservient and submissive lady and instead brings to us the beauty of a love that does not forsake principles or faith.
The relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester is complicated by something I, a twenty-first century dweller, have little understanding of: caste. Jane, being merely the governess of the orphan Rochester had taken in, was firmly put into the servant class while Mr. Rochester was well above her by being upper class. The difficulties in which this lovely couple must surpass to be together seems insurmountable- filling the reader with an almost constant vexation as to whether or not these two people, these people I came to love, will at last be able to marry.
For a piece of nineteenth century British literature it is remarkably modern in scope but where as in today’s literature one might pine for that first sexual tryst here a longing for the acknowledgment, that declaration of love is the more overwhelming sensation. In order to see the true triumph and, yes, brilliance one must look at the work without their jaded 21st century notions. This book was published in 1847 and on each page is an example of a strong woman, one who will not accept love, and certainly not marriage, on any terms other than her own. She demands to be taken seriously and at no point in this story does she cry for a reprieve or a forgiveness from her beliefs- instead she pursues strength, courage and independence. Jane is, for all intents and purposes, a heroine the modern woman can relate to and cheer for.
**To comply with FTC guidelines: Please note that any/all book reviews are of books I have either purchased or taken on loan from the library.