Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Genre: Classic / Gothic
Rating: 4 of 5
Gothic romance isn’t my usual fare (even if it is classic), but this was the monthly read over at Dewey Decimators and one of my wife’s favorite books and I’m counting it for my “Classic by a Woman Author” over at the Back to the Classics challenge, so:
Anyway, on to the actual review. Jane Eyre is one of those rare Gothic novels that is widely recognized as having actual value as literature (as opposed to something like The Castle of Otranto, The Romance of the Forest, or Melmoth the Wanderer). It has the usual trappings of a Gothic novel – melodramatic swooning, melancholy brooding, amazingly convenient coincidences, a sinister lurking figure, hints of dark secrets, shocking revelations, etc. – but it also features well-written characters who face serious, difficult moral choices with at least one of them emerging with morals heroically intact.
For me, the central point of the book was summed up in the following quote. I suppose it is a mild spoiler, so don’t read any farther if you’re worried about that (though I won’t tell you who is speaking, the issue at stake, and whether they manages to follow through):
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane and not mad – as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would they be worth?”
Between dark fantasy and crime/noir I tend to read a lot of books with morally ambiguous heroes. It was refreshing to read something with a hero who had a clear sense of right and wrong and a strong drive to live with a pure conscience. Despite rolling my eyes quite a bit at the Gothic-ness of it all, I quite enjoyed this book.