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Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte
576 pages, Romance
Reviewed by Inkling

Victorian Soap Opera in its finest writing, but with unclear morality and dark undertones.

Plot

Orphaned Jane survives the trials of heartless relations and a soul-crushing education before taking a position as governess at Thornfield Hall, home to the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Secrets, lies, and mysteries enshroud the mansion just as fog covers the nearby moors. Jane's character and good sense may not be enough to preserve her as the truth inevitably comes crashing in.

Morality

The morality in this story is difficult and a little muddy. Bronte's heroine is a bastion of moral order (not surprising, since the book was written by the daughter of a clergyman); however, she is strongly tempted to go against what she knows to be right and to marry someone who she feels is taking her away from her faith. However, when happens, the part that follows indicates that she realizes that she was wrong and repents; but the issue is still a little foggy.

The book also contains attempted bigamy and a proposal of marriage between two cousins. A man seems to believe that he can only serve God by becoming a missionary, and proposes to a character solely with that in mind; he does not love her, but thinks she could be helpful on the mission field. There is some possibly mixed morality in the foundation of Rochester's life, which was founded on deception. At the end, though, it seems that he "comes round" and repents. Again, the resolutions of several of the issues are unclear and good and bad are not very well outlined.

Spiritual Content

Mixed. Mr. Brocklehurst uses scripture to support the mistreatment of Lowood students, and St. John Rivers, clergyman and missionary, is not exactly portrayed in a flattering light.

On the other hand, Helen Burns, Jane's young friend, makes an eloquent and passionate plea for the value of forgiveness that resonates. The morals Jane herself preserves also seem very Christian.

Violence

There are several scenes which have violent overtones. In particular, a fire, a stabbing, and one death due to falling from a particularly tall building. At the beginning, Jane has a book thrown at her by her cousin and she fights with him; later, she is locked in a room in which her uncle died. The students at Lowood are not properly looked after, though nothing really violent occurs. A character dies of consumption - again, not violently, but the theme is dark.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mentions of wine and alcoholic drinks.

Sexual Content

Ankles are kept strictly covered at all times; however, there is a possibility that Mr Rochester was once involved with an actress. Also, bigamy is a very key part of the story, though it does not actually occur.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Mid-Victorian novels written by women aren't typically hotbeds of crudeness, but Mr. Rochester does use exclamations like "damned" and "What the deuce?" These are frequent visitors of the pages.

Conclusion

Jane Eyre passes the time test, and suspicions about the malevolent presence at Thornfield Hall keep the reader's interest. Of course, when an author is paid by the word/installment there's also good reason to ramble on...and on, so parts may drag. However, the writing is classical and if you're looking for a gripping read without graphically bad content, this might be a good pick.

The content, however, is mixed. As pointed out above, lines of ethics are not clearly defined; there are parts where values shine through, and there are parts where the fog rolls in. Also, Jane Eyre is a very grey kind of story. Fascinating indeed, and ending on a high point, but often sad and dreary as a rainy day.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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