Novel Notions Classics Club reads: Jane Eyre

Novel Notions Classics Club reads: Jane Eyre

Isn’t it amazing how much smaller the internet has made our world? This little blog, started a bit over a year ago, has become a shared home for readers from Indonesia, Malaysia, France, the UK, and the United States. The ladies of the blog have decided to start a cyber book club, reading through the classics together. This book, Jane Eyre, was our inaugural selection. Whether the novel was new to us or a favorite we were revisiting, it was a wonderful experience to share. Here are some of our thoughts on what we read:

Was this book new to you, or was it a reread? How did reading the novel with a group impact your experience?

Celeste: This was my third time reading Jane Eyre, and I seem to love it more every time I pick it up. I loved reading this with a group, especially since it was a new experience for some. It was a way for me to see a story that I already adore with fresh eyes. And, as there were some in our number who had never read this book or been exposed to all of the twists, it was great fun to see their surprise over various climactic scenes, and was a fun reminder of how shocking this book must’ve been for its original audience.

Emma: Many years ago, I’d read a few early sections of the book for a University course, but never all the way through, so I counted this as my first time. Even so, the big reveal wasn’t much of a surprise being such a well known part of literary culture. It was somewhat strange reading a book that I already knew so much about, but you can’t really complain about spoilers when the book was released in 1847. In any case, there were still enough shocks that our reading group got more than a few messages from me along the lines of: HANG ON, DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN??? And this is precisely why it’s so much more fun to read with friends… that instinctive reaction to share your emotional experience is not only possible, it’s encouraged. I loved it.

Haïfa: Jane Eyre is one of those books I read multiple times when I was a kid. Partly because I liked it well enough. But mostly because I didn’t have unlimited funds to satiate my reading voracity! It’s been a while since I read it last. When my friends at NN decided to give it a go, and after TS said the audiobook was exceptional, I couldn’t miss the boat. It was an enhanced experience, both because the audiobook performance was indeed stellar (after I attuned my non-English ears to Thandie Newton’s accent) and because I got to share my feelings with the group, witness their surprise when something shocking or unexpected happened and reflect on the different themes the book offered.

TS: This is my first time reading Jane Eyre in my endeavour to read more classics, which I’ve overlooked for much of my younger years as an ardent reader. This book is highly readable even without a group read, but reading it this way significantly enriched the experience as each of us took away something different from the story. It was immensely enjoyable, and I look forward to tackling more well-lauded classics this way.

What was your favorite element of the story? Who was your favorite character?

Celeste: I absolutely love Charlotte’s prose. She had a remarkable way with words. The way she wrote about both Jane’s and her own faith in God really resonated with me. And as for my favorite character, that would have to be Jane. She feels vitally alive. While she’s far from perfect, she sees and understands her imperfections, even embracing them at times. That balance of admirable qualities and shortcomings is the core of what makes us human, and Jane is, to my mind, tangibly human.

Emma: Bronte’s descriptive power, especially her ability to create an intense atmosphere and sense of foreboding, is simply incredible. I came to the book expecting a tortured romance, which is definitely there, but what I really got was a gothic-inspired masterpiece. Jane’s imaginative world is steeped in gothic imagery and supernatural occurrences that bleed into her everyday experience, transforming the English landscape in to a much wilder place. All the peculiar things that happen to her, from the terrors of the Red Room to the mysterious events at Thornfield, are all given an unsettling veracity when seen through her eyes. Without doubt, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever seen.

Yet I don’t have a favourite character. It probably should be Jane, but it isn’t. For all her growth, for all the strength I see in her always making choices according to her principles, she’s not a likeable character, for me at least. I appreciate her, but I can’t love her.

Haïfa: Being in Jane’s head. She’s a most fascinating character, full of passion and contradictions. Ever changing, ever learning, never compromising on what she believes is right. I related to Jane, I felt sorry for Jane, I was frustrated with Jane. I was Jane at times, when some of her thoughts or feelings resonated on a deep level with my own.
Is she my favorite character? I can’t decide between her and Rochester. He was far from perfect obviously but he was a very compelling character nonetheless. What can I say? I have a soft spot for brooding, tortured and complicated male characters.

TS: I have to fully concur with Celeste. The writing was lush and powerful. So much so that even when the narrative dragged in some parts, the prose kept me enthralled. And how could I not choose Jane as my favourite. Wholly true to herself, she was passionate, and yet graceful, smart and witty, and yet humble. And to make it even better, I listened to the audiobook narrated by the talented Thandie Newton who brought Jane to life in one of the best audio performances I’ve ever experienced.

I also admit that I’m strangely attracted to Mr Rochester as well. He is like still and dark waters with an unfathomable depth and an unseen roiling current beneath. And I empathise with him tremendously, deceit and lies notwithstanding.

In your opinion, what is the main theme of the book?

Celeste: I know a lot of people view this book predominantly as a romance, but I think that any relationships take a back seat to Jane’s discovery of herself, and her dogged determination to never compromise in any way that might compromise that identity. She finds her own self-truth and lets nothing alter it.

Emma: What struck me the most was the focus on the way people look and the connection between outer appearance and inner character. This is emphasised in the descriptions of Jane, who is called plain or ugly so often that I was annoyed on her behalf, but is utilised by Bronte as a means of illustrating Jane’s inner beauty and strong moral character. Beauty, or lack thereof, affects each person’s behaviour in myriad ways, but is always a defining aspect of their character. Considering modern obsessions with celebrity, and especially beauty, it was fascinating to see the ways in which ideas about outward form/inner personality were presented by a nineteenth century female author.

Haïfa: Tough question. This book is full of underlying themes: love, free will, mystery, spirituality… Faith is a very central theme too. But I would say that this book is a quest. Jane Eyre is the story of an orphan, fortuneless but educated young woman’s relentless quest for independence, happiness, acceptance, and self-fulfillment.

TS: I adored the gothic romance in this book, and I’m not one who normally reaches for a romance story. But the story is much more than just that; it’s about Jane’s evolution as her own person. From a child who was quick to retaliate and be unforgiving, to a resilient, compassionate and graceful young woman with a strong conviction underscored by faith. Notwithstanding, she remains adaptable to the tides of chance and change. A powerful commentary about how one can remain true to oneself but yet just pliable enough not to break under immense pressure.

How did Jane Eyre compare to other classics you’ve read in the past?

Celeste: Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classics, without question. It’s tied with Frankenstein for the top spot.

Emma: It was an eye-opener. Though I read a lot of classics, I’ve tended to avoid anything labelled ‘romance’ and Jane Eyre shows that I’ve been missing out.

Haïfa: I read a lot of classics when I was a kid. Arabic, French and English classics. I absolutely loved most of them and reread them regularly. I wasn’t very hard to please back then. But having tried to reread Little Women last year, and having miserably failed to get into it, I realized that not all my childhood classics would age well in my adult eyes. With that realization, I went into Jane Eyre with pretty reasonable expectations. And I was very pleasantly surprised and rewarded by the exquisite writing, the complex characters (good characterization is paramount for me) and by how still relevant and feminist this book was. Jane Eyre is definitely among my favorite classics now but I need to reread and read more classics before adequately answering this question!

TS: Jane Eyre stands as my favourite at this juncture. I still have plenty of great classics to read, and Les Miserables, which I’m still reading with Celeste now (365 chapters over 365 days), may end up as one of my favourites as well. The last classic I’ve read before this was Middlemarch and that was one of the most arduous books I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. Fortunately, my experience with Jane Eyre rekindled my enjoyment for classics.

For more of our thoughts on Jane Eyre, you can find our reviews using the links below:
Celeste, Emma, Haïfa, and TS

If you’d like your own copy of this classic, you can choose from:
the beautiful, the affordable, the much lauded audiobook and the ebook.

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