Jane Eyre: An Autobiography
by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is a difficult novel to classify. It is usually called a Gothic tale by those who have never really read it, based on their knowledge that the plot has a mad wife locked in the attic of a manor house as a a major element. There are plenty of Gothic motifs to be found in this book. Eerie sounds at night; prophetic dreams that connect lovers; the sudden discovery of long-lost relatives and the issue of inheritance. There is even a stage of the narrative that echoes Frankenstein, where Jane wanders through the dark and rainy countryside until she finds a small cottage and peers through the window at the loving family inside — much like the Creature does in the middle of the other novel.
When I first read Jane Eyre several years ago, I didn’t like it very much. I suppose it may have been because I was expecting a stronger Gothic slant, but discovered that in fact Charlotte Brontë merely uses Gothic motifs to tell a story of social criticism that touches on morality, religion, and feminism. It is better called a bildungsroman, a genre that focuses on the growth and maturity of the central character from youth to adulthood. There are more or less three main sections of the plot, only the middle of which truly approaches the Gothic. The “bookends” bring the actual themes of the novel to the forefront.
For this reading I decided to try listening to an audiobook, and I’m glad I did. Since the novel is narrated in the first person, it lends itself well to being read aloud. It’s been my experience with audiobooks that actors and actresses make excellent readers; they find the drama in the sentences and act it out through only their voice. An actress named Amanda Root (who I’d never heard of before) told me all about Jane Eyre’s life while pretending to be her and I enjoyed the experience much more than I had reading the book the first time. I can’t say I fell in love with it, but I’m more inclined to reread Jane Eyre at some point in the future.
Jane Eyre is the first of three books on my Great Novels list written by the Brontë sisters. The other two I have never read so it will be interesting to compare their writing styles and the themes they each explore.