I can’t exactly remember the first time I read Jane Eyre (probably at some point in my late teens – during sixth form most likely), but I do know that I loved it as much then as I do now.
It’s incredibly difficult to pick out a favourite moment or character from such a brilliant book, and re-reading it this past month, I’m still at a loss: is it Jane with her unusual confidence that still sets her out as a feminist icon (who can forget her impassioned speech to Rochester: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me”?); is it Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic; is it the romantic declaration of love between Jane and Rochester; is it the melodramatic interruption of their wedding?
Admittedly there are also parts of Jane Eyre than I don’t particularly enjoy as much. Even though I keep reminding myself that St.John Rivers is essential to the plot and understanding of Jane and Rochester’s deep connection, I still struggle through that part of the story… I think it is possibly St John’s coldness that makes it such a dry section of the novel, which is of course essential to contrast the passion between Jane and Rochester – maybe I am in fact simply feeling some of what Jane is feeling at this point.
And what about Rochester himself? I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him to be honest. Yeah, he’s a bit selfish and acts in a way that is morally questionable. I’ve always sort of turned a blind eye to the thought that maybe his only reason for choosing to marry Jane is her lack of family or anyone to object. So why question this now? Earlier this year, I read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea for the first time and it has changed the way I view Rochester, probably forever. All of a sudden I question his every action; I can see all of a sudden how he manipulates Jane, the cruelty of his flirtation with Blanche Ingram. He’s no longer a Byronic hero, he almost steps into the role of full-blown villain.
Except somehow, oddly, by the time I’d reached the end, I’d sort of forgiven him all over again. Maybe because Jane forgives him so fully. And what I do love about the ending of Jane Eyre is that she ends the story on her terms: she comes back to Rochester, she is the one in control of her own destiny, and she chooses him.