Jane Eyre

Sharing a loved book with a beloved person is one of the sweetest pleasures I can imagine. That’s why reading Jane Eyre with my husband this past month has sent my cup of joy spilling over the edge. Though I could never forget my first passion for this masterpiece—my initial reading was at fourteen and I flew through the second half in one night in an absolute fever of impatience to see how it ended—I felt its majesty dawn on me afresh after all these years as a wholly new thing.

Jane Eyre is an untarnishable, unfading beauty of English literature: this I knew right well. But to hear the mighty words slipping off my own tongue, hanging breathless in the air between us for a fraction of a second, was to give them a life even I scarcely imagined. I found myself alternately amazed, shocked, delighted; “surprised by joy, impatient as the wind…” We have spent some lovely winter evenings over this book, sitting by a crackling fire. And equally lovely Sunday afternoons, a tea tray before us bearing a pot of the much-cherished tea room blend my mother brought me from England—reserved for only such worthy occasions. (Philip said he loved my ‘St. John voice’—I infused it with all the pomposity and cold dignity I could muster, almost looking down my nose at him as I read!) And now that we’re done, I think we’re both a little let down. I’ve about stopped dreaming about it at night. But we haven’t stopped talking about it yet. And this weekend, both of us being subject to nasty colds, we holed up and watched 5+ hour 1983 BBC movie version, in my opinion the definitive as far as accuracy to the text, however lacking it may be in cinematographic beauty. But the various film renditions of Jane Eyre, and my very decided opinions on them, are another post altogether and will have to wait for another day. πŸ™‚

Last week I had the privilege and delight of attending a ‘drawing room’ lecture on this most beloved book and the excitement of it all still stirs my heart. I listened—first to a brief sketch of the lives of the Brontes and then to a discourse on the Biblical allusions of the text, the magnificent and brilliant super-structure of the plot—with a soaring mixture of elation and aspiration. It seems such a humbling thing, a thing to be cherished and grateful for, that Charlotte Bronte should have given to the world a gift such as this book most surely is. That there are books like Jane Eyre in the world seem to me a token of God’s love: in his liberal bestowing of both the creativity to write it and the eager minds to feast upon it. His riches are everywhere, truth and beauty and goodness shining out in radiant gleams from art and music and literature. I feel almost giddy at the thought of all there is to see of him in all that I love in general and in English literature in particular. It makes me want to lift my own little voice, like a wren among nightingales and larks. 

God forbid that there should ever come a day that girls are not reading Jane Eyre. Men and women, too, for that matter, but I think primarily of its noble influence upon young minds. I know its ideals somehow became a part of me back when I was fourteen, without my even realizing it. And as a woman I’ve had my faith immeasurably strengthened by it. I feel simpler, broader, more resolute for the time I’ve spent pondering its verities. Thank you, dear Charlotte…with all my heart.

9 Responses to “Jane Eyre”

  1. Megan says:

    Wow, Lanier, your love for this book and literature is contagious! Reading your post draws up all sorts of emotions and passions in my own heart over our delightful books! I am reading one now which perhaps you have not that I cannot wait to share with you.
    Did your lecturer give you any recommended sources for looking further into the Biblical allusions and themes in Jane Eyre? Would love to read it again with some “help” this time.

  2. Here is a comment from sweet Abby who’s had troubles logging in and had to email me–and for those of you that have experienced the same frustration, *updates are coming* which will hopefully solve some of out technical issues!

    “I also read *Jane Eyre* at the age of 14. My 8th grade English teacher
    nudged me towards it as my “choice” book for the month. Everybody else in
    the class was looking for the shortest book possible, and they thought I was
    crazy for taking on such a thick (and richly worded) novel. I, however,
    have somehow had a love for British literature for as long as I can
    remember, and recall, like you, many nights where I couldn’t stop reading
    until I secured the fate of Mr. Rochester and my dear Jane.

    I read it again as a junior in highschool, and watched the BBC movie as I
    did laundry during the Christmas season. The gothic elements of mystery,
    darkness, and intrigue coupled with a rags to riches love story (which takes
    my breath every time) are so brilliantly done!

    Finally, I am jealous of you and Phillip getting to experience *Jane
    Eyre*togehter. Jeremiah and I read The Chronicles of Narnia (after I
    told him that I couldn’t imagine being married to someone who didn’t know the books that were such a part of who I was) and the Wilderking Trilogies togehter.
    There is nothing more special to me than getting to share the experience of
    a book with him. Once we get started, he always loves it too. Unfortunately, it’s like pulling teeth to convince him to read a book with me. He is still pouring himself over medical books (uggh!) and feels guilty devoting time to anything else. Anyway, I am so happy that you got to share the experience together. Such precious memories you will always have!


  3. Brenda N says:

    I heard a story (possibly on NPR while driving) about a man who was well into his 30s and unmarried. When asked why, he said he compared all women he met to his “first love”…Jane Eyre…and had met no one who was as wonderful. πŸ™‚

    Jane is, indeed, wonderful.

    πŸ™‚ Brenda

  4. Joanna says:

    Yikes, dare I post this?
    My family recently watched “Jane Eyre” on Masterpiece Theatre just a few weeks ago. I hated the story.
    First of all, the main charactes were very unattractive to me-I had a very hard time getting past that. (I never did actually)
    Secondly, I didn’t like the characters. He was absolutely *creepy* (what on EARTH did she see in him?) and she was…weak. I couldn’t get into any of the people or their stories.
    I’ve never read the book. I own it-a nice copy too-but after seeing the movie I thought to myself that is one book I will NEVER read.
    I’ll remember these postive remarks but at least at this point, they aren’t enough to get me to want to read the book.
    Maybe someday, if I can “get over” the movie….
    p.s. I love MT and they did a very good job-I just didn’t care for the story. Yuck. πŸ™‚

  5. Welll, Joanna, to each his own…but your remarks reminded me of one of the reasons we have a ‘no movie till we’ve read the book’ rule in our house. πŸ˜‰ No matter how good an interpretation, nothing can catch the real flavor and imaginative quality of a book. (I can only think of 2 that have done it almost to perfection: the A&E ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Granada’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’. My beloved ‘Anne’ is very, very close, but although Anne herself was captured, they did tinker with the story a bit…) And no movie yet, as far as I am concerned, has gotten Jane *perfect*. I imagine you’d probably like her very much if you made her aquaintance in the pages of the book. πŸ™‚ But, we all must choose our friends. πŸ™‚

  6. Sarah B-D says:

    I was so pleased to read of your ‘history’ with Jane Eyre. I too have a similar story to tell. My copy was given to me by my grandma and it had a darling little blue leather cover with small gold writing and angel picture on the spine. I was twelve and it was the first time I had to stay up reading all through the night because I simply could not put it down. My head has been full of Jane and Mr Rochester ever since, although I must admit I have not re-read the book for some years now. It was along with the Narnia series the sole books I told my husband he must read if we were to stay completely in synch together (as we are on most things!). He unfortunately said that in return for reading ‘my’ books, I would have to read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and that I have never managed to achieve – and we’ll have been married 10 years this April!
    Is the 1983 BBC version of Jane Eyre the one with Timothy Dalton as Mr Rochester? He was my absolute favourite and no version has ever come close to it in my opinion. Later versions (one with a near blonde Mr Rochester) have been truly appalling!
    Everyone should at least attempt to read this wonderful book. I am in total agreement with you Lanier that it is one of those novels that makes the heart soar and is indeed a treasure to behold for life!

  7. Dear Lanier,

    I have been making a valiant attempt to catch up on a VERY backlogged LAF in-box and was horrified to find a letter from you that is over 18 months old! I tried e-mailing, but it bounced, so I’m resorting to your comments box! Thank you for your very kind words and for sharing your lovely blog. I’ve actually had it bookmarked and have visited from time to time, enjoying your insights and wonderful writing style. πŸ™‚

    I thoroughly enjoy all the artwork you share (oh, how I love the Pre-Raphaelites!), the passion for books (Jane Eyre is a favorite we often return to in our house!), and your obvious love for the true and the beautiful. God bless you, dear lady!

    In Christ,
    Jennie Chancey

  8. Barbara H says:

    I came over from a link on Mrs. B.’s blog, “Cherish the Home” to your post about being a stay-at-home wife, and then clicked to get to the front page of your blog. I just recently read Jane Eyre for the first time (at the age of 49!) and loved it and wrote a review on my blog.

    I have seen two film versions of it, one with Ciarin Hinds as Mr. Rochester, and the latest Masterpiece Theatre version with Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester. I have to say neither of them are as unhandsome as Mr. R. is purported to be in the book! πŸ™‚ But it was the difference between the two productions as well as the unexpected humorous interchanges between Jane and Mr. Rochester that spurred me to move this from a “want to read someday” imaginary list to actually taking it off the shelf and doing so.

    In response to Joanna’s comment above, I found that the unattractiveness of both characters in the book to be one of its charms — it made them seem much more real to me. I get a little tired of books and movies where the heroine is the most beautiful girl and the hero the most handsome (as well as muscular, athletic, intelligent, rich, etc.) man. And I didn’t think Jane was weak at all. One of the quotes I referred to in my review had to do with Jane’s resistance to staying with Rochester after learning his secret when everything in her wanted to. The book also brings out how she almost succumbed to St. John’s proposal — it was much more of a struggle that the film portrayed. Joanna, if you check back in here, I would highly recommend reading the book — books are almost always much better and fuller than movie versions.

    I have enjoyed discovering your blog today.

  9. Kimberly says:

    I just discovered your site via a link from The Sparrow’s Nest. What a lovely site!
    I just finished rereading Jane Eyre last night as a part of my Spring Reading Challenge. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading a book with my Sweetheart, but my heart soared at your description of reading together. I’ll have to plant the seed of that idea…
    I read Jane Eyre for the first time in my twenties. I was both drawn to and repelled by it. It was so well written that I could feel as though I was there in the drawing room with Jane, and yet I cared nothing for Mr. Rochester. I reread it a gain a few years ago and liked it a bit more. For Christmas Sweetheart gave the A&E/BBC version which I surprisingly enjoyed. I thought I should have another go at it this Spring, and I’m glad I did! I was totally taken in this time and enjoyed all of it. I even grew in my affection for both St. John and Mr. Rochester, though I still lack sympathy for Mrs. Reed.
    All in all, it is a book I will continue to enjoy, I am sure, for many years.