“A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader – you must fancy you see a room…” (Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë)
When I think of this book, I visualize two separate, distinct pieces of fabric loosely knit together by a few threads. There’s the first book, a love story/gothic mystery, and the second book, a pious, studious affair. Brontë attempts to create conflict by placing two options before of her heroine – earthly love or divine love – but in this day and age, the urgency and suspense of the struggle falls flat: we all know which we would pick. Perhaps the book might once have seemed cohesive, when readers were more likely to think of a religious life as a real choice, but to the modern reader, the book reads like a romance with a strange, lengthy, and meandering bit about religion wedged in.
Though I have expressed this wish many times, it remains particularly true in the case of Jane Eyre: I wish that the basic plots of classic books weren’t so commonly known. Having survived this long without having read this Brontë work, the ‘wife in the attic’ should have been a compelling mystery, pulling me along the standard love story plot line. Yet, having absorbed the basics of most classics through some sort of cultural osmosis, the thrill of unraveling the mystery was closed off to me since I had anticipated the revelation from the title page. Whatever facts I absorbed didn’t set any expectations for the tone, and I was delighted by its intimacy and modernity. Brontë addresses the reader as Trollope does, but her use of a first person narrator makes the reader feel as though they’re perusing a diary filled with Jane’s thoughts and feelings instead of reading an objective, narrator based Victorian novel.