Hello everyone and welcome back to Swooning Sundays, where I review some of my favourite romance novels (or novels with some romantic themes!)
Today’s book is a story very near and dear to my heart: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
I’m sure many of you have read this but if you haven’t, here’s a brief summary.
In early 1800s Britain, Jane Eyre is an orphan, brought up in a rich household by her late father’s sister, Mrs. Reed, where she is tormented and abused by Mrs. Reed and her children.
Jane’s treatment is no better when sent to the austere Lowood School, run by the puritanical Mr. Brocklehurst.
In adulthood, a quakerish Jane becomes governess at Thornfield Hall to Adele, the ward of the brooding and unpredictable Mr. Rochester. Over time, Jane comes to terms with the realisation she has fell in love with Rochester, but Rochester holds a dark secret.
Honestly if I went in to all the reasons why I love this story we’d be here until next month!
(Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, UK: Where 2006 adaptation starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens/2011 adaptation starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska was filmed)
This is such an iconic story so ahead of its time. Aside from the romantic element of a governess and master falling in love, Bronte challenges so many social constructs of the time, something that wasn’t done.
18-year-old Jane is forward thinking and quietly autonomous. She brings to light that women feel the same as men do, wanting to have the same freedoms as men instead of being confined to women’s limited prospects at that time.
The story also took a more scandalous turn with the “bedroom fire” scene, where Jane saves Rochester from death after she finds his bedroom on fire. The two share a “moment”, where to the audience, Rochester’s attraction is Jane is first obvious.
But as this takes place at night, the two are both in their nightclothes alone. For the 1800s, this was considered almost too racy for the masses. A lady and gentleman alone together in full length nightclothes? *Gasps* Shocking!
Not only that, she brings an explosive conflict with the discovery of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s mentally ill wife who has been confined to the Hall’s attic for her own safety and that of everyone else, after her violent behaviours had doctors declared her “mad”.
Now, a few people find this theme contentious and at face value take it as, “a man who locked his crazy wife in the attic”.
If you look at the whole story, Rochester was rushed in to this marriage in his early twenties as his father wanted for the fortune of Bertha’s family.
All seemed well until after the wedding, when Bertha’s illness started to spring up and she started to become violent towards Rochester (as referenced through the famous “bedroom fire” scene) attacking him regularly.
The Mason’s knew of Bertha’s illness (which runs in the family) but kept Rochester in the dark until he found out for himself, by which point there was nothing he could do.
The law in Britain at this time was that if your spouse was declared “mad” or “insane”, by law you were not allowed to divorce them under any circumstances. Essentially, the Masons fleeced him in to a marriage they knew he couldn’t get out of if things went sour.
The only other option for spouses, like in Bertha’s case, was to be sent to a mental asylum or “mad house” and in the 1800s, the understanding of mental illness was not great and treatment of patients was deplorable.
Aware of asylums’ cruelty towards patients, Rochester refused, keeping Bertha at Thornfield Hall and having someone oversee her to the best of his limited ability.
When it comes to these themes, we have to remember the historical context of the time to get a better undertanding of the story, rather than place our own modern views straight on to it. As we all know, a lot can change in 200 years!
So really, I feel sorry for all parties. Bertha for unfortunately having the illness she had, Rochester for getting tricked by the Masons and Jane for getting caught up in it all.
This revelation leaves Jane questioning everything she holds dear. An observent Christian, it conflicts with her faith as well as her own standings that she cannot truly be happily in love with a married man.
Honestly, anyone who is a fan of the book or seen the films can agree when I say that scene is heartbreaking for both parties.
As well as this, we see the frank and raw depictions of the class system, the intellectual match and errant love between Jane and Rochester (who is approximately 20 years Jane’s senior) and how through extraordinary circumstances, two people in love can come back to each other.
Like I said, I could go on forever about this book! But if you haven’t read it yet, seriously go and do! It’s awesome and a classic for a reason!
Happy Sunday! 🙂
*Picture: Jane Eyre (2011) Facebook