By: Angie Haddock
Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit.
This one was first published in 1847, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers with my review. And if you haven’t guessed it, this was my pick for this year’s #SummerClassic.
The story takes place in roughly five places. The first is the mansion of Jane’s aunt, where the orphaned Jane lives with her aunt, three spoiled cousins, and various servants. The family of the house treats Jane like a second-class citizen, and she is utterly miserable. Around the age of ten, she is sent away to a boarding school. At first, this stage of her life looks like it will be just as miserable as the first. But, Jane proves herself and actually ends up thriving at the school. She even goes on to teach there for 2 years after she finishes her schooling. But eventually, she wants to see more of the world, and interact with other people.
This brings her to Thornfield, where she is hired as a governess to a young French girl who is the ward of the master of this old mansion. She befriends the girl, and several servants there, but the master of the house is initially absent. She eventually does meet Mr. Rochester in an eventful scene, where he injures himself making his way home.
Jane and Mr. Rochester strike up an odd relationship (in my mind). They enjoy each other’s conversations, in part because they feel they can be honest with each other – including being a little antagonistic at times. In fact, Rochester pretends to be engaged to someone else for almost a month just to see if Jane will be jealous.
Jane is in love with him, but doesn’t really consider herself lovable. So it’s quite a shock to her when he asks her to marry him. She does say yes, though.
Here’s the thing: we’re only 55% through the book at this point. So is the back half her married life? Nope.
All along, something’s been weird at Thornfield. Jane assumed it was one crazy servant named Grace, and couldn’t understand why Rochester was protecting her (not firing her, or wanting to talk about it). Then, as Jane and Rochester are about to be married, we learn that… he is already married! And the first wife is both crazy and locked upstairs at Thornfield. Grace, in fact, is actually her caretaker.
So the next morning, before anyone else is awake, Jane runs away. She spends a few days on the road, but eventually finds shelter with some siblings who are just a bit older than her – two sisters and one brother – and their sole servant. The brother is a local minister, and has recently set up a girls’ school, so Jane ends up working there. She eventually comes to learn, through the passing of a distant uncle, that these three are her cousins. They also inherit money from the uncle, which changes her circumstances.
In the year or so she lives with her cousins, she does write to Thornfield to check on Rochester, but no one answers. Her male cousin is pressuring her to go to India as a missionary with him, and she is conflicted about it. She decides she needs to know for sure what happened to Mr. Rochester before she can decide on leaving the country. So she heads back to find that the mansion had burned down not long after she left. The crazy wife set the fire, and did not survive the incident. Most of the inhabitants have gone on to different places, while Mr. Rochester – now blind – lives with just two servants in a nearby cottage.
Jane finds him there, and they finally marry. She lives the rest of her days with him, but continues to see her cousins semi-regularly. The male one does travel to India, so she only hears from him by mail. We learn that Jane is telling this story ten years into her married life, so she is only about 30 years old at the time, but that is where this story ends.
This was my first foray into any of the works of the Bronte sisters! Having finally read it, my question for you, readers, is… is there a particular movie version you love that I should check out? Hit me with the recommendations!