One of the classics I’ve been avoiding, #10 Jane Eyre is available for free on Project Gutenberg and in the Kindle store.
I was a bit wary of starting Jane Eyre. I’ve read it before and enjoyed it, but somehow expected it to be dull or trite simply because it’s old: it’s neither of these things.
I read quite a lot of historical fiction, and occasionally found myself thinking ‘did they really say / think / do that at the time?’ quite as though Charlotte Brontë was a modern author. As the book was first published in 1847, they clearly did.
My point is that the language is (largely) clear and easy to understand – there were only a couple of archaic uses which my dictionary couldn’t help with. (Incidentally, this is a major advantage of having an ereader – I would put down a book to pick up a dictionary about once a year but I’ll happily mouse over any word I’m curious about.)
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Having last read Jane Eyre as a teenager, I had only a hazy memory of the plot and it had been corrupted further by the alternate versions in Jasper Fforde’s excellent novel, The Eyre Affair. I was expecting Jane to drift through the book, bouncing off the other characters, like a pinball guided by Fate. In fact, pretty much everything that happens is down to Jane’s own decision-making. I found I liked her very much (although I’m not sure we’d be close friends, and I’d hate living in her world) and was impressed with her fortitude.
All in all, I enjoyed Jane Eyre and would definitely recommend it. There is the usual caveat for works of its era: there’s nothing good about anything outside white, middle/upper class Englishness (which includes: India and Indians, the French, Jews, poor people, workers) and the treatment of mental illness while typical for the period is typically appalling.
Jane Eyre is unusual in that it has two descendents, novels written a century or more later by very different authors, and which I can heartily recommend. One is the well-known Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and the other is The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which I mentioned above.
Rhys’ novel is literary fiction, and tackles the same events from a very different perspective. Reading the summary will provide spoilers for Jane Eyre if you known nothing about that novel, so I won’t go into detail, but it is well worth a read.
Fforde’s novel is comic fantasy, in a similar vein to Terry Pratchett. The main character works as a literary detective in an alternative UK where street gangs seem to deal in bootleg books, not dope, Wales is independent and the Crimean War is still going. It’s bonkers and zany, and gives you a very different view of the characters in Jane Eyre while answering the question: what does a romantic hero do on his day off?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is also on the list (at #12; none of Anne’s works made it) and I remember hating it when I read it and am really not looking forward to it, but perhaps I should face my prejudice and try it? After all, I remembered mildly enjoying Jane Eyre and was pleasantly surprise, so perhaps Wuthering Heights will come off well too…?