Jane Eyre (Everyman's Library)

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9780307700377: Jane Eyre (Everyman's Library)

Initially published under the pseudonym Currer Bell in 1847, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre erupted onto the English literary scene, immediately winning the devotion of many of the world's most renowned writers, including William Makepeace Thackeray, who declared it a work "of great genius."

Widely regarded as a revolutionary novel, Brontë's masterpiece introduced the world to a radical new type of heroine, one whose defiant virtue and moral courage departed sharply from the more acquiescent and malleable female characters of the day.

Passionate, dramatic, and surprisingly modern, Jane Eyre endures as one of the world's most beloved novels. This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition includes newly written explanatory notes.

(Cover features a removable movie tie-in bellyband.)

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About the Author:

Diane Johnson is the author of many books, including the bestselling novel Le Divorce, which was a 1997 National Book Award finalist, and Le Mariage.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From the Introduction by Lucy Hughes-Hallet

Jane Eyre was published in 1847. One year later, a year during which Europe had been convulsed by revolution, a contributor to the Quarterly Review declared 'We do not hesitate to say that the tone of the mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre.' Conservatives hostile to innovation — political or artistic — are often surer judges of innovation's potency than its supporters. (Anti-feminists who prophesied that the enfranchisement of women would irreparably disrupt the institutions of home and family have proved more prescient than the liberals who maintained that a vote was just a vote.) Jane Eyre has frequently been underestimated by those who have enjoyed it most. True, it boasts a pair of beguiling lovers whose romance is written in a prose so flexible and sensuous that to read the passages describing their courtship is to be seduced just as they are seduced by each other. True, it is a multi-faceted wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the heroine marries her true love while retaining her independence. True, it is a romantic melodrama, with saintly dying orphans, dark secrets, supernatural voices and crises marked by lightening flashes and a blood-red moon. True, in the words of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, it is 'the archetypal scenario for all those mildly thrilling romantic encounters between a scowling Byronic hero (who owns a gloomy mansion) and a trembling heroine (who can't quite figure our the mansion's floor plan)'. But it is also, as the Quarterly Review's Elizabeth Rigby divined, a revolutionary text.

It questions the institutions of marriage and inheritance. It makes a laughing stock of religious cant and presume to suggest that even sincere religious conviction is morbid and barren. It proclaims the equality of a governess and a gentleman. It flouts contemporary sexual propriety. When the novel was first published Charlotte Brontë was accused of desperate radicalism on all of these grounds. Now, after a lapse of near on a century and a half, such transgressions against convention seem tame, but Jane Eyre retains its power to subvert and exhilarate for a reason which is unlikely to go out of date for a long while yet. In it, for what was arguably the first time in literary history, a female author gave full, shameless and magnificently achieved expression of the ardour, vicissitudes and ultimate gratification of a woman's desire.

The desire is largely, but not solely, sexual. Jane Eyre is one of the most intensely erotic works of fiction in English. Its hero's allure was instantly recognized and he was imitated accordingly. As Caroline Norton complained in 1864, 'Ever since Jane Eyre loved Mr Rochester a race of novel-heroes have sprung up . . . Brutal and selfish in their ways, and rather repulsive in person, they are nevertheless represented as perfectly adorable and carrying all before them.' But Jane wants much more than a dominating broad-chested lover with a grim jaw, a harsh line in banter and great dark eyes. She wants independence, she wants money of her own, she wants work for her imagination and intellect, she wants a house with beloved people in it, she wants liberty and she wants power. Above all, she wants to be herself. As a child she sees her own image look out of the red-room mirror, 'a strange little figure' with 'glittering eyes of fear'. The apparition precipitates the 'fit' which is the first of the psychic rites of passage punctuating her story. Her relationship with that strange littler person remains problematic, but she will not, or cannot abandon it any more than she can free herself from the wailing child that clings to her in her dreams. At her greatest crisis she resists temptation, proclaiming ' I care for myself' (though no one else does). Rochester seems to her like 'the depths of the sea' in which 'the brook' which is herself will be swallowed up. Later St John Rivers poses a similar danger: 'I was tempted to cease struggling with him — to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own.' Each man, in his different way, offers her the luxury of self-abandonment, but that abandonment, like the death she hopes for on the moors near Whitcross, would be a betrayal of her self, a betrayal of which Jane is simply not capable. It is only when maturity, augmented social status, moral self-respect, the confidence that comes from having been wanted by two men and, not least, money, have given her the power to assert, 'I am an independent woman now. I am my own mistress' that she is ready for happiness. Had her first projected wedding taken place it would have made her 'Jane Rochester', an alien and not entirely enviable person, an appendage of a personality so dominant that his wife could scarcely hope to be more than his ornamental pet. 'When once I have fairly seized you, to have and to hold, I'll just — figuratively speaking — attach you to a chain like this (touching his watch-guard).' Rochester's style of wooing is ominously ill-judged. If Jane had married him on his own and the world's terms she would have lost herself, as brides do in fairy tales (the fact that marriage is conventionally presented as an ending reflects a truth, that an autonomous girl's life ends when the wife is called into being). But when Jane finds Rochester at Ferndean, which is both the Valley of the Shadow and the castle buried in a wood where the Sleeping Beauty lies torpid until awakened by love, the roles have been reversed. It is she who is now a position to have and to hold, to protect and to love. Rochester used to spy on her, manipulate her, set her tests and traps. But no at last 'He stretched his hand out to be led. I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder: being so much lower of stature than he, I served both for his prop and guide.'

Like all substantial revolutions, this one has its casualties. The muted and troubling tone of the novel's ending reflects the gravity of the struggle it concludes. Jane Eyre has become her beloved's equal, 'I am my husband's life and he is mine.' That equality has been realized partly as the result of her happy acquisition of power, but in equal measure by his desolating loss of it. The blinding and mutilation of Mr Rochester has shocked readers ever since the novel was first published. It still shocks now. Critics have explained it biographically, as an expression of Charlotte Brontë's own flinching from sexual fulfilment. Freudians have interpreted it as a metaphorical castration. Moralists have pointed out that it is a divine punishment: after her aborted wedding Jane recalls the words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ commands adulterers, 'If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out . . . and if they right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee.' Men (and some women) have seen it as a cruel and unnecessary punishment inflicted by a feminist author on her hapless male creation. It is, to some extent, all of these things. But it is also a just image of the pain which attends any radical transformation, whether of an individual or of a whole society. Only a sentimentalist could suppose that the vast barriers, social, moral, sexual and economic, which separate Jane Eyre from Edward Fairfax Rochester could be blasted aside without some violence being perpetrated, some wounds being sustained. Charlotte Brontë was no sentimentalist. She refused to conclude her other masterpiece, Villette, with a happy resolution: indeed she refused to conclude it at all. Jane Eyre is allowed her wedding at last and we are assured that it is followed by years of happiness and undiminished love, but though her words 'Reader, I married him' have been quoted as an epigraph for all those romantic novels which end in blissful wedlock, her own story finishes doubtfully. The lovers' reunion takes place at Ferndean and, as Mr Rochester has explicitly told us, to live there is tantamount to dying. Perhaps they find a new home after the wedding: optimistic readers have assumed so. But houses are accorded such significance in Jane Eyre that Charlotte Brontë's omission of any mention of such a move cannot be mere negligence. It casts a doubt over her character's ultimate fate, and so does the disconcerting shift in the final paragraphs. Jane has been talking of love and happiness — her own, Rochester's, that of the Rivers sisters and their respective husbands. Then, in conclusion, she turns to St John, the man whose value system she has so resolutely rejected and who has assumed in the reader's mind the character of a Robespierre, of an incorruptible killer. She praises him to the skies and then ends by quoting his own word: '"My Master," he says, "has forewarned me. Daily he announces more distinctly, — 'Surely, I come quickly;' and hourly I more eagerly respond, — 'Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!'"' So in the novel's last line Jane's epithet for Rochester, 'my Master', is used to invoke death. The revolution she has instigated, and which has brought her her heart's desire, has been a bloody one. It has brought loss and grief as well as maturity and fulfilment, and the possibility lingers that the object of that desire, so hard fought for, may itself be fatal.

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