Charlotte Brontė, Jane Eyre
Published by Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 1945
It’s a tough life she lives, the main character of the play that brought Charlotte Brontë her literary breakthrough 200 years ago. As an orphan, Jane Eyre is taken into the house of a hard-hearted aunt, where she is then tormented and humiliated. In the residential school she visits thereafter it’s even worse. She is branded a liar, and her one and only friend dies of tuberculosis in her arms.
Her situation only seems to improve when she becomes a teacher there herself, before taking a position as governess of a young ward of a certain Mr. Rochester. When the two of them meet for the first time, he is dismissive and moody. Slowly but steadily, though, Jane gets to know and appreciate him. And yet he hides something. This secret is kept from her and the reader for quite some time. Mysterious happenings on the estate find their explanation on Jane’s and Mr. Rochester’s wedding day. He is already married – albeit very unhappily – to a Creole woman, who has lost her mind and is now being kept in a remote part of the house.
When Mr. Rochester begs her to go away with him, Jane refuses. Too strong are her principles to allow her to engage in an adulterous relationship. And so she leaves his estate, to be admitted into the house of a pair of siblings. Later they turn out to be her cousins. When she is about to accept the offer of her cousin to join him on his trip to India where he intends to work as a missionary, she hears the voice of Mr. Rochester calling her name.
She returns at a ghastly site. A fire had destroyed the house and killed Mr. Rochester’s wife. In his attempt to rescue her, Mr. Rochester has lost his eyesight and now lives in a humble hut. The event has finally leveled class distinction. They marry. Jane Eyre has not only found herself a husband and a family, but she has gained financial security through a legacy her uncle had bequeathed to her.
With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë traces the picture of a woman who bears as much as she fights. Her sincerity and power of will constitute the tools for her to not only cope with but mature through crises and setbacks. It’s her courage that made Jane Eyre become an identification figure for the women of a whole generation. When this Victorian novel was published in 1847, it became a bestseller at once.
Yet hardly anyone knew that this modern fairy tale had in fact been written by a woman. Charlotte Brontë, who deals with her own experiences in this novel, published it under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. For this, she had good reasons. Critics accused her protagonist of acting in a self-determined way they denounced unchristian and unfeminine. The readers, particularly the ones of female gender, didn’t care. Because of this, within a short period of time, high sales figures were recorded by the novel that range among the world literature classics until the present day.