I have had the opportunity to read Jane Eyre three times. Once, begrudgingly, in high school, again, slightly less begrudgingly, in college, and now. Thankfully, after all the drudging I did to get through the volume the last few times, I’m very much enjoying the novel this go around. (Perhaps because this time I didn’t have to write an essay after.)
If you’ve never read Jane Eyre, you might not ever feel the need to, but Charlotte Brontë had admirable motives for birthing this work. These are revealed in a line from her introduction to the second edition. She writes:
The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered (i.e. those discussed in Jane Eyre), for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make eternal show pass for sterling worth – to let white washed walls pass for clean shrines.
I’m sure some literary critic, or expert on the 19th century novel, might come along to correct me, but I understand these lines as a critic of the treatment of the poor by the rich. I am reminded of Mrs. Reed (Jane’s first benefactress) locking her up in the red room, the poor conditions that Mr. Brocklehurst allowed at Lowood School, and the actions of Mr. Rochester, perhaps not to Jane, but to his wife. While the rich, synonymous with pretenders and hypocrites, live on pedestals, the poor and oppressed take the brunt of all punishment and scrutiny. These same poor who are, as Jane often states, only trying their best and are generally genuine and kind. It’s not a wonder why this revelation would upset people in the mid-1800s (or even today!).
I am enjoying this story by means of a 1943 reprinting of the second edition. The publisher, Random House, produced a large number of these volumes, so they are pretty easy to find. I came to possess this particular edition through my mother, who received it as a gift from a neighbor many years ago. Particular to this reprinting are the wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. It is always nice to have illustrations breaking up long runs of text. These illustrations are done in a somewhat exaggerated style, that is almost caricature-ish. They do an excellent job at communicating the cold snobbishness and perceived righteousness of the upper class, the solemn acceptance of the poor, and the sweeping romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester.
Below are a few shots of the illustrations. Thank you for reading!
Front Cover (Pupils of Lowood)
Mr. Brocklehurst Reprimanding Jane with his Wife and Daughters (in Full Pomp)
Kind Mrs. Fairfax
Jane and Mr. Rochester