Jane Eyre: Ahead of Her Time

Maybe it’s the fact that Mr. Rochester is so dreamy, or that Thornfield sounds like paradise. Or maybe it’s because the protagonist and I share the same name. Whichever it is, my favorite classic novel will always be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

I was visiting my lifelong friend in quaint Midway, Utah one summer, when I was first introduced to the wonders of Costco (and Bronte).

Since my mother apparently doesn’t believe in bulk goods, I was naïve to the glory of warehouse shopping. Amongst the myriad of diverse products, I found a table of beautiful leather bound classic books etched with quotes from the novel. Since I totally judge a book by its cover, I bought Jane Eyre.

As soon as I opened it, I left Midway, and found myself on the vast moors of England.

Like so many do, Bronte wrote Jane Eyre based off of her own life and time. This era dictated that women had to live a strict life laid out for them by men.

With a strong female main character in her pen, Bronte set off to challenge these ideas.  Publishing her novel in 1847, she questioned whether or not women should be restricted to lives they didn’t choose.

But while trying to buck tradition, Bronte still created a character that fit her society’s idea of a “lady.” Jane gained an education, worked as a governess, and was able to draw, speak French, embroider, and play piano.

She was refined, but also defied cultural norms by living her own life based on what she wanted and what God wanted.  She showed her priorities by saying she “would always rather be happy than dignified.”

She was aware of gender injustice, noting: “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do.” Jane’s independence is the reason this book is so special to me. Not only was Jane strong in her choices, she was also very close to God.

The world of England in the 1800’s was very different than our world now. Unlike our day, in Bronte’s time, most people lived their lives believing in God and Christianity.

However, it is evident by the way Jane’s schoolmates and teachers acted, that not everyone lived their lives the way they preached. When Jane acts out of favor in school, the headmaster puts her in isolation, ordering the other girls to not interact with her. Other adults profess love and kindness in the name of the Lord, but don’t act it. They are often cruel to Jane.

This contrasts with the way we are taught by our loving leaders today. The general authorities would never ask us to ignore a person if they’ve made a mistake. They teach us to be inviting to people who need God.

The way Jane differs from those of her society is one other thing that makes her so unique (which is a reason I love her so much): She lives the way God believes she should and she keeps a constant relationship with him.  Despite not being taught these values by her family, she makes a commitment to follow His law.

When the time comes in the story that she has to leave Mr. Rochester (even though they both want her to stay), she leaves anyway, knowing it is the Lord’s will.

As Rochester begs not to go, Jane says (contrary to what I would say, due to the glory that is Rochester), “I am no bird, and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

Like many others in history that weren’t LDS, Charlotte Bronte was inspired to bring forth a work that influences many to do good and follow the Lord. From her writings, we can how learn to grow closer to Him and exercise that free will He gave us.

Although this book was written many years ago, it isn’t hard to find ideas to embrace (especially when it comes to Rochester). And it isn’t difficult to sit yourself down in a chair, as I did, and read the book cover to cover.

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet, I ask you to do so, because there is nothing you can lose, except maybe homework time…

Have you read Jane Eyre?

What other classics should I read (I need my summer list)?

Who is your favorite character from any classic book and what do you think makes them admirable?

Author profile

Jane Tallmadge spends her time playing tennis, reading, longboarding, and writing Ruby Girl articles instead of doing homework. She struggles with an identity disorder in which she wishes she was European but is tragically from Texas. Some of her favorite things include cheese plates, jazz music, and her family. If you offer her dark chocolate (90% cacao, please), she might make you shrimp in return.

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  • Kaelie Landon
    May 18, 2016 at 6:11 am

    I’m so glad someone else loves Jane Eyre as much as I do! She is one of those characters who reminds me of the quote from former Young Women general president Margaret D. Nadauld: “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.”
    There are many examples of how we can be the women the world needs in literature. If you’re looking for another classic to fall in love with try Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.

    • Jane Tallmadge
      May 18, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      I will check that out! Thanks so much.

  • Chanda Nielsen
    May 18, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Jane! I love this. Fantastic article. I think I’m ready for a re-read of Jane Eyre (and the glory that is Rochester.)?

  • Michelle Lehnardt
    May 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Oh Jane. I just loved this post. Jane Eyre was also the first classic I read and I still love it. I remember thinking, “This is why classics are classics, because they’re FANTASTIC.”

    I remember when my husband read The Count of Monto Cristo and he kept saying to me, “Why didn’t you make me read this sooner? It’s AMAZING.” So, I definitely recommend the count and everything by Dickens and Hardy and Austen, but my very, very favorite book and character is Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. Why? Because he sacrifices himself for other people. I’ve found that’s my favorite character trait– a willingness to sacrifice our own wants for others (you’ll also find that theme in Peace Like a River and my two favorite movies Life is Beautiful and It’s a Wonderful Life).

    But you MUST read the unabridged Les Miserables. The abridged versions take out all the best spiritual parts– especially in the first 60 pages and the last 50 or so pages. But I give you permission to skip the Battle of Waterloo in the middle.

    • Jane Tallmadge
      May 18, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Oh thank you so much, Michelle! I have read both the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables. And yes, Waterloo was LONG. So was the sewers! Lol!

      Thanks for the other recommendations! My mom has all of those authors on our bookshelves, so I guess I better get to work!

  • Michelle Lehnardt
    May 19, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    and now I love you even more.

  • Irene
    June 30, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    I’ve read Jane Eyre and it is one of my favourites. I live in England and the area about where this was set is everything the book depicts. I wish that I could be as good as Jane (don’t we all!).
    Another classic that is a favourite is Pride and Prejudice. The heroines both follow what’s right instead of other influences.
    A few more would be: 20,000 leagues under the sea, wives and daughters, sherlock holmes, the hobbit, the Thirty-nine Steps and all of the Anne of Green Gables books. These are some of the books that I read last year and they are truly worth the time.