Jane Eyre: A Book Review, Some Regrets, Fassbender’s Face, and a Short Feminist Rant

This book was a pleasure to read from start to finish. It’s a shame it took me so long to pick this up now knowing it has many things I would’ve liked to read while I was growing up. I’ve always enjoyed Gothic novels, delighted in opinionated female characters, and enjoyed beautiful, descriptive writing.

After finishing the book, I was browsing its Goodreads page to see what others thought of it, as I’ve been wont to do because I am nosy and enjoy mentally agreeing/disagreeing with other people’s judgments about things I like. A lot of people hated it, but many others loved it too, sometimes as much as I did though not in the same way. One very poignant review passionately pointed out that she “… could bang Mr. Rochester like a screen door ’till next Tuesday.” Interesting. In another review, Jane’s plainness and sob stories were found boring, and Rochester was found to be insufferable, immoral and uninteresting.

I never really viewed Jane Eyre as a romantic novel. I vehemently refuse to experience it as a love story between Jane and Mr. Rochester because Jane is so much more than her romantic relationships. I also think Rochester is gross, and her admiration for the man ludicrous.* I understand when people are put off by this romance because I hated it too. (Full disclosure: I’ve read Jean Rhys’ prequel Wide Sargasso Sea years back and thus have already formed negative opinions about Rochester before reading Jane Eyre).

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Just saw the 2011 adaptation and Fassbender made Rochester less gross (darnit, Fassbender!!), still old and intense though.

If you allow yourself to look past that ridiculous May-December love affair, you will appreciate Jane’s education – from her difficult time at the hands of the Reeds to her training at the Lowood Charity school, which fed her hunger for a life outside of those walls leading her to the most important part of her coming-of-age at Thornfield Hall. You will love her spunk, and you will enjoy her comebacks to people who did her wrong. You kind of expect Victorian ladies to be all coy and modest but not this Jane. I’ve done far too many mental hellsyeah! every time she tells people off. When her cruel aunt told her cousins to stay away and not associate with her as she is not worthy of notice, she remarks, “They are not fit to associate with me.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . . .

The first lines of A Tale of Two Cities set up high expectations. It’s a beautiful and powerfully-worded opening – one that introduces us to the “two cities” of London and Paris, and presented to us dualities that will prove to be prevailing all throughout the novel.  Dualities that are exhaustive such as life and death, love and loss, freedom and oppression – to exist, one must belong to one part of the other. You cannot have death without life, you cannot love without bearing great loss when your love finally goes, and freedom would not be as sweet without oppression (or the risk of it).

In Chapter 3, Dickens tells us a wonderful fact – that we are all mysteries to each other, “that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” And with mad ingenuity, Dickens unravels those mysteries bit by bit, and neatly ties up all, and I mean ALL, ends into tiny little knots that are mind-blowing in their sophisticated complexity. (It is very hard to describe this book without sounding like an English major.)

A (sadly) abridged Puffin Classics edition, and a Charles Dickens portrait nicked off the web and printed as bookmark.

A Tale of Two Cities ended up being arresting and very, very memorable, but it didn’t quite start out that way. After the aforementioned first lines, the next 30 pages or so made me worry about wasting a perfectly good weekend over trivial Victorian descriptions of a coach and a mail and the perils of traveling from London to England in the year “one thousand seven hundred seventy five.” If I wanted to read about European travelling history, I would’ve picked up a non-fiction book written in contemporary language, not one that was published in 1869 and written fancily.

But alas, like all good things, this book needed me to bear patience, and afterwards, it rewarded me with a roller coaster of a story that deserves a thousand years of repeated telling. A Tale of Two Cities was well woven with the many intricacies of family drama, romance, social prejudice and a highly suspenseful plot set in the backdrop of the French Revolution. It was so good and so heart-felt that I stared at the ceiling a good hour after reading the last lines of the book, chewing over and over about all the plot twists, all the nuances, the neatly-tied ends, and the madness of Charles Dickens. What a wonderful writer, what a genius. He deserves the crown of being the most widely-read Victorian novelist of all time.

Charles Dickens ended the book as beautifully as he opened it. The last lines compete with popularity with the first. I’ve chanced upon it so many times (e.g. Dark Knight Rises). It is beautiful but it was made even more memorable with the context with which it was delivered.

It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

I cried.

Yes, A Tale of Two Cities demanded concentration especially by a reader spoilt by contemporary fiction for so long – but it was concentration that was easy to give. The language was intricate yet full of imagery. Some words did need looking up and some paragraphs demanded multiple reads to get immersed into, but this is not a surprise. This book is a classic after all, and reading classics does not merely entertain, it also challenges.

Everyone (and their mothers) should read this.

A Tale of Two Cities

The rare, long weekend is upon us, and instead of going out and ironically partying during the Holy Week, I’m travelling to my hometown to spend precious time with my family and get caught up in a book (or two!) on the side. This week’s book is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Reading Battle Plan for A Tale of Two Cities

I started with this today and it has been fun so far. The language is not that easy to breeze through, but that is without much surprise considering the book was first published in 1859. 1859! Knowing that I’m reading a work made by a man born 201 years ago is almost inconceivable. Classics are often overlooked for what they are – a rare and precious gift that a lot of people worked very hard for to keep alive today. We really should pick up an old gem every now and then.

I’d like to think that this isn’t my first Dickens book but my foray into Oliver Twist was unsuccessful in high school and I dropped it over a fantasy or romance novel, most likely. So yes, this is my first proper Charles Dickens book and one that has the most memorable (and famous) opening and ending lines in the history of ever.

My copy is a very pretty Puffin classic edition (ISBN: 978-0-141-32554-5) with an introduction by Roddy Doyle, and some notes at the back.