Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
One of the challenges in reading a great work of literature is that it often has many imitators. The imitations may be flattering or unflattering; they may be complimentary or subversive; they may borrow just little bits or just about everything. In addition to spoiling surprises (thanks a lot, I Walked with a Zombie!) it is possible for the original source to look cliched or hackneyed after experiencing all those others. Did that torpedo this book for me?
Consider some various elements in the story: The first conversation between Jane and Helen Burns at Lowood School reads like the best of Dostoyevsky. The plot meanders from location to location across England like the best of Dickens. Jane has romantic entanglements with noblemen and churchmen (it's Church of England, after all) like the best of Austen. Ghosts, crazy people, and supernatural/horrific events pop up like the best of Val Lewton.
Jane Eyre does not suffer at all by comparison. The story of the orphaned girl growing up in an unloving home with an indifferent aunt and cousins, moving out to a harsh boarding school where she gets her education, and taking a job as a governess at the lonely estate of Mr. Rochester is compelling reading. Her character grows throughout the book in believable and engaging ways. There are many deep conversations about Christianity, duty, missionary work, matrimony, etc., that fit naturally into the story and arise from the people's lives. I found the book fascinating and hard to put down. This is a great work of literature undiminished by other similar works.
Thanks to Julie and Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find for getting me to read this wonderful novel.
I did read the book on Kindle for Android, which means I didn't really have a book. Unfortunately there were no annotations or notes and quite a bit of dialogue is in French (with a small bit of German, too). I remember just barely enough to get through but it would have been nice to have translations available. I don't know if other e-versions have better support for language-challenged readers. It is something to consider if you haven't read Jane Eyre and don't know French. I think a reader could get by without it but it can be frustrating. Hopefully this Dover Thrift Edition that I've linked to is better.
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