How Jane Eyre Saved My Mind

by, Samantha Walla, Production Manager

I have always thought of myself as a reader. I begged for stories before I could read, spent hours devouring love stories between teenagers facing the end of the world throughout middle school and my freshman orientation fun fact was “I like to read.” I used to wear these assertions like badges of honor, albeit a little nerdy and lame. 

That is, until I realized over the summer that I hadn’t really read much of anything. When the pandemic sent everyone to their favorite solitary activities, I found myself trying to stay afloat. I focused on making it through the semester, before months had passed and I realized I wasn’t reaching for a book to destress as I had in the past. The reason? A long laundry list of classics. We’ve all got them: titles we’ve lied about reading in conversations, fudged AP book reports using Sparknotes… and yet no desire to read them. 

Jane Eyre was one of these books for me. I had a vague idea of the plot (Miserable nanny? Misty, gray, moody England? Angry love interest?) I had no interest in slogging through what looked like a very extensive and detailed washing machine manual, but for some reason it was the first book I picked up after a long hiatus of reading for pleasure.

Even describing the beginning plot of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel seems to do it a disservice. A first person account of Jane’s life, beginning with her upbringing as an unwanted orphan to her eventual placement as a governess at the home of a brooding older man. This description feels unjust, although it is, at its core, a love story. However, the magic of Jane Eyre is not what transpires between the two love interests, but the inner workings of Jane’s mind.

You’ll find, as I did, that Jane chooses the course of her story, from making the most of the situation she’s in to changing the course of her life. Upon examination, Jane fulfills the core characteristics of a feminist protagonist, even by modern standards. Her autonomy and self-conviction allow her to protect herself, and allow us readers to look to her for inspiration. It is very rare that I find a role model in a novel, flawed but steadfast in her decisions. 

I felt like everytime I opened the pages I was checking in on Jane. I began to limit myself to only a few pages at a time, hoping to extend our time together. When I finally closed the book, I felt a pang of melancholy: the story was over, and had been for over 170 years. Lucky for us, there is more fun to be had in this literary world. I first read Jane Eyre with my heart, delighted by each new setting and gasping to myself at several scenes that seemed closer to an HBO drama than a summer reading list novel. 

The story is not without its flaws. A closer look at some of its plot points and characters suggest colonialism, responded to in Wide Sargasso Sea, written by Jean Rhys in 1966. Although Jane Eyre made strides in feminist literature, it cannot be lauded as a perfect text. Over one hundred years later, Jean Rhys retells the story of a pivotal character from her own point of view. The story improves upon themes of colonialism and patriarchy. 

Beware, Reader. This book is long and wordy. There are parts which feel as though they are happening in real time. Yet part of its particular pleasure in reading this story now, is that my life has at times, felt slowed to the point where one may not be able to tell the time difference from a description of Jane’s days and my own. The comfort came when I realized that the sameness of her life, however, did not prevent her from having thoughts, feelings or worth. 

If you’re breaking back into reading, Jane Eyre is a no-brainer. If you’re feeling bored, lonely or without purpose, I prescribe this book to you like medicine.