Perlego Book of the month: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

It has been a few weeks since the end of the UNYP fall semester, and most of our students are now using Perlego for their studies. Many of them also choose to use the website to read for pleasure, which is an excellent way to relax during the long winter break evenings. Even if you are not majoring in English Language and Literature, you can still enjoy the diverse range of fiction available on Perlego. Over 900 topics are available to choose from, with 37,000 books available in the literature section alone. 

Explore Perlego’s fiction selection this winter at UNYP! 

One book that captivated our attention this month is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, an 1847 novel that helped introduce the idea of the “modern individual”—a surprisingly radical concept for Western society back then. 

Those who studied Jane Eyre as required reading in high-school English literature class will most likely recall the novel’s exaggerated Gothic tropes: a young orphan with an unfortunate destiny, a Byronic hero, a mysterious presence in a cold mansion, a tragic fire, and many other unbelievable events. Nevertheless, Brontë’s most significant accomplishment was not the book’s plot in itself. The narrative voice of the protagonist, who so openly expressed her desire and determination for identity, meaning, and agency, became a powerful message to its 19th-century audience. 

Of course, early novelists before Brontë, such as Burney, Defoe, Richardson, and Shelley, contributed to the development of the first-person narrator form. However, these writers used the contrivances of published letters and memoirs: devices that skewed towards underdeveloped characters, episode-like plots, and an overall sense of artificiality—even though the stories were portrayed not as fictional but as “histories.”

It is known that a lot of early readers mistakenly assumed Jane Eyre to be an accurate biographical account, perhaps a proof of the credibility of her character. Instead of the universals of old epics and romance, this novel focused on the specific features of human experiences, shaping how the reader understood the modern individual. 

The novel provides a first-person account of a destitute orphan girl looking for a secure identity, from the unloving home of her aunt and uncle, through an austere boarding school, and finally to the wealthy but inaccessible employer she falls in love with. The character cannot find herself in others, and makes a surprising decision to turn inward. Jane’s very tendency to be at war with the accepted order of things is the modern self’s characteristic aspect. As Brontë’s contemporaries rightly realized, we take this feeling for granted now, but at the time, it was radical. The heroine’s reluctance to submit to her social destiny was much more alarming to Brontë’s Victorian readers than the novel’s sensuality and Jane’s intense passion. But Jane’s resistance is not the open rebellion or self-absorption of nihilism. Instead, it is the quest for her true self—a journey to seek real values and confidence in the steep strata of conventionality. 

According to Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë “once told her sisters that they were wrong—even morally wrong—in making their heroines beautiful as a matter of course. They replied that it was impossible to make a heroine interesting on any other terms. Her answer was, ‘I will prove to you that you are wrong; I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.’” And indeed, as a heroine, Jane Eyre encapsulated what it means to be true to oneself and genuinely free. The writer created a strong female character that has much to teach us in today’s world. 

As a character, Jane is an exemplar who proactively explores our lives’ situation to ensure that it is as it should be. Her story teaches us timeless lessons on the importance of hard work and finding purpose—lessons that remain as true today as when it was first published.

Despite her tragic loss of love and dreams, Jane shows what it means to choose life in desperate times. This character can serve as an inspiration and a great example of resilience to readers going through these turbulent times of uncertainty. Even if we feel that we have reached rock bottom, these are the exact moments when it makes all the difference to keep pushing.

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