Plain Jane: A Classic Revisited

Even for me, life had its gleams of sunshine.

The Writer's Digest Annotated Classics cover

We all have that one book. The one we covet. Hold to our chests like a protective shield. Usually, it is the one filled with highlighted passages, dog-eared pages, or post-it notes stuck in what looks to others as random placement. But you know the truth. Those singled out pages contain words of wisdom and quotes you can probably recite from memory. They speak to you in your hour of need. You recite them to friends and family who need a boost of confidence, a reminder that life is messy, but will always offer some shine to those who seek it. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is that book of choice for me. A personal favorite, it continues to touch me with its language and themes of independence as well as Jane's search for family and love.

Every new year I begin with an internal pledge: to re-read Jane Eyre at least once during the next twelve months. Not particularly the lightest book or the quickest read, but that is far from the point. Each time I visit the halls of Thornfield, I am met with a new and startling discovery. I find something within myself that I was not aware of prior to this re-read or perhaps just could not tap into without the spiritual guidance of Jane. I gain a puzzle piece I did not know was missing and secure it in place. With every fresh look comes a new revelation. A connection to a character I otherwise despised and could now feel sympathy for because they reminded me of a co-worker. A message that might have been lost on me my first round because I had not yet gone through the life experience that made me appreciate it the fourth time I cracked open the spine of the book. There is always something new to relate to. Jane's journey never feels the same way twice and that is where the purity lies within these pages.

A lot could be said for 2017. The news circuit seemed to spit bad news after bad news at us. Personally, I struggled a great deal through it for many reasons, which led me to find more turmoil in Jane's journey than ever before. I broke down into tears too often to count and could barely finish the story even though I was well aware of the ending. I vowed, at the start of 2018, to break through the mental barriers 2017 had put up and for this year's re-read, my passion for Jane and her story was once more invigorated. And once more I found myself relating to a different theme.

It didn't surprise me that as I ventured into the pages this round the voices of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement harmonized in my mind. The brave women who came forward with their stories made me see Jane's decision to leave Edward Rochester in a whole new light. To briefly summarize: on the day Jane and Rochester are meant to marry, Jane discovers that Rochester's first wife is still alive and living in the attic. Having experienced a mental breakdown, she is now prone to violent outbursts and is delusional. Sound familiar? Rochester tells Jane there is no reason for them not to be married because his wife no longer exists. But Jane will not be shared. She will not live a false life. And so, she leaves, breaking her heart in the process, but the key thing here is that she refuses to let a man manipulate her feelings. She knows what she wants. This moment, for me, solidifies Jane's independence. It is through this decision that she finds a job she loves, a home she owns, and long-lost family. She has succeeded in gaining the independence she longed for since childhood. Yes, she is heartbroken and pines for Rochester, but her pride will not let her falter. She will not let her feelings for a man, one who is every inch her equal, define her entire being.

Consider today's modern woman. She might be a working mother, a career woman, a stay-at-home mom, a single woman, an unemployed woman; the list goes on. What part do they, what part do we, give up in order to please a society that tells us we should be this or that? How often do we play a part to please others? What masks do we shed at the end of the day? And what do we get out of it? This is what Jane, in her own way, ponders throughout the length of the novel.

I believe each woman carries aspects of Jane in the root of her soul. Some traits might come and go, but they are always there. Jane is always there, urging us in the right direction. She tells us never to surrender our true selves. Do not allow the manipulative words of others steer us down the wrong path. She wants us to succeed. To claim what we desire most, however big or small, and be proud of all that we accomplish on our own. Yes, mistakes will be made. There will be obstacles, cruelty, disbelief. It could come from family, friends, and even ourselves. Sometimes sacrifices must be made to move forward. But stay on course, believe in yourself, and good things will follow. We have all been a Jane Eyre at one point in our lives. It's what makes the novel the classic it is and why I find such pleasure in re-reading it every year. It is a window into the past that can be paralleled to the present. A chance to take a breath, pause, and re-evaluate our priorities. A chance to reclaim our voice in a world that continually tells us to be silent.

The most recent adaptation was in 2011, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Watch the trailer below.

'Jane Eyre' (2011) Trailer

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Plain Jane: A Classic Revisited
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