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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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AUTHOR'S STYLE

Many readers think that Charlotte Bronte's writing style is her greatest weakness. The style of Jane Eyre is highly charged with emotion, almost feverish in its intensity. You'll find sentence after sentence stuffed with lush adjectives and sensual images. Sometimes the words almost seem to have spilled out onto the page in a headlong, uncontrolled rush of feeling. From time to time, you may even feel that the author has lost track of what she means to say. One sentence often mentioned as an example of this occurs in Chapter 15, where we read of Mr. Rochester: "Pain, shame, ire-impatience, disgust, detestation-seemed momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebony eyebrow." If all this is going on in just one of Rochester's eyes, what can possibly be happening to the other?

If you are the sort of person who prefers writers who are always in control of their prose, and who can describe subtle shadings of emotion, you may find that you become impatient with Charlotte Bronte's style. Bronte is often compared negatively with Jane Austen, whose writing is more restrained, allowing for sharp and witty observations of character and social mores.

On the other hand, most readers agree that the prose style of the novel fits very well with the headstrong, emotional character of the narrator, Jane Eyre. Would you find it easy to believe that Jane was a "passionate" person if she told her story in cool, elegant language? Wouldn't you be more skeptical about some of her frightening experiences at Thornfield if they were told that way? It's possible to be critical of some aspects of Charlotte Bronte's writing and still feel that, on the whole, it's her style that draws readers into the conflicts of the story. Because the language is emotionally powerful, we're able to identify with Jane Eyre, instead of simply pronouncing judgments on her personality.


POINT OF VIEW

Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative, related in the voice of the protagonist, or heroine. Jane Eyre is the "I" of the story, the person whose voice we hear as we read, and everything that happens is seen from her point of view. Nowhere in the novel does the author break the flow of the narrator's voice to give us an objective view of her main character. However, she does remind us once in a while that the story is being told by Jane as a mature woman, looking back on events that happened some years earlier. The mature Jane occasionally comments on the younger Jane's reactions to those events, and sometimes she even addresses you, the Reader, directly. You'll also find occasions where her narrative includes long stories told to Jane by other characters (such as Rochester's accounts of his past), conversations that Jane overhears between other characters, and even accounts of Jane's dreams. These not only add variety to the style but give the reader a chance to check up on the truthfulness of the narrator.

It's important to remember that in a first-person narrative like Jane Eyre we know only what the main character tells us. You may well suspect as you read that Jane's opinions aren't always entirely objective-another sort of person might see the events of the story and the personalities of the various characters in an entirely different light. This isn't necessarily a weakness in the novel; in fact, it may be one of its strengths.

But you'll truly enjoy Jane Eyre only if you feel a basic trust in the narrator. For the novel to be a success for you, you must be able to imagine that, in Jane's shoes, you might well have felt and acted as she did.

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Jane Eyre is the story of one young woman, told in her own voice and in chronological order, as it happened. In this sense, the structure of the novel is very simple. One critic, Robert Bernard Martin, has gone a step farther in analyzing the form of Jane Eyre. He compares the novel to a five-act play, divided according to the five different places where Jane lives during the course of her life-the Reeds' house, Gateshead; Lowood school; Thornfield; Moor House; and Ferndean. Each time Jane Journeys to a new locale she's ready to begin another stage in her emotional life, and her journeys are described in a way that builds the reader's suspense.

On another level, however, the plot of Jane Eyre is very complicated. Suspense plays a large role in the story. In chapter after chapter, Jane finds an answer to one question that has been bothering her only to be confronted with yet another mystery or dilemma. In the end, some of these questions are resolved through melodramatic and highly improbable coincidences. Many of these coincidences are set in motion by Jane's long-lost uncle, John Eyre-a character we're never told about in the beginning of the story, and who never actually appears in person. Some readers feel that an author who constructs a plot in this way is not quite playing fair with them; they feel cheated. Other readers don't mind at all. And a third group argues that since Jane Eyre is a novel that deals with horror, the supernatural, and the secrets of the human heart, we shouldn't hold the plot to the same standard of probability we might demand in a more realistic story. You'll have to decide for yourself which view you agree with.

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