Your Favorite Book Sucks: 'Jane Eyre'

It’s time for us to say what we’ve all been thinking for well over a hundred years: The Napoleonic Wars were a big mistake. Also, Jane Eyre sucks.

Imagine having a friend in middle school who is so obnoxious yet boring that you can’t stand her, but all your teachers think she’s great. So you put up with her and smile earnestly whenever she’s around, partially because you don’t want to be the mean one, and partially because you wonder if you’re just missing something that everyone else can see.

But then that friend continues to be aggressively bland and overbearing for the rest of her life.

That’s what Jane Eyre is like. The book, I mean, although maybe we could make a similar argument about the character.

It’s a classic, but there are so many flaws that it’s hard to understand why everyone clings to it so ferociously. Let’s talk about why this book isn’t all that great.

The Sheer Density

I am loathe to criticize a book for being a slow and thoughtful read. There’s no reason to demand that every book be a Michael Bay-style adventure of guns, girls, and plot structure that compensates with speed for what it lacks in clarity. Furthermore, I happen to think that a good long sentence with multiple clauses can be a joy to read.

It’s a classic, but there are so many flaws that it’s hard to understand why everyone clings to it so ferociously.

Unfortunately, Jane Eyre fits solidly in both categories in a way that is utterly impenetrable. Just read the first few pages. You’ll be hard pressed to understand anything concrete about the main character despite it being written in first person perspective. You will, however, learn that Turks sit cross-legged … apparently.

The Unrelenting Length

Depending on the edition, Jane Eyre can run well over 180,000 words. Length doesn’t have to be a negative mark against a book, as long as it takes us somewhere. But instead of making something out of nothing, Bronte viced our versa and gave us long stretches of the stuff.

It’s often categorized as a coming-of-age story. But instead of showing us a single transformative stage in Jane’s life, Bronte wrote a coming-of-every-age story where we follow Jane from early childhood as an orphan through to adulthood, employment, and marriage. It would be easy to trim out roughly fifty percent and still have a coherent tale, possibly even more coherent than the original. At the very least, the book could be split into two smaller books, with a Dickensian tale about young Jane and then a romance about Jane and Mr. Rochester.

The Tiresome Animosity

Okay, Bronte, we get it; Jane is put-upon, persecuted, and mostly unloved, despite being lovely and admirable in every way. Everyone in the book seems to have it in for Jane, and it gets a little overwhelming at times. Conflict is important in a story, but at these large doses it starts to feel a little ridiculous. If Bronte were a writer today, she’d pitch a TV pilot to the CW called “Everybody Hates Jane.” The crazy aunt, the Draconian schoolmaster, heck, even the ostensible love interest, Mr. Rochester, seems annoyed with her.

The Insufferable Byronic Hero

Speaking of which, Mr. Rochester earns a section of criticism all to himself. Rochester is considered a Byronic hero, meaning he fits into a mold similar to the types of heroes written by the Romantic poet Lord Byron. These heroes are world-weary, sarcastic, brooding, antagonistic and cynical, but with a small glimmer of redeeming gallantry and affection underneath the jagged exterior.

In other words, completely insufferable.

Let’s return to the middle school analogy. Remember when that boy or girl in third period liked you, but for some reason they expressed it by being rude and mostly ignoring you? That’s what Mr. Rochester is like. We’re meant to like a guy who persecutes the woman he loves.

The Ridiculous Love Test

In fact, let’s break out another section of complaint just for this guy and his silly expressions of love. In a climactic moment in the book, often considered the most important moment for Jane’s character development (read: the only moment she stands up for herself and does something proactive), Rochester says he’ll miss her when she marries another man, but that she’ll probably forget him right away. That’s right, he baits her. Just like a middle school lover fishing for compliments. “You’ll never love me … right? I’m just unlovable … right?”

To Jane’s credit, she lets him have it, telling him that she’s loved him all along, etc., etc., cue swelling romantic music. And then Rochester has the audacity to say the equivalent of “Congratulations, you’ve passed the test. Now we shall be married.” What a dysfunctional relationship that requires one party to trick the other into admitting love, and making that a prerequisite to forming a real relationship.

The Psychotic Wife

Then Bronte does something odd. It seems like this would be the climax of our little love story, where we could spend a few pages outlining a happily-ever-after, but Bronte wasn’t done showing how bad things can get for our punching bag named Jane. So she prolonged the story by throwing in one of the craziest twists in literary history: a little Deus Ex Attica.

Except that the god in the attic is actually Rochester's crazy wife. Surprise, he's already married! Oh, and his wife likes to cause mischief and set her husband on fire. This development comes out of nowhere, and it bugs plenty of people. I happen to think it’s a little funny, and Bronte does actually foreshadow the appearance of Crazy Bertha, but it’s still disorienting. The problem isn’t the twist itself, but its place in the story structure. We’ve just solved the major conflict of the book, and everyone is ready for love, so it feels completely out of place when Bronte throws in an even crazier (literally) conflict to destroy all the progress we’ve made. Bronte is the queen of the bait and switch.

The Moor. Good Grief, the Moor.

This development leads us into the worst part of the book. Jane abandons Rochester, wanders on the moor, runs out of food, and nearly dies. That’s right, we’ve just followed this lady’s entire life of disappointment, survived a lunatic (and his crazy wife, zing!), and now we’re about to watch Jane starve to death in a marsh full of unsympathetic people. What a wonderful tale.

Don’t worry, it gets worse. She happens to collapse on the doorstep of a former suitor who rescues her. I kid you not, this guy’s name is St. John. We then descend into another interminable love story filled with dysfunction and lethargy before Bronte finally relents. Jane inherits a fortune and discovers she has some living relatives who love her after all.

Oh, and then there’s a love triangle with Rochester and St. John the Bovine, which Rochester wins by asking one last manipulative question. (“Am I hideous, Jane?” Yes, Rochy, one hundred percent yes. Strangely, Jane replies yes and still decides to marry him despite finally acknowledging the truth. Ugh, this book.)

The Overblown Legacy

And thus ends one of the most overblown stories in human history, which would go on to be read by millions of people over the next 150+ years, including you in high school. But now that we’ve put this out in the open, we don’t have to read it anymore, right? At the very least, we should read The Eyre Affair, wherein Jasper Fforde “fixes” Jane’s narrative and manages to be funny and engaging while doing it.

Am I hideous for saying so?

Image of Jane Eyre (Penguin Clothbound Classics)
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Price: $17.99
Publisher: Penguin Classics (2009)
Binding: Hardcover, 578 pages
Image of The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel
Author: Jasper Fforde
Price: $11.71
Publisher: Penguin Books (2003)
Binding: Paperback, 400 pages
Daniel Hope

Column by Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope is a writer, ukelele player, and unrepentant nerd. He has worked as a technology journalist (too frantic), a PR writer (too smarmy), and a marketing writer (too fake). He is currently the Managing Editor of Fiction Vortex, an online publication for science fiction and fantasy short stories. At FV, he's known as the Voice of Reason. That means FV staff members wish he would stop worrying all the time. He thinks they should stop smiling so much.

Daniel Hope lives in California and dreams of writing more. When distraught about his output, he consoles himself with great beaches and gorgeous weather. He recently published his science fiction novel, The Inevitable, on the Kindle Store and Smashwords. Find out more at his site: SpeculativeIntent.com.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

WilliamGrit's picture
WilliamGrit April 16, 2014 - 5:15pm

"He thinks they should stop smiling so much." LOL

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami April 16, 2014 - 8:53pm

Weren't you the same one that said that Nowpunk was stupid? A book is hardly bad for being even 230,000 words.

Bloodterfly's picture
Bloodterfly April 17, 2014 - 1:45am

@Sarah Weaver

Nowpunk as a word IS stupid. 

Also:

"Length doesn’t have to be a negative mark against a book, as long as it takes us somewhere. But instead of making something out of nothing, Bronte viced our versa and gave us long stretches of the stuff."

 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami April 17, 2014 - 3:51pm

Yes but as a genre that's a matter of opinion.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 18, 2014 - 6:01am

Yeah, it is horrible.

Mike Horning's picture
Mike Horning May 14, 2014 - 9:04pm

Sorry, thanks for playing. Your feeble attempt has failed. Jane remains unscathed and still totally awesome. She's smart, funny, observant, wise beyond her years, self-reliant, and has an unerring moral compass.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 14, 2014 - 10:39pm

Well she is doomed.

Emily Condit's picture
Emily Condit October 20, 2016 - 8:58am

St. John was a former suitor??? Did you read the book or get bored and start skimming? Also, no love triangle between Jane, Rochester, and St. John. He wants to take her on a Christian mission to India and the only way to do that at the time was for them to be married. Their relationship would be understood to be one of convenience. Jane wanted to go but was not having the loveless marriage part. She didn't love him and he didn't love her. He was running away from a woman he loved because it violated his religious principles to lust for her so much. Jane was presented with the opportunity to do the same though it wasn't explicitly stated. They were both in similar situations and the contrast highlighted Jane's further growth not just in declaring herself the equal of any other person after being demeaned her whole life but in further deciding that the conventions of the day, that she had been more than a slave to her whole life, were not worth obeying if they made her unhappy. 

Her character arc is dramatic and profound. 

 I agree that some of the book could have been shaved off, especially in the part leading up to her meeting Rochester but the book has a point to make about the outcasts of society and the role of women in the 19th century. Jane is a strong female character even by today's standards. I can't imagine how it must have influenced women of the time. 

I happen to relate very strongly to Jane. It may seem like the path she endured was melodramatic, that the world could not possibly be that cruel to one genuinely good person but it can and in life there are no happy endings to make it all okay. At some point you just accept the way things are and try to be grateful for what you have. 

I mostly think it's pointless to argue about literature because a story either speaks to you or it doesn't. I find Wuthering Heights a glorification of an abusive relationship and Jane Austen's work somewhat superficial though I do like some of the film adaptations. 

The only reason I decided to comment was because you were inaccurate about some of the story details and seemed to miss the point of the book. 

You are welcome to continue not liking it of course but I thought I'd offer a different perspective.