There are few things I miss about elementary school, but I do have fond memories of the days when I effortlessly read oversized fantasy novels in one sitting. Although I still love to read, it’s a more complicated endeavour than it was when I was 8. Since I’m usually too busy to read more than a few pages at a time, it’s hard to get really caught up in a book.
But there are rare times when a book draws me in so completely that everything else in my life takes a back seat. I don’t recommend reading instead of studying for finals, but I have no regrets about the week I spent completely obsessed with “Jane Eyre.”
My love for that book goes far beyond what could be considered normal or even sane. Even when I was dragged to classical music concerts by my mother and forced to close my book, I had fantasies about talking to the characters perpetually playing in my mind.
Three years later, although “Jane Eyre” remains my favorite book by far, I realize that it’s not the most sophisticated thing ever written. When I try to describe the plot to people, I even feel a little silly. A long-suffering but virtuous orphan moves into a sinister mansion, where she falls deeply in love with a brooding and mysterious man with a dark secret. It’s romantic, melodramatic and unrealistic.
It’s always fun to indulge in a soap opera-like story while using the label of “classic” to protect my pretentiousness. But it was the character development more than the plot that truly captured my interest.
Though I had truly enjoyed plenty of other classic novels before I read “Jane Eyre,” I was surprised by how much I related to the character Jane, especially when compared to my lukewarm reaction to more popular heroines like Elizabeth Bennet. 150-year-old books are often a bit of a struggle to read, because the themes as well as the language are antiquated, and therefore less engaging. But some fascinating characters aren’t easily warped by time.
I completely idolized Jane. She’s quietly strong, channeling her frustrations and her ambitions toward improving herself. She loves Mr. Rochester intensely and selflessly, but refuses to compromise her morality for the sake of preserving their relationship. It is only when she feels that she can be with him honestly and as his equal that she marries him.
The confessional nature of the book, which reads almost like a diary, made me suspect that much of it was drawn from Charlotte Bronte’s own life, a guess that the Internet confirmed. I was more aware than with other books that the author was communicating directly to me, drawing me into her thought processes, her opinions, her morality and her imagination. That this was happening 159 years after her death felt like a miracle.
Although the idea that to create a long-lasting piece of literature is like a kind of immortality is nothing original, it wasn’t something I had really processed or even considered before reading “Jane Eyre.” In fact, I had barely thought about the fact that the authors I read had a direct influence on my life.
Although I had been writing stories for as long as I’d known how to write, it was soon after finishing Bronte’s novel that I decided I wanted to be an author. Once I found a book that, even if only for a week, took precedence over all the obligations of my real life, I wanted to have a chance at creating a similar experience for someone else.