Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The best novel ever written was published 162 years ago today

Yes friends, it's the anniversary of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, published this day in 1847. It's my favorite book of all time. And not "favorite" in the way that people choose classics in order to sound studious. I mean it honestly - I could read this book over and over for the rest of my life and not get tired of it.

It's exciting reading. OK, the beginning parts at Lowood School are a bit slow, but it picks up immediately when Jane gets to Thornfield. Oh, does it pick up. There's mystery, danger, romance, and the most perfect heroine.

Jane is one of those characters who manages to work entirely inside the social structure in which she's been placed, and yet completely subvert it at the same time. She's spunky without being brash, calm without being boring, she feels deeply without being whiny, she's romantic without being swoony, confident without being arrogant. She's not beautiful, and isn't outwardly remarkable in any way, and not in a "I'm Bella and I'm not beautiful at all, but for some reason all the boys in school are falling all over themselves to date me and I just can't figure out why." Jane is the quintessential everywoman and she just so freakin' cool.

Let's not get started on Edward Rochester, the ideal brooding hero. He's Mr. Darcy, but funnier and with a better reason to brood. He's Heathcliff without the self-indulgent wallowing.

Plus there's a crazy woman in the attic! And there's a big old house that burns down!! Novels just don't get any better than that.

I could go all day long dissecting this book, but I'll stop for the 95% of you who don't care much for Jane Eyre. But here's a bit about Charlotte's path to publication, courtesy of The Writer's Almanac. Emphasis is mine:

"The public reception was divided. William Thackeray, who wrote Vanity Fair, called it "the masterwork of a great genius." One reviewer said, "This is not merely a work of great promise; it is one of absolute performance. It is one of the most powerful domestic romances which have been published for many years."But not everyone liked the novel.

A lot of reviews were focused on trying to figure out who had written Jane Eyre, and especially whether the author was a man or a woman. Charlotte Brontë had published the book under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell, the same one she had used a year earlier when she published poems by her and her sisters, Emily(books by this author) and Anne (books by this author). She changed Charlotte to Currer Bell, Emily to Ellis Bell, and Anne to Acton Bell.

Charlotte decided to publish the poems after she accidentally found some poems that Emily had written, and the three sisters realized that they had all been writing poems secretly for years. When she published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846, only two copies sold. But she submitted Jane Eyre for publication the next year. It was rejected five times, and then she sent it to Smith, Elder, and Co., her eventual publishers. She sent it with a note that said:It is better in future to address Mr. Currer Bell, under cover to Miss Brontë, Haworth, Bradford, Yorkshire, as there is a risk of letters otherwise directed not reaching me at present.

They agreed to publish it, and it became a huge success, although a controversial one. Many reviewers were shocked at the possibility that a woman could write it. They thought Jane was too independent, too coarse, and too interested in what one reviewer called "the grosser and more animal portion of our nature."

I'd love to know: do you have a favorite book, and what is it? Do you find that peoples' eyes glaze over when you expound on its amazingness? Just wondering if that happens to other people, too.


writtenwyrdd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
writtenwyrdd said...

It's funny how Jane Eye and Wuthering Heights both seem to polarize opinions. You either hate them or love them. I hate them both, but I'm glad you find so much of worth in them.

As far as favorite books go, my favorites list has changed over th eyears as I've changed. I still have some favorites, but I have no urge to read them again any longer--like Dune, Narnia, Earthsea. Sure, I'll pick them up again sometime, but with all the new books out there, I have plenty of never before read books to take my time.

At present, my favorite series are Patricia Brigg's Mercy series and Ilona Andrews' kate Daniels series.

lotusgirl said...

I'm a huge fan of Jane Eyre too. It was ahead of its time.

It's so hard to pick a specific favorite. I'm a big Jane Austen fan, but I love so many different types of books that I'd almost have to pick favorites by genre. How do you compare Fahrenheit 451 with Persuasion? (two of my faves.)

Dominique said...

I have to agree with writtenwyrdd that most people either love or hate Jane Eyre.
Personally, it wasn't my book, because I just wanted to shake her and tell her to get a life. But I thought the writing was good.
I don't know. Maybe I'm biased, since I had to read it in high school, and being assigned might have sucked some of the fun out of it.

Anna Claire said...

Written, I think you're so right about the polarizing. And Dominique, I had to read Wuthering Heights in high school for an assignment and wanted to smack every single character in it and tell them to get over themselves. But I picked up Jane Eyre for fun and maybe that made all the difference?

But then of course I wouldn't want to argue against mandatory school reading assignments. Such a conundrum.

Cerrissa said...

You know, after all the years hearing you always talking about how it was your favorite book, i just realized i haven't ever actually read Jane Eyre. I only ever saw the movie about a million years ago. I think i will make it the next on my list of books to read.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yes, Jane Eyre ROCKS!
As much I love Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre is actually a much better read to me.
And Jane is such a wonderfully strong heroine.

Barry said...

Hi Anna Claire,
What a wonderful site!
My favorite book (humor) is by the southern writer T.R. Pearson:
"A Short History of a Small Place"
General novel would be Victor Hugo:
"Les Miserables"
Again, I'm really enjoying your site (found by "chance" ? ! I can't wait to share is with my english lit teaching dauther.
Best wishes and continued success in your writing.
. . . Barry