I don’t read classics very often. Most of the ones I have read in the past have been for school, so required reading; because of that, I haven’t enjoyed many of them. The first I truly loved was Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and it wasn’t required reading. For many years, it was my favourite classic. Then, I remember it was the month of June, I was home from university and for unknown reasons, I decided to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.
But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?
I genuinely cannot tell you why, at that moment, I wanted to read it. Of course, I had heard of it many times in the past, and I thought I should read it someday. However, someday is what I usually tell myself when it comes to classics, but I never end up reading them. This time was an exception. One evening, kindle in hand, small light on my nightstand, I began Jane Eyre. For the next couple weeks (I believe that’s how long it took me to read it), I would read some chapters every evening. I was looking forward to that time when I’d be able to continue this story. It was a routine I loved. You could ask why, if I loved it so much, didn’t I read it during the day and finish it much faster? I could have, sure. But, I think my enjoyment was in part due to the atmosphere I was reading the novel in. It was a small moment apart from the rest of my day, quiet and peaceful. And I took my time reading it simply because I wanted it to last as long as possible. English is also not my first language, so it always takes me a bit longer to read classics; I wanted to understand everything.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
I loved Jane Eyre as a character. It was the main reason I enjoyed the novel, really. She was flawed, she made mistakes but following her on her journey was so emotional for me. The way Charlotte Brontë wrote the story, I was almost immediately attached to Jane and invested in her story. I wanted her to be happy, and seeing her overcome so many obstacles made me so hopeful. Clearly, Jane’s life in the novel and my own are nothing alike. Nevertheless, her story resonated a lot with me, and I shed many tears throughout my reading. She was an incredible character. The atmosphere Brontë created around her heightened every event in the story, gave it a unique feel. Once I closed the last page, there was no doubt in my mind Jane Eyre was now my favourite classic, and a five-star read.
“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitments, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into it’s expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst it’s perils.”
For a few months, Jane Eyre stayed in my heart as an incredible novel, doubled with an amazing reading experience. It was strange to me, but it did feel like a one of a kind read. I never thought it would go further than that.
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart!”
Except, it did. At the beginning of my next semester at university (I was studying English at a French university at the time), we had to choose our literature classes. We had two options, both duos of novel we would then study for a semester. Right away, I knew exactly which option I wanted because yes, one of them had Jane Eyre as a novel. The other novel to go along with it was The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, but I honestly didn’t even look at what that book was about before putting that particular literature class as my first choice. I was so happy. But also anxious for a while, because there was no certainty we would get our first choice, and we weren’t told right away. I couldn’t even tell you why not getting that class was making me this nervous, but it did. Finally though, I got the class and I was ecstatic. I would get to study a novel I loved. First, we studied The Portrait of a Lady with one professor and while that professor was amazing, I simply wasn’t into the novel itself. We still had some good debates in class. Then with another professor, who was just as amazing, we studied Jane Eyre. It was one of my favourite class of my whole university experience. I was completely invested, I loved doing the assignments and participating in class. I mean, getting to learn even more about a novel I love? Yes, please. For the final exam, we had to study both novels as we didn’t know which one would be the subject of our oral exam. For the written exam, I obviously picked Jane Eyre. On the day of the oral exam, I went to university and saw which room I was to go to. Both professors had a different room, but no one was there (I like being very early to my exams, I’m too scared to be late and miss it) yet. I was hoping for Jane Eyre and I was nervous because of the exam itself. Then I took a quick look at the room, randomly and, I’m not joking, I noticed a handbag that could only belong to my Jane Eyre’s professor. I know this seems random but both professors had very different styles. You have no idea how relieved I was, I almost started dancing in the corridor. I didn’t though, but I had a big smile on my face. When both professors came back, the exam began. Talking about the novel was awesome, despite being nervous I would get a bad grade. In the end, I passed the class and had an incredible time studying.
All of this happened 5 years ago. Still, I almost remember it as if it was yesterday. Jane Eyre is one of these novels that had a huge impact on my life. Thanks to this book, I had an amazing time reading a classic, which I barely ever do, but also an incredible time in a university class, which wasn’t always the case. These are memories I’ll always cherish.
That’s the kind of impact a novel can have on someone’s life. Of course, there is a multitude of experiences when reading, how a book might impact someone. Today, I simply wanted to talk about one of my experiences, one that matters a lot to me.
What’s a book you feel had a big impact on yourself, or on your life? How? I’d love to chat about it with you in the comments!
Until next time,