When I was in eighth grade, I had a reading class in school each day. My teacher often assigned the entire class the same book to read, and we read during each class period. Then we’d discuss it.
One particular time, I think we were reading a children’s novel, like My Brother Sam is Dead (which I reread and reviewed a few months ago). Not surprisingly, I finished before everyone else. I went to the teacher at her desk at the back of the room and told her I was finished and I needed something else to read. She looked at me a moment, then she turned to a bookshelf and fumbled for a book. When she turned back to me, she handed me Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
I remember reading it, and I remember a few of the impressions I had. But the impressions I had at 13 were quite different from the impressions I get now that I’m in my late 20s. This time reading Jane Eyre, the straightforward-yet-beautiful prose was a wonderful treat: I enjoyed every single page.
A Different Book at a Different Age
When I first read it at 13 years old, I was first annoyed by the interspersed French.
“This is supposed to be an English novel! How annoying,” I’d think to myself. “What am I missing?” I wondered at each foreign paragraph. I determined to learn French some day.
But then the core of the problem came to light: “Mr. Rochester is OLD!”
I recoiled when Jane expressed an interest in him. “Yuck!” I thought. “This is NOT a romance.” Mr. Rochester, in his late 30s, was an old man to me.
This time, reading Jane Eyre in my late 20’s, I was stunned, and not by Mr. Rochester’s age. From the first chapter, Charlotte Bronte’s language has held me spell bound: she creates scenes and characters that come to life in the stories and dialog. And yet, her matter-of-fact prose doesn’t call attention to itself.
I still haven’t learned French, but if I read slowly I can tell what the conversation is about. And Mr. Rochester. Sigh. He’s not so bad. In fact, he’s quite romantic. What was I thinking? He’s just right for Jane, and she for him.
I’m also struck by the religious and the feminist aspects. The introduction of my edition (Penguin Classics) emphasized Charlotte Bronte’s interest and attempt to emphasize the religious development of Jane. I noticed it on this read, and it was interesting to see the religious development throughout: for example, when a young girl, she lists only Old Testament books as her favorites – completely omitting the New Testament. By the end, she’s quoting the New Testament to St. John Rivers. Jane also learned that as a woman who had once been in love and loved, she did not have to settle for a marriage of convenience and/or loveless union. She was powerful as a woman because she knew what love was. And I love the ending: how perfect!
The Penguin Classics edition that I read has a detailed introduction and notes and these made it a fun read for me. I liked to read the trivial facts of many phrases (for example, “irids” is a plural for “iris,” and Charlotte Bronte and her sisters are essentially the only ones who wrote it), and the background and connections between various sections of the book were explained for me. I enjoyed the connections and found they enhanced my reading experience. That said, the notes for the first chapters do sometimes reveal “spoilers” for subsequent chapters, so only reference the notes if you are familiar with the story.
In the end, Jane Eyre has become one of my favorite novels, and one I intend to reread more than once.
The Importance of Rereading
I know we all have lots of books on our TBR shelves, but rereading Jane Eyre – and experiencing a completely new book – reminds me that books are meant to be reread.
Have you ever been surprised when you reread a book you disliked (or misunderstood) the first time you read it?
What books will you reread many times in your life?
At what age should a girl first read Jane Eyre? Thirteen was too young, but I think there was some point I missed during which I would have loved it. I guess maybe 16-18? How old were you when you first read Jane Eyre? Was it the right age?
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Just seeing the title of this post made me smile. Jane Eyre is probably my favorite book of all time. I think I fourteen when I first read it and didn’t hate it but didn’t love it. I became interested again when I saw the 1944 film version a few years later and decided to read it again. I hate to say that thirteen or fourteen is too young, because there are things someone that age can appreciate. If it was my daughter I would talk to her about it when she finished and make sure that I encourage her to read it again in a few years.
I love this book. I read it for the first time about a year and a half ago and didn’t think I’d like it going into it. Oh man was I wrong! I felt the same – that every page was enjoyable. I got a gorgeous illustrated copy for Christmas this past year that I’m looking forward to reading after I’ve gotten through some of my challenges.
Oh yes, and Mr. Rochester is delightful. He’s one of the most interesting and realistic fictional characters I’ve ever read. 🙂
This is my favorite book. I was about 16 when I read it the first time. It gets better with every read.
I hated Wuthering Heights when I first read it but it grew on me. I love it now. Not as much as Jane Eyre though.
AK, maybe that’s the problem: I just read it and gave it back to my teacher. No questions, no discussion. I wasn’t so interested in classics after it, which is really too bad. I’d have loved them. I do think it’s funny that one of my problems with Jane Eyre was Mr. Rochester’s “old age”…
Amanda, I’d love a gorgeous illustrated copy! But I feel that way about most books I own…I agree. Mr. Rochester is very realistic.
Chris, I plan on rereading it again! I too didn’t love Wuthering Heights. Maybe that also deserves a reread.
I read Jane Eyre only a few years ago and I loved it. I think 13 would’ve been too young to catch all that the book implies, but it could definitely be a starting point. I love Wuthering Heights more, though, for the sentimentality, if not anything else. I read it when I was about 10 or 11 and even though it was a bit hard to grasp in the beginning, I’ve been rereading it since and came to love it for the familiar as well as the new. I haven’t reread it in years, though, and wonder how I would see it now, especially after reading Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre is one of the few books that I have reread many times. As you say, it is a book that has different meanings at different ages. I am looking forward to teaching it this coming year as part of a World Lit class. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind as another book I began reading at age 14 or so and I have read many times since. Also, the Chronicles of Narnia.
I first read Jane Eyre a few years ago, when I was about 27. I think this was too late. Perhaps about 20 would have been the right age for me.
I haven’t re-read anything, apart from when I have been studying it for school. I have too much in my TBR pile to contemplate re-reading things at the moment, but I can see there being a time when I would want to start reading my favourite books for a second time. I think I’d just be really worried that it wouldn’t be as good on a second reading.
I’m so glad you gave this book another try. It has always been one of my favorites. My first time reading it was in high school and although I loved it, I didn’t think of it as all that romantic. As an adult I LOVE the romance in it.
In general I don’t make it a habit to reread books but there ARE exceptions. Classics like this are at the top of my reread list. Also on there are books in a long, complicated series (like The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan) where you see much more on your 2nd time reading them. Then there are books that are simply favorites (The Mists of Avalon, The Poinsonwood Bible, and a few others) that I like to reread for the fact that I loved them so much.
I think the only “classic” I’ve re-read a bunch of times is Heart of Darkness, but that’s because I read it for three different classes — once when I was 16, once at 18, and once at about 20. I know I got more out of it the second and third times I read it, but not really in the sense that I was older and was bringing a new perspective to it, more that I was looking at it for a different academic purpose. The first time taught me just how deeply symbolism can go, the second time about how it fit into the Brit Lit canon, and the third time I can’t remember now.
One book I’m excited to re-read sometime soon is Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress because it’s a book that helped me understand my feelings about feminism. I’m interested to see how I’ll react to that book now, given that I’ve changed quite significantly since I read it the first time.
This is why I think it’s best if I go back and reread Wuthering Heights sometime in the future. I hated it the first time I read it, and several people have told me they felt the same way when they first read it.
I have yet to read Jane Eyre. It’s on my want-to-read-this-year list, but we’ll have to see. I think my intense dislike for Wuthering has transferred over to all the Bronte sisters.
claire, Good point: a starting point. I wish I revisited even just two years later. I would have appreciated it.
Sarah, To Kill A Mockingbird is also one of my favorites! I love rereading favorite books.
Jackie, I have the same worry about some of my favorite books! But then there is always the other side: it’s even better.
Heather J., yes, as an adult it seems quite romantic. But I didn’t think so at all at 13. I really wonder why.
Kim, rereading books is so much more fun when it’s one you loved in the beginning. I haven’t heard of that particular book, but it sounds interesting.
Christina, I’ve heard that from other people! Too bad, because the Bronte sisters are all different!
I’ve read Jane Eyre before, thought I can’t remember exactly when… I think I was perhaps aroudn the same age as you. I remember very little about my experience reading the book, though I do know the basic story and events that take place. I recently picked up a copy of the book (the Penguin Illustrated Classics edition), because it is a book I would like to revisit. I’m glad that your recent re-read was so rewarding – it gives me hope that mine will be too!
I can’t think of an instance where I’ve re-read a book I didn’t like and then appreciated it more on the second reading, because generally I won’t go back to a book I disliked! But I can think of a few books that I feel I didn’t get the most out of them the first time through and look forward to re-reading them in the future: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and Atonement by Ian McEwan (I actually disliked this book quite a bit while reading it, but it steadily grew on me as I made why through it, and the more I thought about it with the time, the more I appreciated the story McEwan crafted).
Steph, Again, I’d love an illustrated version. Sounds lovely! I guess I was thinking of this book: I didn’t love it (although I didn’t hate it) when I read it more than 15 years ago, and yet I reread it an loved it. I think it’s important to reread books we may not have liked as kids because we may have been just the wrong age to appreciate it. But I’m a big fan of rereads in general.
I have Atonement on my TBR, and I’ll try to keep an open mind when I read it.
The first time I read Jane Eyre I was 11. I was riveted by her early life and school years, skipped over the section with St. John, was terrified by the madwoman and glad she came back to Rochester. It took a few years for me to get the nuances. But have you read Villette? I only found it a few years ago and it was wonderful, a much more mature book, and it made me wonder what she would have written if she’d lived longer.
I read Jane Eyre in high school and then reread it later, but I don’t remember if the second reading was high school or college. I think I’d enjoy it a lot more now. Maybe when I finish all the Austens…
Lilian, I think when I was younger I liked the chapters of her childhood best too. I haven’t read Villette. It sounds like I should!
Lisa, I haven’t read all the Austen novels either….I think I should!
I haven’t reread a book for a long time. I’m sure that I read this book in high school but I don’t remember a single thing about it! Sounds like it’s time for a reread myself.
I chose French as my second language for my Modern Languages major so that I could read War and Peace in the original. 😀 (it turns out, modern Russian is very, very, very different from Tolstoy Russian, so instead I read the P&V translation) I think I should reread Jane Eyre in the next few years; I first read it when I was 12 and didn’t really like it, then I reread it when I was maybe 18, 19, and still didn’t really like it. *shrug* I’m more of an Austen than Bronte girl!
Natasha, It’s always refreshing to reread a book I like!
Eva, I think I like Austen more too, but I still loved this one. Jane Eyre has entered my favorites list!
Ms. C. and E. Bronte have influenced my life tremendously! I have lived on the Moors (Yorkshire). My romantic outlook is linked with the themes running thru each novel. Jane Eyre is a strong individual, capable of taking care of herself and ultimately, Mr. Rochester. A beautiful story. Withering Heights quite different. Dark and dysfunctional what fun to read! Reread both on occassion.
I am 12, and I read it when I was 12, and it is my favorite book!!! I love it sooo much and I read the original version, and I keep trying to recommend it to my friends, but they say they don’t like classics. I say, it’s not a classic, it’s a love story!!! It actually made me cry in several places…
Well, I read it at the age of nine, and I’m now eleven. It was quite a good book, I was bored by it in the beginning but starting to enjoy it in the middle. The ending was okay, but a little sad.