Charlotte Bronte’s First Novels: The Professor and Jane Eyre

June 7, 2021 Uncategorized 0

With the way goodreads works, as soon as I finished Jane Eyre, my review from 2013 popped up. I can see that at the time, I found this book a bit difficult to review and didn’t think the plot had enough action. Whether because I’m older, because my tastes have changed, or because the biographical info I’ve read adds interest, I had no complaints about the plot this time. However, I do still find classics a bit challenging to review. As with romances or cozy mysteries, the fact that I’ve read few books in this category makes me feel less well equipped to analyze them well. Since these are part of my Charlotte Bronte project though, I’ll do my best to put together some coherent thoughts here.

After having read several biographies that quote extensively from Bronte’s books and letters, starting The Professor felt like meeting up with a friend. She has such a distinctive voice! I’ve previously felt that a lot of older books all sound the same. While they do have commonalities, Bronte’s writing feels quite different from, say, Gaskell’s Charlotte Bronte biography. More powerful, more precise. I’m not certain I’d agree with a biographer who described Bronte’s prose as stripped of all extraneous words. It’s not sparse prose. But it does feel thoughtfully crafted. Bronte’s writing has a beautiful rhythm to it. Every word lands like a puzzle piece clicking into place.

In both The Professor and Jane Eyre, the writing was a big part of my enjoyment. Based on this experience, I’d highly recommend reading a Bronte bio before picking these up (probably Barker’s bio, if you’re willing to tackle it). Knowing about the biographical elements Bronte included added another layer of interest. I’ve also been reading the analysis of each of these books in The Madwomen in the Attic. As the authors of this analysis acknowledge in their intro, their book is limited by their lack of awareness around race and a lack of nuance around gender. Given it was written in the 1970’s, I’ve not been put off by anything yet though. And I really liked hearing about the parts of Jane Eyre that were revolutionary when Bronte published it.

I can see why Jane Eyre is the better known of these two books. Both were good, but Jane Eyre seethes with a passion and anger that make The Professor feel bland by comparison. Unlike on my first read, I found Jane Eyre’s character development was plenty of ‘action’ to move the plot along. I also liked the supernatural and other over-the-top gothic elements this time around. The contrast between Bronte’s description of mundane, daily life with the supernatural bits was entertaining. Jane Eyre’s bravery in standing up for her principles was a particularly satisfying part of the story.

The analysis of this book as a feminist text in The Madwoman in the Attic was interesting too. I’d love to read some analysis that does more to address the concerning aspects of Jane’s relationship with Rochester though! It seems like she likes him because he’s nice to her, he likes her, and he respects her opinion. That’s a pretty low bar to make up for that fact that he deceives her and at moments seems somewhat violent, on the verge of worse. Likewise, the interpretation of Bertha as Jane’s alter-ego presented in this analysis was fascinating and clever. It’s also the section most limited by the authors’ lack of engagement with race though and I’d love to read some analysis from that perspective. Please let me know if you have any analysis or retellings you’d recommend.

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