Possible Flaws in Jane Eyre

Nobody's perfect, and no book is either. Yes, Jane Eyre is my favorite book, but I understand why it might not be everyone's cup of tea. Here are some reasonable objections that could be made by someone reading Charlotte Brontë's masterwork.

Unsympathetic leading male. For much of the book, Rochester comes across as a surly, ill-mannered lout, given to tantrums, petulance, bullying, and other behaviors we try to eliminate from our children. He is emotionally needy, yet lacks the social skills to court Jane properly. By the time he has pretended he plans to marry Blanche Ingram, just to make Jane jealous, the reader might be thinking, "This cad doesn't deserve the love of someone like Jane." Is she naive to fall for the first man with whom she's had intelligent conversation, despite his character defects? Probably. Does that make the love story less appealing? You decide.

Too much subservience. Jane's habit of calling Rochester her "master," and treating him as such, can offend our modern ears. She is an unusually spirited, uncompromising, independently thinking woman for her times. How can she willingly present herself as a servant to this man, not just as her vocation but in their personal relationship? Is he simply the father figure she never had but always craved? I don't have a ready answer to those queries. Just as one must often suspend disbelief when reading an unlikely tale, so here must one suspend annoyance at Jane's submissiveness to the man she marries.

Too many coincidences. Classic stories (and perhaps British ones in particular) are full of coincidences — someone randomly ending up in the right place at the right time; strangers discovering they're related; unexpected good fortune appearing just when it's needed most; etc. (The first example I think of is the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta HMS Pinafore, in which high-born and low-born boys are accidentally switched at birth and later serve on the same ship.) Jane Eyre is certainly no exception to this phenomenon. Out of all the villages in England, and all the houses in those villages, she ends up collapsing at the doorstep of the Rivers family — her cousins! By chance, during her brief stay there, she is informed that their common uncle has died and left her his fortune! This outlandish turn of events convinces blind Rochester that the returning Jane is real, not a product of his imagination, as "I should never dream that."

Too much archaic/unusual language. Anyone who reads a challenging book is likely to find unfamiliar terms and pick up their meanings from context. Brontë packed quite an assortment of unusual vocabulary into Jane Eyre. A reader might become exasperated after muddling through a steady diet of words such as inanition, hebdomadal, moiety, surtout, mediatrix, eulogiums, etc., etc. If you are reading an annotated edition, use the footnotes or other explanatory notes to learn what these terms mean ... but don't bother allocating valuable memory space to them, as you'll likely never encounter them again.

Despite these possible flaws, Jane Eyre overwhelms me with its sheer volume of inspiration, passion, and charm. Perhaps you can also turn down your modern sensibilities, set your mind to the mid 1800's, and relish the society-shattering brilliance of this unique tale.