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A Fresh Perspective on a Classic Romance

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Written by Kristi Rolf

I’ve never been one to re-read books. The fact that I will never be able to read every great book that exists pains me, so I usually avoid spending time returning to familiar books. However, I recently found myself hankering to revisit “Jane Eyre,” a classic that I had dubbed my favorite book after reading it in tenth grade. Four years later, I still remembered how the story captivated me, so I decided to read the novel once again during winter break.

I was enthralled once again by Charlotte Brontë’s iron-willed heroine, the twists of fate that haunted Jane’s life and the story’s eerie atmosphere. While I still love Brontë’s writing and the stormy aesthetic of this story, I was aghast at many aspects of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. As a sixteen-year-old, I found the courtship between a young governess and her master to be deeply romantic and exciting. At twenty I recognized dangerous red flags. The vast difference in maturity between the two makes their relationship unequal at its very core. Jane Eyre is a teenager who has spent her years in exactly three places: her Aunt’s home, a boarding school and Thornfield Hall. Edward Rochester, on the other hand, is a middle-aged man who has spent years traveling throughout Europe and the West Indies. Jane Eyre is a notoriously independent and capable heroine, but a mature character cannot make up for limited experience in the real world. The different levels of experience between the two mean that Rochester’s pursuit of Jane is predatory and inappropriate.

The unhealthy imbalance between the two lovers completely escaped my perception when I was a sophomore in high school, but as a sophomore in college, I was quick to recognize the danger. My experiences during the intervening years taught me to recognize patterns that my younger self would not have noticed. Similarly, Jane herself goes through a period of rapid growth in the middle of her story. During a year spent away from Mr. Rochester, Jane must truly fend for herself and within a few months, she weathers enough significant personal events to rival the formative adventures of Rochester’s younger decades. When the pair are finally reunited, they meet on more equal ground. Jane’s character has been fortified by the experience she gained during their separation and Rochester’s ego has been deflated by his hardships.

Returning to a favorite book proved that a fresh perspective can completely change my perception of a story. If I ever reach the bottom of my stack of books to read, I will gladly return to other favorite stories to look at them with new eyes. I can’t wait to see what I uncover.