When I was 14 my freshman English class assigned us a book report. They gave us a list. There was a paper, a presentation, and otherwise little guidelines. As an early teen I wasn’t super interested in reading for school. I was a voracious reader in my free time but didn’t care to read for class. At this point in life my opinion of the classics was quite low. Didn’t my teacher know about Harry Potter and all of the amazing books being published in the early 2000s?
Like a true procrastinator I put off selecting a book, and then put off locating a copy of my chosen book. To this day I cannot remember what book I had intended on reading, but I can tell you I wound up with a heavy bound copy of Jane Eyre, because it was available on sale at Costco and suddenly my report was due in 3 days.
Reader, those next three days were pure hell. I don’t like to read on command. If a story doesn’t grab me I really struggle with completing it. I felt like I was being tortured with the occasional decent chapter, only to be set adrift in boredom for another 50 pages on the regular. After 3 days of stops and starts I had made up my mind on Charlotte Brontë and all of her sisters.
Sidenote: By the time I gave my book report I had my teacher fooled. I nailed the presentation, and it wasn’t until the very end when I revealed how much I loathed the Charlotte Brontë classic did my teacher bat an eye.
Needless to say I wasn’t chomping at the bit to reread Jane Eyre.
Last month I was looking for a lot of romance. I was counting down to the release of the new Emma movie, and still suffering from book hangover from Red, White and Royal Blue. It was during this phase that I made the mistake of mentioning to a friend how much I hate Jane Eyre during a very riveting conversation about Regency and Victorian era novels. She asked why wouldn’t I give Jane another chance? It’s a classic, and in theory it checks all of my current favorite boxes.
I had a long internal monologue before I responded: Despite 15 years and a lifetime a growth hate for Jane Eyre never died. My reading habits have changed. My tastes have evolved. I never once entertained the idea of giving Jane another chance. Sure, I’ll reread books on the regular. Pride and Prejudice gets taken out once a year. I’ve already reread Circe this year. In theory, I could just read Jane Eyre again and be done with this conversation forever.
So I did. The results were mixed. I will say reading Brontë as an adult is a different experience. I appreciate a lot about Jane’s character. I actually enjoyed the first 80% or so of the novel. Up until the big twist. I have never really been a fan of Rochester but as a 30 year old woman I am super not here for his creeptastic ways and locking women up in attics. Nope. Not here for it one bit.
I was surprised to find that wasn’t my hard stop. As soon as Jane is in contact with her cousin, St. John I lost absolutely all interest in the story. Despite tackling Eyre as an audiobook to ensure I actually finish it I found that the last 5 hours took me forever. I found excuses not to listen. I even picked up other audiobooks to fill my work hours so I didn’t have to hear more about Jane and St. John’s boring ass life.
In the end I didn’t hate Jane Eyre as much as I remembered. Don’t get me wrong, I am still not thrilled by the book. It is not my favorite. I will not be championing Jane and Rochester’s relationship in any capacity. In fact, the Hark a Vagrant comics remain just as true as ever.
But I am happy I read it. I am glad to say I went back with a critical eye and gave a book a second chance.
Just don’t expect me to do the same for Dickens.