Jane Eyre was longer than I'd remembered, better than I'd recollected; Jane was more complex, had more spirit; Mr. Rochester was just as appealing in his quieter moments, less so in his bluster and braggadocio scenes - though as it was necessary for plot purposes to give him 'a past', we had to see that side of his character, too. Creepier by far than I'd recalled was St. John Rivers with his conscientious blackmail and manipulative ways, made all the more powerful by his sanctimoniousness.
Rochester is abrupt, sarcastic, commanding, a "fierce falcon", a "rough-coated keen-eyed dog" - and given what's to come, there's irony in that description. Jane makes of him an idol, and he falls. She, on the other hand, is unshakeable, moved by heart but ruled by head, a true product of Mr. Brocklehurst's Lowood regime designed to render his girls "hardy, patient, self-denying."
The aspect which perhaps made the greatest impression on me, reading the book now as opposed to in my teens or early twenties, was its depiction of - as my edition has it - "a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than that traditionally accorded to her sex in Victorian society." To that end, I'll quote a passage which must represent Charlotte Bronte at her most direct:
"It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. [...] Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced for their sex."
So, a very rich book with themes of proto-feminism, atonement, self-actualisation, among others; elements of the gothic and heroic; subtle power play; a highly romantic novel. How was it for you, if you were reading it for the first time, and how did you find it this time round if it was a re-read? While you're pondering, do pop over to Cornflower for a virtual cup of tea and slice of cake.