Jane Eyre: An Autobiography by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre: An Autobiography by Charlotte Brontë


Jane Eyre: An Autobiography is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë published on 16 October 1847. The novel is primarily a Bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) novel. Jane Eyre is critically regarded as being ahead of its time given due to the individualistic character of Jane and the novel's exploration of classism, sexuality, atonement/forgiveness, and proto-feminism and other a-typical themes. These are themes that contemporary authors and readers continue to grapple with today.

Jane Eyre also stylistically blends Gothic elements with Romanticism in order to create a quintessential Victorian novel. It is also important to note that Jayne Eyre is the world’s first candid novel about the internal and emotional life a woman, authored by a woman. This was a jarring revolution in literature which would eventually open avenues for feminine expression of all kinds.

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Far from being a pedestrian Victorian novel, Jane Eyre is packed with innovation. First, the protagonists is not a waif with exquisite features. Instead the title character is aesthetically un-memorable. As Charlotte Brontë states, “I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself.” Note too that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ was re-introduced in this book (page 228, paragraph 3): “Most true is it that 'beauty is in the eye of the gazer.” When confronted with sexism the character Jane recognizes these limitations then actively defies them. This coming of age novel was also the first to relate the experiences of a child from the child’s perspective in first person. Prior to Brontë characters, narrators, etc. related children perspectives in literature. 

Jayne Eyre was the “master of her own destiny.” Surviving a very harsh childhood with no family under a constant barrage of belittlement she none the less found career success in her adult life through sheer force of will. All the while Jane spoke her mind. Brontë’s description of Jane’s perseverance and unwavering self-respect is truly breathtaking and timeless. 

Jayne Eyre remains a poignantly relevant novel largely because of the candor of the title character. Love, depression, insult, rebuttal, flirtation and more – in each situation Brontë paints with painfully honest prose. Her prose is presented to the reader in an unveiled form and this was a remarkable innovation for the Victorian era where occlusion was common in prose. Considering the Victoria Era attitudes towards a woman’s role in society based on social rank, the initial unfavorable critical reviews of the book must be dismissed as simply a failure of the era to fully appreciate an advanced work of literature. Jayne continues to inspire readers today as it has for almost 170 years.