Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)

Jane Eyre - Michael Mason, Charlotte Brontë Jane is an orphan girl bought up by her aunt, Mrs Reed, who despises her and only keeps her because of a promise she made to her dying husband. As soon as possible she is shipped off to a boarding school where pupils are treated cruelly. After finishing school and working as a teacher, Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall. There she meets and falls in love with the owner, Mr Rochester. But his past soon catches up with them and Jane must make her way on her own again.Score: 4 out of 5When I started reading this book, I knew next to nothing about it. I didn't have to read it in school, I've never seen a film adaptation of it and whilst I had the assumption that it was a romance, I didn't have a clue about any of the characters or other story lines. I started it with a bit of trepidation as I read Wuthering Heights last year and it put me off the Brontes a little bit.But I was pleasantly suprised to find that the book was lively and engaging with a lot of pace. I liked that Jane was the narrator, and I liked that the novel was written in the style of an autobiography. The beginning sections concerning Jane's childhood and time at school were my favourites and I found myself wishing that I had read this book as a teenager, when it would have meant even more.Jane herself was a wonderful character who simply lept off the page. Due to the autobiographical writing technique the reader knew all of her thoughts making it easy to relate to her. She was far from being a typical heroine (just as Mr Rochester was not a typical hero) - she was stubborn, determined, clever, feisty, principaled and willing to stand up for what she felt was right, even if it would make her unhappy. She was determined to make her own way in the world and control her own destiny.I felt there was a lot of social commentary in the book, and the sections where Jane was teaching in a village school really rang true for me as a teacher who works in an area with a lot of poverty and unemployment. There were also the themes of social class, money, family obligation and illness. But the novel never felt over-loaded by these themes, everything took a back seat to the story.If I had to criticise this book I could perhaps say that I just didn't like Mr Rochester that much, or his flowery speeches that went on for pages. I appreciated that Bronte made him almost an anti-hero, that he wasn't the good looking knight rushing to save the day, but I couldn't see why Jane liked him so much. The trick he played on her by letting her think he wanted to marry someone else so as to force a confession was just cruel. But it's a minor criticism. I rushed through this book and couldn't wait to pick it up again as soon as I had put it down.