Teaching Jane Eyre: A Professor’s Perspective

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

If you’re obscure, plain, poor, and little, life may not be smooth and easy for you … but, in the end, you’ll meet your hero— your Mr. Rochester and reap your reward. Read on for professor Maria Grazia’s perspective on teaching Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

You may have to bite wicked older cousins who want to torture you, defend yourself from a jealous aunt who wishes you were dead.

You may have to survive long solitary hours locked in a scary red room, then to strive to keep yourself sane and alive in a bleak, heartless place like a school for poor girls, you must accept to go on living without anybody caring for you or loving you.


Your groom has a mad wife in the attic

He is not tender and handsome, maybe, but impetuous, fascinating, authoritative, mysterious, and restless. Still, he doesn’t trample on you nor make you feel a nobody. He treats you as his equal and trusts you. Last but not least, he desires you passionately.

But what if you discover on your wedding day that he has a mad wife in the attic and can’t marry you? You’ll have to endure the shock, run away, and give up your dreams, at least for a while. You will live among strangers who you’ll learn to love for about a year. But at last, you’ll have your reward— a happy ending.


Teaching Jane Eyre to students

Well, told like that, this incredibly beautiful story loses all its gripping quality. I’m not as good as a Brontë sister as a storyteller, I know. But I can assure you, that’s not how I usually talk about Jane Eyre to my students. It’s a novel I have read and studied several times at different moments in my life. It’s a work of literature that I respect and love deeply.

I’m always glad when it is part of my syllabus. Every time I’m reminded of the incredibly tragic events in the Brontës’ lives or read one of their novels, I wonder how strong they must have been.

Those ostensibly fragile girls living at Haworth must have been as brave as any Victorian heroines in their brief life lives. And as strong and brave as their own heroines.

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Contemporary Jane Eyre cover

You might also like Jane Eyre and I: A Love Affair for Life

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Admiring Jane’s temper and strong will

How can you not admire Jane Eyre’s temper and strong will? Her love for life, self-respect,  endurance, and intelligence, her independent spirit, and sympathetic attitude to others, especially those complex and damaged as her?

She’s manages to tame the reckless Mr Rochester, as well as her own passionate temper. She gets to self-realization without accepting compromise. She doesn’t cheat or pretend, doesn’t hide her weaknesses, and doesn’t complain or surrender.


Jane Eyre was controversial in its time

The novel caused quite a stir in its time. Jane shows a fiery courage and determination that are at odds with  Victorian ideals of female delicacy — qualities considered typically male. Jane Eyre is a passionate woman, but she’s never a slave to love; she’s ready to sacrifice it in favor of her sense of honor and duty.

We see this when Jane prays God to give her the strength to leave Thornfield and Mr. Rochester once she discovers he has deceived her, and even when she returns to him in the end. She only goes back to him when she feels strong enough to do so; even then, the dialogue between them shows the woman teasing the man and leading the game rather than mildly surrendering to him.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Considering Jane Eyre a  modern heroine

Though Jane Eyre came to be in the 1840s she can be considered a modern heroine. She wants to fulfill her life and her future according to her conscience, beyond conventions and circumstances. She defends her dignity and free will, avowing that she is the equal of Rochester, or indeed, that of any man.

This might sound obvious present-day readers, but it wasn’t the prevailing opinion in Victorian England. In fiction as in real life, the social and psychological inferiority of women was universally accepted.

So, if you’re looking for a satisfying self-made fictional heroine, the forerunner of the modern independent women, able to build her life day by day with strength and courage, facing adversities and counting only on herself — no workarounds and no compromises … look no further than Jane Eyre.

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Bronte sisters

See also: The Brontë Sisters’ Path to Publication

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Maria Grazia is a longtime teacher of English to Italian students and a blogger for several years. She loves classic literature, reading, theatre, period drama, and art, which she covers on FLY HIGH and My Jane Austen Book Club.

One Response to “Teaching Jane Eyre: A Professor’s Perspective”

  1. Very true! I know Queen Victoria herself read the novel twice, and she thought JE’s character “a beautiful one.” Too bad the Queen couldn’t go on public record as endorsing a particular novel.

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