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Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 15, 2006
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"At the end we are steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Brontë."
Cambridge Literature is a series of literary texts edited for study by students aged 14-18 in English-speaking classrooms. It will include novels, poetry, short stories, essays, travel-writing and other non-fiction. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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About the book itself: I am unworthy to review Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, but I'll say this: They just don't write books like this anymore. Impeccable development of both main and minor characters. Jane Eyre is a strong, yet multi-faceted and very human character who is a true heroine for both Bronte's and modern times. Edward Fairfax Rochester is also not a paper cutout of a love interest, but a complex and very defined fictional man, to whom, just as we are to Jane, we are only more endeared because of blunders and flaws. Bronte's understanding of human psychology is impressive and evident in her storytelling and in the machinations of her characters, and I dare say ahead of her time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
It seems as though H. Rider Haggard not only created a thrilling tale of adventure bordering on the supernatural but also sowed many seeds that later blossomed into additional captivating tales by authors and film writers who followed him.
Considering nothing more than its plot, the novel SHE offers the reader an intriguing, suspenseful, galloping, action-filled story enhanced by a goodly measure of shadowy and mysterious characters--as well as a strong but human hero, Holly; a courageous but fallible quasi-hero, Leo; and a loyal but destructible servant, Job. The non-stop action and the mystery of what may befall our protagonists around the next bend of the river or the next summit of the mountain or the next turning of the tunnel make the novel a true "page turner" from cover to cover. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying this story at the plot level alone, for it provides an enjoyable, entertaining read, but there is far more to this book than just its plot, for it is filled with symbolism and allegory that can add to the reader's enjoyment.
In her introduction to SHE, Margaret Atwood, an excellent author in her own right, points out a number of possible symbolic interpretations of some of the names that appear in the work. The Amahaggar tribe of followers of She suggests the word "hag" and "also conflates the Latin root for 'love' with the name of Abraham's banished wilderness-dwelling concubine, Hagar...." The name of the ancient, ruined city of Kor brings to mind the French word "coeur," or heart, as well as "corpse." Holly is a particularly interesting character, physically ugly but strong and resolute. In heraldry, holly is said to symbolize truth, and Holly seems to remain the most truth-seeking character in the story. His character is constantly seeking the truth of eternity, of the meaning of life (and its cognate, death), and of whether man should attempt to control Nature.
Obviously, one can also analyze the story from standpoint of Freudian psychology and can surmise what he wishes about whether or not Haggard is expressing a deep internal conflict concerning male/female relationships. If one takes the protagonist Holly as the author's avatar, it is only a short leap to say that the writer is expressing the hopelessness, longing, and emotional pain of loving an unattainable woman, although it strikes me that is too simplistic an interpretation.
In brief, the novel SHE offers the reader an engrossing story line as well as the opportunity to interpret the characters, settings and actions as symbols with deeper, more universal meanings, not to mention the opportunity to see the source that has inspired quite a number of subsequent books and movies. I should venture to say that anyone who enjoys a fast-moving adventure with a touch of the supernatural or at least of the inexplicable will find SHE a very entertaining read. I have only one quibble with the text and that is that I wish the dialog, which is ostensibly a translation of Arabic and Greek with now and then a touch of Latin, had less "thou" and "thee" in it. Haggard's desire to make even the translated dialog sound antique results instead in a measure of artificiality. However, even with that criticism, I enjoyed the book and heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys The Lord of the Rings, the Indiana Jones stories, and books or movies of such genre.
The wordy descriptions and redundancy of some of the writing clearly dates this novel as a "classic" but do not let that scare you from reading. Having read this more than once, I like to skim much of it, including descriptions of her early years at the school Jane is sent to, for standing up for herself at the home she were she grew up. The descriptions DO set the mood for everything, but are still overly-wordy, which was the norm for this period of writing. One exception to this, is the novel "Ivanhoe," set during the time of Robin Hood and written during the time of Queen Victoria's birth. Otherwise, as with the Bronte's works, you will deal with a lot of seemingly-useless descriptive paragraphs. AGain, it does set the mood though, and the writing itself is beautiful, even if it doesn't always forward the purpose of the story.
This story is haunting, much like "Wuthering Heights" but I prefer "Jane Eyre" any day for the sheer strength of the heroine, and the surprisingly moving passion of the star-crossed lovers.