Be still my beating heart. I love Austen and her subtle yet heartfelt romantic situations. I love Dickens and his tragic honest life situations. Now, combine the best of the two and add in some heart palpitating passion and you have Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre meets all my requirements for great literature and makes a great romance novel at the same time.
I also adore the moral truths given through the story. Here are some of my favorites:
For anyone who has been given a hard calling from God himself: "But, then a voice within me averred that I could do it; and foretold that I should do it. I wrestled with my own resolution: I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me..." How often I've wanted to be too weak to do what I knew I had to do in life.
I've often noticed this difference: "Pity, Jane, from some people is a noxious and insulting sort of tribute, which one is justified in hurling back in the teeth of those who offer it; but that is a sort of pity native to callous, selfish hearts: it is a hybrid, egotistical pain at hearing of woes, crossed with ignorant contempt for those who have endured them. But that is not your pity, Jane... Your pity, my darling, is the suffering mother of love: its anguish is the very natal pang of the divine passion. I accept it, Jane..."
When deciding whether to hold on to her morals or accept the only possible way to be with the man she loves (as a mistress outside of marriage) and to save him from pain, Rochester asks her:
"Who in the world cares for you? Who will be injured by what you do?"
She responds in her heart, "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad-as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth-so I have always believed;and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane-quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster that I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, forgone determination, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."
Oh yeah, I'm going to make all my kids read that last one before every date they go on!
One of the greatest pleasures, though, in reading this story, was realising that I was reading an adult version of the well beloved story of Beauty and the Beast. I kid you not, this is a literal retelling of that classic fairy tale. Not in the sense of Disney's B&B, but in the old, classical tale. I would draw out all the particulars for you but I think it is more fun to find all the parallels on one's own. So, go find the most original version of Beauty and the Beast that you can. Read it and THEN read Jane Eyre. It is fantastic.
Just make sure that your family knows they won't be seeing you or hearing from you for a few days. Hire a maid. Stock the kitchen with ready made food. Kiss your children goodbye. Yeah, it's THAT good.
P.S. I haven't seen the new Masterpiece Theater version yet, but I have to say that my favorite film version (for being true to the book) is the 1996 William Hurt version. But I don't see anyone ever being able to truly capture this book on film because most of the story happens in Jane's mind as she shows a stoic face to the world.