Friday, April 22, 2016

In Which I Finally Read Jane Eyre

I may be the last person in the world to read Jane Eyre. And, as it turns out, I am getting paid to do so.

Here's the story on that. A few months ago I wrote about attending a talk by Deborah Lutz on Victorian mourning jewelry and death relics (here). She is the author of The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, a look at the lives of the Brontë sisters - Charlotte, Emily, and Anne - through the objects that were meaningful to them. It was short-listed for the 2016 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.

After the talk I introduced myself. She only recently moved to my fair city to become professor of English at the University of Louisville. As it turns out, Ms. Lutz is also the editor of the
soon to be published fourth edition of the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre. We made a date to meet for coffee and as I sipped my espresso I admitted to her that I had never read Jane Eyre.


The next day she contacted me and asked if perhaps I would proofread the latest (and she hoped final version) of the manuscript for the Norton edition. She could pay me a small stipend. "Since you have never read the book, you would certainly bring fresh eyes to the text," she assured me.

And so dear reader, that is why now I am assiduously reading the life and times of Miss Jane. I am on deadline, of course. The manuscript is printed out on standard copy paper with the actual text centered and justified. The print is small. There are footnotes. I have scheduled myself two hours a day to read its 400 pages which will put me just in at the May 1 deadline.

I must admit Ms. Brontë has an engaging writing style and I am quite caught up in her tale. I will say that the punctuation is bizarre: she must have thought she was going to be paid by the colon and semicolon. Those little marks run rampant on the page! And to think she wrote the book with a dip pen. By candlelight. (You can see a copy of her handwritten manuscript on the British Library's website here: Jane Eyre.)

There has been much hullabaloo about Miss Charlotte this year. Yesterday, April 21, was her 200th birthday (a day she shared with Queen Elizabeth who turned 90).

I have a feeling that reading JE will send me off on a Bold Brontë Adventure and I will be researching and reading more about Miss Charlotte and her sisters.

A worthy enterprise indeed.


  1. Nice--not only did you make a new friend, you landed a job getting paid to read, even if it's only a small amount of money. I read Jane Eyre many years ago and don't remember it very well. I read Villette more recently, and it was a worthwhile read though not easy or "fun." A Bold Bronte Adventure--sounds like a book title!

    1. Kathy, I have yet to tell anyone that I am reading 'Jane Eyre' that they don't exclaim: "Oh, I love that book. I read it as a teenager." Alas, I am so far behind on my reading of the classics.

      In high school I read, and thoroughly disliked, 'Wuthering Heights'. I didn't like any of the characters and could never understand Heathcliff's attraction. That most likely put me off the other Bronte sisters!

    2. Oh, Belle--I am so with you on Wuthering Heights! I didn't like the book and remain puzzled by Heathcliff's attraction myself. And I also am behind on my reading of the classics. You just happen to have hit on two I've read!

      Have you ever read any of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books? The Eyre Affair, comes to mind. I've only read one or two, but enjoyed the fun concpet of the literary detective. I'd like to get back to that series.

    3. Hi, Kathy. I tried the Eyre Affair and couldn't get into it. Perhaps now I should give the series another go. I love the concept too and am not sure now why I didn't get on with Thursday Next...

  2. I think we all have a book like "Jane Eyre" that we confess we have never read. "Sense and Sensibility" still eludes me. How interesting that "Jane Eyre" has now fallen into your hands in such a unique way.
    I read "Jane Eyre" as a young girl. It took me quite awhile through summer to finish it. I doubt it will take you that long, Belle.

    1. Well, Penny, I have now finished JE. I kept track and it took me about 20 hours! Of course, I was proofing at the same time, but still, I think it was about 100 pages too long! I did enjoy it though. Charlotte does have a way with words.

      I confess I have never been able to understand Austen. I have only read P&P and it was only after watching a film version that I could catch on to the rhythm of her language. I have given away two complete sets of Austen. I now officially give up!

  3. What an honor to be asked to proofread it! I love Jane Eyre and have read it several times. Now I really must read Lutz. I keep hearing about her book.

    1. Kat, I don't know if I would have appreciated Jane Eyre when I was younger. Too much drama. I just wanted the author to get to the point and move on...Now, of course, I can appreciate the prose much more than I would have then.

      Up next is The Bronte Cabinet. Now that I have experienced Jane Eyre, I am anxious to find out a bit more about Charlotte.