Listening to Classics: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Listening to Classics, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and covers

This summer I rediscovered my love for classics not by reading them but by listening to them. I always want to read more classics and I always pick something else up as they are usually slower and chunkier reads. So, one day, while scrolling through my libraries’ OverDrive app, I saw the audiobook of Jane Eyre available, on an impulse, I pressed borrow. In this post I will discuss two favorite popular classic literature novels.

Why I love Jane Eyre?

No wonder Jane Eyre is one of the most popular classic literature novels. Jane is such an amazing character. This is my second read of Jane Eyre and doing in in audio format was a great decision, especially because of its length. I feel that listening to lengthy passages of scenic descriptions (which can get boring if unused to reading classics) was much more palatable than reading them. The audio I listened to was narrated by Nadia May. I think she did a great job at immersing me in the world of the Jane, I felt so close to her. It felt like a friend telling me her life story.

Jane Eyre is a strong, intelligent, honest, and ahead of her time character with unbreakable moral values and a no-bullshit attitude.

As a young orphan she is taken in by an aunt by which she is mistreated constantly, both by her and her cousins. She is reminded at every turn of being a charity case and is bullied by her cousins on a daily basis. Yet, she does not break! She stands by her beliefs because she knows she is right and that she had done nothing wrong. She admits that all she could make herself more likeable to her aunt but by doing so she would be dishonest towards herself and she cannot do that.

As a student at Lowood, she finally meets some like-minded people like Helen Burns and Miss Temple. Here to we see how unjust the world is to people of her kind, the entire school is kept in a state of near starvation by the evil Mr. Brocklehurst. Here, she becomes one of the best students and afterwards a teacher. She learns the skills all educated ladies need in Victorian England.

As a governess she finds love in Mr. Rochester, and has to elevate herself from her ‘in-between social class’ position to be accepted as her bride. I love how she strives for a marriage between equals. When the sad situation of Mr. Rochester is discovered and their marriage plans dissolve she refuses to be his mistress. She would rather work for a living and be unhappy but independent rather than be powerless and socially outcast as a mistress.

Jane Eyre, the Modern Feminist

Jane Eyre is a feminist. In a world were women were supposed to be quiet and submissive she is outspoken, independent and strives for equality.

‘Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!’

‘Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.’

What I love about Sense and Sensibility?

I love everything about Jane Austen and when I borrowed Sense and Sensibility from the library I knew I will enjoy it. This was the first time I read this book, even though I have watched the Sense and Sensibility 1995 movie adaptation with Emma Thompson as Elinor and Kate Winslet as Marianne many-many times.

This book is among the most popular classic literature novels of all time, and even though it’s not as popular as Pride and Prejudice I think it is an amazing novel about sisterhood, love and marriage.

Even though this book has not impacted me as greatly as the previously discussed Jane Eyre, I still enjoyed it immensely, and was glad to being back in the world created by Jane Austen.

The main theme of this novel is marriage thus love. In the late 1700s England marriage was a serious business, it was a business about wealth, family alliances and gaining social status than an affair of the heart. Marriages of convenience were socially accepted and were the norm.

Marrying well was important for women as their well-being was entirely dependent of the prospects of their future husbands. Thus even though the norm for a woman, just as in Jane Eyre, was to be meek, dutiful and upstanding society ladies. But Jane Austen shows us how some women were scheming strategists and did all in their power to further their agenda. Fanny is greedy and convinces her husband to give almost nothing to his mother and sister after his father’s death, despite his father’s wishes to provide for them. Lucy breaks of her engagement to Edward when his circumstances change and instead attaches herself to his brother who is now the recipient of Edward’s fortune. Mrs. Ferrars disinherits his son when she finds out of his disadvantageous engagement to Lucy.

Elinor and Marianne

Knowing a person’s character is important in Austen’s novels as a person’s character is a clear indication of their actions and desires. One understands character in the novel by knowing where one falls in the spectrum between sense and sensibility. To showcase this we have two different heroines, Elinor, the rational thinker, who restrains her emotions and always says and does the right thing.

‘Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counselor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; – her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.’

At the other end of the spectrum we have Marianne, who does not show any restriction whatsoever and gives herself entirely to her feelings.

‘Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.’

Elinor and Marianne in many respects are similar to the other female characters but in others they are completely the opposite. They understand the social landscape surrounding them, and they navigate it skillfully, but they don’t fall prey to the machinations of finding beaux, and rising up the social ladder. Their only concern is to be happy and just like Jane Eyre they are not willing to give up everything to secure a good marriage.

The moral of the novel is, that one needs both sense and sensibility to find happiness.

I loved listening to both of these popular classic literature novels and I can’t wait to continue with the other Austen and Bronte books.

If you love the world of Jane Austen check out my review of Longbourn by Jo Baker, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants.

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