Classic Gothic Victorian Novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
More than a simple love story, a gothic romance, a Victorian novel, or even a female picaresque work, Jane Eyre is, quite simply, a wonderful book. Written, as it was, in Victorian England by a female author, Jane Eyre has occasionally been pigeonholed as a garden variety gothic romance. It is much more than this, however: not only is it a genuine classic, it epitomizes its genre. There are several factors that set it above the pack. For one, it is extremely well-written: Bronte's characterization is masterful and the plot is well-developed. One comes to identify with the character of Jane, who narrates, and the other characters in the book, most of whom are well-drawn, rounded characters. The book also features other elements which are unusual for a book of its kind and which were genuinely new at the time. For starters, take its protagonist, the title character: she is not beautiful, like Edith Wharton's Lily Bart; she is not rich, like most of Jane Austen's female characters; she is not ambivalent and wish-washy like Kate Chopin's Edna Pontellier; she is not an intellectual. Jane is a well-drawn, rounded, truly believable character -- and a genuinely likable one. The reader comes to empathize and identify with her. Strong-willed, independent, and indefatigable, Jane is not a hard-to-like character like the aforementioned Edna Pontellier from The Awakening; the book could almost be called a female picaresque novel, were she not so practical and solid a character.
Also setting the book above its ilk are several dark story details that set the book above the of the typical love story. Bronte also uses the book as a medium to criticize certain aspects of Victorian culture: the inhumane and non-emphatic treatment of the poor by the rich, the denial of the pursuit of happiness, the plight of orphans and other who had no well-defined place in society, the often cruel sternness of church and other authority figures, among much else. Bronte also pauses from time to time to take on spiritual and quasi-philosophical elements, which give the book an added depth and sophistication. With all of this, Bronte succeeds in bringing the book out of the sphere of mere feminist literature: its universal theme and eclectic contents set it above the works of Austen and Chopin, among others. Though many aspects of the novel show it to be a clear product of the Victorian era, the book, with its just-mentioned strengths, is a universal work that will endure for centuries yet to come. In this way, it is much more applicable to our present day than works such as, say, The House of Mirth, which deal primarily with ephemeral concerns.