After a week and a half’s struggle and much determination and stubbornness I can now say that I have read Jane Eyre. Though I focused on Victorian literature during my studies, somehow, I only read Jane Eyre last October. I approached the book prepared to be amazed by its magnificence. My friend Adriana had praised it so much, I was expecting it to be the masterpiece to end all other masterpieces. Then I read it.
I have been trying to figure out why I couldn’t warm up to Jane Eyre. It has all the elements of the literature I normally like. It’s Victorian, gothic, the protagonist is a strong woman, her love interest is a moody, handsome rich man, and it is written by a Bronte. It’s a classic, so why didn’t I like it? I kept questioning everything I had heard or read about Jane Eyre, I even started questioning my own judgement. I was expecting something spectacular, and it was just decent. Was I missing something? Had I forgotten how to read and appreciate classic literature?
Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, all can be found in lists of books that everyone should read. I never bought into the idea of lists of “must-read books”. Literature is subjective. The literature I enjoy might be boring to someone who obsessively reads contemporary fiction. I am not a big fan of YA and fantasy literature, and I avoid the genre. I have a friend who hates Renaissance literature. It’s all a matter of preference. So many times I’ve been let down by books I “had” to read. Joseph Conrad did nothing for me. I almost hated Frankenstein for life, since my first reading of it was underwhelming and boring. Thankfully, I wrote a paper on it and came to discover its true beauty after a couple of rereadings and hours of academic research.
My experience with Jane Eyre made me wonder if we subconsciously ruin literature by burdening it with too many expectations. I kept thinking of all the praise Adriana had given Jane Eyre, she even claimed that it is her favourite book. And then I had an epiphany. Jane Eyre wasn’t entirely the problem. I realized that I started reading it with too many expectations. Jane Eyre has been praised so much, either by Adriana or literature critics, that I was bound to be let down. I had put Jane Eyre on a pedestal. I had read so many great reviews, had heard its themes and ideas praised in so many literature classes that I had glorified it beyond return. The exact opposite happened with North and South. I started reading it with no expectations at all. I hadn’t read anything about it before, and I can now safely say that it has become one of my favourite novels.
Just because a book is considered a classic, we are not all obliged to like it. It’s okay to simply not like Jane Eyre, it’s understandable to be confused by James Joyce, it’s normal to get bored by Dickens. Literature is not objective. There is no such thing as “the best book ever written”. Don’t be discouraged if your favourite books are not included in a list of books other people have decided should be universally read. Don’t worry if you don’t like a book by an acclaimed author. In the end, literature is a choice.