Published in 1847, Jane Eyre brought almost instant fame to its obscure author, the daughter of a clergyman in a small mill town in northern England. On the surface, the novel embodies stock situations of the Gothic novel genre such as mystery, horror, and the classic medieval castle setting; many of the incidents border on (and cross over into) melodrama. The story of the young heroine is also in many ways conventional—the rise of a poor orphan girl against overwhelming odds, whose love and determination eventually redeem a tormented hero. Yet if this all there were to Jane Eyre, the novel would soon have been forgotten. In writing Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte did not write a mere romantic potboiler. Her book has serious things to say about a number of important subjects: the relations between men and women, women's equality, the treatment of children and of women, religious faith and religious hypocrisy (and the difference between the two), the realization of selfhood, and the nature of true love. But again, if its concerns were only topical, it would not have outlived the time in which it was written. The book is not a tract any more than it is a potboiler. It is a work of fiction with memorable characters and vivid scenes, written in a compelling prose style. In appealing to both the head and the heart, Jane Eyre triumphs over its flaws and remains a classic of nineteenth-century English literature and one of the most popular of all English novels.
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