Jane Eyre in 30 seconds (or slightly more): Jane Eyre is a poor orphan tossed around by fate until she lands a job as a governess for the ward of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Jane meets his fiery temper spark for spark, and they eventually fall in love. Despite reservations, she agrees to marry him, but they are interrupted at the altar by the revelation that Rochester is already married to an insane woman he keeps locked in a tower (this giving rise to the “madwoman in the attic” trope). Heartbroken and humiliated, Jane flees, nearly starves, and is taken in by some nice Christian folks who turn out to be her cousins. Once she’s healed, Jane spends some time as a schoolteacher, discovers she’s inherited a HUGE fortune, almost goes to India, and eventually returns to Rochester. Unfortunately, while Jane has been making out in spades, Rochester’s wife burned down his house and killed herself, leaving him blinded and maimed. Upon their reunion, he is no longer threatening or surly, but overjoyed at her return, and they finally marry and live in bliss forever.
Now despite the complicated plot, the premise is simple: girl meets boy. Boy is powerful and girl is weak, but they’re in love. Drama happens, girl goes away, gets awesome on her own, and comes back to wow the boy in question. Jane Eyre has been the uncredited backbone behind the classic bad-boy romance plot pretty much since it was written. Think about it: Grease, Gossip Girl, and Star Wars all feature bad-boy and good-girl leads who are prevented (for one reason or another) from being together until the girl becomes as – or even more – powerful than her paramour. In addition to this being a super-empowering message to counteract the Twilight plot. Girls not only can, but should be as awesome as anyone they’re interested in, and proud of it!
I wish I’d read this book in high school – it would have made a big difference in my self-confidence. Jane is intelligent, kind, and looks-wise is pretty average. For once, a normal-looking narrator! Who falls in love with someone who is also not particularly gifted in the looks department! Jane and Rochester feel like real people, and that’s a rare commodity in fictional characters. Despite its effect on the romantic genre, Jane Eyre is never predictable, and rushes you right along to the end. Furthermore, it is chalk full of interesting issues to discuss: Jane’s relationship with her cousins, Rochester’s mad wife, why she ends the book with someone else’s words, the reversal of power. A must-read!