The Book: Charlotte Bronte, JANE EYRE. Bantam classic paperback reprint, 1987 (24th printing). Very good condition; edges show minor rubbing, 1/4" tear on front cover.
First read: 1977
Owned since: 1989 (this copy)
One of many ways you can divide serious readers is between people who prefer JANE EYRE and people who prefer WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I think it comes down to a question of who the reader identifies with; I've been asking the question for years, and have yet to find a man who prefers JANE EYRE.
But Jane's my hero and has been since I first encountered this book, as summer reading for Mrs. Flippen's eighth grade English class. (My prep school segregated English classes until 10th grade; in eighth grade, girls read JANE EYRE while boys read A TALE OF TWO CITIES.) As a new student -- and a scholarship student to boot -- in a class of girls who had been together for many years, I identified strongly with the story of the ugly orphan who decided she was entitled to a happy life.
Of course, my lifelong search for Mr. Rochester probably explains a lot about why I'm still single.
When I visited Yorkshire in 1997, I had to pay my respects at the Haworth parsonage where the Bronte sisters wrote their novels. It's a small house to have held (at one point) eight people, but the moors around it stretch as far as the eye can see. I was a little shocked to see a plaque commemorating Branwell Bronte's death on the wall of the Black Bull pub, as if the Black Bull had not borne any responsibility in that death.
But as Jane herself said -- I have it on a postcard, framed on one of my bookshelves -- "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being of independent will."