I will admit. I spent all last summer wrapped up in Jane Austen books. It's a pretty place to be in...wandering around the moors, exploring the English countryside, hoping a rich man will marry you. Not exactly "I am woman here me roar" kind of material. But all of well-written. And at least Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) had some backbone.
And then I picked up "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
Somehow, I had missed reading it in school, instead reading Emily Bronte's"Wuthering Heights" which is basically a tale of obsessive love. Heathcliff would seriously be under house arrest for stalking these days. "Jane Eyre" is so much better and so much more "girl power" it's not even funny.
WARNING: IF YOU INTEND TO READ THIS BOOK AND DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP RIGHT HERE. IF YOU DON'T CARE, CARRY ON.
Here is my two second book report on it. Jane is described as plain, small, an orphan. But she's feisty. Even as a kid, when she thinks she is being mistreated, she speaks up to her evil aunt even though it means she might get the boot.
When she's in a boarding school for orphans, everyone around her is dying of some disease or another. Not Jane. Not only that, she notes that since there are less people around, there is more to eat. Somehow, I can't imagine Jane Austen's eternally polite heroines daring to voice what most people would be thinking.
Later in the book, Jane falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. He's kind of a jerk in the beginning, this Rochester. She stands her ground and lo and behold, he falls in love with her. She falls in love in return but gets annoyed when he starts showering her with gifts and treating her like a pampered pet.
For various reasons to complicated to get into here (including the resident madwoman living in the attic), Jane and Rochester split up. When they eventually reunite, Jane has an inheritance and Mr. Rochester has lost his home and his sight. (Ever notice lots of people went blind in the old days?) Meaning Jane's the one in charge. In the end, she basically (not directly of course) asks Rochester to marry her. And they do. Under her terms.
The book isn't perfect. And it isn't all that kind to Rochester's crazy first wife and there are certainly some details of that whole thing that I found disturbing. But mostly, it's a relief to have a heroine who isn't waiting for someone to save her--she saves herself.
Which is more than we could say for the heroine of "Twilight."