Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting – Charlotte Brontë and Karen Swallow Prior

Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Karen Swallow Prior
Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Charlotte Brontë, Karen Swallow Prior
Also by this author: On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis
Published by B&H Publishing on March 9, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Literary

Jane Eyre. Frankenstein. The Scarlet Letter. You’re familiar with these pillars of classic literature. You have seen plenty of Frankenstein costumes, watched the film adaptations, and may even be able to rattle off a few quotes, but do you really know how to read these books? Do you know anything about the authors who wrote them, and what the authors were trying to teach readers through their stories? Do you know how to read them as a Christian? Taking into account your old worldview, as well as that of the author?   In this beautiful cloth-over-board edition bestselling author, literature professor, and avid reader Karen Swallow Prior will guide you through Jane Eyre. She will not only navigate you through the pitfalls that trap readers today, but show you how to read it in light of the gospel, and to the glory of God.   This edition includes a thorough introduction to the author, context, and overview of the work (without any spoilers for first-time readers), the full original text, as well as footnotes and reflection questions throughout to help the reader attain a fuller grasp of Jane Eyre.   The full series currently includes: Heart of Darkness, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Frankenstein. Make sure to keep an eye out for the next classics in the series.

Literature professor Karen Swallow Prior is creating a classics series with B&H Publishing, adding her own introduction, reader’s guide, reflection questions, and footnotes to classic novels to make them more accessible to modern Christians. I was very excited to get this edition of Jane Eyre, which is one of my favorite classics. I first read the book in the summer of 2013, and I will always associate this story with my memories of that year and that stage of my life. Charlotte Brontë’s writing is beautiful, complex, and thought-provoking, and even though readers can discuss different social elements of the book that are outdated or harsh, Jane Eyre was far ahead of its time in the author’s view of human equality, regardless of sex or class distinctions, and the book is profoundly moving.

In Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting, Prior provides context for Brontë’s background, the novel itself, and various literary movements and themes that shape the story. Her expertise can help modern readers better understand the work, and I appreciate her thorough, balanced exploration of different themes. Prior explores influences in Brontë’s life and writing, providing textual and historical evidence for different interpretations and ideas, and engages with the similarities and differences between Charlotte and Jane, dispelling common myths that conflate the two stories too greatly.

Prior also addresses how to read Jane Eyre from a Christian perspective, and because the main character’s faith is integral to the novel, this section will be relevant to secular readers as well, helping them understand key elements of plot, theme, and characterization. In all of this, Prior encourages readers to think deeply about the novel, and she includes reflection questions after each volume, with more at the end that consider the whole scope of the story. Some readers may feel leery of this, but Prior phrases these questions in open-ended, thought-provoking ways, inviting further contemplation instead of looking for a right or wrong answer.

The book itself is beautiful, with a high-quality binding, cloth cover, and ribbon bookmark. The cream-colored pages are thick and durable, and the text of the novel appears with generous margins, easy-to-read font size, good line spacing, and footnotes at the bottom of each page. This is much easier to read than many tight, cramped editions of classic novels, and the quality of this book as a physical object will invite readers’ exploration and enjoyment. This fulfills Prior’s goal of making Jane Eyre more accessible to current readers, and I greatly enjoyed reading her additions to the material. I am eager to read the whole novel again soon, because even though I wasn’t going to make this review wait for that undertaking, I am excited to delve back into the story and glean new insights from it in my current stage of life.