Book Review: Jane Eyre

I decided to read more classics this year, and after finishing Anne of Avonlea, I thought I’d try Jane Eyre before going back to the series. I actually borrowed this from the children’s section of the public library. Late one evening, when I was struggling to fall asleep, I decided to do some light reading and opened it up. After the first chapter, I was in a nightmare! It wasn’t the best choice for bedtime reading. I put it down and didn’t pick it up again until a few weeks later. I have a habit of borrowing too many books and then continually renewing them every two weeks until the limit of five renewals is reached, then, either force myself to binge-read in the last few days, or just give up and return the book(s) unfinished. When I picked up Jane Eyre again, I was hooked. The language is not exactly the easiest to understand and I often had to reread passages again and again but the story was captivating. I started to enjoy the overly detailed descriptions of Jane’s thoughts, conversations, surroundings and feelings. I started to feel like I was in Jane’s head and felt how she felt. Her narrative was so honest and pure and I wanted more and more. I devoured the 500+ pages in one week, picking it up every day, reading during breakfast, between meals, before bed. It’s a good thing I don’t have to go to work and do freelance at home, or else I wouldn’t have this luxury. Needless to say, I hardly did any work that week.

The first volume of the book was the most depressing part of the story and I felt so bad for Jane. Orphaned as a baby, she was forced to live with her aunt and cousins who all clearly despised her. They accused her of things she didn’t do and after getting into a fight with her cousin, John Reed, she was locked in the red room of the house where a ghost appeared to her. I was screaming in my head. I normally love thrillers and scary stories and wouldn’t think much of a scene like this, but for some reason, I got goosebumps when I read this – maybe because I was relating to her as a nine-year-old girl.

When she was finally sent to Lowood boarding school, I thought things would improve when she became friends with Helen Burns, but no! She had to suffer even more and eventually grieve the death of Helen, her one true friend! She did become much stronger and even became a teacher at the school for two years, before she advertised to become a governess. And here is where the plot gets really good.

Jane was hired to be a governess to a young girl named Adele in Thornfield Hall, owned by Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester. She grew up into an intelligent, confident and strong-willed young woman and was cared for, appreciated and accepted for who she was, though she remained poor, obscure, plain and small. She began to fall in love with Rochester, which, at first I found it difficult to understand because he was described as ugly, abrupt, strange and secretive. Even more surprisingly, he loved Jane back! But through her honest and detailed descriptions, I started to fall in love with Rochester too – even with all his faults, questionable behaviour, awkward expressions, and despite the fact that he was twice Jane’s age (40+). I wanted to know more, see more, feel more of him. Why? Who really knows? It was like a sickness. Even after the strange fire, the bloody attack of his guest, Richard Mason, and Rochester’s insistance on keeping all that had transpired a secret, did not affect those feelings at all. I – I mean Jane, still loved and wanted him.

Everthing about their relationship was unconventional and uncommon, you may even say sinful, but I was rooting for it! When Jane declared her love for Rochester, I was so happy! Rochester was such an immature man and made her think he was to be married to the least interesting woman on earth! What an asshole move! Why does the woman always have to be the bold one and the man the coward? Finally he proposed and I hurrahed, but I thought that this happy ending is happening too early in the book – there are still over 200 pages left. Clearly, I was right and their wedding was stopped when Mason appeared and informed everyone that Rochester’s previous marriage to his sister, Bertha Mason, was an impediment to his getting married to Jane. Uh, WHAT? Ah, yes… Mason, the man that was stabbed by an unknown being, who turned out to be his sister, has decided to prevent Rochester from getting married to Jane and be happy. Yes, this was what was going through my mind at that moment, not the fact that Rochester had lied and tried to trick everyone and kept a mad woman locked up in the house for years! But, come on! That Bertha is a mad woman! They could not get divorced either. And Jane, the noble, smart, intelligent young woman who was also full of integrity and virtue, decided to leave Rochester and Thornfield Hall and run away without any money, instead of essentially becoming a mistress if she were to stay with Rochester. I can’t describe how much my heart ached at that point. It crushed me to read that Jane and Rochester couldn’t even spend one night together after all that waiting!

After she ran away, she suffered for three days without food or shelter until she came upon the Rivers’ house and begged them to take her in for the night. St John, the kind missionary, let her in. She told them her name was Jane Elliot and shared limited details about her past, expecting to only stay a few nights but she became quite good friends with the Rivers, who nursed her back to health. St John later gave her a job as a mistress of the girls’ school he had opened and her life was slowly getting back to normal. Later, it was discovered that Jane was related to the Rivers and were cousins when her uncle John Eyre of Madeira passed away and left his entire fortune to Jane. The Rivers learned of Jane’s real name and why she had left Thornfield Hall. Jane, the saint that she is, decided to split the fortune among all four of them, so that they could accept her as their sister. This turn of events just seemed too convenient at this point in the story. Jane could have done so much with her inheritance, she could have been free and independent, but she valued and wished for a family more than anything. I don’t think anyone in this day would have done what she did.

One day, St John asked Jane to marry him and go to India with him, saying that he believes God had given Jane her gifts to become a missionary’s wife. Jane, whose heart still yearned for Rochester, agreed to go to India if she may go free and not marry him, which was not acceptable by St John. They argued a few times on the matter and it was finally resolved when Jane suddenly heard her name being called in the middle of the wood, convinced that it was Rochester, she set out to seek him in Thornfield Hall again. Upon arriving in town, Jane learned that Thornfield Hall had been burned to the ground and that the arsonist was none other than Bertha Mason, who then jumped to her death from the roof. Rochester, while trying to save everyone, including Bertha, from the fire, was badly injured and had become blind. So when Jane could finally be with Rochester legally and sin-free, he had become an invalid, an incompetent, dependent, ageing man left with nothing. This had to be the most unsatisfying love-story ending of all time. I expected Jane to be smarter than this and choose a different path, but the heart desired to be chained to Rochester, no matter how ugly, useless, incompetent he was or that she would have to spend the rest of her life taking care of his every need like a nurse. But that was the path she chose and even though he did eventually gain part of his eyesight back and hinted toward a better future for Jane and Rochester, I had so many mixed emotions about this love story. When I finished the book I half jumped for joy and half screamed in frustration. I wanted to reread it and go back to the blossoming romance before all the chaos, but I quickly realised that every part of their romance was chaotic! They never had any real time spent together alone without incident or interruption! There were even times when Rochester was away for weeks with no word but Jane’s love only grew stronger during those times. Yet, it was those moments that made the story so captivating – making you wait, yearn, anticipate, just like Jane did.

I had never read anything like this before and I loved it so much! There are also a lot of Christian and religious themes woven into the story which provided a lot of wisdom and truths. I found it odd at times when the reader was addressed directly in the narrative, sometimes breaking the flow and bringing you out of the story. There were a lot of place names that were written like “——–shire” or simply “S——-” which was rather strange and distracting. I don’t know if it was just the the particular edition I had picked up or what. I also missed a lot of the dialogue when it was written in French with no translation or when it was presented with strange spellings to represent an accent. I gave up trying to understand what the intended words were supposed to be. I might reread it again later and try to decipher them (I downloaded a free e-book version after I returned the book to the library).

After I finished reading it, I got the movie and watched it three times in one night! Michael Fassbender, who I absolutely love, plays Rochester. Though he is described as an unhandsome and unattractive man, I couldn’t think of anyone better to play Rochester. They skipped a lot things from the book but I liked how the story was told as a memory after she ended up with the Rivers. It tied everything together and moved the story along quickly for the movie audiences.

Overall, I loved this book and wish I had read it sooner! Definitely worth five stars!

Sweden (Part 8 – Gothenburg schools, Lin Edu & Edtech products, Science Park & RI.SE)

Immediately following our meeting at Lin Education, we boarded our coach and headed towards Gothenburg, which is about a five hour drive from Stockholm. We stayed in Gothenburg for two days and nights and visited a few more schools, another Lin Education office, and the Research Institutes of Sweden (RI.SE).

Fridaskolan

We arrived at Fridaskolan at around 9:30 the next morning (and it rained). Fridaskolan is probably my favourite school out of the all the schools we visited (the Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium is a close second, though). The school building is surrounded by large glass windows, letting natural sunlight in. There is a big grand staircase that leads down to the school cafeteria right by to the main entrance.

As soon as we arrived, we enjoyed a time of Fika which was strawberry panna cotta served with tea / coffee. There were also some students selling smoothies to raise funds for their next school trip! The students can take turns to sell snacks and food at the cafeteria every week to raise money for whatever causes they choose – I love this idea!

Most of the classrooms and activity rooms are located above the cafeteria level with a lot of open spaces as well. The class sizes are quite small with no more than 20 students in a class. Students are also allowed to work in the open spaces outside the classrooms during the lessons as well. There is no bell indicating the beginning or end of a lesson because every level follows a different schedule and timetable. They even have lunch at different times. We got to visit science, design and technology, English, and art classes.

The student that led the school tour for our group could speak fluent Mandarin as well since her mother is Chinese and her father is Swedish. She greeted us and even explained a lot of the things in Mandarin, I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could barely understand her!

After the school tour, we headed back down to the cafeteria and enjoyed another delicious free school lunch. Seriously, I’m amazed that free school food can be this good! I also loved seeing the kids sitting on the staircase to eat their lunch as well! It was absolutely adorable!

It was still raining when we had to leave and I was surprised to see that students still played outdoors in the pouring rain! This would never happen in Hong Kong! Schools have a rainy day recess arrangement and all outdoor activities would be cancelled, automatically resulting in indoor or classroom recess.

I absolutely fell in love with this school and secretly wish that I had attended school there when I was young!

Lin Education – Seminar and exchanges with Edtech companies

We visited the Lin Education office on both of the days that we were in Gothenburg. The first day, we were given a seminar by an educational scientist who had been doing research projects in schools and conducted a project called ‘Purified by Fire’ with over 100 students. Students were given various tasks to complete through an online platform. They had to conduct their own research – both online and by exploring local historical locations – to complete missions. They interact with different actors and characters in the game and can play it whenever and wherever they want. It is next level gamification! It was so interesting to hear about the project and how students responded to the experience. What a fun and exciting project to be a part of!

This Lin Edu office was very unique and well-designed as well, the ground level provides a lot of space for comfortable seating for social gatherings and meetings, including a ping pong table, two spiral staircases on opposite sides leading up the employees’ desks and work stations, a meeting area that is linked by a ‘glass bridge’ opposite the work stations, and of course, an area for Fika, fully equipped with a kitchen counter and sink, coffee machine, fridge, cupboards and even a dishwasher! Seriously, why can’t HK offices be like this?!

On the second day, we got to listen to several Edtech companies present about their products and services. I was most impressed by Lexplore, which uses eye-tracking AI technology for reading assessment and intervention. I was selected by the group to test it out and read a sample passage and answered comprehension questions while it tracked my eye-movements. It was really quite amazing!

The other Edtech companies were very innovative as well but I won’t go into detail about them. If you are interested, the links are provided below with brief descriptions.

Soundtrap – An online collaborative platform where people can create music or audio recordings together.

Strawbees – Prototyping, coding, robotics and construction kit using ‘Strawbees’ to connect straws together. Provides activities and solutions for developing skillsets for the future through hands-on exploration, electronics and programming.

Sensavis – Interactive and visual learning tool that can create personalised learning videos, let students learn by exploring and discovering, activate learning by including students in the learning process.

Loops Education – Brings learning objectives together in visual maps designed to engage students and makes learning collaborative.

Polhemsgymnasiet

Polhemsgymnasiet is an upper secondary school located in Lindholmen, Gothenburg. It was founded in 1829 as a branch for younger students out of Chalmers technical university and later became a technical college and upper secondary school in 1937. The school provides preparatory education for universities and has four main programmes – Natural Science, Technical, Economic and Social Science. There are three principals at the school that oversee the different programmes. The areas of development focus in the programmes include formative assessments, development of language in teaching all subjects, and digital development of teaching and teaching digital competence. They also have collaborations and exchanges with other institutions in different countries including China, Spain and Germany. There are also interdisciplinary projects where students work on developing different skills including perspective drawing, modelling, CAD, graphic design, animation, manufacturing, report writing and even public presentation. In their grade 3 programme, they will do a diploma project that includes problem solving and entrepreneurial skills, and finally participate in an exhibition. We got the chance to see the exhibition showcasing students’ architectural designs and models.

Lindholmen Science Park, Chalmers University and RI.SE

We got to take a quick tour around the Chalmers University library where 90% of the books are online. The librarian facilitates and guides students to do research rather than searching or locating books. The library serves more as a space for students to study or do group projects rather than for storing books. Many of the shelves are empty with mostly reference books.

RI.SE, which stands for Research Institutes of Sweden, promotes and encourages research and international collaboration within the industry, academia and public sectors to maintain competitiveness of the Swedish business community and contribute to a sustainable society. The institute offers unique expertise and more than 100 testbeds and demonstration environments for future-proof technologies, products and services. Their research areas cover innovations in AI, digitalisation, health and safety to transport systems, urban development, water, and even the work environment. We got to see the office and work stations of their staff and saw devices and gadgets I had never seen before!

End of Part 8

Back to Sweden (Part 7)

Continue to Sweden (Part 9)