Ladies, I'm still reading. This is my third or fourth go-round with Jane, so this time I'm taking it in a leisurely fashion, trying to catch nuances and themes that eluded me in my younger days. This paid off on the first page or two -- I'd never realized that the pictures in the book Jane reads in the breakfast room (the book John Reed throws at her) are the unconscious basis for the paintings that Jane shows to Mr. Rochester. (I say "unconscious" because although I haven't reached that scene yet, I believe Jane tells Mr. Rochester that she didn't paint from models but from her imagination.)
Oddly enough, on this reading, Mrs. Reed became a much more human character to me. Before she'd always seemed a monster of injustice, barely short of a caricature. Now I could see her frustration, dealing with a child she didn't understand, cognizant enough to know that Jane is different but not intelligent or compassionate enough to learn how to best manage her. I confess: the moment where Mrs. Reed holds Jane down in her bed and dares her to speak another word resonated with me. I've done my share lately of dealing with fractious children behaving in ways I can't explain, sassing me (so it seems) when I'm tired or cranky or in pain, and the temptation to grab them and make them shut up is great. I don't sympathize with Mrs. Reed, but she's become a more complex character to me, and I admire Charlotte Bronte's ability to create a character, even one who only features in a few chapters of a long book.
No more human now than before, however, is the odious Mr. Brocklehurst, that paragon of hypocrisy -- and that's odd, because he is apparently based on the real head of the school Charlotte Bronte attended, the school at which two of her sisters died of tuberculosis. Perhaps the horror of those schooldays was still too raw to Bronte to allow her to give nuance and subtlety to the man who perpetrated such injustices.
I had to buy a new copy of Jane Eyre, having lost the one my grandmother sent me ages ago. Ladies, Penguin has a new line of clothbound hardcover classics that are a delight to look at and hold. I bought Jane Eyre and Little Women (which cover is charmingly patterned with images of scissors), and I can't stop looking at them and picking them up.