This was originally posted at Reading for Believers.
Jane emphasizes her appearance. She doesn't fit the fashionable type: tall, dark, and elegant. Over and over again she describes herself as plain, having irregular features, small, etc. This is comforting to the reader; almost every woman secretly worries she's some kind of ugly, and it's good to see the less beautiful girl get the man and the fortune. When I first read Jane, at 13, I felt a great kinship with her, although my features are generally regular and at the time I had a long thick mass of curly hair that was to die for. Still, I've never had a Grecian nose, so I was just like Jane, right?
This time around, I read from the perspective of an older, long married woman, and Jane sounds a dream of lost youth. I'm 32, and I've had five children in fairly close succession, which has irrevokably changed my body in ways obvious and and not so visible. Taking a break from reading Jane, I looked in the mirror and was underwhelmed: I have the bad skin and flaking scalp of winter dryness, my hair wants washing because I can't be sure of getting hot water in the shower, my hands are cracked and scaly, I have lines on my face and an increasing number of gray hairs. Jane sees herself as dull and uncompetitive; I (like Mr. Rochester, I guess) saw a fresh girl at the height of her powers. Gawd, I feel old.