"A classic [is] something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read" - Mark Twain
Jane Eyre was one of those books that I was never made to read in school (somehow I ended up studying 17th and 18th century novels, but not 19th!) and that I therefore could never make myself read, mostly because it was a classic - old and long and presumably stuffy. It's been on my bookshelf for years, picked up for $3.00 (price tag still on the cover) at some discount book warehouse store. I thought I knew the general plot, and I didn't think I was missing much by not reading it; I was wrong.
This book felt as engaging as a contemporary novel set in Victorian England. It's the story of a plucky teenage heroine mistreated at home and sent away to a horrible school, who then falls in love with her employer at her first job. It has fantastic Gothic elements - although they never appear, you get a strong sense of the ghosts and fairies haunting Jane's imagination as if they literally populated the English countryside. Once I had started the story, I wanted to finish it; both the mystery and the romance kept me engaged, even though I knew how it would end.
I could easily do a feminist reading of this, but I think this is the place for me to just say: I'm glad that I finally read this, and I admit that the prejudice (in the Jane Austen sense) that kept me from it in the past was foolish. It's an impressively well-written book, of course, but it's also the Victorian version of a great YA romance. It was a lot slower to read than most of the novels I read these days, and there were many words I didn't recognize (and I have a pretty good vocabulary - look for an edition with good footnotes*, if you can), but overall it was a highly enjoyable reading experience.
*My Wordsworth Classics edition pretty much only translated the French and gave the references for Shakespeare and Bible quotes. There were times I definitely wanted more historical and cultural information. I'd generally go for the Norton Critical Edition, which will have way more information than you need, but in this case I might choose this illustrated edition instead.