Yes, I suppose you can view this book mostly as a love story. That's what I did at age 13 - but that's why I was left disappointed back then¹.Or you can view this as an story of formation of a strong and independent female protagonist, a nineteenth-century feminist, light-years ahead of its time. And that's what left my now-closer-to-thirty-than-twenty self very satisfied and, quite frankly, rather impressed.²¹The guy kept his wife in the attic. Seriously - no. Just no. You don't get all the way to your SECOND wedding forgetting to mention that your FIRST wife is hidden in the attic. Seriosly, Rochester, what the hell is wrong with you? How can you even attempt to build a marriage on such a lie??? ² "I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience."Sing it, Jane. You tell him, you strong and awesome woman, you!When I read it for the first time as a young and opinionated teen, I thought Jane Eyre was a boring and meek protagonist, too clingy to her 'outdated' morals, too afraid to do what I thought was a brave thing to do - say 'yes' to the apparent happiness that poor tragic Mr. Rochester was offering. (Oh naive young me, putting way too much stock in Rochester's woes after his first marriage, sleeping with everyone in Europe and rejecting them probably because they were not English enough for him!) Wow, was there ever a way to misunderstand a book more than I did this one? Sometimes life experience does matter indeed.Jane Eyre has a good idea of her self-worth. And she has a good idea about her own morals. And, unlike many in her situation, she sticks to her morals and her idea of what is wrong or right regardless of what outcome is in it for her. Here is the prime example:"Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses."The emphasis in this well-intentioned advice by Mrs. Fairfax is on the word MARRY. Ah, silly old lady, one may think, cautioning the young woman in such a prudish way. Ah, silly young woman, taking the advice of the old lady and acting prudishly. Ah, silly young woman, eventually rejecting the sincere love and offer of happiness for a seemingly prudish reason - not wanting to be a mistress. So old-fashioned and weak and caged-up, screamed my thirteen-year-old self.But here's the thing. It's not just for the moral lesson for the readers that Bronte has Jane firmly say 'no'. It's not for the sake of mere societal appearance. It's for the sake of Jane, and Jane alone. MARRYING governesses was uncommon. Having them as mistresses - probably not as rare. In her society, protecting her virtue and reputation was not only the matter of religious views or stigma - it was the question of her future, as she had nobody to stand up for her if her reputation was ruined. And it was a question of her integrity - the quality that she maintains through thick and thin, refusing to fall head over heels for love, refusing to let love justify all the mistakes and wrong choices, refusing to let love blind her to everything else that was important for her sense of self-worth.By refusing Rochester, Jane stays so true to herself without ever betraying herself. Jane refuses to take the steps that would destroy her integrity in her own eyes, and for that she has my strongest and most sincere respect and admiration. What Rochester did is unthinkable to her - not because of how others view it but because of her morals and convictions - and she shows unbelievable courage in sticking up for what she believes in, even if it is to her own material and soul-wrecking detriment. She will not give herself fully to something - or someone - that would destroy her integrity, tarnish her own self. And I love her for this unwavering determination to stay true to herself! "Reader, I married him" may be one of the most famous phrases from this book (actually, the most famous, come to think of it) - but it is her refusal to marry him in the first place that allows her to keep her integrity and remain true to self, and continue developing into the amazing person she becomes. Jane has too much self-worth to have Rochester until he redeems himself in her eyes, until he repents. That's the point, not the marriage part.Despite self-proclaimed meekness, Jane Eyre is far from weak or scared. She has been forced to make her own way in life without the luxury of relying on a rich male relative - father, brother, husband. And she did this in the world where being attached to a man was the best choice for a woman (just remember Jane Austen's heroines a few decades earlier reaching happiness only after finding a suitable gentleman!). She is a rebel - setting out to have her own career in a male-dominated world, refusing to let a man rule her life (that applies to both Rochester and St. John here), and making statements that may have not had the most sympathetic audience back in her day:"Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."And here's what else I enjoyed about this book - its attempts to subvert the tropes, the same tropes that we still heavily rely on in literature. Bronte gets rid of the 'faultless' heroine - instead of being perfect (or having an imaginary flaw, like many literary heroines are prone to nowadays) Jane has a real one (for her time, at least) - her occasional temper. And she is not beautiful - not fake flaws, either but a consensus by many impartial observers that she is not a beauty. And to take it a step further - Mr. Rochester, our romantic lead, is quite frankly, rather ugly. This is not a beautiful couple (and Hollywood managed to "fix" that in all the movie adaptations, by the way - a slap in Bronte's face, I guess?). Jane is not in love with a pretty façade of Rochester - since he has none (a thing that contemporary writers should learn, by the way - writing love that stems from something else that simple attraction to physical beauty). And finally, the atmosphere of this story. Oh, the wonderfully gothic atmosphere written so well, with intense moods palpable in every paragraph. So colorful, so vivid, so immersing - every room, every moor, every tree. Every description of landscape or interior actually serves a purpose to establish the mood of the scene, and it is very well-done..................................All that said, I'm giving a condescending pat on the shoulder to my teenage self from the 'wisdom' of another fifteen years. Sorry, teen Nataliya, you little annoying know-it-all - you just needed to grow up to appreciate this story. 4.5 stars and high recommendation.