I really dug the first half of Jane Eyre. The characterization is wonderful; the writing is first-class. What threw me, halfway through, was the lunatic wife; I'd been cruising along with this well-done romance, and then all of a sudden this outsized dramatic event occurred, and it kinda piqued me. Hell's bells, I thought: here we go! I had no idea we were in for this kind of shit!
And we weren't. Following that tremendous revelation, it settles into quite a different story again. Gone is the romance; most of the second half of the book is devoted to her reunification with her family, and the contrasting anti-romance with her cousin. While I understand the use of contrast there, and appreciate it, I never got over wondering what was happening to the crazy lady, or the - again out-of-character for the book - ridiculous coincidence that Bronte used to reunite Jane with her family.
The revelation felt like Emily snuck into her sister's room and slipped a chapter in, and the coincidence felt like Charlotte got stuck and asked Victor Hugo for advice. While I love both of those other authors, their tricks don't work in Charlotte's more realistic world; their intrusion jarred me.
(Re. the revelation, by the way: a friend hates Jane Eyre because she was warned that "there's a scandalous twist!" as a teen by her father, and by the time she got to it she'd worked it up in her head until nothing would satisfy her but the appearance of a vampire. She was deeply disappointed: "Keeping your crazy wife locked in the attic didn't seem that scandalous to me at the time." She couldn't recover either...but for different reasons.)
I did like the ending; I legitimately wanted Jane to reconcile with Rochester, and his reappearance as a blind cripple works, if a little obviously. I'd developed affection for both of them; their conversations are like two tough dogs playing, and you can see why they appreciate each other. The ending was earned.
As a character study, Jane Eyre is superb. She's a terrific protagonist, way more insightfully drawn than anyone in Wuthering Heights. But as a novel...it didn't hang together perfectly for me. I liked it! Jane Eyre being what it is, I don't feel like I have to justify the four stars I gave it so much as the one I didn't, which is why this review seems focused on the negative qualities. Four stars isn't a bad review! But I gave Wuthering Heights five;
that book knows what it is.