Number of pages: 268
This was Charlotte Brontë's first book, and it is noticeably shorter and less melodramatic than her more well-known novels.
It is written in first-person, memoir-style narrative from a male point of view, which is probably not too surprising when you remember that Charlotte Brontë used a male nom de plume, Currer Bell.
The book starts off feeling very Dickensian, with descriptions of the story's hero, William living in squalid London conditions, before the narrative moves to Belgium, where William is teaching at a school for girls. The story then tells of his romance with the head of the school, before he falls in love with a student, Frances Henri.
When I first read about the book's plot, I was expecting huge levels of controversy, but when I realised that Frances was nineteen, this started to feel less shocking and scandalous, although the book still has some social commentary about William's behaviour, through comments made by other characters.
I found this to be quite a difficult novel to read, as it alternated between long sections where William expressed his feelings or described events (including the final chapter, which flashed forward ten years) and long conversations between characters. I noticed several moments where the characters mostly spoke French, without the book giving a translations (I have noticed this in at least one of Charlotte Brontë's other novels). Since I don't speak French, it was hard to follow these sections.
Since this felt a bit long-winded, I wouldn't count it as one of Charlotte's best novels, and sometimes it was a bit hard to care about the characters, although it was nice that I couldn't always tell where the plot was heading.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
Against all my expectations, the book ended with William marrying Frances, while I'd expected for him to end up on his own, although there was some implication at the end still that he made the wrong choice in life.
Next book: White Teeth (Zadie Smith)