It is dark outside. A cool breeze through the window feels very pleasant. Here I am with Jane Eyre, a quiet, plain, poor governess with great strength, rock-hard discipline, strong will, and determination of following her own mind. She is more beautiful than any conventional beauties. It is my firm belief that a life without a strong will is not worth living.
Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre in 1847 using the pen name “Currer Bell”. The novel begins when Jane Eyre was 10 years old, living with her uncle’s family after losing both of her parents as an infant. Jane Eyre was abused by her cousins and her aunt during that period. She was then sent to Lowood school, an institution for poor girls, some time after the death of her uncle. It was a harsh and oppressive place. At Lowood school, Jane developed a friendship with Helen Burns, who sadly died of tuberculosis, known as consumption at the time. Helen, to me, symbolizes a way of thinking and resigning to life, perhaps more typical in a female than male. Her conversations with Jane revealed a great amount of her character and philosophy. Jane later became a governess at Thornfield Hall, owned by Mr. Rochester, teaching a young French girl Adèle Varens. The rest of the story followed the central characters Jane and Mr. Rochester, with three newly gained cousins of Jane’s, the death of her aunt, a Miss Ingram, Mrs Fairfax, the haunting wife of Mr. Rochester and others. I should not spoil the ending for you, if you have not read Jane Eyre before.
I first read Jane Eyre (translated version) when I was a young girl myself in a boarding school. It lent me great strength and help me tough up. The boarding school I attended had very bad living conditions but was not oppressive. In recent years, I listened to BBC radio’s adaptation of Jane Eyre a couple of times. As an adult female, I appreciate the portrait of the protagonist Jane Eyre more fully: her passion, strong will, an acute sense of conscience and freedom, her independence, and her quiet yet formidable strength.
Brontë wrote dialogues and first-person narratives meticulously well. Both are very challenging to accomplish. To me, there is much to be learned from the character Jane Eyre. Some of my favorite passages are quoted below.
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?”
“They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”
“A pit full of fire.”
“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: “I must keep in good health and not die.”
Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain, – the impalpable principle of light and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: whence it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man – perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph!…with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end.
Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you – especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land some broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, – you’d forget me.
I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad – as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth – so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane – quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.
I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. 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.
Approaching 5am now. My animal friends start to wake up and sing in chorus what a glorious morning will come. I wish any of them could make me a cup of strongly-desired tea.