She’s one of the most famous heroines in English literature. Born into poverty, taken in by a wealthy but resentful maternal relationship. Cast off to charity school where the kids got spoiled gruel for breakfast, bread and water for lunch, and goodness knows what for breakfast and die of typhus. Leaves the school (and her snoring roommate) as a teacher for a better-paying position. Becomes the governess to the ward of a wealthy landowner. Falls in love with the wealthy man, almost marries him, finds out he’s married to a lunatic. Runs away with no money, wanders around destitute until she lands on the doorstep of a poor clergyman (both his own and his lately-deceased housekeeper shut her out). Becomes a schoolteacher, learns she’s a rich heiress. Divides up her inheritance between herself and the clergyman and his two sisters, who miraculously turn out to be her paternal cousins. Returns to the wealthy landowner to find the lunatic burned the mansion down and conveniently disposes of herself. Marries the wealthy man (who is blinded and maimed in the fire).
That’s the story, in short. Most women flip right past Jane Eyre’s childhood and her year in Morton to get to the good (romantic) stuff about Mr. Rochester. In most of the films (and there are at least 20), he’s usually more prominently featured on the DVD covers than she is, even though the title is “Jane Eyre.” Some critics have joked that the story title should be changed to “Mr. Rochester.”
However, the book is about 18 year-old Jane, a thinly-disguised, wishful-thinking autobiography of Charlotte Bronte. This book should be required reading for all those whiny college students at Zuccotti Park with their cellphones, iPads, and Mac computers. They could learn a few things from Jane and her stoic attitude about poverty and wealth.
Her father was a poor clergyman who apparently dies of typhus, along with his wife (also named Jane, for Eyrehead trivia buffs), who is disowned by the Reed family for marrying a clergyman. Baby Jane is sent to live with her Uncle John Reed, a judge, and his wife Sarah. Aunt Reed hates Jane practically from the moment she lays eyes on her. Unfortunately for Jane, the uncle dies within a year of her arriving at Gateshead. Reed makes his wife promise on his deathbed to raise the baby as her own.
The Reeds are wealthy and Jane is cared for, in the material sense. But she is bullied by her aunt, her three cousins, and even the servants. The book, told in the first person narrative, begins:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings
of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group; saying, "She regretted to be under the necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and could discover by her own observation, that I was endeavouring in good earnest to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner--something lighter, franker, more natural, as it were--she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy,little children."
The child is the proverbial bird in a gilded cage. Her only solace is the family library. One day, her spoiled cousin John catches her reading one of the books and hits her with it.
John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy to me. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every
nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions; the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind her back.
Jane fights back.
"You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; our father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat
the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama's expense. Now, I'll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they ARE mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows."
I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.
"Wicked and cruel boy!" I said. "You are like a murderer--you are like a slave-driver--you are like the Roman emperors!"
I had read Goldsmith's History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never thought thus to have declared aloud.
She’s punished for fighting back, and receives this admonition from her nurse:
Bessie answered not; but ere long, addressing me, she said--"You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have
to go to the poorhouse."
I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear:
Another servant adds:
“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them."
As punishment for her rebellion, Jane is locked up in the master bedroom where her uncle died, leaving her to these reflections:
I was a discord in Gateshead Hall: I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathise with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment. I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child--though equally dependent and friendless--Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scapegoat of the nursery.
All John Reed's violent tyrannies, all his sisters' proud indifference, all his mother's aversion, all the servants' partiality, turned up in my disturbed mind like a dark deposit in a turbid well. Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, forever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one's favour? Eliza, who was headstrong and selfish, was respected. Georgiana, who had a spoiled temper, a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage, was universally indulged. Her beauty, her pink cheeks and golden curls, seemed to
give delight to all who looked at her, and to purchase indemnity for every fault. John no one thwarted, much less punished; though he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set
the dogs at the sheep, stripped the hothouse vines of their fruit, and broke the buds off the choicest plants in the conservatory: he called his mother "old girl," too; sometimes reviled her for her dark skin, similar to his own; bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore and spoiled her silk attire; and he was still "her own darling." I dared commit no fault: I strove to fulfill every duty; and I was termed naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking, from morning to noon, and from noon to night.
Thinking she’s seen her uncle’s ghost, Jane falls sick in the “Red Room” and a sympathetic apothecary is called in to treat her. Once the nurse leaves, he asks why she seems so unhappy. She relates to him her misery.
"Don't you think Gateshead Hall a very beautiful house?" asked he. "Are you not very thankful to have such a fine place to live at?"
"It is not my house, sir; and Abbot says I have less right to be here than a servant."
"Pooh! you can't be silly enough to wish to leave such a splendid place?"
"If I had anywhere else to go, I should be glad to leave it; but I can never get away from Gateshead till I am a woman."
“Have you any relations besides Mrs. Reed?"
"I think not, sir."
"None belonging to your father?"
"I don't know. I asked Aunt Reed once, and she said possibly I might have some poor, low relations called Eyre, but she knew nothing about them."
"If you had such, would you like to go to them?"
I reflected. Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the word only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation.
"No; I should not like to belong to poor people," was my reply.
"Not even if they were kind to you?"
I shook my head: I could not see how poor people had the means of being kind; and then to learn to speak like them, to adopt their manners, to be uneducated, to grow up like one of the poor women I
saw sometimes nursing their children or washing their clothes at the cottage doors of the village of Gateshead: no, I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste.
"Would you like to go to school?"
Again I reflected: I scarcely knew what school was: Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks, wore backboards, and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise: John Reed hated his school, and abused his master; but John Reed's tastes were no rule for mine, and if Bessie's accounts of school-discipline (gathered from the young ladies of a family where she had lived before coming to Gateshead) were somewhat appalling, her details of certain accomplishments attained by these same young ladies were, I thought, equally attractive. She boasted of beautiful paintings of landscapes and flowers by them executed; of songs they could sing and pieces they could play, of purses they could net, of French books they could translate; till my spirit was moved to emulation as I listened. Besides, school would be a complete change: it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life.
Aunt Reed forbids her children to have anything more to do with Jane. Hearing her aunt admonish her cousin that Jane is not fit to associate with:
Here, leaning over the banister, I cried out suddenly, and without
at all deliberating on my words -
"They are not fit to associate with me."
Mrs. Reed was rather a stout woman; but, on hearing this strange and audacious declaration, she ran nimbly up the stair, swept me like a whirlwind into the nursery, and crushing me down on the edge of my crib, dared me in an emphatic voice to rise from that place, or utter one syllable during the remainder of the day.
"What would Uncle Reed say to you, if he were alive?" was my scarcely voluntary demand. I say scarcely voluntary, for it seemed as if my tongue pronounced words without my will consenting to their utterance: something spoke out of me over which I had no control.
"What?" said Mrs. Reed under her breath: her usually cold composed grey eye became troubled with a look like fear; she took her hand from my arm, and gazed at me as if she really did not know whether I were child or fiend. I was now in for it.
"My Uncle Reed is in heaven, and can see all you do and think; and so can papa and mama: they know how you shut me up all day long, and how you wish me dead."
But months pass, with Jane excluded from all society within the house, forced to stay in the nursery, before the headmaster of the boarding school at last arrives.
He placed me square and straight before him. What a face he had, now that it was almost on a level with mine! what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!
"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."
Mrs. Reed has one last cruelty to throw at the child before leaving her household:
“Mr. Brocklehurst, I believe I intimated in the letter which I wrote to you three weeks ago, that this little girl has not quite the character and disposition I could wish: should you admit her into Lowood school, I should be glad if the superintendent and teachers were requested to keep a strict eye on her, and, above all, to guard against her worst fault, a tendency to deceit. I mention this in your hearing, Jane, that you may not attempt to impose on Mr. Brocklehurst."
"I should wish her to be brought up in a manner suiting her prospects," continued my benefactress; "to be made useful, to be kept humble: as for the vacations, she will, with your permission, spend them always at Lowood."
Well might I dread, well might I dislike Mrs. Reed; for it was her nature to wound me cruelly; never was I happy in her presence; however carefully I obeyed, however strenuously I strove to please
her, my efforts were still repulsed and repaid by such sentences as the above. Now, uttered before a stranger, the accusation cut me to the heart; I dimly perceived that she was already obliterating hope
from the new phase of existence which she destined me to enter; I felt, though I could not have expressed the feeling, that she was sowing aversion and unkindness along my future path; I saw myself transformed under Mr. Brocklehurst's eye into an artful, noxious child, and what could I do to remedy the injury. Nothing.
"Your decisions are perfectly judicious, madam," returned Mr. Brocklehurst. "Humility is a Christian grace, and one peculiarly appropriate to the pupils of Lowood; I, therefore, direct that especial care shall be bestowed on its cultivation amongst them. I have studied how best to mortify in them the worldly sentiment of pride; and, only the other day, I had a pleasing proof of my success. My second daughter, Augusta, went with her mama to visit the school, and on her return she exclaimed: 'Oh, dear papa, how quiet and plain all the girls at Lowood look, with their hair combed behind their ears, and their long pinafores, and those little holland pockets outside their frocks--they are almost like poor people's children! and,' said she, 'they looked at my dress and mama's, as if they had never seen a silk gown before.'"
"This is the state of things I quite approve," returned Mrs. Reed; "had I sought all England over, I could scarcely have found a system more exactly fitting a child like Jane Eyre. Consistency, my dear
Mr. Brocklehurst; I advocate consistency in all things."
"Consistency, madam, is the first of Christian duties; and it has been observed in every arrangement connected with the establishment of Lowood: plain fare, simple attire, unsophisticated accommodations, hardy and active habits; such is the order of the day in the house and its inhabitants."
Mr. Brocklehurst accepts Jane as a pupil and leaves. Mrs. Reed orders Jane out of the room; but Jane has a few issues to clear up first.
"I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I."
Mrs. Reed's hands still lay on her work inactive: her eye of ice continued to dwell freezingly on mine.
"I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you
treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty."
"How dare you affirm that, Jane Eyre?"
"How dare I, Mrs. Reed? How dare I? Because it is the TRUTH. You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back--roughly and violently thrust me back--into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, 'Have mercy! Have mercy, Aunt Reed!' And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me--knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions, this exact tale. People think you a good woman, but you are bad, hard-hearted. YOU are deceitful! I am not your dear; I cannot lie down: send me to school soon, Mrs. Reed, for I hate to live here."
Jane realizes, though, that taking up authorities like that really isn’t a good idea.
A child cannot quarrel with its elders, as I had done; cannot give its furious feelings uncontrolled
play, as I had given mine, without experiencing afterwards the pang of remorse and the chill of reaction. A ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring, would have been a meet emblem of my mind when I accused and menaced Mrs. Reed: the same ridge, black and blasted after the flames are dead, would have represented as meetly my subsequent condition, when half-an-hour's silence and reflection had shown me the madness of my conduct, and the dreariness of my hated and hating position.
Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavour, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned. Willingly would I now have gone and asked Mrs. Reed's pardon; but I knew, partly from experience and partly from instinct, that was the way to make her repulse me with double scorn, thereby re-exciting every turbulent impulse of my nature. I stood, a wretched child enough, whispering to myself over and over again, "What shall I do?--what shall I do?"
At last, Jane is sent away to her new destination, Lowood School, an institution for charity girls.
When I again unclosed my eyes, a loud bell was ringing; the girls were up and dressing; day had not yet begun to dawn, and a rushlight or two burned in the room. I too rose reluctantly; it was bitter cold, and I dressed as well as I could for shivering, and washed when there was a basin at liberty, which did not occur soon, as there was but one basin to six girls, on the stands down the middle of the room. Again the bell rang: all formed in file, two and two, and in that order descended the stairs and entered the cold and dimly lit schoolroom: here prayers were read by Miss Miller; afterwards she called out -"Form classes!"
Jane finds the living at Lowood School hard at first.
My first quarter at Lowood seemed an age; and not the golden age either; it comprised an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and unwonted tasks. The fear of
failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical hardships of my lot; though these were no trifles.
The food is bad, the clothing inadequate, and the building cold. Brocklehurst is harsh and pompous. But the headmistress, Miss Temple is kindly and Jane is befriended by an older student, 14 year old Helen Burns. Helen is the scapegoat of one of the teachers, who frequently beats her. Ten year-old Jane reproves her friend for taking the abuse so passively; she says she would fight back.
“If I were in your place I should dislike her; I should resist her. If she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break it under her nose."
"Probably you would do nothing of the sort: but if you did, Mr. Brocklehurst would expel you from the school; that would be a great grief to your relations. It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you; and besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil."
"But then it seems disgraceful to be flogged, and to be sent to stand in the middle of a room full of people; and you are such a great [tall] girl: I am far younger than you, and I could not bear it."
"Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you CANNOT BEAR what it is your fate to be required to bear."
I heard her with wonder: I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathise with the forbearance she expressed for her chastiser. Still I felt that
Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. I suspected she might be right and I wrong; but I would not ponder the matter deeply; like Felix, I put it off to a more convenient season.
"But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved."
"Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilised nations disown it."
"How? I don't understand."
"It is not violence that best overcomes hate--nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."
"Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; make His word your rule, and His conduct your example."
"What does He say?"
"Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you."
"Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible."
In her turn, Helen Burns asked me to explain, and I proceeded forthwith to pour out, in my own way, the tale of my sufferings and resentments. Bitter and truculent when excited, I spoke as I felt,
without reserve or softening. Helen heard me patiently to the end: I expected she would then make
a remark, but she said nothing.
"Well," I asked impatiently, "is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad woman?"
"She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because you see, she dislikes your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine; but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a
singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with
the passionate emotions it excited? 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! Surely it will never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend?
No; I cannot believe that: I hold another creed: which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a
rest--a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: 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."
This is the Christian creed for which Christians are so derided. Anyway, soon enough, Mr. Brocklehurst catches sight of Jane and immediately makes an example of her, placing her on a stool in the middle of the room for the entire day, and forbidding anyone to talk to her.
"Madam [he says to Miss Temple] allow me an instant. You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying. Should any little accidental disappointment of the appetite occur, such as the spoiling of a meal, the under or the over dressing of a dish, the incident ought not to be neutralised by replacing with something more delicate the comfort lost, thus pampering the body and obviating the aim of this institution; it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under temporary privation. A brief address on those occasions would not be mistimed, wherein a judicious instructor would take the opportunity of referring to the sufferings of the primitive Christians; to the torments of martyrs; to the exhortations of our blessed Lord Himself, calling upon His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him; to His warnings that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; to His divine consolations, "If ye suffer hunger or thirst for My sake, happy are ye." Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!"
After Jane drops her slate, Brocklehurst has her placed upon the stool:
"My dear children," pursued the black marble clergyman, with pathos, "this is a sad, a melancholy occasion; for it becomes my duty to warn you, that this girl, who might be one of God's own lambs, is a little castaway: not a member of the true flock, but evidently an interloper and an alien. You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example; if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinise her actions, punish her body to save her soul: if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and
kneels before Juggernaut--this girl is--a liar!"
"This I learned from her benefactress; from the pious and charitable lady who adopted her in her orphan state, reared her as her own daughter, and whose kindness, whose generosity the unhappy girl repaid by an ingratitude so bad, so dreadful, that at last her excellent patroness was obliged to separate her from her own young ones, fearful lest her vicious example should contaminate their
purity: she has sent her here to be healed, even as the Jews of old sent their diseased to the troubled pool of Bethesda; and, teachers, superintendent, I beg of you not to allow the waters to stagnate
"Let her stand half-an-hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day."
There was I, then, mounted aloft; I, who had said I could not bear the shame of standing on my natural feet in the middle of the room, was now exposed to general view on a pedestal of infamy. What my sensations were no language can describe; but just as they all rose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes. What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up! It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool. Helen Burns asked some slight question about her work of Miss Smith, was chidden for the triviality of the inquiry, returned to her place, and smiled at me as she again went by. What a smile! I remember it now, and I know that it was the effluence of fine intellect, of true courage; it lit up her marked lineaments, her thin face, her sunken grey eye, like a reflection from the aspect of an angel. Yet at that moment Helen Burns wore on her arm "the untidy badge;" scarcely an hour ago I had heard her condemned by Miss Scatcherd to a dinner of bread and water on the morrow because she had blotted an exercise in copying it out. Such is the imperfect nature of man! such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet; and eyes like Miss Scatcherd's can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.
No one bothers to tell Jane to come down after that half-hour; she’s left up there the entire day.
The spell by which I had been so far supported began to dissolve; reaction took place, and soon, so overwhelming was the grief that seized me, I sank prostrate with my face to the ground. Now I wept: Helen Burns was not here; nothing sustained me; left to myself I abandoned myself, and my tears watered the boards. I had meant to be so good, and to do so much at Lowood: to make so many friends, to earn respect and win affection. Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation; she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer: and then I was well received by my fellow-pupils; treated as an equal by those of my own age, and not molested by any; now, here I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more?
Helen does arrive to comfort her, though, with bread and coffee.
"Helen, why do you stay with a girl whom everybody believes to be a liar?"
Jane, you are mistaken: probably not one in the school either despises or dislikes you: many, I am sure, pity you much. Mr. Brocklehurst is not a god: nor is he even a great and admired man: he is little liked here; he never took steps to make himself liked. Had he treated you as an especial favourite, you would have found enemies, declared or covert, all around you; as it is, the greater number would offer you sympathy if they dared. Teachers and pupils may look coldly on you for a day or two, but friendly feelings are concealed in their hearts; and if you persevere in doing well, these feelings will ere long appear so much the more evidently for their temporary suppression. Besides, Jane, if all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
"No; I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don't love me I would rather die than live--I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen. Look here; to gain some real
affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it
dash its hoof at my chest--"
"Hush, Jane! you think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too vehement; the sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources
than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you. Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits watch us, for they are commissioned to guard us; and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognise our innocence (if innocent we be: as I know you are of this charge which Mr. Brocklehurst has weakly and pompously repeated at second-hand from Mrs. Reed; for I read a sincere nature in your ardent eyes and on your clear front), and God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward. Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness--to glory?"
For Helen, that happiness comes all too soon, in the form of consumption. Presently, Miss Temple writes to Mr. Lloyd for truth of Jane’s life at Gateshead and Jane is cleared of all charges.
Thus relieved of a grievous load, I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to pioneer my way through every difficulty: I toiled hard, and my success was proportionate to my efforts; my
memory, not naturally tenacious, improved with practice; exercise sharpened my wits; in a few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and
drawing. Well has Solomon said--"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations for Gateshead and its daily luxuries.
With the spring and better weather, typhus also comes to Lowood, a disease whose ravages Jane escapes. But her friend, Helen, sick with tuberculosis dies. With her death, Jane passes over the ensuing years at Lowood. At 18, she is already trained as a teacher and yearns for a better existence.
I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space. "Then," I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new servitude!"
With some difficulty, she obtains permission to leave Lowood. She places an advertisement in a newspaper, and a Mrs. Fairfax responds, offering her a position as a governess to one 9 year-old child. Jane accepts gladly. Just before she leaves, she’s visited by her old nursemaid, Bessie.
"Oh, you are quite a lady, Miss Jane! I knew you would be: you will get on whether your relations notice you or not. There was something I wanted to ask you. Have you ever heard anything from
your father's kinsfolk, the Eyres?"
"Never in my life."
"Well, you know Missis always said they were poor and quite despicable: and they may be poor; but I believe they are as much gentry as the Reeds are; for one day, nearly seven years ago, a Mr. Eyre came to Gateshead and wanted to see you; Missis said you were it school fifty miles off; he seemed so much disappointed, for he could not stay: he was going on a voyage to a foreign country, and
the ship was to sail from London in a day or two. He looked quite a gentleman, and I believe he was your father's brother."
Jane begins her new life at Thornfield Hall as a governess to a little French girl, Adele Varens. The master of the hall is not in residence. According to Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, he seldom visits. But one winter’s afternoon, while taking a walk, a rider on horseback passes her. The horse slips on the ice and Jane helps the mysterious rider up. When she returns to Thornfield after her walk, she discovers the rider is the owner of Thornfield, Mr. Rochester.
The romance is so well-known, there’s no need to go into the breathless, romantic details. However, Mr. Rochester does question his new employee, trying to draw her. When he asks her if she thinks he has the right to be commanding, she replies: "I don't think, sir, you have a 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."
"Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won't allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the
question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?"
I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester IS peculiar--he seems to forget that he pays me 30 pounds per annum for receiving his orders.
"The smile is very well," said he, catching instantly the passing expression; "but speak too."
"I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders."
"Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate, are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a little?"
"No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree heartily."
And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases, without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?"
"I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary."
"Humbug! Most things free-born will submit to anything for a salary; therefore, keep to yourself, and don't venture on generalities of which you are intensely ignorant.
So, not all wealthy people are greedy and haughty. But this one is mysterious. In the middle of the night, someone sets fire to his bed. Jane wakes him in time to put the fire out. She suspects a strange servant, Grace Poole, of the deed, but Rochester is unconcerned and the next day sets out for a party in a neighboring county. When he returns, he is the company of the belle of the county, the beautiful and haughty Blanche Ingram, who’s given wealthy people a bad name ever since the book was published in 1846.
But Jane has discovered that she’s falling in love with the wealthy of master of the house. To correct this egregious error, she draws a self-portrait and an imagined portrait of Miss Ingraham.
Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust; let the round and dazzling
arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aerial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose; call it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.' "Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out these two pictures and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady's love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?' "You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protegee, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so don't make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised."
At last, Miss Ingram and the rest of the party arrive at Thornfield:
Fluttering veils and waving plumes filled the vehicles; two of the cavaliers were young, dashing-looking gentlemen; the third was Mr. Rochester, on his black horse, Mesrour, Pilot bounding before him; at his side rode a lady, and he and she were the first of the party. Her purple riding-habit almost swept the ground, her veil streamed long on the breeze; mingling with its
transparent folds, and gleaming through them, shone rich raven ringlets.
At Mr. Rochester’s insistence, Jane and Adele are invited to the parlor in the evening to join the party. Here, Jane gets a first glimpse of her rival.
As far as person went, she answered point for point, both to my picture and Mrs. Fairfax's description. The noble bust, the sloping shoulders, the graceful neck, the dark eyes and black ringlets were all there;--but her face? Her face was like her mother's; a youthful unfurrowed likeness: the same low brow, the same high features, the same pride. It was not, however, so saturnine a pride! she laughed continually; her laugh was satirical, and so was the habitual expression of her arched and haughty lip.
Upon meeting Adele, Blanche asks Rochester why he took her in, and inevitably the conversation turns to governesses. Rochester is not unwilling to hear their opinions.
"But my curiosity will be past its appetite; it craves food now."
"Ask Blanche; she is nearer you than I."
"Oh, don't refer him to me, mama! I have just one word to say of the whole tribe; they are a nuisance. Not that I ever suffered much from them; I took care to turn the tables. What tricks Theodore and I used to play on our Miss Wilsons, and Mrs. Greys, and Madame Jouberts! Mary was always too sleepy to join in a plot with spirit. The best fun was with Madame Joubert: Miss Wilson was a poor sickly thing, lachrymose and low-spirited, not worth the trouble of vanquishing, in short; and Mrs. Grey was coarse and insensible; no blow took effect on her. But poor Madame Joubert! I see her yet in her raging passions, when we had driven her to extremities—spilt our tea, crumbled our bread and butter, tossed our books up to the ceiling, and played a charivari with the ruler and desk, the fender and fire-irons. Theodore, do you remember those merry days?"
During a game of charades, in which Jane is only a spectator, Jane painfully muses on the impending marriage of her master.
I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point--this was where the nerve was touched and teased--this was where the fever was sustained and fed: SHE COULD NOT CHARM HIM
We’ll bypass Jane’s love-sick observations for now and get to the bottom-line:
I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester's project of marrying for interest and connections. It surprised me when I first discovered that such was his intention: I had thought him a
man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, &c., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging and blaming either him or Miss Ingram for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband's own happiness offered by this plan convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.
Meanwhile, two strangers arrive at Thornfield during the party: one, a traveller from the West Indies who says he’s known Rochester a long time, and the other, and old gypsy woman who wants to tell fortunes to “the vulgar herd.” After telling the fortunes of all the young ladies in the room, she insists also on telling the fortune of the skeptical Jane. The old woman tells Jane that Mr. Rochester’s marriage to Blanche Ingram is practically a settled matter.
“And, no doubt (though, with an audacity that wants chastising out of you, you seem to question it), they will be a superlatively happy pair. He must love such a handsome, noble, witty, accomplished lady; and probably she loves him, or, if not his person, at least his purse. I know she considers the Rochester estate eligible to the last degree; though (God pardon me!) I told her something on that point about an hour ago which made her look wondrous grave: the corners of her mouth fell half an inch. I would advise her blackaviced suitor to look out: if another comes, with a longer or clearer rent-roll,--he's dished--"
Jane complains that she paid to hear her own fortune, not Mr. Rochester’s.
"I see no enemy to a fortunate issue but in the brow; and that brow professes to say,--'I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.' The forehead declares, 'Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision. Strong wind, earthquake-shock, and fire may pass by: but I shall follow the guiding of that still small voice which interprets the dictates of conscience.'
After a few more musings, Mr. Rochester steps out of the gypsy disguise. Some critics have complained about the implausibility of this scene. But it worked very well in the 1983 Jane Eyre series with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. In fact, it was pretty funny. Jane is indignant and is considering whether she’ll forgive him when she remembers to tell him that he has a guest from the West Indies. Mr. Rochester is seriously dismayed. That night, the visitor, Mr. Mason, visits the mysterious attic room, where he’s stabbed and bitten. With Jane’s help, Rochester summons a surgeon and the visitor is soon gone.
In the meantime, a coachman comes to Thornfield to tell Jane that her cousin John is dead and that her aunt has suffered a stroke. The dying woman wishes to see her. Mr. Rochester reluctantly gives her leave. When he asks how much money she has in the world, she produces five shillings. He attempts to give her fifty. But the thoroughly honest Jane refuses to accept more than her due.
Aunt Reed confesses to Jane that a rich uncle, the one Bessie mentioned, had offered to adopt her. Aunt Reed told him that Jane had died of the typhus and invites Jane to expose her lie.
“I took my revenge: for you to be adopted by your uncle, and placed in a state of ease and comfort, was what I could not endure. I wrote to him; I said I was sorry for his disappointment, but Jane Eyre was dead: she had died of typhus fever at Lowood. Now act as you please: write and contradict my assertion--expose my falsehood as soon as you like. You were born, I think, to be my torment: my last hour is racked by the recollection of a deed which, but for you, I should never have been tempted to commit."
The aunt dies and Jane returns to Thornfield, wracked by the knowledge that she’ll have to leave it when Rochester marries Blanche Ingram. He has promised to find her another situation as a governess. One evening, he tells her that the time to move on has arrived. He teases her into vehemence and a declaration of love. He tells her that in that case, she should stay.
"I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like passion. "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? 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!"
Rochester throws off the charade and, declaring his love for her, asks Jane to marry him. He promises to fill her lap with jewels and take her traveling around the world. She thinks they’re going to live happily everafter. But there’s a hitch. At the altar, she learns that he is already married, although his wife the lunatic living in the attic room.
Rochester’s father couldn’t bear to break up his estate, so Thornfield would go to his older brother and the father arranged a marriage for him to the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies, Bertha Mason. Only the family forgot to mention that insanity ran in the family. Her excesses bring on madness, which is a hint that she probably had syphilis. The laws of the day won’t allow him to divorce her. In the meantime, his father and brother die. He now has all his wife’s money and all the Rochester money, but an impossible life. He begs Jane to stay, but it’s no deal.
"One instant, Jane. Give one glance to my horrible life when you are gone. All happiness will be torn away with you. What then is left? For a wife I have but the maniac upstairs: as well might you refer me to some corpse in yonder churchyard. What shall I do, Jane? Where turn for a companion and for some hope?"
"Do as I do: trust in God and yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope to meet again there."
"Then you will not yield?"
"Then you condemn me to live wretched and to die accursed?" His voice rose.
"I advise you to live sinless, and I wish you to die tranquil."
"Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on lust for a passion--vice for an occupation?"
"Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure--you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you."
"You make me a liar by such language: you sully my honour. I declared I could not change: you tell me to my face I shall change soon. And what a distortion in your judgment, what a perversity in your ideas, is proved by your conduct! Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach? for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?"
This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured
wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery; think of his danger--look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair--soothe him;
save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for YOU? or who will be injured by what you do?"
Still indomitable was the reply--"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 rigour; 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."
In the middle of the night, Jane leaves Thornfield, heart-broken but determined. She hails a passing coach that will take her as far away as her meager savings will allow. She lands in the middle of the English moorlands, penniless and destitute. For the second time, though for different reasons, she’s rejected wealth, privilege, and comfort, even at the peril of her own life for her moral standards. Almost at the last breath, she lands on the doorstep of a clergyman, who takes her in and eventually offers her a position as a schoolmistress.
“You shall hear how poor the proposal is,--how trivial-- how cramping. I shall not stay long at Morton, now that my father is dead, and that I am my own master. I shall leave the place probably in the course of a twelve-month; but while I do stay, I will exert myself to the utmost for its improvement. Morton, when I came to it two years ago, had no school: the children of the poor
were excluded from every hope of progress. I established one for boys: I mean now to open a second school for girls. I have hired a building for the purpose, with a cottage of two rooms attached to it for the mistress's house. Her salary will be thirty pounds a year: her house is already furnished, very simply, but sufficiently, by the kindness of a lady, Miss Oliver; the only daughter of the sole
rich man in my parish--Mr. Oliver, the proprietor of a needle- factory and iron-foundry in the valley. The same lady pays for the education and clothing of an orphan from the workhouse, on condition that she shall aid the mistress in such menial offices connected with her own house and the school as her occupation of teaching will prevent her having time to discharge in person. Will you be this mistress?"
He put the question rather hurriedly; he seemed half to expect an indignant, or at least a disdainful rejection of the offer: not knowing all my thoughts and feelings, though guessing some, he could
not tell in what light the lot would appear to me. In truth it was humble--but then it was sheltered, and I wanted a safe asylum: it was plodding--but then, compared with that of a governess in a rich
house, it was independent; and the fear of servitude with strangers entered my soul like iron: it was not ignoble--not unworthy—not mentally degrading, I made my decision.
"I thank you for the proposal, Mr. Rivers, and I accept it with all
"But you comprehend me?" he said. "It is a village school: your scholars will be only poor girls--cottagers' children--at the best, farmers' daughters. Knitting, sewing, reading, writing, ciphering,
will be all you will have to teach. What will you do with your accomplishments? What, with the largest portion of your mind-- sentiments--tastes?"
"Save them till they are wanted. They will keep."
"You know what you undertake, then?"
She opens the school and observes her peasant students’ slow progress. After having lived twice in wealth, Jane finds herself doubting her happiness.
Was I very gleeful, settled, content, during the hours I passed in yonder bare, humble schoolroom this morning and afternoon? Not to deceive myself, I must reply--No: I felt desolate to a degree. I felt--yes, idiot that I am--I felt degraded. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence. I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me. But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings; I know them to be wrong- -that is a great step gained; I shall strive to overcome them. Tomorrow, I trust, I shall get the better of them partially; and in a few weeks, perhaps, they will be quite subdued. In a few months, it is possible, the happiness of seeing progress, and a change for the
better in my scholars may substitute gratification for disgust.
Meantime, let me ask myself one question--Which is better?--To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion; made no painful effort--no struggle;--but to have sunk down in the silken snare;
fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern clime, amongst the luxuries of a pleasure villa: to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester's mistress; delirious with his love
half my time--for he would--oh, yes, he would have loved me well for a while. He DID love me--no one will ever love me so again. I shall never more know the sweet homage given to beauty, youth, and race--for never to any one else shall I seem to possess these charms. He was fond and proud of me--it is what no man besides will ever be.--But where am I wandering, and what am I saying, and above all, feeling? Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool's paradise at Marseilles--fevered with delusive bliss one hour--suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next-
-or to be a village-schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?
The matter settled, she finds herself well-regarded among the villagers of Morton. In the course of her relationship with the Rivers, St. John, the clergyman discovers her secret. Someone has been looking for her, he says, and they wrote to him. That someone is not Rochester (though he did have the country scoured for her, with no success) but the lawyer who stopped the bigamous marriage. He was also attorney to Jane’s wealthy uncle, who has died and left her all his money.
Here was a new card turned up! It is a fine thing, reader, to be lifted in a moment from indigence to wealth--a very fine thing; but not a matter one can comprehend, or consequently enjoy, all at once.
And then there are other chances in life far more thrilling and rapture-giving: THIS is solid, an affair of the actual world, nothing ideal about it: all its associations are solid and sober, and its manifestations are the same. One does not jump, and spring, and shout hurrah! at hearing one has got a fortune; one begins to consider responsibilities, and to ponder business; on a base of steady satisfaction rise certain grave cares, and we contain ourselves, and brood over our bliss with a solemn brow.
Besides, the words Legacy, Bequest, go side by side with the words, Death, Funeral. My uncle I had heard was dead--my only relative; ever since being made aware of his existence, I had cherished the
hope of one day seeing him: now, I never should. And then this money came only to me: not to me and a rejoicing family, but to my isolated self. It was a grand boon doubtless; and independence
would be glorious--yes, I felt that--that thought swelled my heart
There aren’t many of us around who wouldn’t jump, spring and shout hurrah at hearing one got a fortune. Jane does not. Then St. John drops the other shoe; he and his sisters are the disinherited cousins. Now Jane jumps up and down, and vows to divide the 20,000 pounds among the four of them. St. John thinks she nuts, but rich people aren’t crazy; they’re eccentric. The sisters are soon relieved of their governessing duties and St. John can now go on to his missionary work in India. There’s only one catch: he wants Jane to go with him as his wife.
Jane’s not stupid. India’s one hot country and she knows she wouldn’t last three months there. What’s more, she doesn’t love this cousin any more than he loves her. She refuses him a number of times. But he’s persistent – and cruel. As she’s about to say “Yes” a mysterious voice calls to her (there’s always a mysterious voice in 19th Century romances) – Mr. Rochester.
She travels back to find Thornfield and Mr. Rochester a ruin. But as she’s now an independent woman, and he’s free to marry – as his wife conveniently leapt from the battlements of the burning manor house – she resolves to stay.
What, Janet! Are you an independent woman? A rich woman?"
"If you won't let me live with you, I can build a house of my own close up to your door, and you may come and sit in my parlour when you want company of an evening."
"But as you are rich, Jane, you have now, no doubt, friends who will look after you, and not suffer you to devote yourself to a blind lameter like me?"
"I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress."
"And you will stay with me?"
"Certainly--unless you object. I will be your neighbour, your nurse, your housekeeper. I find you lonely: I will be your companion--to read to you, to walk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you. Cease to look so melancholy, my dear master; you shall not be left desolate, so long as I live."
Reader, she married him and they lived happily everafter, something married people don’t do much of these days. At every juncture in her story, where wealth is an issue, and it’s a decision between money and morality, Jane chooses morality and is rewarded for it. When St. John’s housekeeper asks her poverty-stricken situation, Jane’s self-respect is insulted
"Did you ever go a-begging afore you came here?"
I was indignant for a moment; but remembering that anger was out of the question, and that I had indeed appeared as a beggar to her, I answered quietly, but still not without a certain marked firmness -
"You are mistaken in supposing me a beggar. I am no beggar; any
more than yourself or your young ladies."
After a pause she said, "I dunnut understand that: you've like no house, nor no brass, I guess?"
"The want of house or brass (by which I suppose you mean money) does not make a beggar in your sense of the word."
Jane is willing to do anything she can do to keep herself, even if it’s only to do servant’s work. Out on the moors, homeless and without shelter, she despaired of hope and contemplated the wildlife
What was I to do? Where to go? Oh, intolerable questions, when I could do nothing and go nowhere!--when a long way must yet be measured by my weary, trembling limbs before I could reach human habitation--when cold charity must be entreated before I could get a lodging: reluctant sympathy importuned, almost certain repulse incurred, before my tale could be listened to, or one of my wants relieved!
She depends upon Mother Nature to guard her over night, but…
But next day, Want came to me pale and bare. Long after the little birds had left their nests; long after bees had come in the sweet prime of day to gather the heath honey before the dew was dried--
when the long morning shadows were curtailed, and the sun filled earth and sky--I got up, and I looked round me.
What a still, hot, perfect day! What a golden desert this spreading moor! Everywhere sunshine. I wished I could live in it and on it. I saw a lizard run over the crag; I saw a bee busy among the sweet
bilberries. I would fain at the moment have become bee or lizard, that I might have found fitting nutriment, permanent shelter here. But I was a human being, and had a human being's wants: I must not linger where there was nothing to supply them. I rose; I looked back at the bed I had left. Hopeless of the future, I wished but this--that my Maker had that night thought good to require my soul of me while I slept; and that this weary frame, absolved by death from further conflict with fate, had now but to decay quietly, and mingle in peace with the soil of this wilderness. Life, however,
was yet in my possession, with all its requirements, and pains, and responsibilities. The burden must be carried; the want provided for; the suffering endured; the responsibility fulfilled. I set out.
One wonders if OWS understands any of the principles set out in Jane Eyre? Are these values of self-reliance and independence and resourcefulness as antiquated as the corset and butter churn? Do they understand what Charlotte Bronte and her generation meant by a “beggar”? That is, someone who makes a career out of depending on charity? Jane begs out of dire necessity in the village of Morton for food, but she knows it’s wrong and doesn’t blame the villagers for repulsing her. It isn’t their job, she says, to support her.
The wealthy in this novel are certainly repulsive – Mrs. Reed, Blanche Ingram, Mr. Brocklehurst. But there are others who are not repulsive, but charitable, including Rosamund Oliver, the daughter of the needle factory owner who sets up the school. Mr. Rochester, though a romantic cad, is considered a liberal master and landlord, even taking on the abandoned child of his opera dancer lover. Jane does not give over her inherited fortune to strangers (though you can be sure she was charitable) but to her cousins, her family. Nor does she return to her teaching duties. After the hard life she’s led, Fortune has been kind to her and rewarded her for adhering to her principles.
The discrepancy in wealth today is nothing compared to the discrepancy during the Victorian Era. Jane’s trials, for bearing them, made her stronger. To be sure, she wept for herself, but she had her friend Helen to guide her in childhood and her own, adult conscience, when she was grown. And she also prayed to God for help, knowing that people can’t always be depended upon.
Jane Eyre is a loft role model which the OWS generation must live up to. The primitive Christians, Edward Gibbon tells us, who lived within the time of Christ, gave up all their worldly goods, as He bid them to do. However, common sense eventually prevailed, particularly when wealthy Roman citizens gave away all their worldly goods, as well as their estates and their inheritances, only to make beggars of their children. The Church wisely decided what worshippers could afford was enough.
This is what SEIU, OWS, all the Progressive movements would have us do – beggar ourselves and our children in the name of social piety. They oppose inheritances, investing, “usury”, and any other means by which individuals could make themselves independently wealthy. The very wealthy are, for the most part, already quite generous. The Progressives would turn us all into wards of the state, at the mercy of the John Reeds, the Rev. Brocklehursts (or their Muslim equivalents) and the Blanche Ingrams.
Conscience, not government, must dictate how wealth is redistributed, if it should even be redistributed at all. Donated is a much more pleasant, and Christian, word, and will tell more about a person’s heart than any law ever could. If we are to be free, we must be free, not compelled, to give.