‚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!‘
Reader, I read it. A quiet read we had, the book and I were alone present. And it was awesome and cheesy, impressive and haunting, but a little too religious in the end for me. Still, Jane Eyre is an absolute masterpiece and Charlotte Bronte was a brilliant writer who died far too young. So fuck you, tuberculosis. And many thanks to Charlotte for this wonderful lovestory, and for creating Jane, that strong, independent woman who wasn’t plain at all.
Right from the start, I loved Jane. I loved the strength, the independence, the justified anger of that little ten-year old orphan who grew up with that terrible aunt and that sorry excuse of a violent cousin. Also, it reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, obviously. If Rowling wasn’t inspired in her writing of the Dursleys by the first part of Jane Eyre, then I don’t know what to believe in anymore. Little Jane has that terrible, unfair life, and I loved how she, the friendless, lonely orphan bravely stepped up to her tormentors and told them so:
‚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 visit 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. . . . 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 . . . into the red-room. . . . 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. ’Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty…‘
Just like Harry Potter, Jane gets taken away to a boarding school, but Lowood isn’t Hogwarts. Lowood is a mixture of extended bible studies, burnt porridge and public humiliation. But still, it’s somewhat better than living with Mrs Reed, and Jane finally manages to meet some people who care about her: Ms Temple, the headmistress, and Helen Burns, her first friend. The portrayal of Helen is actually one of the few things I disliked in this book, because it was too short. We are shown the story of her friendship with Jane in about 50 pages, and then she’s gone – I’d have gotten more attached to her if the whole thing would have been written more detailed. But after all, this isn’t a story about Jane and Helen, but about Jane and Mr Rochester. She gets to meet him a couple of years and only a few pages later, but before we come to that memorable encounter, let’s have a short look at sassy Jane:
‚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.‘
Although Jane doesn’t talk very much before meeting her soulmate Rochester, once she talks it’s really worth paying attention. Her wit and irony are always there, right beneath her respectable, boring appearance, waiting to be called upon. She’s clever and strong, and she’s definitely not willing to be content with playing the subordinate role which society expects her to play. Because Jane is something a Victorean era-girl really shouldn’t be: she’s independent. Sure, Rochester is her employer and ‚master‘ once she starts working for him, but Jane always remains herself, always keeps saying her piece of mind, never afraid of too much honesty.
‚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.‘
‚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.‘
‚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.‘
I’m not very much into romance, but even I liked the love story here. Of course, Rochester isn’t a very lovable character at the start, he’s too rude, too unpolished for that, but with every conversation he has with Jane, things improve. Obviously, there comes the grand revelation of that terrible lie. What Rochester did there is, though his motives are very relatable, just wrong, and it’s incredible how Jane’s heartbreak and desperation come crying out of these pages – Charlotte Bronte’s writing is absolutely superb and haunting, strengthened by all the times Jane directly addresses her readership. Her voice is one of the loudest and most keen I’ve ever witnessed in literature. Jane turns away from future happiness, because staying would violate her strong morality – and so she leaves Rochester, although she loves him with all her heart, knowing that she never will meet anyone like him ever again.
‚I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.‘
Jane wouldn’t be able to look at herself in the mirror if she stayed at Thornfield, and so she leaves – alone and with nothing but the clothes she wears, forced to beg for bread in the countryside. And then Bronte’s strongly underlieing religious idea unfolds: because Jane has done the right, moral thing, she is rewarded: she finally finds a loving family and also makes a fortune. She now becomes truly independent not only in her character, but also in her everyday life. Jane can do whatever she wants with her life now. And she’s not wasting it on St. John, that pompous, cold prat. That she even considered going with him is the other big issue I have with this book – I just didn’t understand why the idea would appeal to her at all. But Charlotte Bronte spares us: no, Jane doesn’t go to India. Instead, she goes home, where she gets the ending she deserves. Reader, what an ending it is.
‚I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result.‘
I love how Bronte built her story, how Jane and Rochester find each other in the end, how their roles have been reversed: Jane is the strong one on whom Rochester relies. They are each other’s happiness, they’re everything they need – just like it should be. A great book, and though it has those tiny flaws, it still gets five stars at the end because it was so touching and intense. I bet this is a book I’ll think about for a long time.
‚I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel–I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.‘