Reading Jane Eyre was like an agonizing fire to my already ablaze heart.
Even before I opened the book, dear reader, I already knew what these pages held. There was a promise of passion, of struggle, of bravery. And as I began with Jane her journey through her difficult childhood and her challenging life, later on, I was filled with emotions I had only ever reserved for Wuthering Heights.
There is a strange intensity in Charlotte Bronte’s words; I was both inside and outside. I was Jane and she was me. We were one. Her plight was my plight. Her wishes were my wishes. My heart was beating faster and faster as I turned the pages, mad with anticipation for I knew, I knew I was headed towards a most beautiful love.
Brontë writes in a manner that pulls you into the story. You are there with Jane in the red room, you witness what she witnesses, you feel dread as her heart feels it, you hate who she hates.
Being at the mercy of a writer is most liberating.
You are free of any responsibility thence. You don’t have to do anything but let your gaze fall on the words and let them travel far and true into the deep recesses of your mind, awakening memories that you thought you never had, let them make their way south and tug at your heartstrings like a most insistent child, demanding attention, craving love.
Jane Eyre’s situation, as we begin this story, is most pitiful. You cannot help but feel sorry for her. The oppression she faces is unbearable. Would that I could I’d have snatched that little frightened, beaten girl from these pages and kept her close to me, shushed her and lulled her to a sweet and peaceful sleep. I wanted to do that so badly.
Charlotte Brontë succeeded in making me love her from the very first page and I think that’s a quality these sisters had in common – Emily destroyed me by rendering my heart a passion for her dark hero and his wild lover, and Charlotte gave me Jane – this plain and obscure heroine, with her simple tale of woe, with her hopes and dreams and the purest heart.
”No, I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste.”
From the very beginning, if there is one thing we are sure of Jane Eyre is that she knows her mind.
Even as a little girl, when asked whether, if given the chance, she would like to live with her own distant relatives even if they were a bit poor, she declined. Poverty was a degradation in her mind and she did not falter in admitting it.
Her fearless and free-thinking mind painted her in such a vivid image in my mind that I quickly forgot I was reading and began to feel that I was being.
She was never a mere fictional being in my mind. She was a living, breathing person – acting out her life in front of my eyes, in my world…or was I in hers? I forget.
Having a passionate temper was deemed her fault since childhood. Jane said what she believed to be true, she felt intensely, she was not a rebel without a cause and yet, these propensities were labeled as FAULTS against the good nature of children.
How I would like to ask every pathetic little relative and acquaintance of Mrs. reed, was it a fault?
Being keen is a virtue of the highest order because it’s the people who feel deeply that love intensely and without guile, as Jane did all her life. She was virtuous, brave, and much too modest. Such qualities don’t come often in that combination and regarding them as faults is a crime, a crime which was committed much too frequently against Jane Eyre.
The rigidity of the society Jane was brought up in crept upon her understanding soon enough and yet she never gave up her imagination and wishes of a better life.
The school she had been sent to – Lowood Institution – was, to her, an absurd sort of place, although it did provide her the means to better herself, to be able to make a name in society. Still, the teachers’ violent behavior towards these little girls left me horrified and Brontë’s casual tone while describing it all renders it even more chilling, which I guess was the point. In any way, I was invested so much in Jane’s circumstances that I just couldn’t help my emotions. They were flying every which way
FLOGGED. BULLIED. DISTRESSED. Such was Jane’s state in Lowood. But she never gave up. She was the kind who starts rebellions against injustice and cruelty. Her friend Helen Burns’ influence humbled her greatly out of such thoughts to quite an extent.
Still, the fire that burnt in her heart never really died. It just waited for the right ammunition.
”By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings.”
The little girl tiptoed, past her bedtime, into the room of the ill and the dying. Finding her best friend lying there – with an air of finality about her – she couldn’t conceal her tears. And neither could I. Jane’s little heart couldn’t bear the thought of Helen being taken away from her forever and I grieved for her most intensely, most painfully.
How could you, Miss Brontë? What sort of witchcraft is this? You make your readers coil and writhe with pain with an ease that would rival God himself! How could you do this to us?
Reading Jane Eyre was certainly not an easy task. It demanded too much from me – emotionally, mentally, physically – for I was heavily invested in Jane’s story from the very beginning – so much so that I couldn’t bear the thought of being driven away from her without knowing her whole story.
Jane was a wild soul hidden inside a duty-bound body.
She longed to surmount the blue hills across the fields, she wanted to break free of the meager existence she had been subjected to at Lowood. She wanted to traverse the woods, to get lost in them, to seek the treasures of experience.
She wanted to love and be loved.
That was all she wanted. Such was the wish of her lovely heart. Can’t every single one of us relate to her desire? No matter where we are, what we do, the one thing that we want – the one thing our heart always desires – is freedom.
And SHE DID FIND IT. Later rather than sooner but she got to taste it nonetheless. And how could she not anyway? For a person with such a tender heart and such strong mind, it’s hardly a surprise.
”It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; they will make it if they cannot find it.”
Jane had always been in a quiet revolt against her circumstances, from the very beginning of her life with Mrs. Reed until the time she went back to Mr. Rochester.
Hers was an unquiet mind and a wandering soul. She could NEVER be contained. Even when she came to work at Thornfield and her situation improved a lot from her previous life, she couldn’t help but feel deprived of all the wondrous people she hadn’t yet met, all the beautiful places she hadn’t yet seen and although hers was a bit of a negative approach, that never stopped her heart from dreaming bigger. Such a combination rendered her intelligent.
”I did not like re-entering Thornfield. To pass its threshold was to stagnation.”
Her first impression of Mr. Rochester was that of someone who had, brought excitement to her stagnant life in those wide and gloomy halls where she was the governess. She longed for activity and for her unfathomable mind, activity, it seemed, had found her at last.
But Jane’s meeting to Mr.Rochester did not strike me as peculiar. It was just the sort of scene a Brontë would want to happen – eerie, mysterious, dark, and a bit exciting. There is not a very striking contrast between the dark and foggy lands that surround Thornfield and the mystical moors where stood the dark abode of Catherine and Heathcliff. And so, the image of their toxic love was kept fresh in my mind even as I followed the events at Thornfield.
”The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint; the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times, as if he were my relation, rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength.”
IN SHORT, dear reader, JANE WAS IN LOVE.
Now, having overcome my faint scruples against the match due to something that the brooding master of Thornfield declared in a rushed conversation, something the lines of – “I am old enough to be your father.” – I came to understand how well-matched Jane and Rochester were. Jane was not saint-like. She had desires, she dreamt of better circumstances and she wanted to experience all that life could offer.
A tenacious, wandering and clever mind as hers needed someone just as clever.
Someone who could match her temper, who could understand her silent reproaches and dreamy wonders without the need of words. And she had found such a man in Mr. Rochester. And he, in return, wanted to experience all that he could not during his youth. Hiding a most unpleasant and dark secret, he longed to be in the presence of innocence again, to know the pleasures of an unpolluted mind. And who could have been a better fit than Jane?
Her steady and quick remarks kept him on his toes and his broodiness and mystery fed her imagination in a way no-one else ever could.
It is no coincidence when a man finds himself keen on a girl so inexperienced in the ways of the world. A man loves best when he knows he has something to offer that his partner is not in possession of yet.
In Jane, he found such a partner.
He had made Jane his confidante, sharing with her the tales of his misspent youth, this girl who had no idea how such a world worked (despite being a clever person, her mind was still shielded from the vices of the grown-ups). He did this because it made him feel “needed”, “valued” and not as a master, but as a teacher, as an unwilling friend, as a well-wisher. Of such feelings he had been alienated for so long he had quite forgotten the pleasures that they brought.
Rochester and Jane’s love affair was a mere chance. But then which isn’t? It is chance that threw them in each others’ ways, that’s true enough. At this point, they were still just getting to know each other but it was a most ardent love that made it impossible to stay apart.
Still, this is NOT an account of Mr. Rochester and Jane’s love story, dear reader. But of how Jane dealt with the frequent and distressing blows that life was yet to deal her. Yes, she loved the man, but that’s not the be-all and end off of her story.
It did not begin with Mr. Rochester’s arrival in her life and it certainly doesn’t end with her departure from his gloomy self.
That’s what makes it all the more beautiful. Jane, whose circumstance had made her such a strong woman – both worldly and emotionally – wasn’t dependent on anyone to save her from anything. Nothing frightened her as much as being captive. And so she followed her wishes, no matter what and yet had sense enough to not let her character be tarnished by such whimsical fancies as the heart sometimes indulges in.
Her story took a lot out of me. Her journey from being a pitiful (but still not weak) child at Gateshead Hall to being a scared yet determined pupil at Lowood to finding her courage and love in the gloomy and mysterious halls of Thornfield taught me to hope, to be stern where it’s needed, and compassion.