"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"

If you are obscure, plain, poor and little,  life  may not be smooth and easy for you. Ask Jane Eyre. You may have to bite wicked older cousins who want to torture you,  defend yourself from a jealous aunt who wishes you were dead, you may have to survive long solitary hours locked in a scary red room, then to strive to keep yourself sane and alive in a bleak, heartless place like a school for poor girls,  you must accept to go on living without anybody caring for you or loving you ... but, in the end, you'll meet your hero, your Mr Rochester and have your own reward. He is not tender and handsome, maybe, but impetuous, fascinating, authoritative, mysterious, restless. Anyhow, he doesn't trample on you, he doesn't make you feel a nobody, he treats you as his equal and trusts you. Last but not least, he desires you passionately. What if you discover on your wedding day that he has a mad wife in the attic and can't marry you? No panic, hold on, you can make it. You'll have to endure the awesome shock, run away and give up your dreams for a while, live among strangers you'll  learn to love for about a year, but be sure,  at last,  you'll have your reward, you'll have your happy ending.

Mr Rochester:
"Sometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. Especially when you are near me as you are now. It feels as though I had a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you in a similar fashion. And when you go, with all that distance between us, I am afraid that this cord will be snapped, and I shall bleed inwardly.”

Well, told like that,  this incredibly beautiful story loses all its gripping quality. I'm not as good as a Bronte sister as a story-teller, I know. But I can assure you, that's not how I usually tell about JANE EYRE to my students. It is, in fact,  one of those novels I have read and studied several times and  in different moments of my life,  and which I respect and deeply love. 
It's been some time  since I last worked on it and read from it with my students (5 years?). I'm glad it is  part of my syllabus this year and it is the subject of my lessons just these days. 
Every time I deal with the series of incredible tragic events in the Brontes' lives or read one of their novels,  I wonder how strong they must have been. Those  fragile little girls living at Haworth must have been as brave as Victorian heroines in their short unfortunate lives. As strong and brave as their own heroines. 

Because how can you not admire Jane Eyre's temper and strong will? Her love for life,   self - respect,   endurance and intelligence, her independent spirit and  simpathetic attitude to other human beings, especially those complex and damaged like her? She's strong and she manages to tame reckless Mr Rochester, her own passionate temper as well as life itself. She is a real winner: someone who gets to self-realization never accepting compromises. She doesn't cheat nor pretend, she doesn't hide her weaknesses, she doesn't complain nor surrender.  

The novel made quite a stir in its time since Jane shows a courage and a determination which contrast with Victorian ideals of female delicacy - such qualities were considered typical of men only. Jane Eyre is a passionate woman, but she's never slave to love, she is ready to sacrifice it to her own notion of  honour and duty. We can see this when Jane prays God to give her the strength to leave Thornfield and Mr Rochester once she discovers he deceived her, or when she goes back to him in the end. She only goes back  when she feels strong enough to do so and even then the dialogue between her and Mr Rochester  shows the woman teasing the man and leading the game rather than mildly surrendering to him. 

We can definitely consider Jane Eyre a modern heroine. She wants to dispose of her life and her future according to her conscience, beyond conventions and circumstances, defending her own dignity and free will, stating she is Mr Rochester's equal, a man's equal.    That can sound obvious to us, present day readers, but definitely it was not current opinion in Victorian England. In fiction as in real life, the social and psychological inferiority of women was a dogma universally accepted.
Even Dickens accepted it and he was quite a sensitive and committed writer, interested in many social issues, the advocate of children and poor people. As for women, he  reduced his female figures to two conventional types: one is the tall, self-confident, serious and constant  one, the woman a man can totally trust; the second type is the doll,  frivolous, silly and irresponsible.

So, if you are looking for a real self-made woman, the forerunner of many modern women,  able to build their lives day by day with strength and courage,  facing adversities and counting only on themselves,  no workarounds and no compromises ... ask Jane Eyre. 

(Random thoughts on Charlotte Bronte's character come to my mind while preparing notes and videos for my lessons. The pictures above are for BBC Jane Eyre, featuring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester) 


JaneGS said...

Wonderful post--Jane Eyre is a heroine for all time, and it's hard to really understand the mindset that condemned her and her author and labeled them "monstrous."

I thought your synopsis of the story to be quite good actually--Bronte fleshes it out and makes it sing, but you've captured the essence and grit of it.

I think Jane's self-respect and refusal to made to feel small, regardless of physical stature, is what I most admire about her. There was a lot of Charlotte Bronte in Jane, methinks!

Maria Grazia said...

@JaneGS I agree with you, Jane. I also feel there's much of Charlotte in Jane Eyre. And the plain, obscure, poor and little heroine of this novel is somewhat one of the heroines I most easily sympathize with. I deeply admire her strength.
Thanks for appreciating and for leaving your comment.

Traxy said...

Couldn't agree more, JaneGS.

The marriage proposal chapter is excellent. Excellent choice, Maria Grazia! And a beautifully written post too. :)

Maria Grazia said...

Thank you, Traxy. Glad you liked it. I know how much you love this novel!